The NHL is currently in its 100th season and in those seasons, the Montreal Canadiens have won an astonishing 24 Stanley Cups. This makes them the best franchise in league history, and also one of the best franchises in all of professional sports alongside the Packers (NFL), Celtics (NBA), and Yankees (MLB).
What makes this organization so great, aside from the All-Star names on the backs of their jerseys, is the Canadiens’ logo and all that it stands for. Every player in the league knows stepping into The Forum or now the Bell Centre, means stepping into the loudest and most intense atmosphere the league has to offer. Habs fans are notoriously intense and invested in their team and they expect the same level of intensity and investment from the players. When the players don’t deliver, the fans let them know.
An original six team, the Canadiens, more commonly known as the “Habs,” have been a powerhouse in the NHL since the beginning of it all. Through a century of hockey, the Habs have seen some of the greatest players to ever play the game put on their infamous bleu, blanc, et rouge sweater, including players such as: Maurice Richard, Larry Robinson, Jean Béliveau, Guy Lafleur, Patrick Roy, and even their current goalie, Carey Price.
As previously mentioned, the Habs have won 24 Stanley Cups but they also haven’t won a Cup in 24 years – since 1993. They are currently on the upswing, studded with great players and full of potential, and will without a doubt be playoff contenders in the next coming years.
In this list, we will be looking into 10 of the best and 10 of the worst players to play in Montreal since 1993.
With all that out of the way, let’s get into it!
20 Best: Andrei Markov
The smooth skating Russian defenceman is currently playing in his 16th NHL season with the Montreal Canadiens. He is one of the best offensive defencemen to put on the Canadiens sweater and has notched 557 points in 959 games played. His offensive abilities make him a very dangerous threat on the power play, where he has put up an impressive 290 points with 59 of his 115 career goals being scored on the power play.
Markov is an integral member of the Canadiens defensive core, and a leader on the team, which has earned him the ‘A.’ On top of his impressive offensive abilities, Markov has also proven to be defensively adequate – sitting on a career +/- rating of 53. At the age of 38, Markov’s career is inevitably coming to a close, but the veteran still has a spring in his step and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him and the Canadiens in the cup finals in the near future.
19 Worst: Alexander Semin
Alexander Semin, the talented Russian has had a good career where he played alongside the likes of Alexander Ovechkin and has proven his raw offensive abilities. Semin has put up 517 points in 650 games, but only managed four in his 15 game stint with the Canadiens. His lackluster play insured him a lot of time on the bench and a lot of time scratched.
Watching him play for Montreal was one of the saddest excuses of hockey I have ever seen in the NHL. He was playing like a kid that just got dragged to an early morning practice; his play was soft, half-hearted, and plain and simply hard to watch. It was clear that the three-time 30 goal scorer was clocked out of hockey prior to the start of that 2015-16 season. Semin has not played in the NHL since his pathetic 15-game run with the Habs.
18 Best: Sheldon Souray
Standing at 6’4” and 231 lbs, Sheldon Souray was a force on the Habs’ blue line for the six seasons he played for them. He was a big defenseman with great offensive abilities including an absolute cannon of a slapshot that no player or goalie wanted to get in front of. Souray’s gritty style of play and incredible shot quickly made him a fan favorite in Montreal.
In 324 games with the Canadiens, Souray chalked up 160 points which included 62 goals. His career-best season was in 2006-07 with the Habs where he put up 64 points and an impressive 26 goals – 19 of which were scored on the power play. Those 19 power play markers saw to him setting the new record for single-season power play goals by a defenceman.
17 Worst: Rene Bourque
Rene Bourque is a good hockey player but for whatever reason, he could not find his stride during his four-season tenure with the Habs. In 141 games with the team, Bourque only managed to mark down 39 points while he sat on an ugly +/- rating of -27. Plain and simply, this is unacceptable of a player who earned just over $3.3 million and counted for over 5% of the Canadiens’ payroll.
