A look at the Original Six: Montreal and Toronto

MONTREAL CANADIENS: The Canadiens are the NHL's answer to the New York Yankees. When an opponent took the ice at the old Forum, and looked up to see 24 Stanley Cup banners hanging from the rafters, and the retired numbers for the players that put most of them there -- Jean Beliveau's No. 4, Maurice Richard's No. 9, Guy Lafleur's No. 10 among others -- that alone could have been more intimidating that actually playing them.

But it's been 13 seasons since the Cup was lifted by the Canadiens, equalling the longest streak in franchise history. And according to the Web site betinternet.com, odds are that drought will continue.

The last time the Canadiens went this long without winning it all was from 1931-44. Though they sell out every game at the Bell Centre these days, it's safe to assume fans are getting restless.

Funny thing is if some pride had been swallowed, there may have been even more banners hanging. If Montreal could go back in time and change one thing -- one crossroads that forever changed the franchise -- it would be trading Patrick Roy to Colorado in 1995.

On Dec. 2 that season, Roy gave up five first-period goals -- four on the power play -- and nine overall in less than 32 minutes before being replaced by Pat Jablonski in an 11-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

This was the account given by longtime Montreal Gazette columnist Red Fisher:

What Roy did, with that fire in his eyes, started unfolding in mid-stride beyond coach (Mario) Tremblay. He stopped, tucked his chin onto his chest, turned and walked back several steps to the box seat behind the Canadiens' bench where team president Ronald Corey sits. He leaned toward Corey and rasped, "This is my last game for Montreal."

Then he turned again and walked back toward the vacant stool. All the while Tremblay, arms folded, was following Roy with his eyes afire. As he passed Tremblay for a second time, he was greeted with another glare. Roy settled onto the stool, tossed his head, and ran his hand through his wet hair.

Then he snapped at Tremblay: "As-tu compris?" (Did you understand?)
That was written three days after Roy, barely two months after turning 30, was sent with Mike Keane to the Avalanche for Andrei Kovalenko, Martin Rucinsky and Montreal native Jocelyn Thibault. Rejean Houle -- another of the great Canadiens of the 1970s, was a general manager for all of six weeks when he made that trade.

Roy helped Colorado to a pair of Stanley Cups and became the NHL's all-time wins leader among goaltenders with 551 career regular-season victories. He also had a record 151 career postseason wins.

Kovalenko had 17 goals in his one season with Montreal. Rucinsky reached 20 goals four times in seven seasons with the Habs. Thibault was a non-factor after his first season.

And as I type that out, I can hear Kenosha-based blogstigator Chris Altruda saying, "How'd that work out for you?" I'll put it this way -- imagine Hank Aaron or Michael Jordan being traded in their prime. Unthinkable, right?

Much like the "Curse of the Bambino," the Canadiens could be the Boston Red Sox in all this. Since Roy's trade, here's who Montreal has used in goal:
  • Jablonski: Journeyman who was 28-62-18 with a 3.74 goals-against average with six teams in eight seasons.
  • Thibault: Saw his wins total drop in each of three-plus seasons with the Canadiens ... now a backup to Marc-Andre Fleury with the Pittsburgh Penguins, his fifth team in 13 seasons.
  • Patrick Labrecque: Former Quebec Nordiques pick draft pick, appeared in two games and lost his only start in 1995.
  • Jose Theodore: A Laval, Quebec native, Theodore was considered the heir apparent to Roy, but only won 30 games in a season twice with the Canadiens and just 14 postseason wins in three seasons ... was traded in 2005 to Colorado for David Aebischer.
  • Tomas Vokoun: Allowed four goals in 12 minutes in his only "tricolore" appearance in 1997 ... Claimed by Nashville in the expansion draft, has won 142 games with the Predators and signed to a four-year, $22.8 million deal in September.
  • Frederic Chabot: Was 4-8-4 with 2.95 GAA in 32 games, including 15 starts, over six seasons with three teams.
  • Eric Fichaud: Shoulder injuries derailed the career of this former first-round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs ... finished his career with Montreal in 2001.
  • Olivier Michaud: Quebec native who played just 18 minutes in his career, stopping all 14 shots he faced in 2001.
  • Stephane Fiset: A three-time 20-game winner. Fiset ended his 13-year career after a two-game stint with Montreal in 2001-02.
  • Huet: After two non-descript seasons with the Kings, Huet burst on the scene with 18 wins and seven shutouts last year with the Habs.
  • Aebischer: Roy's backup for three seasons with Colorado, now shares time in net with Huet ... Had a career-high 32 wins in 2003-04 with the Avalanche, and is closing in on 100 career victories.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: If Canadiens fans are suffering because their team hasn't hoisted a Stanley Cup in 13 years, you'll have to excuse Maple Leafs fans for not commiserating.

They've been waiting more than a generation.

When the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967, Canada celebrated its 100th anniversary with a new flag, and Expo 67 was taking place in Montreal.

It also was the year current coach Paul Maurice was born. The 39-year-old Maurice led the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2002 Cup final -- when it was swept by the Detroit Red Wings -- and took over for longtime coach Pat Quinn.

"This hiring is a critical and key step in positioning us back to where we need to be next season and beyond," general manager John Ferguson Jr. told the CBC after Maurice's hiring.

The Maple Leafs also took a chance when they dealt former No. 1 pick Tuukka Rask to the Boston Bruins for former rookie of the year goaltender Andrew Raycroft to replace future Hall of Famer Ed Belfour.

"We know he's going to be really excited to be a part of the organization and we're really excited to have him," Ferguson said. "We got a 26-year-old goalie with a tremendous future in front of him as well."

Raycroft though is injury prone. He's missed time this season with a strained groin, and was out part of last season with leg and hamstring injuries.

Before the lockout, Toronto made the playoffs for six consecutive years, twice losing in the conference finals. When play resumed in 2005, the Leafs reached the 90-point mark for the seventh straight season, but fell two points short of the eighth and final playoff spot.

This also is an aging team in a lot of regards. Mats Sundin, currently sidelined with a torn elbow ligament, will be 36 in February. Michael Peca will turn 33 and Darcy Tucker and Bryan McCabe both will turn 32 during the season.

If the Leafs are making a push to winning the Cup, this may be the season. Heading into play Saturday night, defensmen McCabe and Tomas Kaberle are tied for second in scoring with 17 points each, Tucker has scored nine of his 11 goals on the power play, and Raycroft is playing more like a rookie of the year and less like, say, Jim Carey.

No comments: