Thursday, May 31, 2007

Offer In Souray's Hands, Will He Bluff?

It has recently been made known that Canadiens GM has quickly extended Habs free agent defenseman Sheldon Souray a contract offer. Gainey is acting lightening fast on this Souray portfolio, only days after inking fellow D-man Markov, as he surely understands that time in this case, is of the essense.

Why the hurry, you may wonder?

My theory is that it is because Souray, whether he intends so or not, has the ability to hold the Habs hostage with his decision. Gainey in all common sense, does not want to arrive at July 1 still doubting his PP specialists intentions. This offer has been tendered to establish fact, sooner than later.

The connundrum is that a Souray holdup, (not intended as a pointed gun - pun! ) could deviate Gainey's foray into other free agent territory come July.

I have a fear of this portfolio dangling a little too long based on comments from Souray's agent Paul Theofalous. When he suggests that the offer will be pondered, sat upon, rethought ad nauseum, I take it as they want to have a strong card to play in this deal. Gainey, a straightshooter, but a sly gamer, won't appreciate extended bluffing.

He'll want to know as soon as possible from the Souray camp, exactly where it is that the bear takes a dump!

Though we will likely not be priveledge to daily updates, I expect offers to go back and forth until Souray either signs or demands a deal that says he'll by sitting by the phone on July 1.

I would also expect that Gainey will try as he might to avoid the same 4 year term handed to Markov. I'm sure he won't want to dance this waltz again come four years time. Sealing up two big contracts at once tends to play against each singular deal.

Considering that dollars turned away by Souray could translate into another future players riches also makes Gainey anxious for the time of day.

The trouble on the horizon is that Souray and agent won't truly know their worth until the fateful day comes. Speculation on an offer can swing like a pendulum when a player is far from an assured value.

Some schmuck to take Souray's place?

I make mention of that in regard to Souray's liabilties on defense. Truth is, Souray ain't every GM's cup of tea, as the Kings Dean Lombardi has stated in his own case. The Kings likely lost interest in Souray, all the way back when they fleeced Carolina of prospect Jack Johnson.

That snub could translate into an extra card in Gainey's hand, should he play it right. That the Habs would be making an offer, knowing full well what Souray's deficiencies are, is a committment the big defenseman is unlikely to find elsewhere. Gainey should be almost bombastic in getting this across!

How I see some of this card game playing out has much to do with Gainey establishing some sort of cutoff date, a take it or leave it offer, possibly one week prior to serious business day. The closing window may get the Souray camp plausing the known more than the unknown, with Lombardi-like comments ringing in their ears.

The primordial reason for using haste over waste in this off season is that this is not one of the more overflowing free agent pools worth dipping into in recent memory. If the Canadiens are considering adding a defenseman to their ranks via this market, slim pickings at fools prices are what awaits them.

Secondary to Gainey's haste is the fact that RFA's such as Higgins, Ryder, Plekanec, and Komisarek are up for better than pay scale increases that will undoubtably cut into money targetted for a potential free agent. Count on one giving Gainey a hard time.

Working in the Canadiens favor, is the fear factor that Markov brought up as one of his reasons for staying put. With so much transition in Souray's personal life, call it instability if you will, he may be tempted to side with the intangibles he knows await him in returning to Montreal.

A city he is adored, understood, and appreciated in, is something no other organization can offer him.

The feelings have always seemed mutual, and Souray has never shied from letting it be known. He has always stood up for pride and team, and it would seem unlike of him to bolt if Gainey's offer is a good an honest one.

Much of the speculation will have to do with where Souray sees himself heading to, should July 1 not bring any resolve. Other than the much bantered about preferential West coast destinations that I do not believe will unfold, what I fear most is Souray being lured to a team of great promise, such as a perenial contender like Detroit, or a soon to be knocking at Stanley's door team, such as the Penguins.

I recall two different defenseman who left Montreal under opposite circumstances, but with similar characters. More recently, there is Craig Rivet, humbled and traded away, and back a few years, and Stephane Quintal, offered moon, beach, and sundeck by the New York Rangers upon free agency.

While Rivet spit an untasty venom upon his leaving, Quintal shouted from Manhattan rooftops that there was nowhere like Montreal to play. His misguided loyalty earned him a dubious Blackhawks jersey faster than you can say "Thank-you!"

All three of these rugged rearguards were team - first guys while Habs, and surely Souray remembers how Quintal felt as he was spurned by not receiving an offer from the Canadiens until after the deadline. Souray won't have to feel that sense of detachment, offer in hand.

It makes me wonder if Souray ever thinks about Quintal and greener dollars not being greener grass.

Here's hoping he has!

I remember Souray not doing all too well in some Poker tournament awhile back. Perhaps his bluffing is not up to snuff.

For some personal insight into Souray's home life and a little background info, try these links.

What May Lure Souray From Montreal!

How should I word this.....

....well that about says it all!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

O'Byrne Plays A Big Role In Hamilton's Roll

From Lindsay Kramer of

The rookie barrier has been more like a giant wall of heat for Hamilton defenseman Ryan O’Byrne.

Sure, he’s already played a total of 97 regular season and playoff games for the Bulldogs this year. That figure is five more than the total number he played in three seasons at Cornell. But at least hockey is played on ice, so O’Byrne knows where to go to cool off. There was no such escape from the unlikely hockey weather O’Byrne battled in his downtown Hamilton apartment last week.

"Oh my God, it’s steaming up here,’’ O’Byrne said. "It’s 85 degrees out. I haven’t ever played hockey this time of year. I come into my room, put the fan on, turn the AC on, that’s about it.’’

O’Byrne, a third-round pick by Montreal in the 2003 Entry Draft, falls short of eliciting any sympathy for a couple reasons. First, the reason he’s playing into the summer months is that his Bulldogs are pulling off one of the most surprising runs in recent Calder Cup history. Secondly, O’Byrne himself is a primary reason for the possible shocker.

"It hasn’t been about hitting a wall. It’s about peaks and valleys,’’ said O’Byrne, 22. "Maybe you don’t have the best weekend ever. Then you re-group, get after it again. One of my goals this year was to play every game, get in the lineup, establish myself. It’s part luck and it’s part being in good shape.’’

And part a boatload of potential realized before our very eyes. The 6-foot-5, 228-pound O’Byrne is a boulder-sized chunk of a Bulldogs’ defense that’s willed the team toward the finals. O’Byrne helped lock down the Chicago Wolves, whom Hamilton eliminated in five games of the Western Conference finals. The Wolves’ offense was the best in the AHL, but O’Byrne’s work against the top line of Jason Krog, Brett Sterling and Darren Haydar helped limit Chicago to four goals combined in Games 2, 3 and 4.

"They’ve given me a great opportunity. They’ve thrown me out there against those top lines,’’ O’Byrne said. "It’s both a challenge and sometimes it’s a little intimidating. All you can do is contain those guys. We’ve just stayed in position and kept the game simple. You know the playoffs are going to have ups and downs. All you can do is roll with the punches.’’

O’Byrne has usually squared off against the opposition’s top trio most of the season, but he’s saved his best work for the brightest spotlight. After recording a minus-seven during the regular season, he was a plus-eight through the first 16 playoff games.

He was goal-less during the regular season (to go along with 12 assists), but potted the game-winner in a first-round series-clinching win vs. Rochester. He also picked up an assist on the overtime goal by Eric Manlow that sent Manitoba packing in round two.

"For these youngsters, this is part of their development, to play in these pressure situations. He’s handled it very well,’’ said Hamilton assistant coach Ron Wilson. "I’m not afraid to put him in any situation, and he responds. He’s going to play in Montreal someday, and it’s not that far down the road.’’

But before we speculate on where O’Byrne is going, it helps to understand where he’s been. The Big Red is in many ways a collegiate mirror image of Hamilton. Cornell harvests big, mobile blueliners like corn and tries to make its defensive zone as fun to enter as a field of barbed wire.

"I’ve always been a defensive defenseman. When I came to Cornell, I had no idea how to play defense,’’ O’Byrne said. "It’s a great program, as a defenseman. You learn how to play forwards the right way. It makes the transition (to pros) a lot easier.’’

So does a nasty attitude that’s backed up by a silo-sized frame. Looks can be deceiving in hockey. In O’Byrne, though, the Bulldogs got every inch of what they saw.

"He likes to punish guys. He’s got a mean streak in him,’’ Wilson said.

"You have to realize what kind of player you are,’’ O’Byrne said. "It’s something I’ve always enjoyed. You have to leave an impression on the ice out there. You have to make things happen. It’s something that defines me.’’

That alone might have been enough in another era of the sport, but these days defensemen the size of O’Byrne who can’t skate get defined as dinosaurs. Those issues were quickly quelled for Wilson when he saw how frequently his prospect beat his man down the wall and then slammed shut the skating lane.

It was some strong play by O’Byrne against the Wolves during the regular season that convinced Wilson he could keep up with their jetsetters in the playoffs.

"It (not being fast enough) is always something you think about,’’ O’Byrne said. "But I’ve always been confident in my skating. I knew I had it in me.’’

Plus, as it turns out, a whole lot more. Enough to help keep the Bulldogs on skates and indoors at a time when others might prefer some rollerblades and a jaunt through the park.

"The body is sore. There’s lots of ice going around,’’ O’Byrne said. "I’ll tell you, I’ve gotten this far. I’ve got room for one Calder Cup finals. I definitely have enough energy for that. The sun is out. Everybody wants to win then.’’

Read O'Byrne's Cornell Big Red profile here.

Canadiens Sign Finnish Forward Janne Lahti

According to this Finnish sports site, the Canadiens have signed 6' 2'', 200lb forward Janne Lahti. Trouble is all the details are in the language of double ii's, aa's and nn's. As of this moment there has yet to be confirmation of the signing at the Canadiens official site, so knowledge of exactly who Lahti is remains limited.

If your Finnish is good you can try this one interpretation from the site:

Laitahyökkääjä Janne Lahti siirtyy Montreal Canadiensiin. Lahti teki viime kaudella HPK:ssa 20 maalia ja syötti 14. Lahti teki kauden jälkeen sopimuksen Jokerien kanssa, mutta Jokerien sijasta ura jatkuukin Kanadassa.

I did manage to find this piece from On Frozen Blog where Lahti is discussed as a hoped for Washington Capitals signing.

It reads: Janne Lahti's name arose this afternoon during a WaPost chat with Tarik.

Fredericksburgh, Va: "Tarik, Janne Lahti scored another goal for HPK in the Finnish playoffs to send the game to OT. He has seven goals in seven games now. I hope the rumors of him signing here are true."

Tarik El-Bashir: "I heard those rumors, too. I’ve been trying to get a hold of GMGM to confirm. Not that he’ll say anything, though. But that’s never stopped me from trying."

We hadn’t heard his name before today, but we’ve conducted a bit of crack research. He goes about 6 ‘2, 200, and he skates for HPK Hameenlinna of the Finnish Elite League. He’ll be 25 this July. In 56 games with HPK this season he potted 20 goals and 14 assists — those goals in particular are eye-catching in any European Elite league. They’re solidly in the postseason in Finland now, and through seven games Lahti has 7 goals.

Apparently there had been many rumours on Finnish hockey message boards that he was about to sign with the Capitals.

Looks like they've been scooped by Gainey and company who had been doing some scouting at the World Tournament earlier this month.

Markov Strikes It Rich, Makes Statement

Free agent numbers are always dizzying, aren't they?

Market values being what they are, a $5.75 million per annum salary to a defenseman who is often considered underrated will confound many a Habs and / or hockey fan.

Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun chain, jumped the general consensus this past weekend at the notion Markov would be nearing a mere five million per. His comment was, "When did John Ferguson Jr. become the Montreal Canadiens General Manager."

Simmons, who I generally agree with, termed Markov "soft".

Alexander Ovechkin, no stranger to Markov's abilities, calls the Habs best defenseman his toughest opponant.

Since Simmons only watches Markov eight times a season in all likelyhood, I'll swing with Ovechkin's assessment - especially considering we've been watching Markov going on seven seasons now, knowing he was one of the NHL's best kept secrets for quite some time.

As for the soft label, has anyone ever made notice of Nicklas Lidstrom's penalty minute total?

The perenially effective Norris Trophy Red Wings candidate has often been mentioned as the rarest of Lady Byng candidates among defenseman, but he has never been called "soft".

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not ready to compare Markov to Lidstrom in any way. I'm just making the point that certain impressions, without astute study, can be deceiving.

It can be agreed, however than both Markov and Lidstrom are their respective teams blueline generals.

While many in the know have suggested Markov to be an underrated quantity, he can no longer be esteemed as such with the salary he will now receive.

Bigger demands will unfairly be placed on him and he will be compared to other past successes and failures based primely on contract dollars.

My take is that if Markov continues to give the Canadiens exactly the same game and progression he has allowed us to become used to - the deal is a good one.

The main snag in judging Markov next season may have much to do with whether Sheldon Souray resigns with the Canadiens, or is lured away by a delicious and irrefusable offer from another team ready to gamble free agent dollars.

Many of Markov's assists came 50 feet away from the Souray PP blasts, and should Sheldon take his act elsewhere, Andrei's production drop can be predicted.

Such an eventuality won't mean that Markov is playing a lesser game.

Should he be teamed with, say Mike Komisarek on the PP, will he match his total of 43 assists?

Raise your hands, those who think so!

Uh huh! No high five's in the room to be seen!

What Markov will continue to do for the Canadiens, is what he has always so subtlely done.

He will rarely be caught out of position, remain practically unbeatable one on one, make that pefrect pass out of the Habs end in transition from defense to offence, and anchor the powerplay regardless of who is in on it.

Asking more of him may well require better teammates, and the Russian defender hardly controls that aspect.

Markov makes the rare mistake, but according to salary, will now see his goofs magnified and analyzed beyond the norm because of the salary he is earning. That all comes with the new money territory, unfairily.

The conviction of a player from his nation will also come into question, as the Russian has surely witnessed the burning at the stake media's frying of countrymen Samsonov and Kovalev, well deserved as they were.

Remember that our Andrei never flinched in maintaining exactly where he wanted to play in the coming years. He did not use, as so many others do, the July 1 free agent payoff date as any sort of paydirt leverage.

In true team fashion, he settled his deal at the earliest possible date, considering an injury, for the best interests of the team. Had this contract negotiation dragged another 40 days, all hellbound scenarios for the 2007-08 Habs would be laid at his feet.

Truly, we've never known Markov very well. He says very little, and when considering his Russian counterparts talkative ways, that may be a good thing! We may now know him better, through his intentions, his being forthright, and his his dedication to our team and its ultimate goals.

He's spoken all he needs to. It's now up to us fans to shut up.

