Habs History: United in Glory

Martin Luther King once said: “Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words.” There comes a time in a hockey player’s life when he looks back at his career and realizes that he shares a special bound with some of his former teammates, more than with the others. It’s bond that needs no words, one that is expressed by a look, by a feeling, even when separated by distance, time or life.

Allow me to take you back. The year… 1985.

The Montreal Canadiens’ farm team was playing out of the Palais des Sports, in Sherbrooke. The team had qualified for the playoffs and head coach Pierre Creamer received the news from Serge Savard that two junior aged players would be joining his team to help them in their playoff run that year: a young right-winger coming off a 61 goal season with two junior teams, Stéphane Richer, and a goaltender by the name of Patrick Roy, who finished his junior season with a 5.55 goals against average (GAA.)

The Sherbrooke Canadiens, captained by Brian Skrudland, had just finished their season with 79 points, good for third place in North division. While scoring goals wasn’t necessarily a problem for the baby Habs having scored 323 goals that year, keeping the puck out of their own net was a different story. The team had allowed 329 goals against, worst among the playoff bound teams. Adding an offensive weapon like Richer was a no-brainer for Creamer, but Roy was far from a sure thing.

The team’s number one goaltender, Greg Moffett, was average at best, finishing the season with a 4.11 GAA and an .860 save percentage. The Canadiens had dressed five goalies throughout the season, but adding a rookie selected in the third round of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft and coming off a pretty bad season didn’t seem to be the solution either. To this day, I don’t know if it was Creamer’s decision or if the idea of using the young goaltender was pushed upon him by the Habs’ brass, but Roy was given the net and we know the rest of the story.

The Calder Cup Finals ended on May 24, 1985 with the Sherbrooke Canadiens defeating the Baltimore Skipjacks four games to two to win the Calder Cup. Living in Sherbrooke at the time, a friend of mine and I bought tickets for that game and what a game it was!

To this day, I remember Stéphane Richer rushing down the right wing only to let go of a bullet from just outside the faceoff circle, missing the net as the puck came all the way back into the Canadiens’ territory. He came back into his zone, took a pass and flew back down the same side with blazing speed. The defenseman, fearing to be beat by his speed (and his shot), backed up with him but this time, Richer put on the brakes before releasing a bullet, beating the Skipjacks’ goaltender.

I knew then that Richer was the real deal and that he would one day play in the NHL. It was so great to see team captain Brian Skrudland, a blue-collar worker in the true sense, winning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as AHL playoff MVP, then raising the Calder Cup over his head, skating around the rink with the rest of the team. Richer wasn’t bad either in those playoffs, managing to score nine points in nine games, including six goals, while the young Patrick Roy, then wearing number 30, was making the key saves when the team needed it most.

Sherbrooke had previously defeated Fredericton (4-2) and Maine (4-1) before facing Baltimore in the finals and they were underdogs in every series that year. It is interesting to note that two-times Habs’ head coach Michel Therrien was also a member of that Calder Cup winning team.

Patrick Roy

The following season, eight players who were part of the 1985 Sherbrooke Canadiens Calder Cup winning roster ended up playing for Jean Perron and the Montreal Canadiens at the NHL level. Brian Skrudland quickly made his niche as a reliable defensive center, learning from master veteran Guy Carbonneau and adding depth to the second unit of penalty kill. Gaston Gingras brought his best weapon, a powerful shot from the point on the powerplay, while fellow defenseman Mike Lalor was as steady as it gets at the blue line, a stay-at-home defenseman able to take care of his own end and making a nice first pass. Stéphane Richer and Serge Boisvert brought some offensive threat and tons of speed to Perron’s line-up while tough guy John Kordic came in to support veteran Chris Nilan in ensuring that the other teams wouldn’t cross the line.

Mario Tremblay, seeing Kordic for the first time in the dressing room, once said that he was built like a brick wall, a very imposing figure. A certain Patrick Roy also made the jump from the junior ranks straight to the NHL, appearing in 47 games that season, sharing the workload with veterans Steve Penney and Doug Soetaert. Any guess on who the eighth player from the 1985 Calder Cup winning team to play for Perron was that year? It’s none other than forward Randy Bucyk, who took part of 17 regular season games and appeared in two playoffs’ games in 1986.

