114 years of the Montreal Canadiens: The ultimate starting lineup

Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens. Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

On December 4 1909, the Montreal Canadiens came into being. 114 years have passed for the ultimate hockey franchise and while success has been harder with the regular expansions in the NHL, there are few fans of any team in the league who will deny Montreal’s place at the head of the league.

It is always a difficult task to compare eras. Not only is the style of play so different to what we see today, there was not the same volume of games as there is now with an 82 game slate in the regular season. Comparing numbers with modern day players is like chalk and cheese but there are some players who managed to produce some serious numbers and made a massive impact in some of the greatest teams that have ever graced the ice in the league. 

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Head Coach

First and foremost we need a man to stand behind the bench. Two men stand out here, Hector Blake and Scotty Bowman. Blake was with the Canadiens for longer, coaching the team to eight Stanley Cup wins in 13 years. Bowman won five in eight before going on to lift the cup as a head coach in Pittsburgh and three times in Detroit.

It is not an easy choice between the pair but Bowman has more wins and cups than any coach in history and his last four years in Montreal saw the Canadiens go 229-46-45 with a playoffs record of 48-10 in that time. Even Blake cannot match that exceptional win percentage so the position goes to Bowman.

Starting Goalie

This is a difficult starting point on the ice as there are three or four men who have tended the net for the Habs in the past who could fill the spot between the pipes on the all time greatest team. This is going to start arguments as Patrick Roy will have his fans and although Carey Price was never able to lift a cup when he was in Montreal, he leads the team in all time wins. Jacques Plante is second time in wins for the Habs with a 2.22 GAA and a .920 save percentage. He was a narrow runner-up but the starting job goes to…

Ken Dryden

It was only a short period of time that Dryden spent in Montreal compared to the three men above but he still managed to pick up 258 wins from just 397 starts. Plante had 314 in 556, if Dryden had kept up his win rate until 556 games he would have had 361 wins, the same as Price but in more than 150 games less than the 15 year veteran.

A 2.24 GAA and a .922 save percentage puts him right alongside Plante in terms of numbers with the pair of them both lifting six cups. Five Vezina’s in an eight year career, it has always been a case of what could have been had he not retired at the age of 31. Of course, he played for a dynasty which is always going to be padding numbers but he was a goalie well ahead of his time, especially in terms of his size.  

What makes Dryden more remarkable is that he was able to walk away from the game at an early age to take part in other interests and was almost as successful doing them as he was when standing between the pipes on the ice. A politician and an author, Dryden has continued to have success away from the rink but he will always be best remembered as one of the greatest to ever wear the jersey.

Starting D-Men

Trying to find the two best defencemen is another difficult task. There are a couple of others who could have made the cut with the toughest part being that the majority of the best D-men in Canadiens history are all lefty shooters. 

Doug Harvey

Harvey was briefly the captain of the Canadiens for one season 1960-61 bridging the gap between Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau before Harvey was dealt to the Rangers. Born in Montreal, he changed the way that D-men played the game, keeping hold of the puck for longer and looking to pass forward rather than the dump and chase game that had been the norm.

Far from the biggest at the position, he won the Norris six times in a seven year span, proving himself as the quarterback on the power play and producing some solid numbers in terms of assists. In the three peak scoring years of his career, he scored 143 points, of which 82 were on the powerplay. 

Larry Robinson

9th in the list of all time point scorers from the blue line, Robinson was a machine, picking up 750 assists on his way to a grand total of 948 career points. One of only three players to ever have a +100 season, he leads the entire NHL with a +722 through his illustrious career. Brad Marchand is the active leader in this category with a +290 so far.

Twice Robinson would go past the 80 point mark in a season, 85 in the 1976-77 season and then 82 in 1985-86. Nine years apart at the ages of 25 and 34, it shows perfectly for just how long Robinson was dominant in his position. 

He would win the Norris twice and the Smythe once and while he did not get the same level of end of season awards as some others, he would lift the Stanley Cup on six occasions as a player. A further cup was added as a head coach in New Jersey. Taking over from Robbie Ftorek with only eight games to go in the regular season, the Devils would go on to win it all.

