A Look Back on 39 Years of Montreal Canadiens Blockbuster Trades

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First off, I would like to introduce myself, my name is Connor Lapalme and I am a new contributor to LWOH for the Montreal Canadiens. I am excited to be writing here and I hope you all enjoy my work.

A Look Back on 39 Years of Montreal Canadiens Blockbuster Trades

After a disappointing end to the Montreal Canadiens 2016-17 season, fans and media are searching for ideas on how to improve the roster. It’s obvious that the team needs help scoring and at the center position. The question is how do they go about addressing these issues? It seems that the only way to improve the roster is to make a major trade. That being said, is that even something Habs fans should want? I can’t think of the last time the Habs made a major trade that left me thinking ‘the team got better’. Now a year removed from the P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade, I wanted analyze other big Habs trades over the last 39 years, by various general managers, to know if the Montreal Canadiens were ever good at making big trades.

Irving Grundman (1978-1983)

September 9, 1982

To Montreal: D Rick Green, C Ryan Walter

To Washington: D Rod Langway, D Brian Engblom, C Doug Jarvis, RW Craig Laughlin

The trade was an overreaction to the Canadiens’ failings in the post season, including first round losses in 1981 and 1982. It’s clear that the Capitals got the better of this trade. While Walter was a serviceable left wing, he was never able to match his production in Washington. Green was a fine defenseman but he was not a top-four. Langway had an immediate impact in Washington winning the Norris trophy in the ’82-83 season with the Capitals and led them to their first playoff appearance in franchise history. He would captain the team for 11 seasons winning another Norris in ’83-84 in a career that would land him in the Hall of Fame. In Washington, this trade is viewed as the trade that saved the franchise.

While there were many other factors that led to the trade, including contract disputes, the line was that the Habs were looking to get a bit younger. The team wanted to get its young defensive talent, such as Robert Picard, Bill Kitchen, and Craig Ludwig, on the main roster – this meant trading away their top defensive pairing of Engblom and Langway. Unfortunately for the Habs, Picard and Kitchen were never able to make a real contribution at the NHL level. Craig Ludwig would become a serviceable defenseman, but the Habs defence was unable to make up for the departure of Langway and Engblom until Chris Chelios and Petr Svoboda emerged in the 85-86 season.

Serge Savard, (1983-1995)

October 28, 1983

To Montreal: C Bobby Smith

To Minnesota: C Keith Acton, RW Mark Napier, 1984 3rd round pick

Smith requested a trade from Minnesota and the Habs were more than happy to acquire him. This was a great trade for the Habs, giving them a big (6’4″) center that would average close to a point per game in his career. Smith and Mats Naslund formed a prolific top line duo that powered the Habs offence through the rest of the decade and help win the ‘86 Stanley Cup and reach the ‘89 Finals. Napier was coming off back-to-back 40-goal seasons, but was never able to replicate that production in Minnesota. He was traded to Edmonton the following year. Acton was a serviceable defensive forward and faceoff specialist but never came close to replacing the void left by Smith.

June 29, 1990

To Montreal: C Denis Savard
To Chicago: D Chris Chelios, 1991 2nd

Depending on who you talk to, this is considered the worst trade in the Canadiens history. Chelios was the Habs top defenseman (notice a pattern here), co-captain and coming off a Norris Trophy win. Savard was the one that got away from the Habs. In the 1980 draft, the management took Doug Wickenheiser with the first overall pick over the local boy, who was Savard. Wickenheiser was a fine NHL player but he never lived up to the expectation of being the number one overall pick. The situation was also compounded when three hall of fame players (Savard, Larry Murphy and Paul Coffey) were selected right after. It didn’t make sense that the Habs passed on Savard in 1980 and seemed all too eager to correct their error, 10 years later.

On the surface, the trade seemed like a win; Savard was a goal scoring highlight reel. He was also the hometown player the fans could rally around. Savard played fine for the Habs, twice scoring 28 goals, and the team won the Cup in 1993 but his career was on the decline. After the Habs won the cup in 1993, Savard left via free agency to Tampa and would eventually retire in 1997. Chris Chelios went on to have a long illustrious career (retiring in 2010), winning two more Norris Trophies (1993, 1996) with the Blackhawks and two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings (2002, 2008). While both players are in the Hall of Fame, the Habs traded their emerging star for an established star on the decline.

