Roy trade a cautious tale when dealing goalies

Patrick Roy. (AP/Dan Hulshizer)

When talking about big trades in NHL history, seldom do goaltenders enter the conversation. It is usually the high-scoring forwards and big-time defencemen who are discussed when it comes to significant trades that impact a team.

In December 1995, however, goaltenders were the main topic of conversation. In fact, this trade adversely impacted two franchises as one went on to win two Cups while the other did not stay with the team very long.

Of course, we are talking about the trade involving Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy and well-traveled goaltender Jocelyn Thibault. That December, both the Canadiens and the Avalanche franchises were changed forever.

The Beginning of the end in Montreal

It all started on a dark and ugly night at the Montreal Forum on Dec. 2, 1995, in a game against the Detroit Red Wings. After the first period, the Red Wings were soundly beating the Habs by a score of 5-1 after the first period, and after making a save when the score was 8-1 in the second period, Roy received sarcastic cheers from the home crowd.

After the Red Wings scored their ninth goal, then Canadiens head coach Mario Tremblay pulled Roy. What happened afterwards was the beginning of the end for Roy as Montreal’s franchise goaltender.

Roy walked by Tremblay and reportedly told Habs president Ronald Corey that he had played his last game with Tremblay as the coach of the team.

The Trade

Then Canadiens general manager Rejean Houle soon set up what is known as “Le Trade.” Houle sent Roy and team captain Mike Keane to the Colorado Avalanche for goaltender Jocelyn Thibault and forwards Andrej Kovalenko and Martin Rucinsky.

Houle thought the trade was necessary because of Roy’s actions with the team in his last game. Unfortunately, the impact the deal had on his franchise was a sour one and it will go down as one of hockey’s biggest head-scratchers.

Roy wins in Colorado

With the likes of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Claude Lemieux, Sandis Ozolinsh, Valeri Kamensky, Adam Foote, Adam Deadmarsh and now Roy and Keane, the Avalanche were primed to be one of the best teams in the Western Conference for the rest of the 1995-96 season.

While the Avalanche finished second in the conference behind the high-flying Detroit Red Wings, the Avalanche went on to accomplish hockey’s greatest feat behind Roy’s unbelievable goaltending. That postseason, Roy went 16-6 with a 2.10 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and three shutouts.

Roy then helped get the Avalanche to the Western Conference final in 1999 and 2000 before winning his second Cup with the Avalanche in 2001. That postseason, Roy was spectacular in going 16-7 with a 1.70 GAA, .934 save percentage and three shutouts.

Obviously, Roy’s impact on the Avalanche is everlasting.

Thibault inconsistent in Montreal

At the other end of the trade, Thibault did not have the kind of success that Roy had.

Thibault spent three and a half seasons with the Habs and was up and down for most of his time in Montreal. Thibault played well after the trade in going 23-13-3 with a 2.83 GAA, .913 save percentage and three shutouts but that would be the best the Canadiens would see from Thibault.

Yes, Thibault got the Canadiens into the postseason in 1996, 1997 and 1998 but the team was knocked out in the first round in two of those three years. Thibault’s postseason numbers those years never came close to what Roy did with the Avalanche and thus, was looked at as a failure in Montreal.

Lesson learned

With the trade deadline right around the corner, teams need to be careful when it comes to moving goalies. If a club is going to trade the likes of a Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo or Jonathan Bernier, what they get in return better be close to equal value.

The players that the Canadiens got back in 1995 never amounted to anything and because of that, the team was set back a few years. In today’s NHL, no team can afford to do something like that.

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