The Montreal Canadiens are the greatest franchise in NHL history – I mean, how can you argue against 24 Stanley Cups? In fact, they’re among the greatest in all of sports. With that being said, the Habs haven’t won a championship since 1993 and were off track for a while there with the exception of one or two seasons. Fortunately, they’ve rediscovered themselves and are once again a cup-contending hockey club.
The Canadiens’ success has, like most teams, relied heavily on leadership and stellar play from their big guns. The captain of a hockey team needs to be a leader first and foremost, but they also need to be able to take over games whether that be offensively, defensively, or both. If you look at the Canadiens’ Stanley Cup winning rosters, they always had a great captain. Post ’93 however, the Habs struggled to find a suitable leader – in fact, they had a different captain or split captaincy in every season for the next six seasons.
Max Pacioretty was named the Canadiens’ 29th captain in franchise history last season and so far has displayed all the qualities of a captain ready to lead his squad all the way. “Patches” is currently playing in his fourth consecutive season with 30+ goals and 60+ points and showcasing that aforementioned ability to take over hockey games that the Habs have been searching for.
In this list we will be reviewing the career of the 15 players who wore the ‘C’ in Montreal before Pacioretty and also looking at where they are now.
With all of that out of the way, let’s get into it!
15. Maurice Richard
A man that needs no introduction, Maurice “Rocket” Richard takes the first spot on the list. Born and raised in Montreal, it was only fitting that he played his entire 18-season career with the Habs – in 978 games the “Rocket” scored 544 goals and 965 points. The eight-time Stanley Cup winner disoriented opponents and spectators alike with his blazing speed, earning him his infamous nickname. He was the greatest goal scorer of his time and was the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a single season.
Richard was captain of the Habs from 1956 up until his retirement in 1960. The “Rocket” had his #9 retired by the Canadiens in 1961 and was of course elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. In 1967, Richard was even inducted into the Order of Canada as an Officer – he was later promoted to Companion in 1998. Also in ’98, the NHL created the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy to be awarded to the league’s top goal scorer. Unfortunately, the “Rocket” died of abdominal cancer on May 27, 2000 in his beloved hometown of Montreal. Being the National hero that he was, Richard was the first Canadian athlete to be honoured with a state funeral.
14. Doug Harvey
The next captain of this historic franchise was Doug Harvey – easily the greatest defenceman of his era and a pivotal part of the Canadiens’ league dominance at the time. The six-time Stanley Cup winner tallied 88 goals, 540 points, and 1,216 PIMS in 1,113 career games. Harvey was incredibly versatile and played in all situations, never shying away from physicality, blocking shots, or jumping into the rush – he was the complete player every team desires. His stellar play earned him the James Norris Memorial Trophy an incredible seven times in eight years from 1955-1962!
Harvey captained the Habs for only one season in 1960-61 before he was shipped off to the New York Rangers – he ended up retiring with the St. Louis Blues in 1969. In 1973, the legend was unanimously elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame – his #2 wasn’t retired in Montreal until 1985. Also in ’85, the legend started scouting for the Canadiens and saw his Habs raise the last cup he would end up seeing in 1986. Three years later, Harvey died at the age of 65 and in 2000, the government of Canada honoured him with his image being placed on a postage stamp. Doug Harvey was easily one of the best defencemen to ever play the game and will never be forgotten.
13. Jean Beliveau
Jean “Le Gros Bill” Beliveau is one of the greatest players to ever play in the NHL and was nothing short of a hero in the city of Montreal. This legend played his entire 20-season career with the Habs and notched 507 goals, 1,219 points, and 1,029 PIMS in 1,125 games. In the 1955/56 season, Beliveau won both the Art Ross Trophy and the Hart Memorial Trophy – he would go on to win the Hart again in the 1963-64 season and then the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1964-65. Jean Beliveau won a Stanley Cup 10 times in his career – exactly 50% of his career!
“Le Gros Bill” captained the Habs for a total of 10 seasons from 1961 until his retirement in 1971 – a decade of heroism. Following his retirement the Canadiens established the Jean Beliveau Fund for underprivileged kids – a perfect farewell to a perfect role model. He would later serve as team executive and spokesperson for the club. In 1981, he was named to the selection committee of the Hockey Hall of Fame. On top of all that, Beliveau was president of Jean Beliveau, Inc., a business that dabbled in restaurants, real estate, and other various endeavours. Beliveau worked in public relations for the Habs until 1993 and following that in 1994, was offered the position of Governor General of Canada – he’s the only NHL player to ever be offered but he declined so he could spend more time with his family. He passed away in 2014 but still remains an incredible influence in Montreal.