Markov will earn every dollar of this new deal, if we just let him be himself.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Price Will Be Ready When Called - Melanson

Transcribed from Le Journal de Montreal, May 25, 2007.

Montreal Canadiens goalie coach Roland Melanson isn't in need of a reality check. He knows that the entirety of the Montreal hockey media is comparing his newest protege Carey Price's professional debut to that of Patrick Roy twenty years ago.

To recap for those too young for the recollection, after his junior days with the Granby Bisons were over, Roy along with winger and teammate Stephane Richer were invited to join the rans of the Canadiens farm team, then situated in Sherbrooke.

Similar to Price in the Western Hockey League, Roy never played on a very good team. Beginning the Moment he hit Sherbrooke, his career took off to stratospheric heights.

The Calder Cup took a stroll down Sherbrooke's King St. two months later, in testament to Roy's outstanding performance.

One year later, Roy and Richer, along with five other Sherbrooke teammates, namely Brian Skrudland, Mike Lalor, Gaston Gingras, Serge Boivert, and John Kordic repeated the exploit, this time down St. Catherines St, with the biggest of prizes - the Stanley Cup.

Melanson, who was then a member of the Los Angeles Kings, has the details of the story at his fingertips. Quickly, he places facts into perspective.

"I don't want to suggest that there is a bad team in Montreal at the present time, but the team that won the 1986 Cup was superior and had way more experience."

Melanson is right, but it's funny how time changes perceptions.

At the time, the Canadiens were considered lucky to have won the Cup, and that it was accomplished mainly on Roy's shoulders.

"The team had five leaders with captaincy in their characters", adds Melanson.

There was Bob Gainey, who was captain at the time, and Guy Carbonneau and Chris Chelios, two youngsters who would become the teams next co-captains. There was also Larry Robinson, who had worn the "C" for half a season while Gainey was on the injured list. He may not have projected the same authority in the Gainey manner, but he was a well respected leader by his teammates. Finally, there was Skrudland, the first Florida Panthers captain who helped his team to the Stanley Cup final in only their third year of existance.

On defense, Robinson was paired with the steady Rick Green, while Chelios had bruiser Craig Ludwig as his partner. Up front was another rookie, one Claude Lemieux, who had the dastardly habit of scoring some very key goals while irritating every opponant he crossed.

All of this takes nothing away from Roy, quite to the contrary. It's just that Price isn't as likely to be so well surrounded once he reaches the NHL himself.

"Price has everyone excited, including me", says Melanson, with a laugh. "His talent level is undeniable, but he must be given the time to develope.When he's ready to be in Montreal, he will need to be very much at ease."

Melanson wouldn't want to see Price thrown into a lion's den.

"We paid a price for five years. We can't have Carey facing 40 or 50 shots a night the way Jose Theodore had to in those times."

Melanson speaks of a rare jewel, a diamond in the rough, in regards to Price.

"He must be well groomed, guarded with caution, and surrounded with care.

Melanson will be in charge of watching over Price and assures that "when he is called up, you can be sure that it will be because he's ready."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bulldogs Go 3-0, Need A Theme Song!

Go Bulldogs!

The Hamilton Bulldogs have taken a 3-0 lead in games over the heavily favored Chicago Wolves powerhouse. They are now one win away from reaching the Calder Cup final, and giving all Habs fans something to brag about in the process.

Again tonight, goaltender Carey Price was the first star, stopping 35 of 36 shots directed his way.

The Dogs fell behind in the first before tying the game. Corey Locke netted the winner in the middle frame as Hamilton held on for the win.

The Bulldogs seem transformed and confident since the arrival of Price with two games left in the regular season. He certainly has had a steadying effect on the team. Many of the teams wins have been close games and feature a different hero each night.

The '07 Dogs look to be rewritting the story of the 1985 Sherbrooke Canadiens, when a 19 year old Patrick Roy showed up late in the regular season to lead the team to a surprising and totally unexpected championship.

It's somewhat fitting that the highly touted Price is helping all Habs prospects gain priceless experience in this run for the Cup. Price may be the only surefire future superstar amongst the group, but his calming influence has helped each team member bring out the best in themselves.

parent Canadiens team likely cannot believe their good fortune. For prospects at this young age to learn what it takes to win so soon in their pro careers can have a tremendous effect on their developement. Leadership is a word often associated with many of the teams players and this bodes extremely well for the Canadiens next season.

Not including Maxim Lapierre, who has in essense already graduated to the NHL, and the injured Andrei Kostitsyn, there are possibly three or four players on the Dogs roster who seem primed for a very good shot at making the big club next season. Among the players whose stock has risen greatly with this playoff run, are center Kyle Chipchura who has done an awesome job of shutting down opposing offensive forces, and Ryan O'Byrne, a hulking defenseman who has progressed all season coming in from the collegiate ranks. Good things are also happening for forwards Corey Locke and Matt D'Agnostini, who've scored timely goals in these tight games.

All that's missing at the time being, is better crowds in Hamilton for the games and a killer theme song.

This track, "Hey Bulldog" by The Beatles, might give the locals something to sink their teeth into and give fans more bark.

Be sure to listen in right until the ending, to the point where the Fab Four begin growling, snarling, and barking like fools. Lennon is priceless in this one.

Monday, May 21, 2007

1977 Habs Voted As Top Team

The final tally is in from the Vancouver Province.

Seventy-six per cent of readers voted for the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens to beat the 1955-56 Habs. How did the ultimate champs do on the road to this Cup?

- Round one: 1976-77 Habs beat the 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins with 74 per cent of the reader vote. (Said The Province's Jason Botchford: "These Habs would whip Mario Lemieux and his boys so badly, Pens fans would help their team pack and move to Kansas City."

- Quarterfinal: Habs beat the Bobby Clarke-led 1974-75 Philadelphia Flyers with 76 per cent of the vote. (Said The Team 1040's Barry Macdonald: "The Flying Frenchmen vanquish the Broad Street Bullies in five, in part because Bobby Clarke was preoccupied by the sight of Bonnie and Carl Lindros at the Spectrum with four-year-old Eric.")

- Semifinal: 1976-77 Habs beat 1987-88 Edmonton Oilers with 58 per cent of the vote. (Said The Province's Ed Willes: "There has never been a more perfectly constructed team in the history of the NHL. They lost eight freaking games the whole season.")


Fourteen fab NHL champions lost on the way to the All-Time Stanley Cup Champion final.

Here they are:

- 1950-51 Toronto Maple Leafs: Lost to 1981-82 New York Islanders in first round
- 1951-52 Detroit Red Wings: Lost to 1955-56 Montreal Canadiens in quarterfinal
- 1960-61 Chicago Blackhawks: Lost to 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers in first round
- 1962-63 Maple Leafs: Lost to 1951-52 Red Wings in first round
- 1971-72 Boston Bruins: Lost to 1955-56 Canadiens in semifinal
- 1974-75 Philadelphia Flyers: Lost to 1976-77 Canadiens in quarterfinal
- 1981-82 Islanders: Lost to 1987-88 Oilers in quarterfinal
- 1983-84 Oilers: Lost to 1971-72 Bruins in quarterfinal
- 1987-88 Oilers: Lost to 1976-77 Canadiens in semifinal
- 1988-89 Calgary Flames: Lost to 1955-56 Canadiens in first round
- 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins: Lost to 1976-77 Canadiens in first round
- 1995-96 Colorado Avalanche: Lost to 1987-88 Oilers in first round
- 2000-01 Avalanche: Lost to 74-75 Flyers in first round
- 2001-02 Red Wings: Lost to 1971-72 Bruins in first round


Province hockey writer Jason Botchford:

"Our championship was the result of choices so bizarre, it left this panellist contemplating separatism. Still, the 1976-77 Canadiens redefined the word dominance in way that has never really been matched. The only team that could have given these Habs trouble in this tournament was Wayne Gretzky's Oilers, who were forced to watch the finals from the cheap seats. The '76-77 Habs win 4-2."

