Montreal Canadiens: The 10 Biggest NHL Legends to Play for the Habs

Jacob Betzner@@JacobBetznerCorrespondent IIMay 3, 2012

Montreal Canadiens: The 10 Biggest NHL Legends to Play for the Habs

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    Ranking the top ten players in the history of the Montréal Canadiens, one of the most storied franchise in all of sports, is like trying to date two girls at the same time.  Someone's going to be left out.

    Baseball has the Yankees with 27 World Series Championships, the NBA has the Boston Celtics with 17 titles, and the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers have won the Super Bowl a league-leading six times.

    Hockey's most storied franchise is the 24-time Stanley Cup Champion Montréal Canadiens.

    Countless stars have donned le bleu, blanc, et rouge in the franchise's 103 seasons.

    Hockey is more than a sport in Montréal: it's a way of life.  Canadiens' games used to mean more than simply a win or a loss in the standings; they represented the victories and struggles of a whole community, a whole faction of society that had enormous pride in their French roots. 

    The team came to be a representative for the French speaking inhabitants of Quebec, and their dominant play on the ice contributed to the start of the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s. 

    Few, if any, teams in North America (save the 1980 U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey team) have influenced society beyond the confines of their respective field or rink.  For these reasons, the legendary Montréal Canadiens' players deserve a special and hallowed place in sports history.

    The snowy hills of Montréal provide an ominous setting for a place where players become stars, and stars become legends.

    Montréal and hockey fans alike: Watch this video.  It's almost otherworldly.

Honorable Mention: Émile Bouchard (Defenseman)

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    Bouchard played for the Montréal Canadiens from 1941-42 to 1955-56.  Not a prolific scorer, even for a defenseman, Bouchard played a clean, hard-nosed game and anchored the Habs defense to four Stanley Cups.

    His hockey-based accolades include a 1966 Hall of Fame induction and having the trophy awarded to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's top defenseman named in his honor.

    Bouchard also received an Order of Canada medal, and was named a National Order of Quebec chevalier before his death less than a month ago.

    Bouchard finished his career with 49 goals and 145 assists, and was named to the NHL All-Star Team four times.

    Beloved by die-hard Montréal hockey fans and known as one of the best leaders in the game's history, the franchise retired Bouchard's number in 2009.

No. 10: Patrick Roy (Goaltender)

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    Patrick Roy didn't leave Montréal on great terms, refusing to play another game for the organization after a 1995 game in which head coach Mario Tremblay refused to pull him after surrendering seven goals in under two periods.

    However, before this forgettable performance, Roy helped the Canadiens win two Stanley Cups, one in his 1986 rookie season and another in 1993. 

    In addition to hockey's ultimate prize, Roy won four of his five William M. Jennings trophies as the goaltender playing for the team with the fewest goals scored against during the regular season, all three of his Vezina Trophies as the league's best goaltender, and both of his Conn Smythe trophies as the league's top post-season performer as a Montréal Canadien.

    He also appeared in six of his 11 NHL All-Star games as a representative of the Canadiens.

    Roy has the most playoff wins in the history of the NHL, is second only to future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur in career regular season wins, and became the first goaltender to play in 1,000 career games during the 2000-01 season.

    Roy went on to coach the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, a position he still holds today, and won a Memorial Cup in 2006.  He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006, and the Canadiens retired his iconic number 33 in 2008.

No. 9: Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion (Right Wing)

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    Known for his blistering shot and briefly playing on a line that featured fellow Montréal legends Maurice "The Rocket" Richard and Jean Beliveau, Geoffrion enjoyed an extremely proficient career with the Canadiens.

    The Montréal native scored 393 goals and 822 points in his 16-year NHL career, 14 of which he spent with the Habs.

    Geoffrion won 11 Stanley Cups and two Art Ross trophies as the league's leading scorer during his tenure and earned the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP in 1961.

    The Hockey Hall of Fame recognized Geoffrion in 1976, and the Canadiens retired his number 30 years later.

    Geoffrion's son Dan, the grandson of the great Howie Morenz, played several NHL seasons, and "Boom Boom's" grandson Blake currently plays for the Montréal Canadiens after being traded from Montréal.  Amazingly, all four generations of this storied family (Howie Morenz and Bernie, Dan and Blake Geoffrion) played for the Canadiens at one point in their careers.

No. 8: Yvan "The Roadrunner" Cournoyer (Right Wing)

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    Cournoyer skated with the Habs for 15 seasons starting in 1961-62.

    A speedy skater with a nose for the net, Cournoyer scored 428 goals and added 435 assists in his career.

    He captained the Canadiens for four years, winning four of his ten Stanley Cups during his reign.

    Cournoyer also starred for Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series, where the best players from Canada beat the dominant Soviet Union Men's Senior Hockey Team in a best-of-seven series.  Cournoyer scored three goals in the series.

    The Hockey Hall of Fame honored the Drummondville native in 1982, and the Canadiens retired Cournoyer's number in 2005.

No. 7 Henri Richard (Right Wing)

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    Henri Richard lived in the shadow of his older brother Maurice for much of his time on the Canadiens, but still had one of the most illustrious careers in NHL history. 

    Henri won 11 Stanley Cups during his 20-year NHL career, more than any other player history.

    Known as a premiere play maker with unparalleled vision and hockey sense, Henri recorded 688 assists and 1,046 points in his career.  His 1,256 NHL games, all with the Canadiens, are a franchise record that will be hard to eclipse. 

    The Hockey Hall of Fame inducted Henri in 1979, four years after the Canadiens retired his number.

