When you are looking at a team that has been around as long, is as rich in tradition, and has won as many championships as the fabled Montreal Canadiens there is going to be some healthy debate as to who the best players in the history of the team are. So many legends of hockey have played for the rouge, blanc, et bleu over the decades of their existence, to narrow them down to a list of the top 10 Montreal Canadiens of all time will require that some true greats will be snubbed. I’m sure this list will be contended, but as a lifelong Habs fan I think I have a pretty good handle on who the greatest Habs have been. Here they are, counted down from 10 to 1:
10 – Larry Robinson
When a player with the resume of Larry Robinson can barely squeak into the number 10 spot, you know the criteria for making this list are pretty stringent. “Big Bird” was a force on defense for the Habs in the 1970s and 1980s, helping them to the playoffs in everyone one of his 17 years, capturing 6 Stanley Cups, 2 Norris trophies and a Conn Smythe trophy along the way.
9 – Henri Richard
“The Pocket Rocket” has more Stanley Cup rings (11) than anyone in hockey history, all of them with Montreal. Though not as famous as his brother Maurice, Henri Richard put up some impressive personal stats during his time with the Habs, and more than earned his right to appear on the list of the top 10 Montreal Canadiens of all time. With 1,046 career points he actually finished his career with 81 more than Maurice.
8 – Howie Morenz
You have to go way way back in the history of the NHL to find the name Howie Morenz. He was the first true superstar to suit up for the Montreal Canadiens and he regularly lit the lamp in his 9 seasons with them, including one great year in 1929-30 where he averaged almost a goal a game, netting 40 in just 44 games. Morenz was obviously a pure shooter though, adding just 10 assists that same year.
7 – Patrick Roy
Had he never had a feud with Mario Tremblay, and he’d played his entire career as a Hab instead of departing for the Colorado Avalanche in December of 1995, there is no question Patrick Roy would be nearer the top of this list of the top 10 Montreal Canadiens of all time. Roy had already led the Habs to 2 improbable Stanley Cup victories in his first 10 seasons there, winning the Conn Smythe both times, and went on to 2 more with the Avs. He is widely regarded as the best goalie to ever play the game.
6 – Jacques Plante
Plante was not the first goalie to wear a mask, but he popularized it after his nose was broken by a shot, defying coach Toe Blake and donning the revolutionary protective gear. He backstopped the Canadiens to 5 straight Stanley Cups in the late 50s, and is one of only 4 goalies to win the Hart trophy as league MVP. He also added 6 Vezina trophies for good measure.
5 – Doug Harvey
Up there with Bobby Orr as one of the greatest defencemen in NHL history, there is no question that Doug Harvey is one of the best Canadiens ever. He helped the Habs bring home 6 Stanley Cups during his time there, and his 7 Norris trophies as the NHL’s best defenceman is 2nd only to Orr’s 8 in NHL history.
4 – Ken Dryden
If there is one thing to be said about Ken Dryden it is that he did not play long enough. After backstopping the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup before he’d even played enough regular season games to be considered a rookie, Dryden continued his winning ways during his all-too-brief career. After that first season where he played just 6 games he would go on to play just 7 full seasons with the Habs, losing only 57 times in 397 games, capturing 5 Vezina trophies and 6 Stanley Cups along the way.
3 – Guy Lafleur
“The Flower” is one of the most recognizable players in NHL history, and a no-brainer for a spot on the list of the top 10 Montreal Canadiens of all time. Enduring images of Guy whipping down the wing, hair flying to unload a blistering slapshot are recalled by all who followed the Canadiens during the 70s and 80s. Lafleur is the all time leading scorer in Montreal Canadiens history with 1,246 points, an incredible statistic considering all the greats that have played for the team over the years.
2 – Jean Beliveau
This career Canadien could easily have made the top spot on this list, but on my list he is edged out by just a hairsbreadth. Beliveau is 2nd to only Lafleur in all time scoring for Montreal, racking up 1,219 points in 1,125 games with the club. He played on an incredible 10 Stanley Cup winning teams, and has his name on the cup a record 17 times as a player and executive for the Habs. His other accolades include 14 Allstar game appearances, an Art Ross trophy as the league’s leading scorer, and 2 Hart trophies.
1 – Maurice Richard
It was a tough decision to put “The Rocket” ahead of Beliveau on this list of the best Canadiens ever, but this most famous of all Habs had the talent and the numbers to back it up. In the 1944-45 season, Rocket became the first player to score 50 goals in a season, accomplishing the feat in the same number of games. It would be almost 40 years later before Mike Bossy was able to duplicate the feat. He was also the first NHLer to amass a career total of 500 goals, eventually finishing with 544. He helped Montreal capture 8 Stanley Cups during his time there, and there are many who’ve followed the game for decades that claim there was never a better player from the blueline in.
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