Squire Barnes of Global TV

"The Montreal Canadiens of 1976-77 had strength at every position and depth."

Barry Macdonald of The Team 1040

"Evidently Bobby Orr's problem knee flared up during the semifinal with the 1955-56 Habs, the only possible explanation for the Bruins not reaching the final. The Habs of more recent vintage whack the mid-'50s version -- the Rocket neutralized by the defensive brilliance of Bob Gainey. 1976-77 Habs in five."

Province columnist Ed Willes:

"What endures about this team is its versatility. They could play a speed-and-skill game. They could play it tough if they had to. They could shut down teams and they made a mockery of the league that year. This is what sets them apart from the Oilers of the '80s, the Bruins of the early '70s and the great Habs' teams of the '50s. Habs in six."

David Pratt of The Team 1040

"And the winner is . . . the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers. (Evidently, a protest vote -- Editor.) O.K., my second choice is the Habs of the '70s. At least I can say I saw them play."

The Rocket's Riot

RL - 52 years later, the Richard Riot is still brought up and discussed. Below, Buffalo sports writer and NFL expert Larry Felsner (Pro Football Hall Of Fame writer) tackles the fateful day in Habs lore and gets it half right. You can tell his colors right off from the opening sentence - he ain't too well versed in hockey history to be touching on most of this. Still the story is always a compassionate read, despite the inconsistancies with truth and myth. I've tried to clear up most of Felsner's boob's with comments in brackets. Beyond Felsner's account, there is a second one sprinkled with videos of the events and pictures added. Enjoy!

From Larry Felsner, HOF Magazine:

Hockey has always been a niche sport, considered a superb game by those of us who love it, but largely ignored by hordes of other sports fans who reside south of the Canadian border.

The niche has never been smaller than the ‘50s, when the National Hockey League consisted of a mere six teams – the Chicago Black Hawks, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins in the U.S. plus the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leads in Canada. Occasionally a few of the American owners might urge that the league be expanded, but most of the moguls were satisfied with what they considered a cozy setup. (RL - The expansion of 1967 was pioneered and executed mostly by Hab's GM Sam Pollock's insistance.)

Their feeder system, which supplied all but a tiny percentage of talent ( RL - It supplied all of it! ) to the NHL six, consisted of junior teams spread coast to coast across Canada, all of which were controlled – and sometimes wholly owned – by the major league clubs. The major league's control often reached down into the pee-wee leagues, so if a talented young player began serious competitive play for an affiliate of the Bruins, Maple Leafs or one of the others, he would remain the property ( RL - C-Form deafting.) of that organization until they traded or released him. With so much talent stockpiled in so few farm systems, the pay scales could be easily controlled, too.

It wasn't quite cradle-to-grave ownership, but it was close. Nowhere was the stamp of the parent team more traditional than in the Province of Quebec, where boys of French-Canadian heritage yearned to be happy serfs of the Canadiens.

By 1955 (RL - Try 1930!), the Montreal team, referred to as "the Flying Frenchmen" in newspaper sports sections all over North America, was established as the model of the NHL system. Montreal had a few outstanding Anglo players such as Doug Harvey, the all-star defenseman, and Dickie Moore, the reliable winger. But the core of the team was Gallic: Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geoffrion, the first to perfect the slap shot; Jacques Plante, the first goalkeeper to wear a mask; the regal center-man, Jean Belliveau; prize rookie Henri Richard and, most prominently, right wing Maurice Richard, the face and symbol not only of a hockey team, but of an entire province, Le Belle Quebec, in all its pride.

Eventually Maurice Richard was christened "the Rocket," (and later his kid brother Henri "the Pocket Rocket") yet the elder Richard did not barge into the NHL in the manner of Wayne Gretzky, and more recently, Sidney Crosby. As a junior he was considered injury prone (RL - Rocket was considered a top rank prospect, then suffered two key injuries.), and when he finally reported to the Canadiens as a rookie, he was rehabilitating from a broken leg. At first management feared that he would never be fast enough to fly with the other French stars, and the Montreal front office considered releasing him.

Instead, they gave him a second chance (RL - I'd suggest he earned it with 11 points in 16 games!), placing him on a line with two experienced veterans, left wing Hector "Toe" Blake and center Elmer Lach. The youngster, who had been the last man to make his junior team, flourished. The media nicknamed the trio "the Lamplighter Line," for the frequency for which the right goal light flashed for them. When Richard scored an unprecedented 50 goals in 50 games during the 1945-46 (RL - 2 seasons later.) season, the name "Rocket" was attached to him forever.

The names his opponents called him were far less printable. His will to win knew few bounds, literally.

There is a life-size sculpture of Richard in full skate outside a museum in Montreal's Olympic Park, but no sculptor, no matter how skilled, could capture his physical hallmark, his eyes. As Belliveau used to say, "He prefers to express himself on the ice. I would tell our younger players to watch the fire emanating from his eyes."

An opponent's view of Richard's relentlessness could be harrowing. "When he came flying toward you, "said Hall of Fame goalie Glenn Hall, "his eyes were all lit up, flashing and gleaming like a pinball machine." Wally Stanowski, a former Toronto player, went further. "He had that fiery look all the time," said Stanowski, "I once heard it described as having the look of an escaped mental patient. I thought that was a good description."

Late in his career, the Rocket suffered an Achilles tendon injury which kept him inactive for a long time, and there was some fear that his career might be ended. When he came back to play it was in the lair of Montreal's arch-enemy, Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Richard didn't start the game, but played with the second line. When he jumped over the boards to come on the ice for the first time, there was a puck loose near the Leafs' blue line. He pounced upon it, like a lion on a young zebra. He launched his shot immediately, and it flew past Johnny Bower, another Hall of Fame goalie.

The Toronto fans, most of whom hated him, exploded in a rueful salute.

In a game on March 15 against New York (Boston) near the end of the 1955 season, Richard's competitive fury, which he managed to channel most of the time, became completely un-channeled. It started when the high stick of Ranger (Bruins) defenseman Hal Laycoe cut him and it drew blood. Laycoe was a former teammate of the Rocket's, but that didn't stop Richard from attacking him in revenge, hitting him across the shoulders and face with his stick. (RL - Richard also used his fists, after an initial stick blow.)

Finally, as the fight seemed to subside, lineman Cliff Thompson moved in to separate the combatants and return order to the game, which is part of a linesman's job. Richard did not wish to be soothed, and when Thompson tried to move him away from Laycoe, he punched the linesman twice in the face, knocking him unconscious. (RL - Actually Thompson approached and withheld Richard from behind as Laycoe decked him! Just a small, minute detail.)

As soon as the game ended, the referee filed a report to the NHL commissioner, Clarence Campbell, since attacking an official in hockey is just as serious as it is in any other sport. After digesting the report and pondering his options (RL - Apparently discussing it with the owners of the 5 other NHL teams! ) for two days, Campbell issued his decision: Richard would be suspended, not just for the last three games of the regular season, but for the entire Stanley Cup playoffs.

