20 Greatest Offensive Defensemen in Montreal Canadiens' History
Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban has led his team in scoring for most of this abbreviated 2013 season. He is threatening to become the only Montreal Canadiens' defenseman to ever lead his team in scoring aside from Sprague Cleghorn. Sprague lead the Canadiens in scoring with 17 goals and 26 points in 24 games back during the 1921/22 NHL season. It has been a while.
Max Pacioretty currently leads the Canadiens in scoring by a point with one game remaining. Subban has the Leaf game tonight to make up the difference.
This potential feat has set me off in search of the greatest offensive defensemen in Montreal Canadiens' history. I offer many thanks to ourhistory.canadiens.com and hockeyreference.com for collected and compiled offensive statistics on Montreal Canadiens' defensemen. I am also trying to make this list dovetail with my list of the 50 Greatest Offensive Defensemen in NHL History. I apologize in advance if it doesn't all hang together.
This search has proven harder than I imagined. The Montreal Canadiens' organization despite their history of fire wagon hockey seems to have had a love-hate relationship with the offensive defenseman. Starting with Doug Harvey but continuing with the likes of Sheldon Souray, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Chris Chelios, Mathieu Schneider and J.C. Tremblay the offensive defensemen in Montreal has often found himself at the center of criticsim from team management and the fans. There are very few offensive defensemen who spent all or even most of their career as a Montreal Canadien. This made it very hard to put together a list of talented offensive defensemen who also had long careers with the Canadiens.
My original plan for a list of 25 ended when I was debating putting Tom Kurvers, Gaston Gingras, Jacques Laperriere and Rod Langway on it. Here then, is my admittedly flawed Top 20 Montreal Canadiens Offensive Defensemen list.
Note: Stats were accurate as of Sunday, April 28.
20. Joe Hall
Joe Hall only played two seasons with the Montreal Canadiens at the very end of his career. Before that time he had played in a variety of pro and semi-pro leagues. He spent seven years with the Quebec Bulldogs of the NHA, the predecessor of the NHL where he scored 44 goals in 137 games.
As a defenseman with Montreal he scored 15 goals and 24 points in 37 NHL games.
Hall was more known for his violent play than his scoring.
Joe Hall was with the Montreal Canadien team that traveled to Seattle to contest for the Stanley Cup with the Metropolitans, in 1919. The Spanish Influenza put an end to that Stanley Cup final when it was tied at 2-2 as most of the players contracted the disease. Joe Hall was the only player to die of it. Until the NHL season was cancelled in 2004, the 1919 Stanley Cup had been the only one not awarded in the history of the NHL.
19. Patrice Brisebois
Patrice Brisebois was often scorned by the crowds in his time in Montreal. I never understood the vehemence with which the fans in Montreal seemed to dislike him.
Brisebois was a good defenseman who was solid in his own zone and had a fair smattering of offensive skills. Patrice scored ten goals or more four times for the Habs reaching 15 in 2000/01. He played on the last Stanley Cup winning team back in 1993. Most of his career was spent in Montreal during their longest streak without appearing in a Stanley Cup final, let alone winning a Stanley Cup.
Brisebois scored the sixth most points in Canadiens history by a defensemen. His 87 regular season goals are the sixth highest career total in over 100 years of Montreal Canadiens defensemen.
18. Jean-Guy Talbot
Jean-Guy Talbot was the bridge between the Doug Harvey era in Montreal and the emergence of Jacques Laperriere, J.C. Tremblay, Ted Harris and Terry Harper as the Montreal defense.
When Harvey was traded away to the New York Rangers it was Talbot who would lead the Canadiens defense in scoring. He managed it twice in his career before Laperriere and Tremblay took over for him.
Talbot scored the tenth most regular season points by a defenseman in Canadiens history.
17. Glen Harmon
Glen Harmon joined the Montreal Canadiens during world war II. He went on to have a nine year career during which he scored a very respectable 50 goals for the habs.
Glen Harmon scored 10 goals in a season in 1947/48. During his two Stanley Cup winning runs with the Canadiens he contributed eight points in 18 playoff games.
Harmon, in an era where assists were just given out for a critical play leading to a goal, would likely also have had more competitive assist and point total if he'd played in a later era.
16. Jack Laviolette
Jack Laviolette is an offensive defensemen who also spent part of his NHL career as a forward. His 48 goals in 155 regular season games would put him 18th among all Montreal Canadiens' defensemen. His .31 goals per game rank him third behind contemporaries Bert Corbeau and Sprague Cleghorn.
