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Rejean Houle's 15 Worst Moves As Montreal Canadiens GM

Réjean Houle was the first overall draft pick in 1969. In a professional career that would span 14 seasons, the right-winger would win five Stanley Cups, all with the Canadiens. Houle was also one of the first marquee players to play in the World Hockey Association when he signed for the Quebec Nordiques in 1973. In 849 career professional games, Houle scored 665 points -- definitely a solidly respectable career. After retirement, Houle began to work in an executive role with Molson, one of Canada’s two big breweries. Molson was also the owner of the Montreal Canadiens, and Houle eventually shifted over into an executive role with them. And that’s when his legacy began to be tarnished.

Ronald Corey served as president of the Montreal Canadiens from 1982 until 1999. While the Habs won two Stanley Cups in this period, his tenure is seen as controversial for some of his hiring and firing decisions. The most controversial occurred four games into the 1995-96 season when Corey fired general manager Serge Savard and head coach Jacques Demers and replaced them with Réjean Houle and Mario Tremblay, respectively. Neither Houle nor Tremblay had any management experience; they were simply loyal Canadiens employees who Corey presumably felt he could easily control. And to be fair to Corey, Serge Savard had no experience when he hired him as GM and they won two cups under his watch. Would Houle’s reign be as successful? Sadly, it would not. Houle would go down as one of the worst general managers in history. What did he do that was so bad? Well, keep on reading and you’ll find out.

15 Trading For Trevor Linden

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14 Drafting Ron Hainsey 13th Overall

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Maybe the reason that Houle felt comfortable trading away his first round pick for Trevor Linden is because he had utterly no confidence in his ability to draft good players. The 2000 Draft would be Houle’s last in charge and, sadly enough, American defenseman Ron Hainsey was probably Houle’s best first round pick. Why is Hainsey Houle’s best first round pick? Well, because Hainsey has actually proven to be a capable NHL player. And yes, that alone makes him the best. Hainsey has played 835 NHL games and scored 236 points through to the 2015-16 season.

13 Trading Jean-Jacques Daigneault

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Nobody would ever confuse Jean-Jacques Daigneault with a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman. And after Houle traded him away for goalie Pat Jablonski, it wasn’t as if there was a massive J.J. Daigneault-sized hole in the Habs lineup. But at the time of the trade, November 1995, the Habs' weakest position was on defense, so trading away a solid third-pairing D-man for a backup goalie was ill-considered. The Daigneault trade was actually the first move that Houle made as GM, having only been on the job for 17 days. The Daigneault trade would set the tone for Houle’s tenure, although, most of his trades would be much worse.

12 Trading Pat Jablonski

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The only thing that could make the Daigneault trade worse was if Houle traded away Jablonski for nothing. And that’s exactly what he did. The American goaltender only ever played 40 games in a Habs sweater, and 128 total NHL regular season games (and four in the playoffs) in his career. That’s 132 NHL games more than Steve Cheredaryk would ever play. And that’s who Houle traded his backup goalie for in 1997. The Canadian defenseman was never an NHL player, so it seems odd that Houle would trade anybody for him, let alone his backup goalie.

11 Trading Scott Thornton

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In January of 2000, Réjean Houle traded away forward Scott Thornton to the Dallas Stars for Juha Lind. Lind was a Finnish forward who was drafted by the Stars back when they were still in Minnesota, in 1992, so he wasn’t really young. Furthermore, in all that time with the Stars organization, he only had played a handful games. After only a year with the Habs, Lind would leave the NHL and move back to Europe. So he was, essentially, a nothing player.

10 Drafting Jason Ward 11th Overall

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Jason Ward scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game on his very first NHL shot, and it was all downhill from there. As the 11th overall pick, Ward was the highest draft choice Réjean Houle ever made. And boy, what a waste. The Habs drafted Ward in 1997 in a draft class that included the likes of Marian Hossa, Scott Hannan, and Brenden Morrow, all of whom were selected after Jason Ward.

