Saturday, August 30, 2008

Who Are The 100 Greatest Habs Of All Time?

There will be many lists such as this seeing as the Canadiens embark on their centennial season. In fact, if I am not mistaken, I read somewhere that someone has written a book with the same title as this post. I'll have to pick it up if I see it on the shelf. Of course, as soon as that notion crossed my mind, I was compelled to come up with a list of my own.

It was simple enough to gather 150 names or so, but a lot tougher to try and rank them, or decide who to leave off. I figured just throwing out the list would be cause for interesting discussion or even a heated debate or two.

I didn't delve into any scientific methodology to compile this list, I just went over an alphabetical listing of the 701 players - from Didier Pitre to Gregory Stewart - and picked out what I felt were the most significant contributors to the team through time. My guidelines for choosing this All Time 100 were very loose, as to enable any player from any era to make the list.

Some of the reasoning I followed goes like this:

Contributions to the team during the dynasty years of the 1950's, 60's and 70's were given priority in most instances.

A player's relevance, historically, and how crucial they were to sustaining the team in good years and bad.

Individual awards, Hall Of Famers, team captains, and All Stars were noted.

Length of tenure with the club.

Individual achievements during a single Stanley Cup winning season.

Single, or multiple season achievements, and team records.

Proficiency in a particular role.

As many as 150 players were considered before the list was whittled down to 120. Here is an alphabetical listing of those 20 who sat on the bubble.

Patrice Brisebois, Murph Chamberlain, Kjell Dhalin, Phil Goyette, Charlie Hodge, Mike Keane, Rod Langway, Bunny Larocque, Stephan Lebeau, Craig Ludwig, Don Marshall, Gerry McNeil, Armand Mondou, John Quilty, Craig Rivet, Martin Rucinsky, Michael Ryder, Brian Savage, Brian Skrudland, and Pierre Turgeon.

Here is the list indescending order. There are no reasons given for where the choices sit, but if prompted, I'll do my best to explain them. The only guideline for understanding the list lies in knowing that for the most part, it is not neccesarily about who was the better player, but who offered the bigger contribution over time.

100 - Billy Boucher
99 - Sheldon Souray
98 - Jose Theodore
97 - Marcel Bonin
96 - Buddy O' Connor
95 - Herb Gardiner
94 - Louis Berlinguette
93 - Alex Kovalev
92 - Ryan Walter
91 - Mike McPhee

90 - Mark Napier
89 - John Leclair
88 - Wildor Larochelle
87 - Paul Haynes
86 - Billy Reay
85 - Mark Recchi
84 - Shayne Corson
83 - Mathieu Schneider
82 - Rejean Houle
81 - Brian Bellows

80 - Joe Malone
79 - Chris Nilan
78 - Chris Chelios
77 - Babe Siebert
76 - Kirk Muller
75 - Gilles Tremblay
74 - Dollard St. Laurent
73 - George Mantha
72 - Pit Lepine
71 - Ray Getliffe

70 - Claude Larose
69 - Eric Desjardins
68 - Glen Harmon
67 - Doug Risebrough
66 - Jim Roberts
65 - Claude Lemieux
64 - Albert Leduc
63 - Pierre Mondou
62 - Mario Tremblay
61 - Andrei Markov

60 - Ted Harris
59 - Pierre Larouche
58 - Joe Benoit
57 - Bobby Rousseau
56 - Yvon Lambert
55 - Odie Cleghorn
54 - Bobby Smith
53 - Johnny Gagnon
52 - Terry Harper
51 - Doug Jarvis

50 - Mats Naslund
49 - Jean Claude Tremblay
48 - Stephane Richer
47 - Floyd Curry
46 - Rogatien Vachon
45 - Sprague Cleghorn
44 - Pete Mahovlich
43 - Ken Mosdell
42 - Jean Guy Talbot
41 - Ralph Backstrom

40 - Bert Olmstead
39 - Vincent Damphousse
38 - Guy Carbonneau
37 - Frank Mahovlich
36 - Jack Laviolette
35 - Ken Reardon
34 - Emile Bouchard
33 - Tom Johnson
32 - Sylvio Mantha
31 - Saku Koivu

30 - Claude Provost
29 - Jacques Laperriere
28 - George Hainsworth
27 - John Ferguson
26 - Gump Worsley
25 - Guy Lapointe
24 - Didier Pitre
23 - Aurel Joliat
22 - Bill Durnan
21 - Bob Gainey

