Every professional North American sports league has its storied franchises, whether it be the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in baseball, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers in basketball, or the Cowboys and Steelers in football; and hockey is no different. In the NHL, there are actually six franchises that stand out amongst all the rest in terms of history: Toronto, Montreal, New York, Boston, Chicago, and Detroit; and the most successful of these franchises is unequivocally the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens franchise was founded in 1909, making it the only NHL franchise that is older than the very league itself, and in its over 100 years of existence, they have won a record 24 Stanley Cups.
When a team has as much success as the Canadiens have had over the decades, it is usually because they have had great players, which is precisely the case with Montreal as the franchise has had 54 Hall of Fame players in its history. Although they have had many great players, the Canadiens have also had their fair share of bad players, individuals who were either just not good NHL players, who underperformed, or who ended up in Montreal near the end of their career. The Canadiens’ roster has seen a mixture of both great and bad players in every era, and it is the purpose of this article to present a list of eight of the best as well as seven of the worst players the Canadiens have had since the year 2000.
15 Best: Mike Ribeiro
To start off the best player portion of this list, we have centerman Mike Ribeiro, who the Montreal Canadiens drafted in 1998 with the 45th pick, and he is likely the one forward on this list that the team wishes they had not let go. Ribeiro did not debut with the team until the 1999-00 season where he played in only 19 games and recorded only 2 points; but he did become more productive throughout his tenure with Montreal. In all, Rebeiro spent parts of 6 seasons with the team, where he recorded 50 goals and 153 points, but because it was believed that he did not compete every single night, the Canadiens traded him in 2006 to the Dallas Stars. Apparently, Montreal did not know how to properly utilize Ribeiro, because in the 11 seasons since his departure, he now has 226 career goals and 769 points.
14 Worst: Georges Laraque
The NHL is now more focused on speed and skill, but there was a time when more or less every team possessed one player whose role was to fight and protect the star players, and although fights still occur during games, almost no team today possesses a full-on enforcer anymore. One of these enforcers was Georges Laraque, who made it into the NHL thanks to the Edmonton Oilers who drafted him in 1995. In 8 years with Edmonton, Laraque actually put up a surprising amount of points for a fighter, but despite this, he was still mainly utilized for his fists. It is because of his physicality, and his past ability to score a little, that Montreal signed him as a free agent in 2008; but they did not get what they were hoping for as Laraque turned out to be a slow-skating penalty-stacking machine. In two seasons with the team, he played in 61 games, where he recorded only 5 points, and as a result, Montreal bought out the rest of his contract in 2010.
13 Best: Jose Theodore
In their history, the Montreal Canadiens have had their fair share of great goaltenders, and as of right now, they may very well have the best goalie in the entire world in Carey Price, but in the early 2000s they had a goalie who fans today seem to give virtually no recognition. In 1994, Montreal drafted Jose Theodore in the second round, and although he made his debut the following year, he did not become the team’s number one goalie until the 2000-01 season. Between 2000 and 2004, Theodore was actually one of the better goalies in the entire league, especially during the 2001-02 season where his performance won him both the Vezina trophy for best goaltender, and the Hart trophy for league MVP; which is a feat that only 3 other NHL goalies have ever accomplished.
12 Worst: Sergei Samsonov
There are those who may question the compete level and loyalty of some Russian NHL players, but the one thing that those people cannot deny is the fact that most Russian players are highly skilled at the game of hockey. Since the early 2000s, the Canadiens have either drafted or brought in a handful of Russians to play for them, and Sergei Samsonov was one of them, but because of his lackluster play, his tenure with Montreal was quite short. Samsonov started his career with the Boston Bruins, where he scored over 20 goals in four different seasons, which is why Montreal signed him as a free agent during the 2006 offseason, but the player they signed ended up not being the point scorer they expected him to be. In his one and only season with the Canadiens, Samsonov scored only 9 goals and 26 points in 63 games, which led to the team putting him on waivers and then trading him.