Starting Forwards

This is a little easier and less contentious although in a team that has had as many quality goalscorers down the years as the Habs have, there will no doubt be other players who had the quality to get on the starting line. We all have our personal favourite players from down the years but these three forwards are the three that we feel would start a game made up of the Canadiens all time greats. 

Centre – Jean Beliveau

More than 500 goals and 1200 points in a remarkable career, Beliveau is still in the top 45 all time point scorers despite the fact he retired in 1971 before the era of crazy goal numbers in the 1980s. One of only two players to captain the Habs for a decade (Saku Koivu the other) he would be the proud wearer of the C on this team.

While he did not put up numbers like we have become more accustomed to seeing, his longevity to still be playing at almost 40 at the time that he did was an achievement all of its own. Twice Beliveau made it to 90 points and only twice did he manage 40 goals in a season but he was part of one of the greatest franchises in North American sports history and one of the best to ever play his position. 

Right wing – Maurice Richard

These days we are well used to seeing players who have serious speed on the ice. The man dubbed the rocket is remembered every year with the top scorer in the NHL presented with a trophy and an award that is named in his honour. 

There are players who are known for the history that they created when they played and Richard is one of those, the first ever player in the NHL to score 500 goals. That level has been reached by another 46 players since. Nine seasons of 30+ goals were a part of his decorated career on his way to a total of 544, still able to put up 19 at his age 38 season in 1959-60. 

Richard closed out his career with 966 points from 978 games. It was not until further expansions that 500 goals would become a more regular occurrence but it is still an exceptional milestone for any player to aspire to reach. 

Left Wing – Dickie Moore

The left wing position is one that has not seen quite such a deep vein of quality down the years as the other two forward positions but Moore comes out as the top man in a number of ways when it comes to assessing those who have donned the jersey.

 Only 15 players in the history of the NHL have won multiple Art Ross trophies, Moore picked up the award on a pair of occasions in his career. They came in back-to-back seasons in 1957-58 and 1958-59. 84 and 96 points are low by the modern standards but the season was 70 games back then and the style of hockey was very different to how it is today.

Moore led the NHL in game winning goals in both of those seasons as well as the campaign before. Given the quality of the team he was playing in at the time, the fact that he stood out in this way is well deserving of his spot down the left.

Honourable Mentions

There are a huge number of other players who could have made it onto this list. Guy Lafleur is the most notable, a close second in the race to start on the right wing behind Richard. Lafleur could easily have been the right winger in the all time team given that his record of 1246 points in 946 games is exceptional. 

Serge Savard could easily have got a place on the blue line. One of the most adaptable D-Men the league has seen, he was the perfect partner for whoever he was on the ice with. In a team like the above with so much goal-scoring firepower, having Savard staying at home while the rest of the team attacked their opponents mercilessly would have seen him fit in perfectly. 

The most notable runner-up in net is Jacques Plante. He could easily have been the starting netminder for this team, the numbers as discussed above are exceptional and it is thanks to him in a huge part that the health and safety for netminders has been much improved.

Any legends in the current team?

LeoVegas Free Bet

It has to be said that the present group of Montreal Canadiens are not close to the level of legends despite heading to the Stanley Cup Final in 2021 things have fallen quickly off a cliff, nothing like that level of competitiveness the last two seasons and this campaign is shaping up to be just as big of a disappointment. 

As close as they might get at present are the captain Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. The former has quickly made up into a decent point getter, north of 225 in less than 320 games at the age of 24 is a more than solid start to his career. He leads all Montreal forwards in time on ice, taking his captainship seriously. There is a long way to go but he has the potential to be smart. 

Caufield has a big reputation and has often been suggested that he could be Montreal’s answer to Auston Matthews. That is a little unfair on the 23 year old but he has already gone past the 100 point plateau in less than 150 games so he has made an excellent start. The team needs some more talent to build around him but his recent 60th goal marked him down as the 5th quickest to that tally in the last century for the Habs and that is something that should be celebrated. Caufield is the closest on the current team to a legend in the making.

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