September 20, 1991

To Montreal: C Kirk Muller, G Rollie Melanson

To New Jersey: LW Stephane Richer, LW Tom Chorske

The Habs made a move to acquire Muller to replace the departed Smith, who was traded to Minnesota after the 1989-90 season. In doing so, they gave up a two-time 50-goal scorer in Richer. However, this deal is one of the only trades that worked out well for both teams. Muller would (eventually) pair with Vincent Damphousse to lead the Habs offensive charge towards their Stanley Cup win in ’93, scoring 10 goals and 17 points, including two overtime goals and the finals clinching goal. While never matching his 50-goal production, Richer would score 30 goals twice and be a key member of the Devils team that would win the Cup in ’95.

August 27, 1992

To Montreal: C Vincent Damphousse, 1993 4th round pick

To Edmonton: LW Shayne Corson, C Brent Gilchrist, D Vladimir Vujtek

In what would become a decade of disastrous trades, Damphousse-for-Corson was a favorable trade. Damphousse was an offensively gifted player who was coming off a 38-goal 89-point season with the Oilers. Corson was a very useful player for the Habs, but had nowhere near the offensive ability of Damphousse. Corson played three seasons in Edmonton before moving on to St. Louis. Damphousse would get 97 points in the ’92-93 season and added 23 points in the Habs Stanley Cup winning playoff run. In the six full seasons Damphousse played in Montreal, he was first or second in team scoring five times.

February 9, 1995

To Montreal: RW Mark Recchi, 1995 3rd round pick

To Philadelphia: D Eric Desjardins, LW John LeClair, LW Gilbert Dionne

The Habs were underachieving in 1995, and in a desperate move to ignite the offense, Savard traded two key components of the 1993 Stanley Cup run, the underappreciated Desjardins and the blossoming power forward LeClair, along with Dionne to the Flyers for Recchi.

Recchi was a fine young player in the league, but his offensive stats were a bit inflated by playing with some of the league’s best in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. It wasn’t that Recchi was a disappointment, but his style of play never seemed to mesh well with the Habs style.

The Flyers see this trade as the one that brought them to the next level. Desjardins was a stabilizing top pairing defenseman with excellent defensive instincts and good offensive production. LeClair would be paired with Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg to form the “Legion of Doom” line. He would score 40 or more goals in five straight seasons, including three 50-goal seasons. The trade made the Flyers perennial contenders in the Eastern Conference, while it started the Habs down a long dark road of irrelevance.

April 5, 1995

To Montreal: C Pierre Turgeon, D Vladimir Malakhov

To New York Islanders: C Kirk Muller, D Mathieu Schneider, C Craig Darby

Savard, feeling the heat from the team’s poor performance and past trade blunders (trading away Chelios, LeClair, Desjardins, Claude Lemieux, Guy Carbonneau, Andrew Cassels and Jyrki Lumme) made one final desperate move to save his job. This trade is kind of unique in that it seems both teams lost. After the trade, Muller refused to report to the Islanders because Savard assured him that he would not be traded. After finding out that Turgeon was available, Savard reconsidered. Muller was not interested in joining a re-building team and wanted to be traded out of New York. This led to a season-long conflict that saw Muller suspended and eventually traded to Toronto.

Initially it seemed that the Habs found the offensive spark it was looking for as Turgeon scored 96 points in the 1995-96 season and was also named team captain. The enthusiasm was short lived, however as Turgeon’s tenure with the Habs ended by being traded early in the 1996-97 season. Schneider didn’t last long in New York either, being traded along with Muller to Toronto. Malakhov was the only player to stay with his team longer than one full season.

Rejean Houle (1995-2000)

December 6, 1995

To Montreal: G Jocelyn Thibault, LW Martin Rucinsky, RW Andrei Kovalenko
To Colorado: G Patrick Roy, LW Mike Keane

We all know the story behind the trade. Houle was a rookie general manager put in a difficult position, with his superstar player, Patrick Roy, demanding a trade. Unfortunately for the Canadiens, Houle rushed a deal rather than taking the patient approach and see if he could resolve the issues.

