Canadiens and Leafs Fans Stand Nose to Nose
By Launy "The" Schwartz
When it comes to rivalries, few match that of the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. For years Habs fans have looked down their own noses and sneezed away at the blue and white, with an arrogance that can only be matched by the stench of my goalie equipment.
Staring at the ceiling of the Bell Centre decorated with 24 Stanley Cup banners, and a dressing room adorned with faces enshrined at the Hockey Hall of Fame, one would think such arrogance is well founded; however, examining the last 26 years of the most storied team in NHL history should snuff out that air of superiority.
So why pick the last 26 years? As futile as the Leafs may appear, the Canadiens really aren’t much better. “Les Glorieux” are now “less glorious.”
At this point, just about every Habs fan may toss his or her Molson Export at the screen, and argue that the team made it to the Cup final in 1989, and hoisted Lord Stanley in 1993. Here’s a suggestion: grab a sheet of Bounty, wipe things down, and really take a good hard look at those two seasons.
For the first time, a visiting team, the Calgary Flames, entered the Forum and won when it mattered most.
The run in the early ‘90s was monumental. As Montreal would ride an NHL record of ten overtime wins, claiming the franchise’s 24th banner.
First, a loss is just that: a loss. No one wearing the bleu, blanc, et rouge got a ring in ‘89.
Second, Patrick Roy was the only reason that fans can remind anybody about the number 24, when ramming a history lesson down the throat of someone wearing a blue and white sweater.
The problems surrounding the team are far reaching.
In 1986, Mats Naslooond finished with 110 points, making him the last Habitant to crack the top ten in league scoring. The only other player to come close would be Alex Kovalev, who finished with 84 points in 2008, ranking him 11th in the league.
Let’s even add a little wiggle room here. How many different players from each respective team have landed within the top 20? The Leafs win in this category, six to four, with the likes of Ed Olczyk, Gary Leeman, Doug Gilmour, Dave Andreychuk, Alex Mogilny, and Mats Sundin leading the way for Toronto. Montreal can send a “thank you” card to Kovalev for showing up one year, along with Mark Recchi, Pierre Turgeon, and Vincent Damphousse to round out the astonishingly bad offensive output that players wearing the fabled CH have donned in the last quarter century.
The fact that Carrot Top is more offensively gifted is a scary thought, which leads us to the playoffs.
Numbers have a tendency to be irrefutable, and while the Leafs have missed the post-season 11 times, when it comes to the “who went further” argument, take away the anomaly of 1993, and the historic loss in ’89, and the blue and white cheerleaders can rejoice in the fact that they came closer to sniffing the finals three times, as opposed the pair of third round appearances that their most hated of rivals have made.
As much as the fans of the team that Conn Smythe built lament over the mortgage their team placed on the future by bringing in names past their prime, the names that Serge Savard, Réjean Houle, André Savard, Bob Gainey, and Pierre Gauthier announced at the annual NHL draft haven’t exactly been winners.
Scouting does play a pivotal role in shaping the outlook of a franchise, and general managers rely on the intel they receive when it comes to making a decision on what letters will appear on the back of the jersey come draft day. While any pick is a gamble, it’s unimaginable that the aforementioned GMs did not have the goods on the following players who were available after they announced “C’est avec plaisir…”
Serge Savard did draft Saku Koivu, who would go on to tie Jean Beliveau as the longest serving captain in franchise history.
Beyond Koivu, Savard’s hat doesn’t hang on much. If the old adage is true, taking the best player available seems to be missing from the Draft Bible in the land of smoked meat.
Of all the names that the Hall-of-Fame defenseman missed, perhaps Keith Tkachuk is the most notable. The power forward was taken seven picks after Turner Stevenson was selected in 1990.
How would Jarome Iginla look wearing the CH?
Too bad that in 1995, Réjean Houle decided to announce Terry Ryan’s name three spots ahead of the man who would rewrite the history books in Calgary. Ryan on the other hand enjoyed eight cups of coffee in the league.
For a little levity, during his time with the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League, Iginla said, "When you put on a Blazers jersey, it's like putting on the Canadiens'. You've got to perform."
Then there’s the year of the Datsyuk – 1998 – a sixth round pick, and the best late round selection in all of NHL history. To his credit, Houle did manage to pick a gem of his on in the very same round. Despite his more recent injury woes, when healthy, Andrei Markov is a great talent, but this alone does not negate the legacy this former GM left on the team.
No matter how bad these lowlights appear to be, in 2003 “In Gainey We Trust” was a mantra that would eventually become a total bust.
During his tenure, the fruit that the draft picks could have bearded would make any vegetarian jealous. The most egregious years in which Gainey failed the franchise were 2003 and 2006.
Prior to arriving on North American soil in ’03, Andrei Kostitsyn had amassed a grand total of one point in 18 games for CSKA Moscow of the Russian Superleague. If offensive was on the plate for Montreal, Ryan Getzlaf was available, and already displaying his knack for scoring goals as a Hitman in Calgary.
Placing the decision to skip Getzlaf aside, Kostitsyn wasn’t even close to the talent that rounded out the opening round of the draft. Brent Seabrook, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, and Corey Perry were also names that were still sitting in their suits, waiting to achieve their dream of making it to the show after the 10th overall selection was called out.
Both 2005 and 2007 make for the rare pieces of satisfying bread sandwiching 2006, which could prove to be a year that will forever haunt the future of the most popular team in Canada.
Sitting on the fifth pick overall, Carey Price would become a Canadien in ’05. Looking at what he has accomplished thus far, there is no doubt he is one of the top tenders in the game today.
In 2007, the team would add Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban to the roster. While their impact has been mixed since becoming full time NHLers, the promise they display provides a glimmer of hope.
Perhaps the crown jewel of oversight on the part of horrendous drafting displayed by the team in recent memory was passing on Claude Giroux. In 2006, David Fischer, was the 26th overall pick in the entry draft. Giroux was 28th. Fischer has yet to step on the ice in the National Hockey League.
Passing judgment on the last three draft years is unfair, as the players called to the stage are still developing.
Habs fans have long looked down on their team’s Original Six brother; yet, the ground these diehards stand on is far from sturdy.
The Bell Centre is still packed, as was the Forum in spite of the mediocre product that has been on display for the better part of 26 years.
Being a true fan is showing loyalty no matter the circumstance.
At this point in history, Habs fans may be standing more nose-to-nose with the Buds than they think.