11 Best: Alex Kovalev
Throughout his career, Alex Kovalev was dogged for not showing up every night on the ice and choosing to only play hard when he felt like it, but despite these accusations, no one can argue that he had some of the most skilled hands in the entire NHL when he played. Kovalev started his NHL career in 1992, and before being acquired by Montreal in 2004, he made a name for himself as a skilled player with both the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, and his skill was still very prominent while with the Habs. In total, Kovalev spent parts of 5 seasons with Montreal, and in that time he scored a total of 103 goals and 264 points; and it was this performance that actually made him one of the more liked members of that team’s roster amongst the fans.
10 Worst: Guillaume Latendresse
As everyone knows, the Canadiens call the vastly french-speaking province of Quebec their home, but what many may not know is that for a time the team basically held the rights for all French-Canadian players who wanted to enter the NHL, which is why Montreal had so many talented and Hall of Fame French-Canadian players in their past. The team no longer has these rights though, but they still try their best to acquire Quebec-born players in the hopes of finding the next star for their French fanbase. Guillaume Latendresse was born in Quebec, and the team hoped that the right winger would be a good player, but the opposite turned out to be true. He debuted with Montreal in 2007, and in his 4 seasons with Montreal, he was never able to reach the 30 point mark, and it was because of that, along with the fact that he was heavily criticized for not being in proper shape, that he was eventually traded in 2010.
9 Best: Saku Koivu
In the storied history of the Montreal Canadiens, there have been several iconic captains, including Jean Beliveau, Maurice and Henri Richard, and Yvan Cournoyer, and although Saku Koivu may not be of the same caliber as those Hall of Famers, he is still one of the most beloved captains in the franchise’s history; and he was one of their better players since the year 2000. Koivu was drafted by Montreal 21st overall in the 1993 draft and did not debut with the team until the start of the 1995-96 season; and after just four seasons of impressive play and leadership, he was named team captain, a position which he held for 8 seasons until the 2009 offseason when he signed with Anaheim. In his 13 seasons with Montreal, he scored a total of 191 goals and 641 points, but he is remembered for more than just his stats, as he was also a great person off the ice, who has donated millions of dollars to local hospitals for cancer treatment and research following his own public diagnosis with the disease.
8 Worst: Sergei Kostitsyn
The National Hockey League has seen several families represented on the ice, and because of this, there have been instances where brothers have played alongside one another on the same team. The easiest examples of this can be seen in Vancouver with the Sedin twins, and last season in Carolina with the Staal brothers, but Montreal has also had two brothers playing on the team at the same with Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn, Now to be clear, both brothers were not really that good, but Sergei was by far the worse of the two, seeing as he is the one appearing on this list’s worst category. Montreal drafted Sergei late in the 2005 draft, and waited until the 2007-08 season to call him up to the main roster, where they believed he would be good playing with his brother. This experiment did not work out though, as Sergei kept being sent down to the minors due to unimpressive performances; which saw him score only 24 goals and 68 points in three years with the team before trading him to Nashville.
7 Best: Max Pacioretty
Two seasons ago, the Canadiens did not have any player serving as team captain, something which many fans never expected to see, but last September prior to the start of the regular season, they rectified that when the players voted to give Max Pacioretty the C. It was in the first round of the 2007 draft that Montreal selected Pacioretty, and by the 2008-09 season he was wearing the Canadiens’ jersey, but he did not become one of the team’s current best players until his true breakout year occurred during the 2010-11 season. So far, Pacioretty has led the team in point scoring the past three seasons, and will likely do so again this season, making him the most productive player currently on the roster, which is exactly what every NHL team should expect from their leader.
6 Worst: Janne Niinimaa
This list started with Mike Ribeiro, and as mentioned in that entry, the Canadiens ended up traded him to Dallas without knowing just how talented he really was; and it was in fact Finnish defenseman Janne Niinimaa that Montreal got in return. Earlier on in his career with Philadelphia and Edmonton, Niinimaa could actually put up a decent amount of points, but by the time he made his way to Montreal, his career was already on the decline even though he was only 30 years old at the time. The 2006-07 season, was his first and only season with Montreal, where he was so bad and ineffective that he was a healthy scratch for half of the season; and to give you an idea of just how bad Niinimaa was, he only had 3 points and was a -13 in the combined 41 games he did play in.
5 Best: Tomas Plekanec
Of all the best players to appear on this list, Tomas Plekanec is the only individual who was drafted before 2002 and who is still a part of the Canadiens’ roster today, and the reason behind his tenure with the team is the fact that he has been a constantly productive player. Plekanec was drafted by Montreal in 2001, and although he debuted with the team in 2004, he did not become a permanent roster member until the 2005-06 season. In the 11 seasons since then, Plekanec has consistently put up numbers, so much so that he currently has 554 career points split between 216 goals and 338 assists, which currently gives him more points than any other player on the Canadiens’ current roster; and he is also fairly good on the defensive side of the game as well.
4 Worst: Alexander Semin
The last Russian-born player to appear on this list is Alexander Semin, and not only is he one of the worst players to suit up for Montreal since the year 2000, but he is also a prime example of a promising NHL career going off a cliff. Semin started his career with the Washington Capitals, where he spent the first 6 years of his career, and at that time, he was good for at least 50 points a season. When he left Washington to sign with Carolina though in 2012, things started off good, but quickly deteriorated after he was given a lucrative 5-year extension, which the Hurricanes bought out after the second year. Last offseason, Montreal believed that Semin could still put up the points like he did back in Washington, so they decided to sign him for one year; but Semin performed so badly with only 4 points in 15 games, that the Canadiens were left no choice but to terminate his contract.
3 Best: PK Subban
This past offseason, the hockey world was left stunned by two blockbuster trades which occurred just prior to free-agency, and Montreal was involved in one of those deals as they sent their star defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators in return for star defenseman Shea Weber. Fans in Montreal went apoplectic when news of the trade broke out, and they were not wrong to react this way as Subban established himself as the best defenseman the team has had since the year 2000. Montreal drafted Subban in the second round in 2007, and when he made his team debut at the end of the 2009-10 season, he was never sent back down to the minors. In the 7 seasons that Subban spent in Montreal, he recorded 63 goals and 278 points, along with 38 playoff points in 54 postseason games. If that were not enough, he also won the Norris Trophy in 2013 for being the league’s best defensmen, an honor which had not been given to a Montreal player since 1989.
2 Worst: Scott Gomez
There are bad contracts in every sport, mainly because some teams sign relatively old players to rather lengthy contracts, or because players underperform and do not live up to the dollars they are being paid. In the case of Scott Gomez, both these circumstances became true when he was a member of the Canadiens, and although he had a good career in New Jersey where he became a 2-time Stanley Cup Champion, his playing days were numbered once he put the Habs’ jersey on. The Canadiens acquired Gomez in a trade with the New York Rangers during the 2009 offseason, where at the time he had another 5 years left on a 7-year contract. In his first year with Montreal, he put up a commendable 59 points, but the following two season saw his production drastically decrease, with 38 and 11 points respectively. His underwhelming play left Montreal with no choice but to buy out the last two years of his contract which would have cost the team a cap hit of over $7 million a year.
1 Best: Carey Price
For anyone who is a Montreal Canadiens fan, or who follows the game of hockey, you likely knew that Carey Price was going to be named the best player the Canadiens have had since the year 2000. The Canadiens drafted Price 5th overall back in 2005, and by the 2007-08 season he was permanently brought up to the main roster, and despite a small bit of competition from Jaroslav Halak in 2010, he has remained the team’s number goalie the past 6 years. In his tenure with Montreal, Price currently has 233 wins, 36 shutouts, a 2.43 goals against average, and a .920 save percentage; and in 2015 he joined former Canadiens’ goalie Jose Theodore as one of 4 netminders to win the Vezina and MVP awards in the same year. There is no doubt that Price is likely the best goalie in the world, and his value to the team is monumental, as evidenced by the team’s collapse last season after he suffered a season-ending injury.