12. Henri Richard
Henri “Pocket Rocket” Richard was the little brother of the aforementioned Maurice “Rocket” Richard – and by little, I mean literally. Henri stood at a mere 5’7″ and 160 lbs but still managed to dominate the game with his seemingly effortless skating alongside his creative and unmatched playmaking abilities. Henri Richard, much like his big brother, played his entire career in his hometown of Montreal (20 seasons). The little guy managed to contribute 358 goals and 1,046 points in 1,256 career games. He also won a grand total of 11 Stanley Cups – an NHL record for a single player.
Henri Richard captained the Canadiens for four seasons from 1971 up until his retirement in 1975. The little legend then had his #16 retired in Montreal and raised to the rafters of the Forum on December 10, 1975. Down the road in 1979, Henri was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame alongside his big brother, Maurice. After his retirement, the “Pocket Rocket” focused on running Henri Richard’s Tavern – a local and cherished landmark in Montreal. The now 81-year-old is currently battling Alzheimers – our thoughts and prayers are with Henri and his family.
11. Yvan Cournoyer
Yvan “Roadrunner” Cournoyer is the next legend on this star-studded list. Yet another Quebec product, Cournoyer played his entire 16-season career in Montreal and tore up the league the entire time. The 1972-73 Conn Smythe Trophy winner scored 428 goals and 863 points in 968 games. Best known for incredible speed and determination, the “Roadrunner” was a fan favourite in Montreal and helped bring 10 Stanley Cups home, which I’m sure didn’t hurt his reputation.
The “Roadrunner” was captain of the Canadiens for four seasons from 1975 until his retirement in 1979. In 1982, Cournoyer was rightfully placed in the Hockey Hall of Fame – his first year of eligibility. He later went on to give coaching a go and coached the Montreal Roadrunners (roller hockey) during the 1994-95 season. Two seasons later he was an assistant coach of the Canadiens for the 1996-97 season. Currently, Yvan Cournoyer is an official ambassador to the Montreal Canadiens. Beep-beep!
10. Serge Savard
In at the #10 spot is Serge “The Senator” Savard – another Montreal native. A member of the “Big Three” that patrolled the Canadiens’ blueline, Savard added speed, soft hands, and agility to an already stacked back end. He was notorious for leaving opponents in dizzied confusion with his patented “Savardian Spin-o-rama” – a spin move that future Habs defencemen, P.K. Subban would utilize. Savard won eight Stanley Cups with his hometown team and also took home the Conn Smythe trophy in the 1968-69 season. Savard played 15 out of his 17 NHL seasons in Montreal (retired with Winnipeg) and recorded 106 goals and 439 points in 1,040 games while sitting on an impressive +460 rating.
Savard wore the coveted ‘C’ with Montreal for two seasons from 1979 until his departure to the Winnipeg Jets in 1981. Two years after his retirement, “The Senator” returned to the Montreal Canadiens as their General Manager for the next 12 years – his Canadiens would win the Cup in 1986 and again in 1993. Also in ’86, Savard was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. His #18 was retired and raised to the star-studded rafters of the now, Bell Centre on November 18, 2006. The now 71-year-old is currently involved in real estate and a partner in a Montreal based real-estate developer firm, “Thibault, Messier, Savard & Associates”.
9. Bob Gainey
Bob Gainey, the Peterborough, Ontario product, is next in line of this incredible list of captains. Known as one of, if not the best, defensive forwards to ever play the game, Gainey was the very first recipient of the Frank J. Selke Trophy – a trophy he would win in four consecutive seasons, from 1977-1981. The five-time Stanley Cup winner also won the Conn Smythe Trophy in the 1978-79 season. Gainey played all of his 16 NHL seasons with the Canadiens and chalked up 239 goals and 501 points in 1,160 games while carrying a +196 rating.
