The Montreal Canadiens are the most dominant and accomplished NHL organization of all-time. Only the New York Yankees of North American sports can brag about winning more. Even then, the Canadiens weren't able to pay top dollar for all the superstars like the Yankees always have. So maybe Montreal has the greatest sports team of all-time.
Unless you're under 10 years old and just learning about the NHL and its history, everyone is familiar with the dominance of the Canadiens for nearly a full century. Their 24 Stanley Cups are far more than any other organization, and it's unlikely any one will pass them. This franchise holds multiple unbreakable records and more legends than ANY other player.
But lost in history, at times, are the men who made this organization the masterpiece it is known as today. People don't know the great pioneers of Canadiens hockey, and the men who shaped its excellence. Here is a look at 15 incredible facts about the dynasties of the Montreal Canadiens.
15 Habs Almost Folded, Part I
The Canadiens inaugural NHL season took place in 1917-18, and they actually would reach the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs. But you probably didn't know that they were on the verge of having to shut down franchise operations for good.
You see, the Canadiens and Montreal Wanderers played their games at the Montreal Arena. Tragically, a fire in early 1918 burned down the arena to the ground. Luckily, nobody was injured or killed, but the damages were too severe. The fire caused the Wanderers to fold, since they weren't able to find another arena to play their home games. However, the Canadiens were fortunate in being able to finish their season at the Jubilee Arena.
In 1924, the legendary Montreal Forum opened up, supposedly ensuring the Habs would stay for years to come.
14 The Georges Vezina Story
The Vezina Trophy is handed out to the NHL's top goalie annually, and the name of the trophy was named after the legendary Montreal Canadiens goaltender, Georges Vezina. He started his career with the Canadiens in 1910 when they were part of the NHA. He would stay with the team when they joined the NHL. The Chicoutimi Cucumber helped the Habs win a pair of Stanley Cups and was the top goalie of his era.
Sadly, Vezina would collapse during a game in 1925 and had to leave. He was later diagnosed with tuberculosis. Vezina would pass away on March 27, 1926 after a legendary career that saw him play 366 consecutive games. Though the world lost a hockey icon, the Vezina Trophy ensures that nobody forgets the great career of a man whose life ended too soon.
13 Habs Almost Folded, Part II
During the '20s and early '30s, it was impossible to see the Habs on the brink of extinction. They won the Stanley Cup in 1924, 1930 and 1931. However, they had a pair of miserable seasons after selling superstar Howie Morenz to the Chicago Blackhawks. 1935 and 1936 were porous seasons to the Habs, and the team lost a reported $60,000.
The owners of the Canadiens looked to sell the team, and they almost went to Cleveland. This would have forever changed the history of Canada and could have ended the country, but a pair of Montreal businessmen saved the team, the city of Montreal and the Great White North. Maurice Forget and Ernest Savard purchased the Habs and brought back the great Morenz (more on him later). Things would be great in Montreal for a while, but they would later come across another rough patch which we will get to later!
12 Unfair Advantage?
During those two years where the Canadiens struggled (just mentioned above), the league gave the Habs a rather unfair advantage of trying to help them out. A large percentage of NHL players (especially the best ones), were French Canadian. The NHL gave them first dibs on ALL French Canadian players.
It may not have seemed like a big deal at the time, but the Canadiens would have the first rights to French Canadian players for the following decades well before the NHL Draft was put into place. The Canadiens would take advantage of the...unfair...advantage (if you will), and reach the playoffs in 1937, 1938 and 1939.
Many Canadiens haters to this day will bring up how unfair it is that the team got the advantage of choosing French Canadian players, first. Perhaps many of you Canadiens fans have already experienced this.
11 Howie Morenz' Legend
Before Wayne Gretzky, there was Bobby Orr. Before Bobby Orr, there were Gordie Howe and Maurice Richard. But many hockey fans may not be aware of the so-called "Babe Ruth of Hockey." That man would be Howie Morenz, whom many hockey historians claim was the first TRUE superstar of the sport.
According to great hockey broadcaster Dick Irvin Jr., Morenz was the best NHL player in the '20s and '30s. He had a Babe Ruth-like attraction; fans paid money just to watch him play. He rushed the puck up ice and was virtually untouchable. He led the league in scoring twice, won a trio of Hart Trophies and won three Stanley Cups with the Canadiens.
