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Montreal Canadiens: Where Brian Gionta Ranks Among Habs Captains Since 1993 Cup

Ryan SzporerContributor IIINovember 10, 2012

Montreal Canadiens: Where Brian Gionta Ranks Among Habs Captains Since 1993 Cup

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    Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta is coming off of a disappointing season to say the least.

    Ignoring the fact that the 5’7” David Desharnais established himself as a mainstay with the team, thereby taking some of the heat off of him as the shortest current Hab, Gionta did only play 31 games and score 15 points.

    Meanwhile, the team as a whole registered its lowest point total since before the last lockout (when teams didn’t have the benefit of single-point overtime and shootout losses to pad their records).

    However, it’s not all bad as already, having been named captain in September 2010, he’s officially outlasted several other notable players who have held the illustrious title of captain in the recent past. But, where does he rank among the six since Guy Carbonneau, who led the Habs to their last Stanley Cup?

    Excluding Carbonneau, who was traded away just prior to the 1994-95 season, here they all are, ranked for your convenience:

6) Mike Keane

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    Named captain: April 1995

    Number of seasons: 0.5

    Number of playoff appearances: 0

     

    Mike Keane holds the dubious distinction of being the shortest-serving captain on this list. He was named captain of the Habs following the Kirk Muller trade to the New York Islanders in April 1995 and held on to the ‘C’ until December of the following year, when he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche as part of the infamous Andrei Kovalenko deal.

    This No. 6 ranking isn’t a reflection on his abilities as a leader. Any player that continues playing until he’s 43, including the last five years in the American Hockey League, can clearly teach some of the game’s bigger stars today a little something about humility and dedication to the game.

    However, Keane, despite the sandpaper and much-needed grit he brought to the teams for which he played, is also one of the most easily forgotten captains in team history. And that, unlike his tenure as captain, during which he also ill-advisedly declared he wouldn’t try to learn French, cannot be ignored.

5) Brian Gionta

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    Named captain: September 2010

    Number of playoff appearances: 1

    Number of series victories: 0

     

    Gionta holds the dubious distinction of being the shortest captain on this list.

    Despite common sense dictating otherwise, however, he isn’t the shortest captain in team history, with himself, Henri Richard, and Yvan Cournoyer each standing the same height at 5’7”. Goalie George Hainsworth, who served as captain from 1932-33, was listed at 5’6” and is officially the shortest.

    Serving as the follow-up to Saku Koivu, Gionta ironically also has had big skates to fill (even if Koivu was no giant himself).

    Unfortunately, he’s failed to live up to expectations, especially having been a member of the 2009-10 team that defied all odds and made it to the third round of the playoffs (the first time that happened since ’93).

    While he was an undeniable leader on that team (to the point that he was named captain to start the following season), the accomplishment was not his and his alone, and can’t even be asterisked as such on this list.

    Since that season, Gionta’s point-per-game production has gone down in each subsequent year. As has the postseason performances of the team as a whole. Again, Gionta’s not a bad captain per se, but he definitely hasn’t done all that much to secure his spot in Habs lore as a great one.

4) Kirk Muller

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    Named captain: August 1994

    Number of seasons: ~1

    Number of playoff appearances: 0

     

    If this was a list of the top aptly named Habs captains, Captain Kirk would be number one. However, despite a generally positive stint as Hab overall, he did not lead his one team (1994-95) to much of anything besides a mediocre 18-23-7 record (admittedly, Keane served as captain for the last few games of that season, though).

    In fact, the most memorable part of Muller’s tenure was being named captain in the first place after Guy Carbonneau was traded away for flipping a journalist the bird.

    1994-95 actually represented the first time since 1969-70 that Montreal missed the playoffs, thus ushering in this current era of mediocrity for the most-storied franchise in NHL history. As such, Muller, despite being a sentimental favorite of many, places as the fourth best of the six captains Montreal has had since 1994.

3) Vincent Damphousse

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    Named captain: October 1996

    Number of seasons: 3

    Number of playoff appearances: 2

    Number of series victories: 1

     

    Vincent Damphousse was an underrated player and captain. Admittedly, his best years as a Hab, including a career-best 97-point season in 1992-93, took place before his captaincy, but he still helped engineer a relatively memorable first-round-series upset of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1997-98.

    Of course, it was a Mario Lemieux-less Penguins team, but still boasting the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis, the second-seeded Pens were ousted in a relatively impressive fashion by the seventh-seeded Habs…only to ultimately run into a dominant Dominik Hasek in the second round en route to a four-game sweep.

    Known for his offensive output, aside from an 81-point season in 1996-97, it was Damphousse’s two-way play and defensive responsibility that earns him the third spot on this list.