9 Trading Vincent Damphousse

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Vincent Damphousse was one of several aging Montreal Canadiens that Houle saw fit to jettison far too soon. Damphousse was in his seventh season with the Habs when Houle traded him to San Jose in March of 1999. Damphousse was only 31 at the time, had led the team in scoring multiple years, and was even the team’s captain (trading away his captain had become something of a hallmark for Houle). Damphousse would go on to be a key player for the Sharks, never registering fewer than 40 points in a season.

8 Drafting Marcel Hossa

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By 2000, perhaps Houle had become so frustrated with his draft failures that he hit upon a new strategy. Why bother to do all that research and listen to all those scouts (if he ever did either) when you can just pick a player with a good name?

7 Trading Valeri Bure

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6 Drafting Eric Chouinard

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In the 1998 NHL Draft, Houle selected Eric Chouinard with the 16th overall pick. Guess how that panned out. Like all of Houle’s first round choices, this one sucked. Chouinard was one of many players who put up big numbers in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, only to find life much more difficult in the NHL. Chouinard only ever played in 90 career NHL regular season games, scoring 22 points. He only played 13 of those games with the Habs, scoring a whopping four points in the process. Instead of choosing Chouinard, maybe Houle should have opted for Robyn Regehr, Simon Gagne, or Scott Gomez.

5 The Tucker/Richer Trade

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Early in 1998, Houle traded Stéphane Richer, Darcy Tucker, and David Wilkie to Tampa Bay for Patrick Poulin, Igor Ulanov, and Mick Vukota. This trade was bad principally because of the loss of Tucker. Tucker was only 22 at the time and showed some promise the previous season, scoring 20 points. Tucker would basically double his output in Tampa, but the Lightning also didn’t really know what they had when they traded him to Toronto, where he became a fan favorite and the heart of the team.

4 Drafting Matt Higgins

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3 Trading Mark Recchi

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Mark Recchi led the Canadiens in scoring in the 1997-98 season. He also led the team in scoring in the 1998-99 season, despite only playing 61 games for them because he was traded to Philadelphia in March of '99. You could say that Recchi was another aging player who Houle dealt as soon as he saw a dip in form, but Recchi was still the team’s best player!

2 The Turgeon Trade

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On October 29, 1996, Réjean Houle dealt Pierre Turgeon, Rory Fitzpatrick, and Craig Conroy to St. Louis in exchange for Murray Baron, Shayne Corson, and a fifth round pick in the 1997 draft (Gennady Razin). Razin never played in the NHL, Baron only ever played 60 games for the Habs (scoring six points), and Corson would go on to play four more seasons for Montreal, putting up decent numbers, but had only been traded from Montreal four years earlier (to Edmonton for Damphousse).

1 Le Trade

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On December 6, 1995, just six weeks into his job as GM, Réjean Houle made his most infamous trade. In what became known as, “Le Trade,” Houle sent Patrick Roy and Mike Keane to Colorado for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Ručinský, and Andrei Kovalenko. Now, some people have defended Houle on this one, pointing out that Roy had demanded a trade, so Houle’s hands were tied. But Roy didn’t actually demand a trade. What Roy said was that he would never play for head coach Mario Tremblay again. Tremblay was hired as coach at the same time that Houle was, and he and Roy did not get along, going all the way back to Roy’s rookie year when then-player Tremblay would mock and haze Roy.

The situation came to a boil when Tremblay left Roy in net for nine goals against the Red Wings on December 2 in what would be an 11-2 shellacking. Now, Tremblay had just got started, and firing coaches at player’s demands can set a bad precedent, but as GM, it was in Houle’s remit to sack Tremblay. And he should have done so. Tremblay was a rookie coach and Roy was the team’s best player and the league’s best goalie. And there’s no way Houle was going to get enough for Roy with every other GM knowing the situation. Nevertheless, Houle still traded Roy, along with his team captain Mike Keane -- a terrible trade by a terrible GM. In the end, Houle’s only saving grace is that he isn’t Mike Milbury.

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Rejean Houle's 15 Worst Moves As Montreal Canadiens GM