SN magazine: Decline of the Habs Empire

By Gare Joyce in Montreal and Chicoutimi

Grown men cried. Legends cried. The fans stood for what seemed more than an hour. Cheered until they were hoarse. Applauded until their hands were bruised or blistered. I’ve never seen anything like it in three decades of kicking around hockey arenas. The Montreal Canadiens billed it as “the last act of a masterpiece,” and it was that and more. The Canadiens have always done history better than anyone else and are loose with hyperbole, but there was no hope of overselling their last game at the Forum. All those Stanley Cup banners. All those retired numbers. All those Hall of Famers walking out on what must have been every last inch of red carpet in the city.

The game was an instantly forgettable Montreal win over the Dallas Stars, reprising the role of the Washington Generals. The players for both teams then sat on their benches for the duration of the post-game ceremony, when the Canadiens’ Hall of Famers walked out to a gathering crescendo of cheers. There were those from the old school: Butch Bouchard, Elmer Lach, Kenny Reardon, Tom Johnson and Dickie Moore. There were those of later vintages: Gump Worsley, Jacques Laperrière, Steve Shutt, Frank Mahovlich, Jacques Lemaire, Ken Dryden and Guy Lapointe. There were past captains: Yvan Cournoyer, Serge Savard and Bob Gainey. And finally, those who defined their eras: Guy Lafleur, Jean Béliveau, and Maurice Richard, the Rocket.

The climax was the penultimate act: a ritual passing of a torch down the line of greats. When looking up from their stalls back in their playing days, they had seen the pictures of other past greats going right back to Georges Vézina and Howie Morenz, along with the team’s motto that boldly lined the woodwork: “To you from failing hands we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high.” Now the metaphor was made real, a spotlight tracking the flame as it made its way down the red carpet. The ovation was deafening when Béliveau passed the torch to Richard, whose connection to the fans was such that his suspension set off the city’s St. Patrick’s Day riots in 1955. The supposed injustice of that suspension and the fact that he won only a single Hart Trophy, though he had been the era’s dominant player, evinced the bias of the old Anglo establishment. Thus did a hockey star with no great interest in politics become, through no design of his own, an icon of the Quiet Revolution.

Richard held the torch aloft. It was March 11, 1996, the last game at the Forum, the last act of a masterpiece and the last time the Canadiens mattered.

I don’t say this lightly. I believe the NHL needs a strong franchise in Montreal. An Original Six team struggling in its market is a bad indicator of the league’s health. A Canadiens team falling on hard times would adversely affect hockey’s relevance in what has always been a hockey hotbed. As far as Québécois culture or identity is concerned, I’m no authority, but over the years the Canadiens have meant something: a cultural touchstone, a source of pride. Right now they mean something less and almost certainly less than ever.

I’ll establish my personal allegiances before the hate mail commences: I have no rooting interest. Up until my college days, I was a fan of the Maple Leafs somewhat, but of the Sabres somewhat more. For 30 years in my professional capacity, I have maintained, without much effort, a clinical objectivity and haven’t rooted for one team over another.

I had never been to the Forum prior to landing on the NHL beat. When I did, it was a season after Montreal’s 1993 Cup victory, and a lot of principals, headed by Patrick Roy, were still on the scene. I made it an immersion course: striking up conversations with ushers who had worked there four decades, watching a game through a thick nicotine cloud along with 1,700 others in standing room, and, of course, talking to as many of the stars as I could corner. By avocation, I’m a doubter. I had thought that the likes of Mordecai Richler and others who romanticized the Canadiens were parochial rubes. I was disabused of that notion. I became a fan, not of the team but the scene. Going to a game in Montreal in the mid-’90s was different than the experience of seeing or working an NHL game anywhere else.

Have your say: Have an opinion on the news of the day? Better yet, want to join the Fan Fuel blog network? Visit the Fan Fuel page for more | Montreal’s french language debate

That’s not the case any longer. Hasn’t been for a long time.

Sportsnet image

Habs coach Randy Cunneyworth (CP)

It’s not that the Canadiens have remained below .500 all season and are under fire. It’s not that, in an almost unprecedented move, they fired an assistant coach, Perry Pearn, in November. Nor that they fired their head coach, Jacques Martin, weeks later. Nor that they’ve come under fire for installing a coach, Randy Cunneyworth, who has no previous ties to the franchise and speaks not a word of French. Nor that the pundits have made piñatas out of team president Geoff Molson and GM Pierre Gauthier for their cultural insensitivity. It’s not the hard landing that hurts. It’s the fall.