As Morenz was enjoying the end of his career in his second stint with the Canadiens in 1937, a major tragedy took place. Chicago Blackhawks' blueliner Earl Seibert accidentally ran into Morenz full speed into the boards after the slipped and fell down. Morenz broke his leg and was informed his career was over.
Morenz would die from complications to the injury a couple of months later. His teammate, Aurele Joliat, believed that Morenz died of a broken heart knowing he wouldn't play hockey again. 50,000 fans lined up at the Montreal Forum to pay their tributes to the man who made Montreal a pure hockey city.
10 Habs Almost Folded, Part III
Resiliency would be a great word to describe the Canadiens franchise. They were on the brink of being extinct twice, only to come back stronger. But before World War II, the team once again faced the possibility of becoming defunct once and for all.
The Canadiens were a mess following the first two years of Morenz' passing. The franchise had problems bringing fans to games and the owners thought about ceasing the team's production for a while. The Habs were then sold to the Canadian Arena Company, but the franchise was about to face many hardships.
Some teams had to put their operations on hold while players around the league enrolled in the military for the Second World War. The team hired the legendary Dick Irvin Sr. as their head coach, and with a new franchise icon in Maurice 'The Rocket' Richard on the way, Montreal once again found themselves on a path to greatness after avoiding extinction a third time.
9 The Richard Riot
Everyone knows the great Maurice Richard, who is widely considered the greatest player in Montreal Canadiens history. 'The Rocket' won nine Stanley Cups and scored 544 goals and 965 points in nearly two decades with the franchise.
But Richard meant way more to the city of Montreal; he was far more than just a guy who put pucks in the back of nets. During a 1955 game against the Boston Bruins, Richard let his temper get the better of him -- and he punched linesman Cliff Thompson after the latter tried to stop him from a fight.
Clarence Campbell, the NHL president, suspended Richard for the remainder of the season. Campbell would show up at a game later in the season, and was pelted by food and garbage from Canadiens' fans, and the ice was littered with debris which forced the game to cease and for the Montreal Forum to be evacuated. Fans went around and broke windows and destroyed stores across the city. Maurice professionally asked the fans to stop the madness. It remains one of the most embarrassing moments in league history.
8 The Man Behind The Mask
This may be common knowledge to many, but a ton of young NHL followers and a large amount of you youthful Habs fans may not know the legend of Jacques Plant. The great Jacques Plante backstopped the Canadiens for 11 NHL seasons and won six Stanley Cups with them.
All of you goalies today who have experienced the uncomfortable feeling of stopping a puck with your helmet can thank Plante, who was the first goalie that began wearing a goalie's mask to protect his face. Plante broke his nose and suffered various facial injuries after getting hit in the face from a shot during a 1959 game. He refused to go back out unless his coach let him wear the mask that Plante had designed some time ago.
And the rest is history, as Plante has saved virtually every goalie on the planet from suffering severe injuries. You kids 15-and-under reading this owe Plante a lot of gratitude.
7 Getting Guy Lafleur
After Richard, it's safe to say that perhaps The Flower is the greatest Hab of all-time. Even if he's not recognized as the greatest, Guy Lafleur is the highest-scoring Canadien of all-time, with 518 goals and 1,246 points. Lafleur won a trio of scoring titles and won the Hart Trophy twice, becoming the front and centre of Montreal's dynasty in the '70s. But the Habs needed a LOT to go their way in landing Lafleur.
With the 1971 NHL Entry Draft coming up, Habs' GM Sam Pollock was able to do businese with the California Golden Seals, obtaining the first-overall pick. The Golden Seals would live to regret the trade, while the Canadiens maintained their status as hockey's model of excellence.
You know all about Lafleur, but the Canadiens had to work excessively to trade for the top pick and select The Flower. Lady luck was on the Habs' side once again.
6 Remember Him?
Many of you kids who were born in the '80s or after best remember Lemaire as a defensive mastermind head coach. He is the one who formed the neutral zone trap in the '90s that helped the New Jersey Devils shut down the opposition's top scorers night-in and night-out. Teams have since used the neutral zone trap excessively, as it's become the most effective way of playing defence for two decades.
But you kids may not know that Lemaire was also a centrepiece of the Canadiens' dominance in the '70s. He scored 366 goals and 835 points in 12 seasons with the team, winning eight Stanley Cups. His most infamous goal came in Game 7 of the 1971 Stanley Cup Final against the Blackhawks in the second period.