2) Pierre Turgeon

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    Named captain: December 1995

    Number of seasons: 0.5

    Number of playoff appearances: 1

    Number of series victories: 0

     

    Yes, Pierre Turgeon only wore the ‘C’ for half a season, but it was a pretty impressive half-season in which he even served as the last captain of the team to play at the Forum as his home rink.

    Granted, he was the beneficiary of circumstance and had little to do with the team moving out to the Bell Centre in the grand scheme of things. But his role in the ceremonial move, in which he carried a torch that had been passed from previous captain to previous captain to him into the new arena, can never be taken away.

    Admittedly, Montreal was eliminated in the first round of the 1996 playoffs by the New York Rangers in six games, but a lack of success in the playoffs should not be held against the guy. We are, after all, talking about the Habs of the mid-1990s onward.

    What should be taken into consideration was his play. In 1995-96, he had 96 points, winning the Molson Cup as the team’s most valuable player. The following season, prior to being unceremoniously shipped off to the St. Louis Blues, he even had 11 in nine games.

    Turgeon is the most productive Habs captain on this list, and the aforementioned 96-point season has not been matched since, with Alexei Kovalev coming the closest with an 84-point campaign back in 2007-08.

    While captains in the recent history of the Habs have generally led by example, there are few instances in which they have been the team’s best player, and fewer still in which they have actually been stars. Turgeon was all three.

1) Saku Koivu

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    Named captain: September 1999

    Number of seasons: 9 (10 years with the lockout)

    Number of playoff appearances: 5

    Number of series victories: 3

     

    In the interest of full disclosure, Saku Koivu is not Jean Beliveau, nor will he ever be. I know there might be some confusion seeing as Koivu is a short-in-stature Finn and Beliveau is a veritable 6’3” behemoth in comparison from Trois-Rivières.

    Still, even with the clear-cut differences in physical appearance and their respective games, the local Montreal media took it upon themselves to compare the two, with both having acted as captains of the Habs for 10 years. They even took offense to the fact that a European had a chance of usurping Beliveau as the longest-serving one in team history.

    Obviously, the media didn’t run Koivu out of town, despite the attempts of a few over-zealous journalists to, at the very least, stir the pot over his inability to speak French. However, they did have an indirect role in Koivu leaving town as an underrated and generally unappreciated key figure in team history.

    In truth, though, Koivu did captain some of the worst Habs teams in history, with 2000-01 standing out as the real low-point of his time with the title.

    In 1998-99, Damphousse’s last season with the team, Montreal didn’t have a 20-goal scorer, but the team still managed 75 points. In 2000-01, only Brian Savage reached the low-water mark with 21 and Montreal earned just 70 points overall. The first-year Columbus Blue Jackets finished with 71.

    Let that sink in for a moment: The Blue Jackets, whose futility knows no bounds currently, were better than Montreal back when they were supposed to be even worse. Indeed, a team that can’t get a simple thing like a mascot right, creating a bee that looks like a frog and a supposedly kid-friendly cannon with an undeniable phallic shape, sucked less than the Habs.

    In any case, it was the second season in a row with Koivu as captain in which the team didn’t make the playoffs and the third in a row overall. Needless to say, Koivu entered into the 2001-02 season looking to get the team on the right track, put the team’s woes behind him…and then got diagnosed with cancer.

    With the team’s best player sidelined indefinitely, Montreal continued to look to Koivu for inspiration and became an unlikely playoff contender. Then, with just a handful of games left in the season, Koivu made an improbable return to the lineup, ultimately leading the Habs into the playoffs and through the first round by upsetting the top-seeded Bruins.

    Two years later, similar success followed, when the Habs again upset the Bruins in the first round, only to get swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Finally, Koivu, who overcame a serious eye injury sustained in the third game of their 2005-06 first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes (a series in which Montreal led two games to none, but then lost four straight without Koivu in the lineup), eventually helped the team secure the top spot in the Eastern Conference in 2007-08 and a first-round victory over the Bruins again.

    Koivu never got the accolades he deserved and was thrust into the role of a first-line player, when, in truth, he was really a second-line one. Montreal never was able to get its hands on that ever-elusive big center, even trying to force the issue once he left by trading for Scott Gomez, who now incomprehensibly wears his number 11.

    That’s not to suggest that Montreal should have retired Koivu’s number. Just that the two players couldn’t be more different despite the similar role they were intended to play on the team.

    Koivu was a heart-and-soul type of player who always left it out on the ice. Gomez has trouble making it onto the ice at all. Koivu may have had the skills of a second-liner, but he always played over his head, reaching the 70-point plateau twice. Gomez, as a Hab, once went over a year without scoring a single goal.

    Finally, when the Habs cut its ties to Scott Gomez–and they will–they’ll be shedding a contract that has proven to be more trouble than the player was ever worth. In Koivu, they lost an invaluable player who will never be able to be replaced.

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