Gainey led the Canadiens as captain for eight seasons from 1981 up until his retirement in 1989. Following his retirement, Gainey would play a year of hockey in France before returning to North America to coach the Minnesota North Stars for the 1990-91 season. The following year in ’92, Gainey was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and also became the GM of the North Stars (while being a coach). While he was GM, the now Dallas Stars won the President’s trophy in 1998 and 1999 and also took home the Stanley Cup in ’99. Gainey would return to Montreal as GM in 2003 and even filled in as an interim coach in the 2005/06 season as well as the 2008/09 season. On February 23, 2008, Gainey’s #23 was retired and raised to the rafters. Gainey is currently working as a team consultant for the St. Louis Blues – a position he has held since October of 2014.
8. Chris Chelios
Chris Chelios, out of Chicago, Illinois, is in at the #8 spot. Chelios was a great offensive minded defenceman known for playing with an edge, playmaking, and shutting down opposing star players. Selected 40th overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft by the Habs, Chelios would play in Montreal for the first seven seasons of his long 26 season career. The one-time Stanley Cup winner tallied 185 goals, 948 points, and 2,891 PIMS in 1,651 games while being a +350. With the mentorship of NHL legend , Larry Robinson, Chelios developed into an elite D-man and took home the James Norris Memorial Trophy three times – once as a Hab.
Chelios captained the Canadiens for only his final season as a Hab, in 1989-90 – a captaincy he shared with the #7 entry, Guy Carbonneau. Chelios retired in 2010 at the incredible age of 48 and was immediately hired to work as an Advisor to Hockey Operations for the Detroit Red Wings. In 2013, Chelios became an NHL analyst for Fox Sports and was also inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Chelios was then hired to be an assistant coach for Team USA at the 2016 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, in 2015. He is currently working on the Red Wings coaching staff, primarily working on developing defencemen during the team’s practices.
7. Guy Carbonneau
In at the lucky #7 spot is Guy “Carbo” Carbonneau – a defensive-minded student of the aforementioned, Bob Gainey. Much like Gainey, “Carbo” was notoriously irritating to play against and a master shut-down forward that even the likes of Wayne Gretzky had trouble with. Also a master of the penalty kill, Carbonneau holds the Canadiens’ franchise record of 27 short-handed goals. The two-time Stanley Cup winner and three-time Frank J. Selke Trophy winner played 13 of his 19 NHL seasons with the Canadiens – he racked up 260 goals and 663 points in 1,318 games while holding a +186 rating.
In 1989/90, Carbonneau shared the ‘C’ with previous entry, Chris Chelios but would then become the full-time captain until his departure to Dallas in 1994 (five seasons). “Carbo” would retire with the Stars in 2000. Following his retirement, Carbonneau became the assistant coach of the Candiens from 2000-2002. He then moved on to be the Assistant General Manager of the Dallas Stars from ’02 up until ’06 when he returned to Montreal as an Associate Coach. He became the head coach at the start of the next season where he led the Canadiens to the top record in the Eastern Conference. In 2011, “Carbo” then became the head coach of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL), a team he owned- he resigned in July of that year.
6. Kirk Muller
Next up is Kirk Muller, the Kingston, Ontario product and New Jersey Devils’ second overall pick in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. Following his impressive ride in New Jersey, “Captain Kirk” arrived in Montreal where he would stay for the better part of four seasons (1991-95). Muller became a fan favorite in Montreal as he played a pivotal role in the Habs 1992-93 Stanley Cup victory (Muller’s only Cup). Mostly known for his tenacity and two-way play, Muller still managed to contribute 357 goals and 959 points in 1,349 career games.
Following the departure of Guy Carbonneau in 1994, “Captain Kirk” had the ‘C’ sewn onto his jersey where it would stay until his shocking trade 33 games into the shortened lockout season – he was traded to the New York Islanders. Muller remained playing until 2003 when he retired with the Dallas Stars. He then moved onto coaching and had multiple jobs including assistant coach of the Habs, head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals, head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, assistant coach of the St. Louis Blues. Currently, Muller is the associate coach of the Montreal Canadiens. He lives with his wife, Stacy and their four daughters.
5. Mike Keane
Out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Mike Keane is next on this list of captaincy. Not known for his point production, Keane was primarily known as a physical presence and an absolute work horse opponents hated playing against. In 1,161 career games, Keane notched 168 goals, 470 points, and 881 PIMS while riding a +70 rating. Keane’s career best season was in Montreal during the 1992-93 season that saw to him recording 15 goals and 60 points in 77 games on the way to hoisting one of his three Stanley Cups – he contributed 15 points in 19 games during the playoffs.