20 - Patrick Roy
19 - Steve Shutt
18 - Serge Savard
17 - Ken Dryden
16 - Elmer Lach
15 - Jacques Lemaire
14 - Bernie Geoffrion
13 - Toe Blake
12 - Yvan Cournoyer
11 - Larry Robinson

10 - Dickie Moore
9 - Georges Vezina
8 - Newsy Lalonde
7 - Jacques Plante
6 - Doug Harvey
5 - Howie Morenz
4 - Guy Lafleur
3 - Henri Richard
1 - Jean Beliveau
1 - Maurice Richard

My apologies for the double number one's - this is a debate I have long wrestled with myself over who epitomizes the Canadiens best. Is it the unbridled fire of The Rocket, or the class and grace of Beliveau? I know I will never be able to decide.

I don't know if I even want to!

Your comments?

Did I miss someone?


Martz said...

Saku better than Carbo ? hmmm...

Robert L said...

Yes, Martz, I do get your vibe.

That is something to reconsider.

My angle goes with Saku being the second longest tenured Hab captain in history, which I think counts for alot.

Anonymous said...

What an impressive and entertaining list! Thanks!


Hoegarden said...

Some of the younger ones might take a shot at your having Dryden ahead of Roy. Nice list although my childhood hero did not make it.

Robert L said...

Hoegarden - who was your hero?

Bryan said...

yeah i was wondering about saku over carbo too.

Robert L said...

T.C. Deneault of The Hockey News and Habs World sent this to me via e-mail. Not surprisingly, T.C. offers the most viable of arguments. I replied to him that I would think his comments over, and then reply to them in a day or so.

Here are T.C. 's words, followed by my countering.

Robert, I read with interest, your ranking of the 100 greatest Habs on your blog this morning.

It's funny that you briefly mention that a book is coming out this fall with the same premise. The book is available from Amazon and is written by Ken Campbell, the senior writer for the Hockey News, and is entitled Habs Heroes.

The rankings are based on a poll of hockey dignataries (I believe over 20) and their combined results make up the book.

I was fortunate enough to speak with the author a few nights ago. I was lucky enough to be told the top end of the ranking.

Unfortunately, I was told in the strictest confidence as the publisher wants to keep this under wraps until the book comes out.

Suffice to say that I think you'll find the list interesting and it is bound to stir some debate.

Personally, in looking at your list, and in the spirit of playful discussion I believe ...

-that you have Henri Richard ranked too high, obviously a great player, but he never was a dominant individual player like Harvey, Lafleur, or Plante for that matter.

-that you have Georges Vezina ranked too high, Plante, Roy, Dryden, Durnan, Hainsworth would in my mind all rank above him. Keep in my mind that in the NHL's 25th anniversary he was not named the all-time goalie (Clint Benedict beat him out) and that in the Hockey News ranking a few years back he was in the 70's right alongside Benedict, a goalie whose accomplishments are somewhat better than Vezina.

-at 20th spot, Patrick Roy is much too low (and without revealing too much, you'll find that the upcoming book feels the same).

-at 78th spot Chris Chelios is criminally low, don't forget that he won a Norris trophy with the Habs in 1989 (against a pretty stellar field, Bourque, Coffey, MacInnis, etc..), something that many you ranked ahead of him failed to do. With all due respect to Dollard St. Laurent or Eric Desjardins ... no way their ahead of Chelios ... a player that arguably wasn't replaced until the recent emergence of Andrei Markov.

-at 98th, Jose Theodore ???? There are a lot of guys on this list who never even sniffed a Hart Trophy in their careers. Don't forget that he was the face of the franchise (alongside Koivu) for the first half of this decade and he was responsible for some playoff success, should be at least another 25 spots up and also how does Alex Kovalev finish so far behind a Brian Bellows.

Either way, definitely a good bar argument.