His career was coming to an end just as the NHL started up. His last season was 1917/18.
15. Vladamir Malakhov
Vladamir Malakhov came to the Canadiens with Pierre Turgeon for Kirk Muller, Mathieu Schneider and Craig Darby. The talented blue-liner took over Schneider's role on the point of the power play.He had a laser of a point shot, fast and accurate. He was pin-point passer. He was perhaps not quite as mobile as Schneider but he was very good with the puck.
Malakhov had almost half-a-point a game in his time in Montreal and scored .148 goals per game.
Injury slowed the big defender and he was traded to New Jersey for the player destined to become Montreal's next power play quarterback, Sheldon Souray.
Bert Corbeau played in an era where it is impossible to translate his statistics into a modern context. He played with the Montreal Canadiens eight seasons, three of them before the NHL was formed.
Corbeau scored 52 goals and 84 points in 167 games. More than half a point a game places him 12th among Montreal Canadiens' defensemen who played at least 90 regular season NHL games.
He also has the distinction of being the Honus Wagner of hockey. His 1923/24 Toronto St Pats card is the most valuable hockey card in history. Give me the Bobby Orr rookie card every time.
13. Mark Streit
The little Swiss blueliner was a great find for the Montreal Canadiens. They drafted him in 2004 as 27 year old (9th round: 262nd overall).
Mark Streit stepped into the Habs lineup as a 28 year old in 2005. The more mature Streit came with a well-coached game already in place. He was able to take up the slack on the point of the power play when Souray left for free agency. He scored 10 goals in his second season with the team and then 13 goals and 62 points in 81 games in 2007/08.
Streit quickly became another quality defenseman that the Canadiens lost to free agency. Despite playing only three seasons and 205 regular season games he was more than a half point a game player for the Canadiens. he ranked 10th in points per game among Montreal Canadiens' defenseman who played at least 90 regular season games.
12. Jean-Claude Tremblay
J.C Tremblay was supposed to be the player who came along to replace the departed Doug Harvey. Unfortunately for Tremblay, Doug Harvey was one of the all-time great defenseman. J.C. had some of Harvey's faults, as they were deemed by the organization, and not all of his virtues.
Jean-Claude Tremblay joined the Montreal Canadiens during the 1959/60 season. Doug Harvey was moved to the Rangers two years later.
Tremblay was an excellent skater and stick handler. A former left winger he converted to defense. He lacked Harvey's mean streak and in fact seemed to shy away from physical contact. His offensive numbers only grew slowly.
Not surprisingly he seemed reluctant to take the offensive risks that Doug Harvey had. Harvey of course had been ousted by the team, probably for his Players Association activities but also because of the high risk offensive game he played.
Tremblay's numbers improved with time though Jean-Guy Talbot was the biggest offensive contributor from the defense during Tremblay's early years in the league. Then for a few years he played in Jacques Laperriere's not very imposing offensive shadow.
It took until 1965/66 for Tremblay to finally lead the team's defensemen in scoring; with 35 points. J.C. Tremblay had won his first Stanley Cup the year before and put up ten points in 13 playoff games. The Canadiens won the cup again the next year and he had 11 points in 10 games. It seemed his offensive confidence had finally been unlocked.
The Bobby Orr/expansion era had arrived in the NHL to take the blinders off of offensive defenseman. Tremblay had his two best offensive seasons in Montreal scoring a career high 11 goals and 63 points in 1970/71 and 57 points the next year. The 63 points was the best total ever by a Montreal Canadiens defenseman. The legendary Doug Harvey had once scored 50 at the height of this career. This was a 12 team NHL rather than the legendary original six Harvey played in, but still the feat was amazing.
Tremblay however chose to join the Quebec Nordiques of the World Hockey Association the next year. Probably a combination of the poor treatment he had received from the fans in Montreal and the desire to make a reasonable amount of money before he left the game were equal factors in motivating his move.
It would be interesting to see what J.C Tremblay's overall offensive numbers would have been like if he managed to put up 50 to 60 points a season for four or five more years in the NHL. He played seven years for the Nordiques and was almost a point a game defenseman in the WHA.
However, because he never did do that his offensive totals for 798 games as a Montreal Canadien were not that impressive. His .457 points per game place him in the ball park with Eric Desjardins, Serge Savard, Rod Langway, Sheldon Souray, and Vladimir Malakhov. Except for his shot I'd say Tremblay had a much more complete set of offensive skills than any of these players. He was a better skater and stick handler than all of them.