The people of the city of Montreal and the province of Quebec itself were thunderstruck. The Canadiens and Detroit were tied for first place in the league and were to meet that night in the Montreal Forum. The fan reaction was so immediate and furious in the city that the police commissioner warned Campbell, whose office and that of the league were located in Montreal, that it would be inadvisable for him to attend the game as was his usual custom. Public attitudes were so poisonous that his staff begged him not to even think about entering the Forum.

Hours before the opening face-off, crowds, most of whom did not have tickets, gathered on St. Catharines St. and adjoining streets around the Forum, and they were in a surly mood. At the Montreal Gazette, the editor, sensing that the usual number of reporters staffing a Canadiens game would not be sufficient to cover what might happen, assigned a young sports writer named Red Fisher (Fisher worked for the Montreal Star in 1955, not the Gazette.) to rush to the Forum, not to cover any aspect of the game, but to handle whatever other newsworthy event might occur.

Fisher, who was to become a journalistic legend in Montreal, had never before covered anything at the Forum, but as soon as he arrived he sensed that what was growing among the crowds, both inside and outside the building, was a possible riot. He was correct.

This was 12 years before Gen. Charles DeGaulle, the greatest Frenchman of the 20th Century, visited French Canada and finished his emotional speech with the words "Long Live Free Quebec!" Among those listening intently to DeGaulle was Rene Levesque, who would found the Quebec Separatist Movement that same year.

But the bitter feeling between Anglo Canada and Gallic Canada had been simmering for years, and it seemed to begin to boil over as a result of Campbell's suspension of Maurice Richard. After all, Rocket was a man of the Montreal streets who had grown up across the street from a prison. Early in his career, he spent a day moving his family out of their old house and into a new one, carrying heavy furniture up and down stairs. Then he went to work at the Forum, scored two goals and assisted on another (RL - Point of fact, it was a mere 5 goals and 3 assists in a crushing 9-1 win over Detroit!) in a Canadiens' victory. The people of Quebec saw themselves in him, and what they saw as an insult to him was also an insult to them and French Canada.

Clarence Campbell was a tall, dignified and austere man, a lawyer who had been a judge for Canada in the Nazi war criminal trials in Germany after World War II. He brushed aside warnings about showing up at the Forum, walking quickly to his seats, which were in the stands amid ordinary fans. With him was his secretary who later would become his wife. Their appearance amounted to a red flag in the face of bulls.

Red Fisher stationed himself on the stairway just below where Campbell sat. "People began throwing things at him – tomatoes, eggs, garbage – and one man walked right up to him and smashed a tomato right into Campbell's shirt. Then a guy whom I recognized as a local street thug walked up the stairs to Campbell's seat with a smile on his face, stuck out his hand and when Campbell reached to take it this guy punched him.

"There was a Detroit player, whom the Red Wings had made a healthy scratch for the game, who was in a seat near Campbell's. He came over and pulled the thug away and they began fighting."

Amazingly, the game began to go on. Midway in the first period, Detroit had the lead and the fans began to pelt Campbell with more vegetables and garbage. It was announced that Detroit was awarded a forfeit victory. Finally, a tear gas canister was detonated, and the Forum was evacuated. (RL - Tear gas first, forfeit afterwards.)

As the fans emptied the building and filled the streets, the riot began in earnest, with cars overturned, stores looted and fires started. The authorities reached Richard, who seemed stunned at the angry outpouring of the fans over his suspension and the riot that ensued. They asked him to help calm the city and he did. "I had to go on the radio and ask all the people who were doing damage on the street and to the stores to stop."

The rioting finally stopped the next day, but the fury of the people was slower to subside. Geoffrion, who was in a close race with Richard for the NHL scoring title, won it with the Rocket suspended in the final two games. "Boom-Boom" received death threats as a result.

Without Maurice Richard, the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup as well as the regular-season championship, but Richard would come back for five more seasons, all of which ended with the Canadiens winning the Cup. He retired in 1960.

Upon his retirement, some of the notable players against whom he competed were contacted for their reaction. Gordie Howe, Detroit's great right wing and Richard's fiercest rival, put his feelings succinctly: "He was a bastard."

At the closing of the Montreal Forum in 1996, a tearful "Rocket" received the longest standing ovation in the city's history. For some 16 minutes, adulation poured over him, the fans chanting his name over and over again. The "Rocket" died in 2000 and received a formal state funeral that was broadcast live across Canada.

Here, for perspective's sake, is a more accurate accounting of the event of the Richard Riot and suspension.

As Montreal's great star, it was common for Richard to be antagonized on the ice. Teams would reportedly send one or two players to do nothing more than annoy him, and throughout his career Richard was fined and suspended several times for retaliation assaults on players (and even officials). One such incident would spark one of the worst hockey-related incidents in history.

On March 13, 1955, Richard was given a match penalty for intentionally injuring Hal Laycoe, after he had been deliberatally struck in the head with a hockey stick by the player, in a game against the Boston Bruins.

Laycoe had highsticked Richard in the head during a Montreal power play. The referee signalled for a penalty to be called, but play was allowed to continue because the Canadiens had possession of the puck. Richard indicated to the referee that he'd been injured, and then skated up to Laycoe -- who had dropped his stick and gloves preparatory to a fight -- and struck Laycoe in the face and shoulders with his stick.

The linesmen attempted to restrain Richard, who repeatedly broke away from them to attack Laycoe, even breaking his stick over his back. Moments passed and a second linesman Cliff Thompson, restrained Richard by holding both his arms in a lock. Richard broke loose and punched Thomson twice in the face, knocking him unconscious. Richard later said at a league hearing that he thought Thompson was one of Boston's players.

Given that it was Richard's second assault on an official in that season alone, a formal inquiry took place on March 16 after which NHL president Clarence Campbell made the following statement:

"I have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that the attack on Laycoe was not only deliberate but persisted in the face of all authority and that the referee acted with proper judgment in accordance with the rules in awarding a match penalty. I am also satisfied that Richard did not strike linesman Thompson as a result of a mistake or accident as suggested. There is singularly little conflict in the evidence as to important relevant facts. Assistance can also be obtained from an incident that occurred less than three months ago in which the pattern of conduct of Richard was almost identical, including his constant resort to the recovery of his stick to pursue his opponent, as well as flouting the authority of and striking officials. On the previous occasion he was fortunate that teammates and officials were more effective in preventing him from doing injury to anyone and the penalty was more lenient in consequence. At the time he was warned there must be no further incident. It was too bad that his teammates did not assist officials instead of interfering with them. The time for probationary lenience has passed, whether this type of conduct is the product of temperamental instability or willful defiance of the authority of the game does not matter. Richard will be suspended from all games both league and playoff for the balance of the current season."

The suspension - at the time, the longest in NHL history for an on-ice incident - was considered by many in Montreal to be unjust and severe. Detroit Red Wings General Manager Jack Adams leapt to Campbell's defence, saying that Richard was becoming "too big for the league" and needed to be "put in his place.

The suspension came when the Rocket was leading the NHL in scoring and the Canadiens were battling for first place with Detroit. Richard's suspension also cost him the scoring title, the closest he ever came to winning it. When Richard's teammate Bernie Geoffrion surpassed Richard on scoring on the last day of the regular season, he was booed by the Canadiens' faithful.