Keane was captain of the Canadiens for parts of two seasons (1994-1996), one of which he split captaincy with the next list entry, Pierre Turgeon. Keane played six of his 15 NHL seasons with Montreal and went on to retire with the Vancouver Canucks’ farm team, the Manitoba Moose in 2010 – his hometown Moose retired his #12 in 2011. Keane has since been the organizer of The Mike Keane Celebrity Hockey Classic – a charity hockey event hosted in Manitoba to raise funds for various Manitoba based charities.
4. Pierre Turgeon
#4 on this list is Pierre Turgeon, the Rouyn, Quebec native. The Buffalo Sabres selected Turgeon first overall in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft and watched for just about five seasons as the French-Canadian tore up the league. Breaking the 100-point milestone twice, including a 132-point season, Turgeon compiled 515 goals and 1,327 points in 1,294 career games. The speedy play-maker played in 19 NHL seasons for six different teams, touching down in Montreal for three seasons (one full).
Turgeon joined up with the Habs for the homestretch of the shortened 1994-95 lockout season. One season later he was awarded the last ‘C’ that was awarded at The Forum – a captaincy he split with the aforementioned Mike Keane. The next season he was the lone captain but only played in nine games before being shipped off to the St. Louis Blues. Turgeon would retire with the Colorado Avalanche in the 2006-07 season. Turgeon currently lives with his wife and children in Cherry Hills, Colorado. His son, Dominic followed in his father’s footsteps and was drafted 63rd overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
3. Vincent Damphousse
The next captain was Vincent Damphousse, another Montreal product that would go on to captain this historic franchise. After a brilliant trade orchestrated by the aforementioned Serge Savard, Damphousse arrived in Montreal for the 1992/93 Stanley Cup winning season – a career best season that saw Damphousse chalking up a career high 97 points in 84 games. He played his best hockey in Montreal and contributed three over 90-point seasons. In his 1,378 carrer NHL games, Damphousse etched in 432 goals and 1,205 points.
After Pierre Turgeon left for St. Louis in the 1996/97 season, Damphousse was awarded captaincy – he would remain captain for three seasons until his trade to the San Jose Sharks during the 1998/99 season. He would play with the Sharks until his retirement in 2004. Damphousse was inducted into the QMJHL Hall of Fame in 2011. Following his induction, Damphousse ran into some legal troubles with his estranged wife but has since been cleared. He currently owns a chain of health spas.
2. Saku Koivu
In at the #2 spot is the Turku, Finland product, Saku Koivu. Drafted 21st overall by the Habs in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Koivu would end up playing 13 of his 18 NHL seasons in Montreal. Koivu was a great player for the Habs but was probably best known for his battle with cancer and his heroic and inspirational return – a return that the Montreal faithful gave an eight-minute standing ovation. The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy and King Clancy Memorial Trophy winner, Koivu notched 255 goals and 832 points in 1,124 games.
The inspirational, Koivu captained the Canadiens for nine seasons until his departure to the Anaheim Ducks for the 2009-10 season. he would remain in Anaheim until his retirement in 2014. Following his retirement, Koivu moved back to his native Finland with his wife, Hanna and their two children. He is also involved with Finnish hockey and was an advisor for Team Finland at the World Cup of Hockey in 2016. At the moment, the now 42-year-old works in the talent identification program with his former team, TPS Turku – he skates four or five morning a week with the players and also offers council with the sports psychologist.
1. Brian Gionta
The last man to wear the coveted ‘C’ before Max Pacioretty was Brian Gionta, the Rochester, New York product. Gionta is the only player on this list that is still active in the NHL and he played five seasons of his career in Montreal. Standing at only 5’7″ and 178 lbs, Gionta is usually among the smallest players on the ice. However, he is also usually among the most tenacious and hardworking. By the time you are reading this, Gionta will have played in his 1,000th career NHL game and has, so far, racked up 288 goals and 585 points.
Gionta arrived in Montreal for the 2009-10 season – a season that saw the Canadiens with no captain. “Gio” stepped up and was awarded the ‘C’ in 2010-11 – he remained captain for four seasons until he left for the Buffalo Sabres for the 2014-15 season. Currently, Gionta is playing in his 15th NHL season for the Buffalo Sabres. So far this season, he has chalked up 14 goals and 32 points in 75 games. When he arrived in Buffalo for the 2014-15 season, Gionta was immediately named captain of the Sabres as his leadership qualities are beyond evident.
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