The Canadiens as an institution once engendered a basic level of respect from the Montreal media. They now beget undiluted ridicule, the only sport being a contest to see who can deliver the hardest body shot and how far below the belt it lands. The Canadiens had been the unrivalled first of the Original Six. Now they are the sixth. They’d rank last among Canadian teams in the league — if not in the standings then in relevance. They’re closer in fact to Columbus than the league’s elite. The Canadiens don’t have anybody who will ever belong in the company of the legends on the red carpet at the last game at the Forum. They don’t have a player who’s the face of the franchise; no Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin or Jonathan Toews. A truly representative face of the Canadiens would be a talented enigma like Carey Price, an overpaid underachiever like Scott Gomez, or an inconsistent frustration like P.K. Subban. The team doesn’t have emerging prospects like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Tyler Seguin. They have a string of failed draft picks and a few young players with low ceilings.

The Montreal Forum was converted into a shopping mall — the former entrance for standing room is now the entrance to a Future Shop outlet. Some think it’s the desecration of a shrine. To my mind it’s just a cosmic joke — so bereft of young talent this franchise, so saddled with onerous contracts, without a future that anyone would buy even at a Boxing Day discount.

Nostalgia aside, it should be pointed out that the Canadiens have won two of the past 31 Stanley Cups, fewer championships than the Oilers, Islanders, Red Wings, Devils and Penguins. And those two Cups, in ’86 and ’93, were amazing Cinderella runs made possible by the playoff collapses of dominant regular season teams, Edmonton and Pittsburgh respectively, and the heroics of the greatest clutch goaltender of the era, Patrick Roy. No one could say with a straight face that Montreal’s ’86 and ’93 teams were among the best of their eras in the way the Canadiens teams in the ’50s, the mid-’60s or the late-’70s were. The “dynasty” days are four decades in the rear-view mirror.

The Canadiens faced inescapable pressures to win even after that last parade down Rue Ste-Catherine. Back in the ’90s, I once went for breakfast with a team executive who was recognized though not greeted by our waiter. The server dropped our coffees on the table hard enough to hammer nails and then went to his station, where he raised up the Journal de Montréal and flashed the back page at us: a headline decrying a Montreal loss the night before.

The pressures went far beyond day-to-day annoyances. The best evidence I ever saw of it was in Jacques Demers’s face. In 1995, the Canadiens missed the playoffs for the first time in a quarter century, their chances at sneaking into the post-season ending with a shutout loss to Dominik Hasek and the Sabres at the old Aud. I waited for Demers after the game and when he finally emerged I thought the game was going to exact a mortal price. He didn’t need a media inquisition but rather admission to a hospital. His skin was translucent, like a thin coating of wax, and he was shaking like a junkie on a jones. One of the game’s great talkers, he was almost incapable of forming a sentence. He recognized that even the Cup ring he wore from ’93 wasn’t going to inoculate him. Demers’s boss, GM Serge Savard, had two rings as GM and barely enough fingers for those he earned as a Canadiens player, but added with his Hockey Hall of Fame status they were not enough to protect him either. Coffees being slammed down by waiters were the least of it.

The coach and GM survived the summer — Demers told me that he never slept more than four hours a night from the end of the season through to October, when he and Savard were fired after an 0-4 start to the ’95–96 season. Tellingly, they were terminated but no replacements were announced — the epitome of a panic move. The Canadiens, once the most astutely managed franchise, were a team without a plan. For a week, assistant coach Jacques Laperrière ran practices and worked the bench without an interim tag attached; he just understood. He wanted no part of the pressures of the top job. Another loss followed and then, finally, the announcement of the new regime. The management makeover was intended to evoke the past, but at that point the disconnection from former glories became painfully obvious.

Neophytes replaced the engineers of the Canadiens’ last Stanley Cup victory. I remember being at the press conference at the Forum the day they were introduced — it produced a collective gasp in two languages. Réjean Houle had worked in the Molsons’ beer division and possessed no experience in hockey management before being handed the GM’s duties. Mario Tremblay had never coached at any level and, a hothead in his playing days, seemed emotionally ill-suited to the task. Houle and Tremblay had played on Stanley Cup winners in Montreal, had spent their entire playing careers with the Canadiens, and yes, were able to speak to the majority of pundits and fans in the language of preference. Still, if you had the time or inclination you could have drawn up a list of 100 hockey men more experienced and proven. The list, however, would have been quite short when the qualifiers were built in: candidates had to be bilingual and available to start work immediately.