Public outrage from Montreal soon poured in. Local radio call-in shows became so inundated with calls that radio stations were begging people not to call in. For his part, Campbell did not budge, and announced that he would be attending the Habs' next home game against the Red Wings in four days. Security was increased at the game, which itself was uneventful. However, it saw many protesters with signs that read "A bas Campbell" or "Vive Richard", with much of the crowd noise directed at Campbell, and few paying attention to the game or to the fact that Richard himself had also taken a seat at the game. As Montreal coach Dick Irvin Sr. pointed out, "the people didn't care if we got licked 100-1 that night."

Midway through the first period, Campbell arrived with his fiancée. Outraged Habs fans immediately began pelting them with eggs, vegetables, and various debris, with more being thrown at him each time the Red Wings scored, who built up a 4-1 lead. The continuous pelting of various objects stopped when a tear gas bomb was set off inside the Forum, not far from where Campbell was sitting.

The Forum was ordered evacuated and Campbell ruled the game forfeited to the Red Wings. The victory would ultimately provide Detroit with the margin it needed to win first place overall and be guaranteed home ice throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Said Jack Adams after the game, "I blame [the media] for what's happened. You've turned Richard into an idol, a man whose suspension can turn hockey fans into shrieking idiots."

The tear gas bomb and forfeiture had also altered the mood of the incident, turning it destructive and violent. A riot ensued outside the Forum, causing $500,000 in damage to the neighborhood and the Forum itself. Hundreds of stores were looted and vandalized within a 15-block radius of the Forum. Twelve policemen and 25 civilians were injured. The riot continued well into the night, with police arresting people by the truckload. Local radio stations, which carried live coverage of the riot for over seven hours, had to be forced off the air. The riot eventually ended at 3 am, and left Montreal's Ste. Catherine street in shambles.

Reporters lined up to see both Campbell and Richard that day. Richard was reluctant to make a statement, fearing that it could start another riot, but eventually gave the following statement:

"Because I always try so hard to win and had my troubles in Boston, I was suspended. At playoff time it hurts not be in the game with the boys. However, I want to do what is good for the people of Montreal and the team. So that no further harm will be done, I would like to ask everyone to get behind the team and to help the boys win from the New York and Detroit. I will take my punishment and come back next year to help the club and the younger players to win the Cup."

His words would prove prophetic, as the Habs would lose the Cup final to Detroit in seven games, but would win the Cup in the year after - and the four years after that. Richard retired in 1960 after the Canadiens' fifth straight Stanley Cup, a record that still stands.

For more on the Rocket, and the riot on March 17, 1955, check out these links.

Maurice Rocket Richard Tribute Website

Canadian Musuem Of Civilization Online

Maurice Richard at Wikipedia

Richard's HHOF Profile

CBC Television and Radio Archives of Richard

Leave Our Richard Alone - NY Times March 17, 1955

The Hockey Game That Broke Out During A Riot - Detroit News

What To Do With 41 Stanley Cups?

"Montreal is a sports Mother Hubbard with so many Stanley Cups she doesn't know what to do with them!"

If a group of four citizens gets its way, future downtown pedestrians will soon be able to look down and see Howie Morenz and Maurice Richard and other hockey greats embedded in the sidewalk

A committee formed by lawyer Allison Turner, academic Michel Vigneault, McGill PR rep Earl Zukerman and jazz pianist Billy Georgette report that their goal of sprinkling memories of hockey past throughout the downtown region seems to be receiving some ready ears.

The current plan is to make a hockey walk of fame on sidewalks from the Bell Centre to the old Forum, to the site of the former Victoria Rink (at Drummond and René-Lévesque) and to McGill's Roddick Gates, all considered important sites in the history of hockey.

"We met with downtown councillor Louise O'Sullivan-Boyne and it went very well, she was very supportive and enthusiastic. It went better than I could ever imagine," says Zukerman. "She said it ties in with a bunch of other projects they're working on to renew the downtown core." The committee also reports that the Montreal Canadiens hockey team has also expressed strong support for the plan.

The initiative to enshrine the place of hockey onto the downtown streets began when Georgette developed a fascination with a nondescript indoor parking lot straddling Drummond and Stanley. The building was put up in 1862 and in 1875 hosted an intramural hockey game pitting two teams of McGill students. "The referees wore top hats and carried big Christmas bells like carolers have. There were nine players per side and if a guy got injured, too bad, you played short," says Georgette.

The Zurich-based International Ice Hockey Federation recently recognized that initial contest as the world's first-ever hockey game and plans to put a plaque on the site to commemorate the event.

"That was the original hockey rink, even though it was built for social skating," says Georgette, who notes that the size of the ice surface dictated today's standard 200-feet-by-85-feet dimensions.
Georgette met several times with then-owner Lorne Webster, in an effort to turf the car rental business from the building and return the building to its former pristine glory. Webster was also a keen fan of local sports history, having written a book on the history of squash in Montreal, but little resulted from the meeting.
Restoring the Victoria Rink might not happen soon, nor will Georgette's dream of transforming the parking lot in front of the Bell Centre into a hockey theme park. But those involved consider the hockey walk of fame a strong possibility and Georgette says it's suitable for a city that has won 41 Stanley Cups in the last 110 years.

"Other heritage places, like the Plains of Abraham, are sites of agony and destruction, but this is an exuberant life force. Montreal is a sports Mother Hubbard with so many Stanley Cups she doesn't know what to do with them," he says. "Hockey is something we all have together. It's something that we can all share, where English can be proud of French guys and vice versa."

Friday, May 18, 2007

Habs New Practice Facility A State Of The Art Endeavor

Transcribed in part from Bertand Raymond, Le Journal de Montreal, May 15, 2007.

To take the word of Julien Brisebois, the Montreal Canadiens vice president of hockey operations, the Habs new practice rink and fitness center will become the envy of the league.

Gone are the days of Canadiens players pulling down tuques over their ears in minus thirty degree weather to trod onto cross town buses in full equipement for practices. The unsightly inconvenience of shuffling the team when a booked Bell Centre conspired against practice time will be a thing of the past starting with the 2008-09 season.

According to Brisebois, who isn't lent to bragging easily, the Habs new digs in Brossard will go above and beyond those already prominant in the NHL in cities such as Dallas, Philadelphia, San Jose, Washington and New York, as well as an NFL facility set up for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brisebois, the team's brass, and a group of architects studying the project made the rounds this past winter and took note of each facility had to offer and have come up with a design and layout that is said to be state of the art.

What they had in mind was a complex of such a magnitude that it would become a feature selling point to players considering Montreal as a possible destination for their hockey careers.
Brisebois suggests that word will quickly spread throughout the league of the training facility's edge.

"When our players speak of this building throughout the league, and visiting players come by", says Brisebois, "we want them to be stunned by what they discover. Whether it be practices, training, or any of a number of projects, we want to send the message that things are done first class. That is of prime importance to the players."

Different scenarios were studied from the outset, such as housing a junior team. The idea quickly fell to the wayside upon discovery that the 7000 seat minumum required by the QMJHL would almost double the cost of the project. In the end it just wasn't feasable. The design of the complex would have been compromised beyond the Habs needs.

Without divulginging finite details of the plans, Brisebois told of the many advantages to the team in spending the $30 million for the complex.

For starters, players drenched in sweat from a hard day's workout at the nearest available arena will no longer be boarding buses in the cold to return to the Bell Centre for showers in mid-winter in what Bob Gainey stated was a teams routine since the 1950's.

Gainey's expertise in carrying out the project was vital, having experience the building of two such complexes in Dallas - one when the Stars first arrived from Minnesota, and another during Gainey's last season there.

The GM mentions that one of the better advantages is actually a secondary benefit to the overall idea. Younger players wishing to remain on the ice longer in order to work with coaches no longer have to hurry off to make the bus in time.

