In this series we look at the top five Canadiens since the year 2000 who made the biggest impact on the team in their only season of play on the team.
#3 Robert Lang (2007-2008), 39 points
Bob Gainey spent the summer of 2008 with a singular mission: convincing free agent centre Mats Sundin to sign with the Montreal Canadiens.
Gainey first acquired his rights from the Toronto Maple Leafs at the conclusion of the 2007-08 season, but was so far unable to convince the big Swede to sign with the Habs.
The Canadiens General Manager was on a mission to acquire a difference-maker to ensure that the fans would have a great team to celebrate their centennial season.
A week from training camp Gainey gave up on Sundin and went to Plan B. He traded for veteran centreman Robert Lang from the Chicago Blackhawks for a second-round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Lang was on the final year of a contract that paid him $4 million dollars.
At 37-years-old, Lang was far from a fresh face, however he did just have nine consecutive seasons hovering around 20 goals, and eight seasons of over 50 points. He was also was very familiar with forward star Alex Kovalev, with whom he played with on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Gainey definitely hatched a worthy back-up plan to the Sundin dream.
At 6’3”, fans hadn’t seen such a dominant power forward centre since Vincent Damphousse was traded eight seasons prior. His longest points drought streak was four games, which happened only once, and he was very much worth the money. He was heavily relied upon to steady the second line while Saku Koivu maintained his presence on the first trio. Tomas Plekanec and Maxim Lapierre made up the other centres on the team.
By the end of January Lang was the top line centre, leading the team in scoring with 17 goals and 21 assists for 39 points in 49 straight games.
But during his 50th game against the Boston Bruins, after scoring his team-leading 18th goal, Lang was caught in a battle up against the boards with Byron Blitz and Stephane Yelle, suddenly falling to the ground in severe pain. His Achilles tendon was severed by a skate blade. “He left for the hospital right away”, said head coach Guy Carbonneau “and the news doesn’t seem very good at all.”
Lang was lost for the season, and without him the team lost 19 of the remaining 32 games on the year, which almost cost them their spot in the playoffs, having to rely on a tiebreaker with the Florida Panthers to claim the final Eastern Conference seed.
Lang did not return for the playoffs and the Habs were quickly dispatched by the Bruins in four games. In the end, what promised to be an exciting Centennial year for the Canadiens ended up fizzling out.
Lang would not return to the Canadiens as Gainey swung for the fences by blowing up his core, getting rid of Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev, Alex Tanguay, and Mike Komisarek, and adding free agents Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Hal Gill, followed by the infamous acquisition of Scott Gomez.
Lang would sign with the Phoenix Coyotes prior to the start of the 2009-2010 season where he would play 64 games before calling it a career.