My friend, you have done well to bring up some very good questions on my list. I had to do a good bit of brain shuffling to defend my positions on some of the rankings on this list. Here goes:

The Pocket Rocket, as you correctly state, was never dominant in any statistical manner. All the man did was win Stanley Cups, moreso than any other player! What he brought to the team was an unsurpassed blend of talent and fighting spirit. Henri did loads of dirty work - killing penalties as good as anyone ever had, shutting down star forwards twice his speed and size, and dropping the gloves whenever he felt it neccesary. He was as proud a player as his brother and he embodied what the Canadiens were in the 1960's and early 1970's. My list is all about the essential package that players brought to the team and how it contributed to the overall success of the club. I don't think there is a player in the history of the club who better exemplified the ideal of putting the team first. On that note, with 11 Cups, I felt I couldn't place Henri outside the top five. I was tempted to switch him places with Lafleur, but Pocket had double the Cups. Never dominant? Not individually, but he sure was in the one category that matters most. I actually came very close to placing him first - which would have upset a great number of people!

On first glance, I agree that perhaps Georges Vezina is about ten spots ahead of where many people would have him sit. I put alot of weight into the fact that he still is the longest tenured goalie in Habs history. It also impresses me that he ran off 328 consecutive games and that his career was stopped by what killed him. Statistically, for his era, he was admittedly second or third best in his lesser seasons. When he was on top of his game, he was simply incredible, according to those who saw him play. Much of his good work did not translate into Stanley Cups - he only won twice. Vezina however, often helped weak Canadiens teams of the day compete when they had no business being near the top clubs. While there was but the two Cups, there were additional O' Brien Cups that factor into his achievements. Of course, he never won a single Vezina Trophy!

As for Patrick Roy being 20th, consider that almost every player ranked ahead of him has won twice as many Cups with Montreal. Goaltender wins are often seen as an individual accomplishment, and rightly so, but it is also a reflection of a team's quality as well. What Roy accomplished after leaving Montreal greatly affect his perception as the game's all time best puck stopper. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean anything to me when ranking him in the Habs scheme of greats. Maybe I could have moved him ahead of Steve Shutt possibly, but that is as far as I would go. Technically, he was a much better goalie than Dryden, but I'm not listing players by talent here - it's all about results and contribution. Roy was a very dominant goalie in his era, but he can't top Durnan, Dryden or Plante in achievements. In the end, I strongly feel Roy is right where he ought to be.

As per Chelios - I messed up there didn't I? You are right, he should be alot higher. If given a do - over, I would nudge him into the mid sixties, slightly ahead of Desjardins. Not sure what I was thinking there, to be honest. I was looking at Desjardins' awesome '93 playoff a little too much perhaps. Dollard St. Laurent's four Cups place him where I think he ought to be, in terms of his contribution.

Theodore had one great season, and was just okay in some others. He came advertised as the second coming of Roy, but left as a second screening of Wilf Cude. His one season, of course, was absolutely excellent, but in the final tally, his Hart Trophy did not translate into much more than an inflated contract. He's been docked a rank or two for allowing himself to become distracted in all that follows. I actually fought against the idea of having him in at about 101. Again, it is not about the individual award, but the team, first and foremost.

I think Kovalev is where he ought to be for now, but he would move up significantly with another strong season and a deep playoff. As far as a comparison to where I ranked Bellows, I call a second do - over, LOL! I'd roll Bellows back behind Mike McPhee actually. Bellows one strong card was a great season of goalscoring in 1993. Good stuff, but not quite enough in re-examination, for 81st spot.

As for the Koivu over Carbonneau mentioned by two other readers - hey, I get braincramps too!

That whole 31- 40 should look more like this:

40 - Frank Mahovlich
39 - Vincent Damphousse
38 - Jack Laviolette
37 - Ken Reardon
36 - Saku Koivu
35 - Guy Carbonneau
34 - Emile Bouchard
33- Tom Johnson
32 - Bert Olmstead
31 - Sylvio Mantha

Now my head is really hurting!

Your serve!

Hoegarden said...

don't forget I was just a kid starting to watch hockey on TV (wow) back then. Bill Hicke was my guy. He scored a hat trick against the Wings and that was it for me.
I was quite disappointed in my Habs when they traded him to NY.

Anonymous said...

Well said Robert, where we perhaps disagree is in your evaluation of Stanley Cups. Now while this may be a good way to rank individual team's in some ways it does a disservice when ranking players.

For example, you place a heavy emphasis on Henri Richard winning 11 Stanley Cups. Does this make him though a better player than Elmer Lach, his predecessor who won 3 Stanley Cups. No it doesn't what it speaks to is Richard being a great player who also played on more great teams than Lach did.