Another positive factor is the Brossard location itself. The majority of the teams players live on Nun's Island or downtown Montreal, which are within 10 kilometres of the Brossard site. The team flies out from the airport in St. Hubert, also a short skip away.

While Gainey prefers to keep his own headquarters at the Bell, coaches will all have their own offices and areas in Brossard which facilitates traffic and contact between players and coaches after practices and training.

Perhaps the biggest upside has to do with the access the new complex provides. The Bell Centre is rigidly placed in a downtown area where space is not wasted. It is hardly an environment that lends itself to easy fan access on non-game days. In Brossard, there will be seating for just under a thousand fans for both ice pads. The Canadiens will use this fact to hold more practices that will be open to the public.

Gone will be the Sunday treks to Verdun, where scheduled games and skating were often cancelled at the last hour to make room for the Canadiens to hold practice. Gainey says that often the Canadiens opted not to practice because they felt it wrong to continously bump the arena's timetable for their benefit.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Report On Habs European Prospects And Others News Tidbits

The mantra for the Habs' European prospects - for the most part - has been the same this season: get over here! With four prospects plying their trade in European leagues, three are running the risk of stunting their development playing in leagues and programs that may not mesh with their needs and styles of play.

The Habs have two players in the Russian league: Alexei Yemelin (3rd round, 84th overall, 2004) and Pavel Valentenko (5th round, 139th overall, 2006). And, in the opinion of Trevor Timmins, Montreal's Director of Player Recruitment and Development, their style of play won't be properly developed by staying in Russia.

"Both [Yemelin] and Valentenko need to come over here and get immersed in our culture. They're both mean, they're nasty, and that type of game is not prevalent in the Russian League," he said. "They have to come over to improve the style of game they're playing. They can always develop over there but to develop the style of game they play, they need to come here."

That's a key point. Timmins has nothing against the Russian league in terms of talent and does consider it a viable developmental option for some players. However, as the league is more finesse-based, players who have more of an edge to their game and play a physical style often run into philosophical challenges with referees and coaches.

"Look at Valentenko. He's playing in the Russian League and playing an aggressive style," Timmins said. "He's getting a lot of penalties because of the style he plays, which has the coaches getting on him. The more penalties he gets, the more hesitant he plays."

In addition, Timmins points to an example from within his own organization as a perfect illustration of the benefit of NHL prospects coming as early as possible to North America.

Here's a clip of the infamous Alexei Yemelin incident a few years back, that testifies to his style some.

"Take, for example, the Kostitsyn brothers" says Timmins, "Sergei is further along in two years than Alexei was because he came over right away," he explained, adding that learning the language and acclimatizing to the North American style of play is easier when you're younger and can help pave the way to a smoother ride to the NHL long-term.

Yemelin's numbers dropped from last season with his Tolyatti Lada club. In 43 games, he only scored two goals and added five assists. And reflective of Timmins' comments, he appeared to play a more hesitant game, dropping from 129 PIM last season to just 74 this year.

Valentenko, conversely, had a breakthrough year. After a stellar performance at the World Junior Championships where he was the tournament's top defenseman and displayed some offensive upside in leading the Russian squad to silver, he played a solid role with Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik squad. Although only accounting for two assists in 50 games, he played a solid overall defensive game.

Montreal also has one prospect in the Finnish league in Oskari Korpikari (7th round, 217th overall, 2003). The optimist would say that the Finnish prospect tripled his offensive products, the realist would counter that it's not that hard of a feat when your previous year saw you score only one goal, and the pessimist would look at the situation and say if he doesn't come overseas soon, any window of opportunity he may have had gets closed.

The truth, as is usually the case, lies somewhere in the middle."

He played on the championship team and he's been with Karpat for a number of years, but he didn't get enough playing time," Timmins said. "That wasn't the best situation for him."

Korpikari did take to the ice in North America during the preseason with the Habs, but returned to the familiar surroundings in Finland. However, the club has to make a decision about the 6'2, 205-pound defenseman's future as he needs to be signed this spring. One would assume that a decision to continue his game in North America would be a huge factor in the Habs' thought process.

The final prospect overseas is netminder Christopher Heino-Lindberg (6th round, 177th overall, 2003). In his second year backstopping Farjestads BK of the Swedish Elite League, Heino-Lindberg still found himself in back-up role to Daniel Henriksson.

In the 18 games, he did play, however, he posted solid numbers: a 2.33 GAA with a .916 save percentage. Unfortunately, for Heino-Lindberg to have a chance at progressing anywhere within a Montreal Canadiens organization that's deep in netminding prospects, he'll have to show he has the ability to be the main man in the SEL before getting the same opportunity here in the ECHL or the AHL.

Unfortunately, with the elite performances of goalie-of-the-future Carey Price, and goalie-of-the-moment Jaroslav Halak not to mention the eye-opening performance of Hamilton signee Cedrick Desjardins - Heino-Lindberg's window of opportunity is on the verge of slamming shut.

You can read all about GM Bob Gainey's last thoughts on signings and freeagents from May 10th in this gazette story and there are photos and videos of all Habs prospects and current Canadiens linked here. This little site makes for a nice little photo resourse of some lesser known players as well.

Other Canadiens related posts of interest:

The always industrious Joe Pelletier at Legends of Hockey Network has been busy as a beaver compiling posts on all the Habs legends who were members of the 1956-60 Canadiens dynasty that won 5 Cups in a row. The six surviving members of all 5 Cups are soon to be honoured by the NHL, and Joe has in depth profilesd on all.Of his latest additions, Marcel Bonin is of particular interest as an unsung hero of the 1959 Cup. Check out the Habs Legends section and lose yourself for a few good hours.

Former Montreal Canadiens scout and assistant GM Ron Caron, best known as the St. Louis Blues GM who traded for Brett Hull, was recently honoured at the CEGEP St-Laurent, where he taught as a professor and enjoyed his beginnings in hockey. The ailing 78 year old Caron had the arena renamed after him in tribute. Read all about his trials and tribulation and what former Habs greats had to say about him here.

The E.L. Crossley Marching Band of Welland, Ontario played a Montreal Canadiens band in a movie filmed back in April about a closet Canadiens fan living on Leafs turf. The movie is to be called back in '93. Check it out!

James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail recently published the stats of the Original Six teams since the 1967 expansion. Of course, there is total domination by the Habs in just about every conceivable category including the one which counts most. Have a look!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Two Canadiens Dynasties Get To Brawl For It All

Note - An online poll was conducted by the Vancouver Province where readers had to choose from 16 of the best all time playoff teams in a ranked playoff order format. Readers were asked to vote for which teams through the era's they thought would win each series. Panelists from the paper weighed in with their thoughts as the readers dropped their votes. The final result that will be played out pits the 1956 Canadiens against the 1976 Canadiens. I predict 7 games of triple overtime! Meanwhile, certain hockey fans still debate who is Canada's team. In my eyes, this vote dispells all notions from coast to coast. Canada's team is still the Habs. Follow the link given below for the final result.

THE FINAL: Same franchise from different generations skates through the competition to set up an all-Montreal series with some of the greatest players ever.

What's a fantasy Stanley Cup tournament without a little controversy?

OK, maybe more than a little.

After three weeks of voting -- by our panellists and online by readers -- in The Province's All-Time Stanley Cup Champion tournament, we've come down to a final that features the Montreal Canadiens playing themselves: The 1976-77 version versus the 1955-56 squad.