His disappointing play didn’t go unnoticed as head coach, Michel Therrien benched him multiple times during his time as a Canadien. In the 2014 playoffs, he actually played to his potential, scoring eight goals including a hat trick in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Rangers. Unfortunately, at the start of the following season, he reverted back to his lackluster play and he eventually saw himself being traded to Anaheim where he only stayed for 30 games.
16 Best: Vincent Damphousse
Vincent Damphousse played seven seasons with the Canadiens including the 1992-93 season where he hoisted the Stanley Cup. Great speed and puck handling ability made Damphousse a very dangerous threat in the offensive end. In 519 career games with the Habs, he managed to put up 498 points including 184 goals.
What made Damphousse such a great player was his diversity; he played all situations including penalty kill and power play and was great in all of them. During his tenure with the Canadiens, he chalked up 178 special teams points and was well over a point-per-game in three out of his seven seasons in Montreal. His career definitely peaked during his time as a Hab where he saw his career high 97-point season which was his only 40 goal season.
15 Worst: Mariusz Czerkawski
A proven talented goal scorer, Mariusz Czerkawski, just couldn’t get it done in Montreal. He played only 43 games as a Canadien and recorded only five goals and 14 points while carrying a +/- rating of -7. His play during his season with the Habs was very mediocre and seemed to lack motivation. This saw to him being scratched multiple times before eventually being sent down to the minors.
The real head-scratcher aspect of this entry is his play before and after his time in Montreal. Before joining the Canadiens, Czerkawski played for the Islanders where he tallied over 20 goals in four seasons, which included two seasons with over 30. Then, after he was bought out by the Habs, he returned to the Islanders and scored 25 goals!
14 Best: Pierre Turgeon
A speedy, creative, and exciting player, Pierre Turgeon played three seasons with the Canadiens where he was over a point-per-game. Turgeon was a player known for his talent, cheeky plays from behind the net, and even his great goal celebrations. Turgeon tallied 50 goals and 127 points in his 104 games as a Canadien.
The French-Canadian played well with his fellow Frenchman, Vincent Damphousse, who appeared earlier on the list and even wore the ‘C’ during his stint as a Hab. Being the French-Canadian scoring star that he was, the fans expected a lot out of Turgeon, who was never one for the spotlight. The intensity and demanding nature of the city proved to be too much for Turgeon and he went on to play in St. Louis where he could fly under the radar.
13 Worst: Sergei Samsonov
The Canadiens thought they struck gold with the signing of Sergei Samsonov, a Calder Trophy winner and four-time 20 goal scorer. The Canadiens locked down the small and speedy Russian forward for $6.25 million over two years and they quickly realized this was not going to be the signing they had hoped for.
Samsonov played only 63 games over one season of his contract in Montreal. In those games, he only managed nine goals and 26 points while carrying a +/- rating of -4. His play was largely lackluster and he was placed on waivers prior to the conclusion of the season. Samsonov’s career was like the Benjamin Button of hockey careers; he started out great and only got worse as his career progressed.
12 Best: Mark Recchi
An NHL legend, Mark Recchi played in five seasons with the Montreal Canadiens. In 346 games as a Hab, Recchi put up 120 goals and 308 points. He was consistently among the team’s leading scorers and was a part of GM Serge Savard’s desperate attempt at an offensive revamp of the underachieving Canadiens.
Recchi scored over 30 goals twice and reached a high of 80 points wearing the red, white, and blue for the Habs. Recchi was a very consistent and reliable player who played in all 82 games in three out of his five seasons as a Hab – the two seasons he didn’t, were the seasons he was either traded into Montreal or traded out of Montreal. Recchi continued his consistent play and production until his retirement in 2011.
