Montreal Canadiens’ century ends with a whimper

The Montreal Canadiens franchise is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Unfortunately, it has been an annus horribilis, to borrow a phrase from the Queen.

The Canadiens are the most successful team in National Hockey League history. In fact, they won their first of twenty-four Stanley Cups before the NHL was founded in 1917. (Yes, the Stanley Cup was awarded before the NHL existed.)

Decade Stanley Cup victories
’10s 1915-16
’20s 1923-24; 1929-30
’30s 1930-31
’40s 1943-44; 1945-46
’50s 1952-53; 1955-56; 1956-57; 1957-58; 1958-59; 1959-60
’60s 1964-65; 1965-66; 1967-68; 1968-69
’70s 1970-71; 1972-73; 1975-76; 1976-77; 1977-78; 1978-79
’80s 1985-86
’90s 1992-93
2000s none

Note that the Canadiens had won at least one Stanley Cup in every decade — until this one. Actually, they still have one more chance in 2009-10. But a Stanley Cup victory is extremely unlikely:  after a disastrous season, the Canadiens are entering a rebuilding year.

For much of the year, the Canadiens were riding high in the standings. At one point, it seemed possible that they might even overtake the Boston Bruins for first place in the Eastern Conference. But then the team went into freefall. They lost so many games that it seemed they might ultimately fail to make the playoffs.

It was alleged, part way through the season, that underperforming Canadiens players were partying too hard, including drug use. It was also alleged that some Russians on the team were associating with organized crime figures. The rumours are unsubstantiated; but the negative press certainly constituted a major distraction to an already-struggling team.

The Canadiens had just begun to win again when their top two defencemen were both injured in the same game. At the end of the year they gained only one point out of a possible eight. They were lucky even to make the playoffs.

(In fact, the Canadiens were tied with Florida at 93 points each. Both teams had the same number of wins, but Montreal made the playoffs because they had beaten Florida in games played between those two teams.)

So the Canadiens barely limped into the playoffs — and were promptly eliminated, in a four-game series sweep, by the Boston Bruins.

It was, indeed, a horrible year. Here are the Canadiens in happier times (1968). Yvan Cournoyer, one of my all-time favourite players, is pictured celebrating a goal against the Chicago Black Hawks.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jack
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 23:39:30

    Every time I hear someone speak about hockey I find myself thinking about George Carlin’s remarks about pucks and urinals.

    Reply

  2. Stephen
    Apr 23, 2009 @ 06:47:53

    Carlin was a funny guy. But I’ll tell you one thing, with absolute conviction: hockey is way more entertaining than basketball.

    Basketball is fun to play, and accessible to anyone. I think that’s why it’s a popular sport. But that’s about all it has going for it.

    Hockey requires skills that many people never acquire. It’s fast and genuinely dangerous. (Just ask players who have lost an eye or retired due to repeated concussions.)

    Basketball is a game for overgrown adolescents. The stars are all showboaters, like professional wrestlers. And it’s just frickin’ boring: once you’ve seen fifty baskets, where’s the thrill in watching the second half? It’s the doppleganger of soccer, where there are only a couple of scoring chances each half, and sometimes not a single goal.

    Give me hockey any day, with lots of scoring chances but not too many goals. Players have to work incredibly hard, display extraordinary skill, and even take physical risks in order to get a goal. Especially in the playoffs: it’s not a sport for the faint of heart.

    Reply

  3. Jack
    Apr 23, 2009 @ 14:08:48

    I have to restrain myself not to call you Q. 😉 Stephen, I have played both sports many times and far prefer basketball.

    It requires far more skill than people realize. There is strategy, there is action, there is intensity. And it is no more accessible to just anyone than hockey is.

    They both require skill and thought. A well played game is art.

    Reply

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