Sportsnet image

Former team president Ronald Corey. (CP)

The appointment of Houle and Tremblay was the handiwork of team president Ronald Corey, a man whose sense of timing and executive judgment ran a poor second and third to his sense of self. Every home game he sat in the front row of seats and seemed always to be in the picture as Hockey Night in Canada’s cameras panned the bench, the better to constantly remind fans of his leadership role with the team. Corey had been on the scene when a move out of the Forum was first bandied about and when a new arena was given the green light. He and his hires would make it to the last night at the Forum six months later. They’d make it through a few indifferent seasons beyond that, until ownership concluded that a mere connection to the franchise’s past wasn’t a substitute for being qualified and capable. It was a realization that became painfully clear a few months before that March night the Forum went dark.

The scene has been replayed so many times that it might be the most memorable of Patrick Roy’s career: his meltdown in what proved to be his last game in a Canadiens sweater. Shelled by the Red Wings and left in net to his embarrassment and the fans’ mock cheers, when he made it to the bench, he looked ready to take a swing at Tremblay and went over to Corey’s front-row seat to advise him that he was done in Montreal. In retrospect, Tremblay, an inexperienced coach, mishandled the situation and the Canadiens had no one (in management or elsewhere) prepared and able to heal the damage. Houle was fleeced for his franchise player, dealing Roy and captain Mike Keane to Colorado, two players who raised the Cup with the Avalanche that spring.

Roy and Keane, a holdover from the ’93 Cup winner, should have been on the ice for the closing of the Forum. The player who was in the spotlight that night provided proof that invoking history doesn’t by itself elevate. Symbolism without any substance is meaningless.

The ceremony had reached its climax when Maurice Richard held the torch aloft, but it wasn’t at its end. No, after thousands of tears were shed, Richard passed the torch to Pierre Turgeon, who then skated a lap of the ice along with his teammates. Savard had acquired the high-scoring centre in a trade with the Islanders for the previous spring’s failed run at the playoffs, and Corey and Houle anointed him their franchise player, stitching the “C” on his sweater and having him take a place in line behind, among others, Béliveau, the Richards, Gainey, Cournoyer and assorted other all-time greats who served as the team’s captains. But all Turgeon offered in that role was his ability to speak French. As it turned out, that topped management’s list of requisites.

His predecessors faced expectations and rose to the challenge. Turgeon cracked. Spectacularly. The Richards, Beliveau and others on the red carpet were career Canadiens. It was hard to imagine them in other sweaters. The Rocket passed the torch to Turgeon but he didn’t manage to hold it high. He was lucky not to come away with third-degree burns. He was one of the 10 most talented players in the game but there wasn’t a meeker guy in the dressing room: a cipher. Despite the fact he was a prolific scorer, he never won the respect of the media, fans or alumni. One veteran of the Canadiens’ glory days who had intimate knowledge of the Montreal dressing room quipped: “You can’t win with a captain whose (testicles) are the size of snow peas.”

Turgeon, the captain of the Canadiens that last night at the Forum, would be traded to St. Louis for a dime on the dollar early the next season. Prior to that he shrugged off the swirling trade rumours as no big deal. “I can’t control what’s going to happen down the line,” he said. “All I can take care of is what happens on the ice.”

If such indifference — the Montreal captaincy, take it or leave it — prevailed, then the Canadiens didn’t matter anymore. Or at least no more than any other middling franchise. A captain with barely ordinary character, management that inspired no confidence: they had history and nothing else.

Yet with the Canadiens, it’s all about history. It’s always about history. I recently enrolled in the Society for International Hockey Research (SIHR), not exactly the rowdiest gang you could hang with, but true believers in the game to be sure. Early this winter, SIHR held a meeting in Chicoutimi, 200km north of Quebec City through rock and forest. In choosing Chicoutimi as the site, the group wanted to show its good faith to its francophone members, and the lead presentation, one made by the hosts, focused on the Quebec Nordiques in both their World Hockey Association and NHL incarnations. The presentation was done exclusively in French.

It was there that it kicked in for me. The Canadiens once owned Quebec, had it all to themselves. But when the WHA launched, one of the first steps made by the Nordiques was the hiring of Maurice Richard as their coach. It didn’t work out — the Rocket’s personality was no fit at all for the job and he lasted a couple of games. But the strategy of his signing was bold and prescient. It was an attempt to hit the Canadiens where they lived: in history and in the hearts of the francophone Québécois. There was another franchise in the province, one that would compete for the hearts of fans. And over the course of their history, until they shipped off to Colorado, the Nordiques won the battle, if not for fans in general, for francophone fans for sure.