In that game, Montreal trailed 2-0. But Lemaire scored from centre ice late in the second. Montreal would add on two more goals and clinch the Stanley Cup.
5 The Five-Peat
Young fans in the '70s saw the Montreal Canadiens dynasty. Fans in the '80s saw the Edmonton Oilers dynasty. Fans in the '90s saw the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings battle for supremacy every year. Fans of the 2000s saw the New Jersey Devils and Detroit win a pair of Cups. Most recently, we've seen the Chicago Blackhawks form quite a legendary dynasty.
But some forget the greatest hockey dynasty of them all -- the Montreal Canadiens of the '50s. They won the Stanley Cup EVERY year from 1956 to 1960, capping off the first and only three-peat in NHL history. Maurice Richard, Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey, Jacques Plante and Henri Richard (Maurice's brother), led the Habs to hockey supremacy.
But somehow and someway, people seem to forget or not even know about this incredible five-peat.
4 The Greatest Team Ever Assembled: 1976-77
Many would tell you that the 1972 Miami Dolphins are the greatest NFL team of all-time. A lot would tell you that the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls are the greatest ever (since the Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 series lead). But many people don't seem to debate the greatest NHL team of all-time. Perhaps it's because there isn't a debate -- just ask the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens.
This team went 60-8-12, registering a record 132 points. For what it's worth, the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings won 62 games and posted 131 points. But the Wings' got two extra games that year, and they also didn't win the Stanley Cup. That's something the 1976-77 Canadiens did. Montreal had a ridiculous +216 goal differential -- and this was a team that was made from scratch. The Canadiens drafted 14 of their roster players. Guy Lafleur had 56 goals and 136 points, while Steve Shutt had 60 goals and 105 points. Defenceman Larry Robinson added 85 points.
Overall, 10 players scored at least 50 points and eight guys scored at least 20 goals. Lafleur won four titles (including the Hart and Art Ross), while Ken Dryden won the Vezina. The Habs cemented the greatest-ever dynasty by sweeping Boston in the Stanley Cup Final.
3 Ken Dryden Lucked Out
Ken Dryden may be the greatest Canadiens' goalie ever, but there was no indication early on that he was going to be the legend that we all know and love today. Dryden was drafted 14th-overall by the Boston Bruins in 1964 but was quickly traded to the Montreal Canadiens. But Dryden went to study at Cornell and wouldn't join the Habs until the 1970-71 season.
That year, he was called up from the minors to finish the final six games of the regular season so that starter Rogie Vachon (who was a star himself), could get rest for the playoffs. Dryden won all six starts and only allowed nine goals in those games with a .957 save percentage. That was enough for Dryden to earn the number one job, and he helped the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup. Dryden would go on to win five Vezina Trophies and six Stanley Cups with the Canadiens. It took some luck to become the starter, but Dryden capitalized on the opportunity big time.
2 Retirement Home
From what you've read so far, it's not hard to grasp that the Canadiens are the greatest NHL organization ever. They knew which coaches to hire, which players to acquire, which trades to make and knew how to win. This team's history has always been nothing short of excellence. It's also easy to see and understand how this team has had more legends than any other NHL franchise.
The Canadiens have retired a total of 15 numbers in honour of 18 different players, more than any other NHL team. The first to get his number retired was Howie Morenz (7), back on Nov. 2, 1937. The most recent was Guy Lapointe, who had his number retired on Nov. 8, 2014. Looking at the current Habs' current players, it's safe to assume that Carey Price's number 31 will be retired. But in 300 years time, we may be seeing Habs' players wear number 100 and up!
1 (Canadiens) Hockey Hall Of Fame
The Hockey Hall of Fame has had to make a lot of room for Montreal Canadiens legends and icons. There are 66 players and builders involved in the Canadiens' history that are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. To make it even more amazing, all of them were Canadian except for UK citizen Joe Hall and American Chris Chelios.
The list of Canadiens' Hockey Hall of Famers stretches miles, and it started with Howie Morenz and Georges Vezina in 1945. Former head coach Pat Burns was the most recent inductee, all the way back in 2014.
From Morenz and Vezina to Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Dickey Moore, Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden, Pat Burns, Emile Bouchard, Toe Blake and Guy Lafleur (among others), the Canadiens have always been THE team of hockey. There's no reason that will change any time soon. Actually, no reason to believe it ever will change.