In the end, the Habs got a goalie in Thibault who had talent but was put in an impossible situation with the fans and media expecting him to replace Roy. Kovalenko played only one season with the Habs before being traded to Edmonton. Rucinsky was a fine forward for the team, but ended up being the centerpiece of the return for Roy and that is simply not enough talent or quality to justify trading a player of Roy’s stature.

Colorado got arguably the best goalie in the history of the league and one of the most clutch playoff performers of all time. Roy was the missing piece in Colorado, backstopping them to their first Stanley Cup victory in the 95-96 season. The Avalanche became a Western Conference powerhouse after the trade, winning their second Cup in 2001, with Roy winning his third Conn Smythe. With Houle as GM, the Habs only won one playoff series and failed to make the playoffs three times.

October 29, 1996

To Montreal: LW Shayne Corson, D Murray Barron, 1997 5th round pick

To St. Louis: C Pierre Turgeon, C Craig Conroy, D Rory Fitzpatrick

This is a trade that may never make sense. Turgeon was coming off a 38-goal, 96-point season and was named team captain after Keane was traded to Colorado. He was another local boy who relished playing in Montreal.

The trade happened as Turgeon was mired in a ‘slump’ only scoring one goal in the first nine games of the season (he had 11 points overall). It was another instance of impatience from Habs management. Rather than wait out the slump, they moved Turgeon, who found his game with the Blues scoring 25 goals and 74 points after the trade. Turgeon would go on to have five extremely productive seasons for the Blues, scoring at least 20 goals each year, including two 30-goal campaigns.

Conroy would also go on to be a productive player in the NHL, most notably playing in Calgary with Jarome Iginla. The trade saw the return of Corson to Montreal, but he was far removed from his best days. Corson had a productive 97-98 season scoring 25 goals, but would only go on to score 20 TOTAL goals in the following two seasons. The trade stripped the Habs of a leading scorer leaving a void at the center position.

Bob Gainey, 2003-2010

June 30, 2009

To Montreal: C Scott Gomez, C Tom Pyatt, D Michael Busto

To New York Rangers: C Chris Higgins, D Ryan McDonagh, D Pavel Valentenko (Rights), D Doug Janik

After a terrible finish to the 2008-09 season, the Habs made some wholesale changes to their roster. It began with trading for veteran C Scott Gomez. Right away most fans hated the trade simply because Gomez had signed an enormous contract with the Rangers that he could never live up to. He was thought to be untradeable. The Habs were somehow swindled into including the highly touted McDonagh in the trade, which still haunts the team to this day.

Gomez had a good first season in Montreal totalling 59 points and adding another 14 more in the playoffs during the Habs magical run to the Eastern Conference finals. Gomez’s play would drop off significantly after that, and was bought out of his contract in 2011-12. While Higgins was considered the centerpiece of the trade, McDonagh was the prize. He developed into one of the top defenseman in the NHL and is only now entering his prime. Habs fans were robbed of a McDonagh-Subban defensive pairing that would have been the cornerstone of the team for years to come.

Marc Bergevin, (2012-present)

June 29, 2016

To Montreal: D Shea Weber

To Nashville: D P.K. Subban

It might still be too early to tell who wins this trade, but early returns are that Nashville should come out ahead. Weber is a great defenseman who plays a hard-nosed physical game and is touted as one of the great leaders in the league. Subban is a flamboyant puck moving defenseman. Clearly feeling that there was dissention in the locker room (amid so many rumors) Marc Bergevin decided to rid the Canadiens of their star defenseman to bring in a more stabilizing force.

Both players had good seasons for their teams, but the Predators come out ahead on the long-term projection. Weber is 31 and plays a physically taxing game. He is signed to a contract that will count $7.9 million on the salary cap until he is 40. Subban, at 27, is entering his prime. Subban’s $9 million cap hit is higher, but it also expires when Subban is 32.

So after looking back on 39 years of Habs blockbuster trades, how many can we say they ‘won’? There are some, but none since acquiring Vincent Damphousse in 1992. So while the Habs need to make a major splash this off-season, maybe a major trade isn’t the best way to go. Judging by their past history, the Habs just don’t make very many favorable blockbuster trades. They rarely come out better for it. Bergevin should tread lightly.

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