To the surprise of some -- and the consternation of others -- it will not feature either Edmonton Oiler team included in our original roster of 16 great clubs. Or the Bobby Orr-led 1971-72 Boston Bruins.

The semifinal between the 1972 Bruins and the 1956 Canadiens was particularly contentious, with online voters giving the Habs 66 per cent of the vote, while our panel narrowly went with Orr and company. Still, after a weighted vote calculation, Montreal maintained a 53 per cent win.

Here is our hypothetical final, along with the third-round results.

You can vote online to determine the all-time champ at:

To the surprise of some, and the consternation of others, it will not feature either Edmonton Oiler team included in our original roster of 16 great clubs. Or the Bobby Orr-led 1971-72 Boston Bruins.

The semifinal between the 1972 Bruins and the 1956 Canadiens was particularly contentious, with online voters giving the Habs 66 per cent of the vote, while our panel narrowly went with Orr and company. Still, after a weighted vote calculation, Montreal maintained a 53 per cent win.

Here is our hypothetical final, along with the third-round results.

You can vote online to determine the all-time champ at:


Round 3: Defeated 1971-72 Boston Bruins

Readers: 66 per cent in favour of Montreal

Panellists: Boston

Cup Final Opponent: 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens

Province columnist Ed Willes bucked the trend on the panel, but was in line with the overall selection, forecasting Montreal in five games.

"Over 50 years after the fact, the game still stands in awe of the dazzling array of weapons possessed by the Habs in the mid-to-late '50s," he says. "Their goalie, Jacques Plante, won five straight Vezinas beginning in '56. Their best defenceman, Doug Harvey, won seven Norris trophies in eight years beginning in '55. Another Habs defenceman, Tom Johnson, interrupted that streak. From '54-55 to '57-58 three different Habs led the NHL in scoring -- Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geoffrion, Jean Beliveau and Dickie Moore. Rocket Richard wasn't the force he'd been five years earlier but he still scored 38 goals in '55-56, tied for second in the league behind Beliveau.

"The Bruins, of course, were formidable with Bobby Orr at his peak and a collection of size-and-skill forwards led by Phil Esposito. But when you compare the two lineups, sorry, there's no comparison. Orr couldn't beat the Canadiens by himself."

Province hockey writer Jason Botchford feels it would be a cakewalk for the Bruins, if only because they "somehow beat the 1983-84 Oilers -- an absolutely ludicrous decision."

He points out that teams from the 1950s are used hockey sticks with straight blades and the goalies didn't wear masks, so you would have to believe any team from the 1970s could beat them.

"If they were good enough to take out the best Oilers team ever -- a team that scored 5.58 goals a game -- they are certainly good enough to wipe out this Habs dynasty," Botchford adds.
"Forget the Habs' Hall-of-Famers, the Toe Blake-led Habs don't have anywhere near the Oilers' firepower -- just one player with 80 points -- so this one should be a breeze for the Bruins."
Panellist Barry McDonald of TEAM 1040 AM also likes the Bruins.

"If offence wins championships, then Boston takes care of the Habs," he says. "Their leading scorer was Phil Esposito with 133 points. Jean Beliveau topped the Habs with 88. Bobby Orr was second on the Bruins with 117 points. The Rocket was second to Beliveau with 71. Boston scored 330 goals in 78 games, Montreal managed 222 in 70. With all due respect to Dollard St. Laurent, he was no match for Orr."

Adds David Pratt of TEAM 1040 AM: "The Bruins had Orr, eight straight Norris Trophies ..."


Round 3: Defeated 1987-88 Edmonton Oilers

Readers: 58 per cent in favour of Montreal

Panellists: Montreal

Cup Final Opponent: 1955-56 Montreal Canadiens

Province hockey writer Jason Botchford calls the Oilers-Habs matchup the defacto final and many would agree these two clubs are the most dominant of the modern era. But Botchford argues against consensus, picking the Oilers to vanquish the storied Habs with a Game 7 overtime decision.

"These are the two best teams left in the tournament," he says. "And these are two incredible teams. This contest is what this Stanley Cup championship tournament is all about -- two of the greatest teams ever, Lafleur vs. Gretzky, Shutt vs. Messier, Gainey vs. Tikkanen, Dryden vs. Fuhr. Sadly, this isn't the best-ever Oilers team (the 1983-84 team was) but they were still good enough to put up a fight against the greatest Habs team of all-time. The Oilers didn't have the gaudy numbers of years past (Gretzky had "just" 149 points this year), but they had learned exactly what they needed to do to win.

"The Flying Frenchmen will have their hands full trying to contain two of the best lines in hockey history led by two of the best centres. They'll likely try to put Bob Gainey on Wayne Gretzky's No. 1 line, which should have mixed results. Shutting down Mark Messier's line could be Larry Robinson's sole responsibility. Good luck. The Oilers, with their strength at centre, are just too much for Scotty Bowman and Ken Dryden who never saw anyone like Gretzky, or Messier in his career. Watch Gretzky somehow find Jari Kurri from behind Dryden's net to set up the goal that sends Game 7 into OT. And then, in the second overtime, Messier just can't be denied in front of the net."

But Province columnist Ed Willes begs to differ. He picks Montreal in six games.

"There has never been a more perfectly constructed team in the history of the NHL," Willes says. "Goalie Ken Dryden was one of the two or three best at his position in the game and he might have been the weakest link on the team. The defence featured three Hall-of-Famers: Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe. They had the best line in the league with Guy Lafleur, Jacques Lemaire and Steve Shutt. Scoring depth? How about Yvan Cournoyer, Peter Mahovlich and Rejean Houle. Grit? Mario Tremblay, Yvon Lambert and Doug Risebrough. And for all that, they're best all-around player might have been Bob Gainey who seldom scored more than 20 goals in a season. They beat tough teams (the Broad Street Bullies), skill teams (the Sabres of that era), big teams (the Boston Bruins) and young teams (the Islanders) They lost eight freaking games the whole season.

"The '87-'88 Oilers were the most mature, battle-tested edition of their Stanley Cup teams. But you go up and down the lineup and the Habs would seem to have an answer for everything the Oilers could throw at them. Their biggest advantage, however, would be behind the bench where Scotty Bowman would be pushing the buttons against Glen Sather."

Panellist Barry McDonald of TEAM 1040 AM also likes the Habs, also in six games.
"Esa Tikkanen might have driven Guy Lafleur to distraction, but Doug Jarvis quietly did a number on Wayne Gretzky," he says.

Note 2 - For the record let me state that my opinion on comparing great teams from different era's is a touch lucridous. Training, strength, and skill improve greatly by decade in any sport. Equipement and defensefive strategies play into the equation as well. Today's lamest teams, the 2007 Chicago Black Hawks for example, would kick either the '56 or '77 Canadiens asses badly. It reminds me of an old Henri Richard joke, only that I'd reverse the great Pocket Rocket's intended irony. The exchange between Henri and a reporter went something like this, in the early 1990's.

Reporter: If your brother, the Rocket, were playing in the NHL today, how many goals do you think he'd score in a season?

Henri: (Without hesitation) Ten, maybe 12.

Reporter: But Henri, your brother was the greatest pure goal scorer of his era!

Henri: I understand that, but he's seventy years old now!

Considering the different era's and changes to the game, if Maurice Richard were an NHL'er today, at 5'10", and 180 lbs at best, he'd fare slightly better than Duncan Milroy, given the Rocket's character and hatred of losing.

That, my friends, is the brutal truth of the matter.