In ranking players especially on a dominant team like the Canadiens one must ask yourself, how important was that individual player to the team's success. And while there can be no doubting that Henri Richard was a great player, one can express doubts about him ever being the most valuable player on any of the team's that he won championships with. Personally, in looking over the team's that he was on that won the Cup I think you would be hard pressed to say that he was ever the "best" player on any one of those team's.

In speaking with Henri he will tell you that the eleven Stanley Cups speak more to him being in the right place at the right time more than anything, as well as an abundance of great talent surrounding him. And while Henri was valuable, was he more valuable than say Doug Harvey, a man who won the Norris Trophy seven times, and was according to many of his teammates (Beliveau, Moore, Plante, etc..) the most valuable player on that great team of the 1950's. Ask yourself this, do the Habs win the five in a row without Henri Richard, maybe, maybe not. Now do they win them without Doug Harvey, in a word, no, and ultimately that's how i think the players should be ranked based on value not "team" accomplishment.

Ironically, you seem to take the opposite stance when defending the Georges Vezina pick, speaking of his longevity. However, when comparing his longevity to many of the men who followed him in the nets, one must remember that in Vezina's day, a goalie didn't have to play as many games in a season, didn't face slapshots, played in an era where the forward pass wasn't permitted, and played at a time when he didn't have to go down to make a save. Vezina played in a day where all the goalies played each of the games. Against his contemporaries his longevity is not that rare, so why should it be held against those who came after. And while you place value on his tenure, keep in mind that both Jacques Plante & Patrick Roy each played more than 200 plus games in the uniform as compared to Vezina.

Later on you mention that Patrick Roy is in twentieth spot because he only won two Stanley Cups with the Habs ... and how many did Vezina win ???

As a hint, in the upcoming book Roy finishes as the number two ranked goalie (and without giving more away in a very high spot). In comparing Roy and Dryden, one must look at the quality of the team's in front of them.

During his career Ken Dryden played with 15 HOF'ers. As of right now Patrick Roy in his career with the Canadiens, played with three (Gainey, Robinson, and Denis Savard, all three of whom were on the downside of their once great careers). Simply put without Patrick Roy, the Canadiens are staring at a cup drought stretching back to 1979.

Not disputing Ken Dryden's greatness one almost must allow for the fact that he played behind a dominant team, that routinely allowed 10 to 15 shots a night, a luxury that Roy never had. Also take into account that Dryden as opposed to Roy faced watered down competition in the 1970's (because of the WHA), as well as the fact that if you look at the numbers; his gaa and save percentage, are not much better if at all than his backup, Bunny Laroque. Furthermore two year's after he retired Laracque, Heron, & Sevigny shared a Vezina trophy. Now was that a reflection of how great those goalies were or more a reflection of the "Big Three" in front of them. You mention Patrick Roy not having the achievements of some of the other goalies. His three Conn Smythe trophies for me speak of the ultimate achievement for a goaltender, in addition, to the majority of today's goaltenders emulating the style he popularized.

In addition, in his autobiography Jean Beliveau lists Roy as one of the five greatest goalies he's ever seen, and second only to Plante as a Habs netminder. Noticeably, he doesn't mention Ken Dryden. That's enough for me.

You also mention that Dollard St. Laurent's four Cups place him where you think he should be in terms of his contribution. Ask yourself this Robert, what exactly was his contribution? No offense, but after he was traded the Canadiens continued to win and what did St. Laurent contribute elsewhere? On the other hand, one could convincingly argue that Chelios, one of the league's top defensemen for the next decade-and-a-half could maybe have helped the Canadiens avoid many of the struggles that were to come, suggesting that perhaps he had a bit more value than St. Laurent.

As for Theodore he was an all-star two years after his Hart win and did represent Canada in a World Cup. In terms of value you would be hard pressed to name a more valuable Hab than Theodore from 2000 to 2004. Again without him does the team even make the playoffs in 2002, much less the second round. Absolutely not, look over the 2002 roster again, probably the worst Habs team to win a playoff series.

Nothing like a good debate to get everyone geared up for the season to come.


Anonymous said...

Just going through the list again Robert and for fun I'd thought I'd point out a couple of players missing (in my humble opinion) ...

Dick Duff & Marc Tardif

T.C. Denault