No. 6: Larry Robinson (Defense)

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    Larry Robinson played 17 of his 20 NHL seasons with the Canadiens.

    Robinson won six Stanley Cups with the Habs, in addition to two James Norris Memorial Trophies as the league's best defenseman and a Conn Smythe Trophy in 1978 as the most valuable player in the playoffs.

    At 6'4" and over 220 lbs., with a puff of fiery red hair, Robinson was quite an intimidating figure during his playing days.

    While he could dish out heavy checks and was fearsome in the corners, Robinson was also extremely skilled in the offensive end, scoring 208 goals from the blue line and finishing just 42 points short of 1,000 in his career.

    After his retirement, Robinson joined the NHL coaching circuit and won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2000.  He currently serves as an assistant coach for the Devils.

    The Hockey Hall of Fame recognized Robinson in 1995, and the Habs retired his number in 2007.

No. 5: Ken Dryden (Goaltender)

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    Ken Dryden played eight seasons for the Montéal Canadiens after the team acquired his rights from the Boston Bruins before he even started his NHL career.

    Prior to playing in the NHL, the Hamilton, Ontario native starred for the Cornell University Big Red, losing a total of four games and tying only one in 81 tries.

    The imposing goaltender compiled a 258-57-74 record in Montréal and won 80 playoff games en route to six Stanley Cups.

    Dryden won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league's top rookie in 1972 and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the top postseason performer in 1971.  Interestingly enough, those years are not backwards.  Dryden earned a call up from the AHL late in the 1971 season, won all six remaining regular season games and finished 12-8 in the playoffs to win his first Stanley Cup.  The following season, still technically considered a rookie, Dryden went 39-8-15 to capture rookie of the year honors.

    Dryden got the nod from the Hall of Fame in 1983, and the Canadiens hung his number from the rafters of the Forum in 2007.

    Outside of hockey, Dryden put his Ivy League education to use and became a successful author, as well as a Member of the Canadian Parliament.

No. 4: Howie Morenz (Center)

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    A legend gone much too soon, Morenz starred for the Canadiens from the 1923-24 season until the end of the 1933-34 season.  After being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, playing a full season and the first half of another before another trade landed him in New York, Montréal re-acquired Morenz prior to the start of the 1936-37 NHL season.

    Tragedy struck in early 1937 when Morenz fractured his leg racing to a loose puck in a game against the Blackhawks.  The center remained in the hospital until a heart attack claimed his life in early March.  Many believe it wasn't really a heart attack, but rather a broken heart brought on by the unlikeliness he would ever be able to play hockey again, that killed him at the age of 34.

    In 550 NHL games, Morenz scored 271 goals and assisted on 201 more.

    He held the NHL record for most points in a career when the Hockey Hall of Fame recognized him as one of its inaugural members in 1945, and his no. 7 was the first number to be retired by the Canadiens' organization.

    He won three Stanley Cups with Montréal and was named the NHL's MVP three times.

    Interestingly, his daughter married future Canadiens legend Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, making him the first-generation player in the NHL's only four-generation family.

No. 3: Jean Beliveau (Center)

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    Béliveau played all of his 1,125 NHL games with Montréal Canadiens.

    During his career, Béliveau won ten Stanley Cups, an Art Ross trophy as the league's leading scorer, a Conn Smythe trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player and two Hart trophies as the league's MVP during the regular season.

    He finished his career with 507 goals, 712 assists and 1,219 points while making 14 All-Star Game appearances.

    After his playing days, Béliveau remained with the Canadiens in a managerial position, winning seven more Stanley Cups.  Béliveau's name appears on Lord Stanley's Cup a record 17 times.

    Outside of hockey, he received an Order of Canada medal, the highest form of recognition a Canadian civilian can receive.

No. 2: Guy Lafleur (Right Wing)

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    One of the game's most prolific scorers, Lafleur buried 560 goals in 1,127 games and finished his career with 1,353 points.

    Lafleur is the all-time leading scorer in Canadiens franchise history, and won five Stanley Cups.

    Individually, Lafleur won three scoring titles, two regular season MVP awards, three outstanding players as voted by the NHL Player's Association awards and one playoff MVP award.

    Lafleur received recognition from the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Canadiens retired his number in 1985.

    Francophone fans nicknamed him le Démon Blond for his flowing, wavy blond hair, Lafleur now owns several restaurants near Montréal and operates a helicopter rental company.

No. 1: Maurice "The Rocket" Richard (Right Wing)

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    Perhaps no hockey player has had more of an impact on not only the game of hockey, but society, Maurice "The Rocket" Richard.

    Nicknamed for his lightning-fast skating, Richard scored 544 goals and recorded 965 points in 978 NHL games, all with Montreal.  He won eight Stanley Cups, serving as team captain for five, and was named the NHL's MVP only once, despite often being considered the best player in the league.

    Richard became an icon for French separatists while the province of Quebec attempted to reform into a predominantly English territory.

    He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961 and watched his number rise to the rafters of the Montreal Forum in 1960.  The crowd's ovation lasted well over ten minutes, as Richard stood and waved with watery eyes.

    The trophy awarded to the NHL's top scorer is named in his honor, and Richard received an Order of Canada medal in 1967.

    After his death from cancer in 2000, the Montréal Expos, a now defunct MLB team honored the hockey player by wearing his number on the sleeves of their jerseys for the entire 2000 season.

    In a 1998 ranking of the game's all-time greatest players, Maurice finished behind only Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe and Mario Lemieux, respectively.  The legend of "The Rocket" is not one that will die anytime soon in hockey circles throughout North America.