The SIHR group made a trip out to a Chicoutimi cemetery and visited the grave of Georges Vézina, the goaltender who led the Canadiens to their first Cup in 1916. Vézina came down with terminal tuberculosis in his late 30s and left the Canadiens to go back to his hometown to die. Visiting sites like Vézina’s grave is the sort of thing that those deeply invested in hockey lore do when they have the opportunity. I went out on my own earlier in the day, driving past a glorious old junior rink, Centre Georges-Vézina. It was quiet in the graveyard and Vézina’s monument was easy to find. It stands a couple of feet taller than the five-foot-six netminder. I stood at the gravesite and thought about the Canadiens’ history and all that the bygone legends meant in towns like Chicoutimi. I stood there and, I swear, I could hear him slowly spinning.

Back in the days of the Original Six, the Canadiens had all but exclusive rights to any junior player in Quebec and, along with their five rivals, a foothold across the rest of Canada. That grasp over their home province gave the Canadiens a significant advantage in assembling talent, as if they were starting every poker game with an ace in hand. They clung onto a territorial exemption until 1970, the NHL recognizing the franchise’s status as separate and distinct even if the Canadian government didn’t do so for the province. Inevitably, the league had to level the field.

Sportsnet image

Roy wanted out of Montreal. (CP)

For a couple of generations now the best Québécois players have not donned Canadiens sweaters, even when the option was open to them: not Mario Lemieux, not Ray Bourque, not Luc Robitaille, not Vincent Lecavalier, not Martin St. Louis, not Martin Brodeur. All raised the Cup wearing other teams’ sweaters. The only Québécois who would rank among them, Patrick Roy, demanded a trade out of Montreal.

It’s long been plain that stars from Quebec had little inclination to jump to the Canadiens. Fans might presume that players want to fulfill boyhood dreams to play for their favourite team, but the players leave no doubt they want nothing to do with it. “Everyone thinks that (people in Quebec) are all Canadiens fans,” says Philadelphia forward Max Talbot. “I was a fan of the Nordiques. I wanted to play for them when I was young, even though I was from Montreal. But eventually it was about playing in the league and having a chance to win. That’s what mattered, not where. In Montreal, it’s different, only because I have a chance to see a bunch of people and play in front of some friends, but that’s it.”

Talbot’s Flyers teammate and MVP candidate through the first half of the season, Claude Giroux, concurs: “I used to watch the Canadiens on RDS when I was growing up … but I didn’t really want to play for Montreal. Playing anywhere would have been fine. I think that’s how players look at it.”

Giroux fits the profile of a player who, back in their glory days, would have been a star with the Canadiens. So, too, teammate Daniel Brière — Montreal’s management tried hard to sign him a few seasons back but he opted for Philadelphia instead, feeling no magnetic pull to play close to home. They’re also examples of a profound weakness in the organization stretching back for a generation: When it seems the only way of bringing Québécois talent into the fold is on draft day, the team misses skill in its own backyard. Giroux was still available when the Canadiens walked up to the stage in 2006 to make their pick at No. 20. They opted for David Fischer, a defenceman from the Minnesota high school ranks who has never donned the C-H or any other NHL sweater and was last spotted playing for the ECHL’s Florida Everglades. The Quebec junior league might not produce stars every year, but its best inevitably land with other NHL teams, not the Canadiens. The same can be said of Québécois free agents — it seems they think free agency allows them to sign with any team but the Habs.

The Canadiens’ place in the game’s lore remains unmatched, if distant. They felt obliged to stretch the team’s centennial over a season and a half, but the Canadiens have only a past. It’s impossible to imagine that we’ll be sitting around in two decades talking about Réjean Houle’s years as GM or André Savard’s, or even Bob Gainey’s, the owner of Cup rings as a Montreal player and a Dallas executive. The highlight of Gainey’s term was distilled history: when he skated out on the ice in full uniform for the retirement of his number and gave an eloquent speech in both official languages. He eventually escaped roasting for reasons nostalgic (his record as a player) and compassionate (the death of his daughter in a sailing accident in 2006). But the media probably wanted to go after him, given past performance with other GMs and recent vitriol directed at his successor, former Gainey assistant Pierre Gauthier.