11 Worst: Jason Ward
Let’s rewind back to the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. Montreal has the 11th pick and instead of drafting Marian Hossa (who went 12th), the Habs went with Jason Ward. One of the many poor draft picks the Canadiens made during the '90s, Ward played in only 105 games over four broken seasons and recorded only 20 points. He spent a large portion of those four seasons in the minors and after the lockout in 2004-05, he signed with the Rangers.
Jason Ward was productive in the AHL but simply just couldn’t keep up with the speed of the NHL. Standing at 6’2” and 208 lbs, Ward was not a small customer. Unfortunately, he seriously lacked in foot speed and agility which saw to him not winning many races and battles in the show.
10 Best: Patrick Roy
Arguably the greatest goaltender to ever play the game, Patrick Roy played in 12 seasons as a Montreal Canadien. As a Hab, Roy won the Stanley Cup twice, the Vezina Trophy three times, the William M. Jennings Trophy four times and the Conn Smythe Trophy twice; he went on to win even more hardware as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. Known for his competitive edge and clutch play, these two traits were displayed evidently in the 1993 playoffs where Roy helped the Habs win a record ten consecutive sudden-death overtime games!
Patrick Roy was a bit of a revolutionary when it came to the NHL. He was the first goalie to really popularize the butterfly style and even influenced equipment advances of goalies. It’s no question that he is one of the reasons the NHL scoring has been on the decline and goalies have become greater assets.
9 Worst: Matt Higgins
Remember how earlier in this article I mentioned the Canadiens’ drafting struggles in the '90s? Matt Higgins is another example of those blunders. Drafted 18th overall in the 1996 draft, Higgins played nowhere near the level where the Habs hoped he’d play. In his draft year with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL, he marked down 33 goals and 90 points in 71 games, showing a ton of potential.
Once in the big leagues, through four seasons with the Habs, Higgins only played 57 games where he tallied a pathetic one goal and three points. He spent a lot of time in the minors and could never get his level of play up to par of the show. Higgins eventually went on to play in Europe.
8 Best: Saku Koivu
Saku Koivu played 13 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens and made quite the impression during his time there. The long time captain of the Habs was not necessarily an elite point producer nor did he ever raise a cup, but he is still one of the most respected players to ever play in Montreal or even the NHL. A leader on and off the ice, he put up 641 points in 792 games as a Hab.
Perhaps what Koivu is best remembered for is his battle with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that he was diagnosed with prior to the start of the 2001-02 season. He completed chemotherapy in April of 2002 and returned to the lineup a day later. After a standing ovation that lasted over five minutes for him, Koivu and his Habs went on to win and clinch a playoff spot. He gave everything he had to the Montreal Canadiens and if it wasn’t for some untimely injuries and his battle with cancer, Koivu may have been one of the greats.
7 Worst: Scott Gomez
A name that makes most Habs fans cringe, Scott Gomez played in three seasons as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. In 2009, GM Bob Gainey made a trade with the New York Rangers including a young Ryan McDonagh in return for a $7.35 million per year Scott Gomez. Gomez went on to put up 21 goals and 108 points in 196 games as a Hab and McDonagh is currently the captain and star blue-liner of the Rangers.
Gomez scored his seventh goal of the 2010-11 season on February 5th and became quite a sensation in the worst way, as he did not score another goal for over a year until February 9th of 2012! The next season he scored only twice in his 38 games and that was all she wrote for Gomez as a Hab. He was bought out by the Canadiens in the 2012-13 season following the lockout.
6 Best: Max Pacioretty
The current Montreal Canadiens captain has played all of his nine-season career in Montreal. The big left winger really became an integral part of the Habs offense during the 2011-12 season where he scored 33 goals and 65 points in 79 games. A hard worker and very consistent point producer, Pacioretty is one hell of a hockey player and I don’t believe he’s reached his prime yet.
