It would be hard to choose one of Montreal's 24-Cup winners as the greatest of the great Montreal Canadien teams.
You might start with Rocket Richard's flying Frenchmen of the late 50's or the teams that Jean Beliveau captained a decade later. A great case can be made, too, for Montreal's third dynasty, Guy Lafleur's Canadiens of the late seventies.
They were hockey's answer to the Broad Street Bullies; the mid-seventies Philadelphia Flyers. By 1975, those Flyers were the best roller-derby team to ever play in the NHL. They were tough and talented, good enough to win the Stanley Cup. Dave Schultz set the NHL single-season record for penalty minutes at 472 while seven more of his mates collected at least 99 penalty minutes that season. They played a rough, brawling game and it worked. Then, in 1976, things changed. Lafleur's skilled Canadiens wouldn't be bullied. They ended the Flyers chase for a third straight Stanley Cup and began a run of four in a row of their own.
In 1977, they set records for excellence that have never been touched. In the NHL's 60th season the Canadiens won 60 regular season games and lost only eight. They lost just once all year at home and finished first by 26 points. In the playoffs they were even better, losing only twice in 80 games before sweeping the Bruins in the finals.
Those numbers are more than enough to qualify this group for consideration as the greatest NHL team of all-time. More impressive, though, is the way those players have shaped the NHL after their on-ice careers were over.
Fourteen of the record setting 1976 champions, including Coach Scotty Bowman, have gone on to work as NHL Presidents, GM's, coaches or scouts.
Some have played supporting roles like Pete Mahovlich, a scout with the Atlanta Thrashers, and Guy Lapointe, an assistant coach with the Quebec Nordiques. Others fans would prefer to forget. Include Rejean Houle and Mario Tremblay in that list after dismantling a decent Habs team in 1995 with a series of bad trades and brutal draft picks. Tremblay angered star goalie Patrick Roy, leaving him in for nine goals in a blowout loss to Bowman's Red Wings. Roy demanded a trade and Houle delivered in disastrous fashion. It took the Canadiens a decade to recover.
This year Roy returned to Montreal a hero, his sweater raised to the rafters. Houle and Tremblay are remembered now more for their mismanagement than for their great play in the seventies. Houle and Tremblay aren't alone on that hit list, though. You can add Ken Dryden's short stay as President of the Toronto Maple Leafs to near the top of the most embarrassing Hab-fan moments. The big goalie deserves some slack, though. He won six Cups in eight years. His accomplishments off the ice might be even more impressive as he became a best-selling author and a successful politician.
A surprising number of ex-players have brought Montreal's winning ways to new places. As managers, this group has won 15 more Stanley Cups. Jacques Lemaire won two as an assistant GM in Montreal and one more as coach of the New Jersey Devils. As a player, Lemaire used speed and intelligence to make the game more exciting. As a coach, he used intelligence to take speed out of the game. He was a winner at both.
Scotty Bowman, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Doug Risebrough and Canadiens GM Bob Gainey all won cups as coaches or General Managers. The Penguins, Devils, Red Wings, Stars and Flames can claim a direct connection between their Stanley Cups and the 1970's Canadiens.
It's the Dynasty that keeps on giving. Gainey returned to Montreal as GM in 2003. His coaching staff is filled with men who've won in Montreal. Head coach Guy Carbonneau and Kirk Muller were champs in 1993. Add Gainey's linemate, Doug Jarvis, from the dynasty days. Hab fans are hoping that at the end of the Canadiens century, the dynasty has at least one more Cup to give.