Jean Perron and Patrick Roy

Sure, this 1985-86 Habs’ team had its ups and downs during the regular season, as any team adding so many rookies should be expected to. Still, the Habs managed to finish the season with 87 points, good for second in the Adams Division, five points behind the Quebec Nordiques and a single point ahead of the Boston Bruins. The youth and the winning experience from those rookies added some much needed enthusiasm, a fresh desire to conquer to this championship team. Many of them had some impact on the storied franchise’s 23rd Stanley Cup, none bigger than Roy who received the first of his three career Conn Smythe trophies as playoffs’ most valuable player, two of which he won wearing the CH on his chest.

Roy, Richer, Skrudland, Gingras, Boisvert, Lalor, Bucyk and the late John Kordic share a very special bond: winning consecutive titles in two different leagues, including one as a rookie in the NHL. Will we witness that again someday in Montreal? Only time will tell. Go Habs Go!

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Top Candidates – Centre Position

Centres2018

Amongst many other things, a NHL General Manager’s Spring and Summer job is to analyse his team, his assets, and determine and draw a plan of action to improve on the season that just ended. At the end of the 2016-17 season, the Canadiens showed a great need for offense, particularly at the centre position, and there were serious question marks as to who exactly could fill in on the top-4 on defense, particularly when it was clear that Andrei Markov wasn’t coming back, choosing to go to the KHL. Unfortunately, Marc Bergevin was unable to fulfill the needs and in combination with a few key injuries and unforeseen departures, the results speak for themselves.

This summer, the Canadiens’ GM cannot afford another miss and as we recently touched on the Habs’ needs and top candidates on defense, it’s now time to see what kind of options might be available to Bergevin and the Canadiens to fill a much needed need up the middle, in hope to return Jonathan Drouin to his natural position on left wing. While there might be a few others available through trade, let’s have a look at five of the options that could buy time until Ryan Poehling, the team’s best prospect at that position, is ready to step in and be a contributor on the top lines in Montreal.

5- Joe Thornton – San Jose Sharks

AGE: 38Thornton
HEIGHT: 6’4″
WEIGHT: 220 lbs
GP: 47
G: 13
A: 23
PTS: 36
TOI/G: 18:20
+/-: -9
FO %: 52.0
STATUS: UFA

Old… slow… but still very effective. Great in the faceoffs’ dots, he is a leader with tons of experience. Once catalogued as a playoffs’ no-show, he has stepped it up in recent years for his team. In a league now known for speed, Thornton still shows that one can slow the pace down and find ways to be very effective. One of the best passers in the league in the last decade, he is extremely dangerous, particularly on the powerplay. Unfortunately however, two serious knee injuries (to the same knee) might have taken its toll on him. If San Jose doesn’t want him back, he’s a possibility. Definitely an improvement over what the Canadiens already have.

4- Tyler Bozak – Toronto Maple Leafs

AGE: 32Bozak
HEIGHT: 6’1″
WEIGHT: 199 lbs
GP: 81
G: 11
A: 32
PTS: 43
TOI/G: 15:39
+/-: +6
FO %: 53.6
STATUS: UFA

As Tomas Plekanec wore the ‘ugly blue’, Bozak could lend a hand to the Leafs’ arch rivals. Not a true number one centre, he is good on draws and he is responsible at both ends of the ice. Being a right-handed draw is something that the Canadiens could use, particularly in the defensive zone. At this stage in their respective career, Bozak would be an improvement over Plekanec.

3- Paul Stastny – Winnipeg Jets

AGE: 32Stastny
HEIGHT: 6’0″
WEIGHT: 193 lbs
GP: 82
G: 16
A: 37
PTS: 53
TOI/G: 17:02 (WIN), 18:41 (STL)
+/-: +6 (WIN), -5 (STL)
FO %: 53.8 (WIN), 55.2 (STL)
STATUS: UFA

Son of former Nordiques’ Peter Stastny, Paul was born in Quebec and his father was once quoted saying that he would like his son to play in Montreal. Well Paul, here’s your chance. But with the success he’s had with the Jets, the two sides might be tempted to make the experience last longer, depending if Stastny wants to test the market or not. At 32, he still has a few good seasons in him and would be an improvement for the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge.