The four-time 30 goal scorer is currently sitting on 21 goals this season and will most likely reach 30 once again making him a 30+ goal scorer per season in over half of his career. With his great size, skating ability, and quick release, Pacioretty has demonstrated that he is an elite goal scorer in the NHL today. If I was a betting man, I’d peg Pacioretty to be the next great Habs captain to lead his Canadiens to a Stanley Cup, making it their incredible 25th.
5 Worst: Juha Lind
The Finnish winger, Juha Lind is a name you most likely aren’t familiar with but if you are, you probably watched Dallas or Montreal in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Lind played two seasons as a Montreal Canadien and played terribly in both of those seasons. His best season with the Habs saw to him tallying a whopping seven points in 47 games. In total, he managed four goals and 10 points in 60 games as a Hab.
Lind was described as soft and slow during his time in the NHL. As I talked about in one of my other articles, you can be one or the other and still be successful, but being soft and slow is a very detrimental combination of attributes. Following his last season with the Habs in 2000-01, Lind went on to play in Europe until 2010.
4 Best: Carey Price
Currently the Montreal Canadiens star goalie, Carey Price has played all of his 10 NHL seasons with the Habs. If you’ve been watching hockey for the last five-to-ten years, you’ve probably seen Price in several highlight reels making incredible and miraculous saves night after night. Just coming into his prime, Price is without a doubt the backbone of the Canadiens and has been for about the last five or six seasons.
The 28-year-old has won just about everything except the Stanley Cup, but with the Canadiens, he has won the Vezina Trophy, the Ted Lindsay Award, the William M. Jennings Trophy, and the Hart Memorial Trophy – did I mention he won all of those awards in the 2014-15 season? I would not be surprised to see Carey Price, alongside Max Pacioretty, lead the Habs to their 25th cup in the next few seasons.
3 Worst: Janne Niinimaa
Janne Niinimaa played only one season for the Habs and in that time he made quite a poor impression. In 41 games as a Hab, Niinimaa only managed to tally three assists and sat on a poor -13 +/- rating. His most notable statistic however, was the fact that he managed to ice the puck an incredible 432 times as a Hab! When in doubt, get it out, right?
Janne Niinimaa arrived in Montreal for the 2006-07 season as part of a questionable trade including Mike Ribeiro, and that would be his last season in the NHL. He was undoubtedly at the end of his career and in his 10th season in the show. He spent half of his time with the Habs as a healthy scratch and following the season went on to play in Europe where he finished his career.
2 Best: P.K. Subban
An exciting and explosive offensive defenceman, P.K. Subban played seven seasons in Montreal and made quite an impact on and off the ice. Subban is without a doubt one of the best defencemen to ever wear a Habs uniform and one of the best in the league today. Reaching the 50-point mark three times as a Hab, Subban scored 63 goals and 278 points in 434 games – 127 of those points were put up on the power play.
P.K. Subban is an elite puck moving defenceman with a cannon of a slapshot from the point. He’s also a very competitive guy with a great work ethic who leaves it all on the ice every night he laces up the skates. As I mentioned in a previous article of mine, Subban also made an impact off the ice in Montreal, being involved in the communities and charities. He donated an incredible $10 million to the Montreal Children’s Hospital and started his own fund which continues to help out Montreal, despite him now playing in Nashville.
1 Worst: Georges Laraque
The 6’4” 245 lbs tough guy, Georges Laraque, played two seasons for the Montreal Canadiens. A native of Montreal, Laraque was signed to a three- year deal for $4.5 million to bang bodies and drop the gloves. Unfortunately, along with the NHL, Laraque had changed by the time he arrived in Montreal for the 2008-09 season; fighting just isn’t a huge part of the game like it was in Laraque’s prime.
During his stint with the Habs, Laraque only managed to tally one goal and five points in 61 games. He also sat on a sad -12 +/- rating, despite playing very limited fourth line minutes. Laraque retired from hockey after the 2009-10 season and went on to be a Green Party politician. While he was known as a tough guy on the ice, Laraque was also known as a very sweet and friendly man off the ice.