Gauthier’s nickname fits him like compression shorts: ‘The Ghost.’ He is virtually ethereal. When the media tries to corner him for comment he disappears before their very eyes, like Scotty has beamed him up to the Enterprise. He is not a man who projects confidence or inspires it. To be fair, the previous two seasons, his teams have come away with results, and some of his judgments that had been criticized have proven prescient, most notably the decision to trade goaltender Jaroslav Halák at his peak value (after his amazing run that started with the upset of the Capitals) for seemingly meagre returns. But when the heat was turned up on Gauthier this season he again went spectral. He placed the blame on his coaches, who had done a great job the past two post-seasons, gassing first Pearn and then Martin, both of whom had squeezed more out of their lineup than most could. All the while, Gauthier kept a low profile, even by his standards for media shyness. My request for an interview was politely declined.

The criticism of Gauthier mounted with Martin’s firing and, particularly, Cunneyworth’s promotion to lead man behind the bench for the rest of this season. The house line was that Gauthier and Canadiens president Geoff Molson would evaluate the team’s and Cunneyworth’s performance next summer to determine whether he’d be brought back in the role. When francophone reporters asked Gauthier about Cunneyworth’s inability to speak French, he dismissed their questions blithely. “Languages can be learned,” he said. The French press was unanimous in its outrage. Every columnist and commentator declared it unacceptable that a unilingual anglophone land the job.

And it is.

It’s not simply that French-language television coverage will have to use subtitles when interviewing the Montreal coach and the press corps will have to translate quotes. You have to factor in the GM’s invisibility: if Gauthier was available to the francophone media, Cunneyworth’s lack of French becomes far less of an issue. And you have to factor in the composition of the Canadiens’ lineup these days: the francophone fourth estate rush to the stalls of Mathieu Darche and David Desharnais after every game because they are the only players who speak French. (Louis Leblanc, a 2009 first-rounder, might help fill the vacuum if he can stick.) The media outside of Montreal will complain that the nationalistic French-first line is a brazen attempt to inflame cultural hostilities, but then again consider RDS (TSN’s French-language sister station): The network pays good money to broadcast a team that would have to bring on Darche and Desharnais, two middling players, to make a few comments in its viewers’ first language.

Sportsnet image

Canadiens current GM, Pierre Gauthier.

How could Gauthier and Molson get it so wrong? Marc de Foy of the Journal de Montréal says that Gauthier is out of touch with the city even though he was born there. “He went away to school in Minnesota and he was based in the U.S. when he was starting out (as an NHL scout),” de Foy says. “He doesn’t live in the city. He and his family live in Burlington, Vermont. It’s hard to imagine that a francophone could get (the Cunneyworth hiring) so wrong, but that’s Gauthier.

“It’s hard to figure out Geoff Molson, too. He should have known what the reaction was going to be. His family has been in Montreal for 225 years. He speaks very good French. I think he has given Gauthier and others (in the organization) carte blanche.”

It seems like only departing employees of the Canadiens speak candidly about the franchise in crisis. Said one former member of the organization (who asked that his name be withheld because he’s working for another NHL club): “This wouldn’t have blown up if the team had been winning. The criticism (over hiring Cunneyworth) wouldn’t have happened if the team had kept Kirk Muller on (an assistant to Martin the previous season) and promoted him. He had been a captain of the team and he would have said that he’d work on his French and it would all have gone away. I don’t know how Pierre didn’t realize what the blowback was going to be.”

There are myriad issues with the franchise, not the least of them being its lack of commitment to French-Canadian coaches and executives, hired in large part because of their first language. The scenario played out with the coaches in last year’s Stanley Cup final, Claude Julien and Alain Vigneault, both former Montreal coaches. Neither was necessarily ready for the Canadiens job when tabbed and neither was given time to mature into the role before being removed. Tampa’s current coach, Guy Boucher, and the Lightning’s assistant GM, Julien BriseBois, were in the Montreal organization until 2010 and would have sated the media’s current demands for francophone solutions to organizational problems.

The problem with demands based on language is that they’ll inevitably escalate. Last fall, the Parti Québécois claimed that the Canadiens’ roster, so thin on francophones, was a piece of political strategy hatched by federalists. “If you had a star francophone player, nobody would be counting,” former team president Pierre Boivin told the Montreal Gazette in May. “If they don’t have the star, they want a whole bunch (of francophones) because one day they hate them, the other day they love them.”