2- Ryan O’Reilly – Buffalo Sabres

AGE: 27NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Buffalo Sabres
HEIGHT: 6’1″
WEIGHT: 216 lbs
GP: 82
G: 24
A: 37
PTS: 61
TOI/G: 20:49
+/-: -23
FO %: 60.0
STATUS: $7,5M until 2022-23

In my opinion, this is a very viable option for the Canadiens. O’Reilly is a complete hockey player who hustles at both ends of the ice. He can score, he can defend, he can hit, he can grind it out. Vocal against the Sabres’ frame of mind in his post-season press conference, what he was saying wasn’t much different than what Bergevin was saying about his own team. So when you look at attitude and character, this guy oozes just that. Further, the Canadiens can afford his salary.

1- John Tavares – New York Islanders

AGE: 27Tavares
HEIGHT: 6’1″
WEIGHT: 208 lbs
GP: 82
G: 37
A: 47
PTS: 84
TOI/G: 19:56
+/-: -12
FO %: 52.9
STATUS: UFA

Pipe dream or reality? Either way, there is no doubt that if Tavares hits the free agency market, he will be the Canadiens’ centre of attention. They will throw everything at him, and while Team Canada teammates Carey Price and Shea Weber will be crucial in trying to convince him, Bergevin and team owner Geoff Molson will have to put forth the sales’ pitch of their life if they hope to convince him to play in Montreal. Yes, it is a wonderful place to win but when you don’t, it can be hell in a hurry, just ask Pacioretty and others before him. Will he and his spouse be negatively influenced by the fact that Angela Price had to come out publicly to deny senseless rumours? We shall see. But the Canadiens have the cap space to make it happen.

Honorable Mentions

– Tomas Plekanec

Is there something that hasn’t been said about the Turtleneck? He’s a true pro. He’s only two games away from reaching the 1,000 games plateau in the NHL, with most of them played with the Habs’ number 14 on his back. He’s still fast and very responsible defensively, but his offense has all but disappeared. He was making $6 million but at the right price, I am convinced that Claude Julien would like to have him back. Many fans have mixed feelings about this.

– Vincent Trochek, Alexander Barkov or Nick Bjugstad

Watch Pacioretty. The Florida Panthers were apparently very hot on the Canadiens’ captain but Bergevin was asking for Trochek and more. While this deal was not consumed by the trade deadline, it is very much possible that the talks have kept going and the Panthers would be trading in a position of strength here, being very deep at the centre position.

– Sam Bennett or Mark Jankowski

Call it a gut feeling, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if the Flames were interested in the 3rd overall pick to draft Matthew Tkachuk‘s younger brother Brady. What do they have to offer? There’s no way that they will trade Sean Monahan, they would rather pass on Tkachuk but is there a deal possible, perhaps a bigger one involving Charlie Lindgren to help Mike Smith? What plays against the Flames is that they don’t have a first, second or even third round pick this year. In order to make something happen, a third team picking between 5 and 9 might have to get involved in a three-way and we know how rare those are.

– Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

For the longest time, a Max Pacioretty for RNH deal, with spare parts here and there, was the most logical deal to not be completed. The Oilers were deep at centre and paying Nugent-Hopkins $6 million to play on the third line didn’t make much sense, when they needed a speedy winger who could keep up with Connor McDavid. But guess what? Todd McLellan decided to try RNH with McDavid and they formed immediate chemistry. Now, it’s very unlikely that Peter Chiarelli will trade him as not only does he produce with McDavid, but he gives the team options in the event of injuries. So maybe earlier last year, but as it stands today, this ship has likely sailed.

– Jonathan Toews

In the most unlikely rumours flying out there, the one about the Habs and Blackhawks trying to work something out for the one nicknamed ‘Captain Serious’ is way out there. While definitely a good player and a strong leader, Toews’ contract is too long and for too much for the Canadiens to bite… or is it? Sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures. Let’s just hope not.

As we can see, there are some options out there but when it comes to UFA’s, the price is often way too steep. Marc Bergevin has always rightfully claimed that you don’t build a winner on July 1st. But at the NHL draft is when most of the trades occur, as every team has cap space and many have holes to fill and changes to make, whether it’s to put them over the top after a disappointing loss in the playoffs, or a rebuild/retool process. Regardless, it promisses to be a very interesting month ahead for Habs’ fans. Go Habs Go!