I know that winning should be what counts, ultimately. The conventional wisdom (at least the conventional wisdom outside Quebec) is that the French pundits would have to bite their lips if the Canadiens were standing first in the Eastern Conference. History would suggest that the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Ask Al MacNeil. He won a Stanley Cup in 1971 after reviving a middling team as a mid-season coaching replacement. But when Henri Richard declared his unilingual coach incompetent because of his line-juggling in the final, many in the public, not just the lunatic fringe, interpreted the Pocket Rocket’s criticisms as meaning MacNeil had a bias against francophones. The fallout was immediate and poisonous. During the final, MacNeil was under police protection. In Montreal. He was fired soon after.

Pierre Gauthier had forgotten or ignored history. But the GM had to see the results from a survey commissioned by the Journal de Montréal. It showed that 83 per cent of francophones in the market believe the Canadiens don’t do enough to ensure a francophone presence on the team; 72 per cent said a unilingual anglophone coach of the team is unacceptable; and 56 per cent believe Gauthier should lose his job.

Gauthier buckled on Jan. 3. He reluctantly faced the media and reversed course, apologizing for any offence. “We felt the best option at this time was to work from within the organization … having a bilingual head coach of the Montreal Canadiens is very important and it’s something that will be part of our decision going forward.”

The Canadiens did many things back in their glory days, but they didn’t apologize. Their biggest moves weren’t rash. Crisis management was for other franchises. No longer. Some will make the case that the Canadiens still mattered somewhat or sometime after the Forum went dark. Even if you give it to them for the sake of argument. But don’t tell me they matter anymore. They’re looking up at the middle of the pack and over their shoulders at the hindmost closing in on them.

Back in pro hockey’s earliest history, the Canadiens were supposed to be the French analogue to the Anglo Montreal teams, the Maroons and the Wanderers. Later, the Rocket became a cultural icon. In the years following the Richard Riots, Quebecers won social and political battles off the ice. Their boys won Stanley Cups on it: 15 of the next 24, thanks largely to Québécois superstars. It was a perfect storm.

But with the advent of expansion and the provincial pipeline to the roster shut down a few years later, the Canadiens’ empire began to crumble. They remained dominant through the ’70s but there have been just two titles since — unexpected blips on the radar screen — and they are in their longest stretch without a Cup, going on 18 seasons. The franchise has been crushed by the pressures of having to be more than a hockey team, having to be a Québécois institution.

It’s a brutal dichotomy: hockey decisions have to take into account cultural considerations. This has led to the most mediocre Canadiens team in modern history. Unwieldy contracts to woebegone players, no young prospects in development, a fan base and media spewing ridicule and scorn at management: these are the facts of life for what used to be Les Glorieux. I don’t suppose any particular culture would be proud to claim exclusive ownership of the Canadiens right now.

If Maurice Richard had known how this would play out, he would have had a hard time holding the torch as high as he did, not with the franchise destined to go down in flames.

The Decline Of An Empire: The firestorm that has developed this season is the culmination of events that began five decades ago:

1970: Virtual Quebec exclusivity lost. Sabres draft Gilbert Perreault No. 1.

1972: The Quebec Nordiques are born and begin pilfering fans; join the NHL in ’79.

1978: After nine Stanley Cups and countless prescient manoeuvres in 14 seasons as GM, Sam Pollock moves on. One year later, fellow Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman, who coached the team to five Cups in seven seasons and four in a row to end the ’70s, moves to the fledgling Buffalo Sabres.

1982: Rod Langway traded for spare parts. Wins Norris Trophies the next two years.

1986: Captain and future GM Bob Gainey leads Montreal to a surprising Cup victory, its 23rd. The win satiates Habs fans who still believe their team can revive the days of ‘Les Glorieux,’ when Montreal went to 22 Cup finals and came away champs 16 times between 1951 and 1979.

1990: Norris Trophy winner Chris Chelios is traded to Chicago for Denis Savard, a French-Canadian Hall of Famer past his prime. (Savard was drafted third overall in ’80, Montreal chose Doug Wickenheiser at No. 1.) Chelios won two more Norris trophies and was runner-up twice.

1993: A fluke Cup win gives fans long-term hope when there is little.

1995: After a disastrous loss to Detroit, a frustrated Roy declares — while being pulled from the game — that he will never again play for Montreal. Four days later, the last great Canadien was traded to Colorado along with captain Mike Keane for three middling players, including francophone goalie Jocelyn Thibault.

1996: The Forum hosts its final Habs game, ending the team’s relevance.

2009-2010: The Canadiens celebrate their centennial over two years, milking every last drop of history.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.