J.C. Tremblay has the seventh most points and 13th most goals for defensemen in Canadiens' history. I can't help believing those totals should have been higher for a man with his skills. especially considering he played the sixth most regular season games by any Montreal Canadien defenseman.
11. Georges Mantha
Georges Mantha was the younger brother of the more famous Sylvio Mantha. He came to play with his brother with the Canadiens back in 1928. Mantha played both forward and defense for the Canadiens and so his statistics don't reflect has play just as a defenseman. Still the younger Mantha was known for his speed and skill with the puck in an era where defensemen played a game based on brute strength and intimidation.
Mantha had great numbers for a defenseman. When Howie Morenz was traded to Chicago Mantha moved up to forward and scored 13 and then 23 goals in 1935/36 and 1936/37.
Georges Mantha was still one of the most offensively talented Montreal Canadiens' blueliners of all time.
10. Sheldon Souray
More than half of the defensemen on this list spent less than half their career in Montreal. Sheldon Souray at least wasn't a player they got disenchanted with and dumped; he was a player whose obvious offensive skills weren't enough to make the Canadiens pay the $27 million in five years that the free agent market demanded.
While Souray's game has always had some holes in it, it was his big shot that finally cemented his spot in the NHL. Souray broke in with the New Jersey Devils where what he was good at wasn't really in demand. He came to the Canadiens in a late season deal for Vladamir Malakhov as the Devils geared up for their Stanley Cup winning run in 2000.
The Canadiens were more willing to try to use Souray and his shot than New Jersey had been. Unfortunately injuries and especially a damaged wrist slowed his development. He took off the entire 2002/03 season with the injury.
When he returned the steady defender with a mean streak became an offensive force. His erratic, heavy almost always high shot started to wreak havoc with NHL goaltenders. The wildness of the shot was often as dangerous to team-mates as opponents. It always put me in mind of Crash Davis's immortal "I don't know where it's going to go, I swear to god."
Souray became a key for what was a very good Montreal Canadien powerplay. He scored 15,12 and then 26 goals for the Canadiens. The 26 goals were the second most in a season by a Montreal Canadien defender behind only Guy Lapointe's 28. Souray still holds the team and NHL record for most power play goals in a season by a defenseman with the 19 he scored in 2006/07. He also holds the record for most points in a game by a defenseman with the Canadiens with the six he scored (1G,5A) against the Pittsburgh Penguins on July 8th,2004.
His 62 regular season goals are the 12th most by any Montreal Canadiens defenseman. His .191 goals per game were the most by any Canadien defender from the modern era except Guy Lapointe. Bert Corbeau, Sprague Cleghorn and Jack Laviolette also scored at a faster rate than Souray but in a different era and over careers in Montreal that lasted for 167, 98 and 155 games respectively. Souray did play 324 regular season games as a Montreal Canadien. He was almost (.494) a half point a game player during that time.
Souray has only really duplicated his Montreal performance once when he scored 23 goals and 53 points in a full season with the Oilers. He is a fighter and injuries he suffers fighting have hampered his hands and his shot. Souray is a player that even at 36 should still be able to help any team on the power play.
9. Serge Savard
Serge Savard was the eldest of the Big Three defenseman who dominated the Montreal Canadiens blueline in the seventies. From 1974/75 until 1978/79 these three were one, two, three in team scoring by defensemen. Robinson lead the defense in scoring three times, Lapointe and Savard each did so once.
Savard had success early on. His second full year in the league saw him win his second Stanley Cup. He also won the Conn Smythe trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs that year. Savard had 10 points in 14 playoff games in 1969.
Unfortunately, during his next season, he broke his leg in five places as he spun into a goal post. The year after that the same leg was broken by a Bob Baun hip check. The speed he lost from those two injuries certainly reduced the offensive contribution he could make.
Still Savard was always an offensive contibutor. His 412 regular season points are the fourth most by any Montreal Canadiens' defender. His 100 goals put him third behind his big Big Three teammates Larry Robinson 197 and Guy Lapointe 166.
Savard's best season was 1974/75 when he scored 20 goals and 60 points. Only Guy Lapointe, Mathieu Schneider, Sheldon Souray, Chris Chelios and Georges Mantha have ever scored 20 goals in a season as a Montreal Canadiens defenseman. Mantha likely scored several most of his goals as a forward that year.
Scotty Bowman liked to play the big three defenseman together on the power play. Usually one of them Robinson or Savard would end up in front of the net to screen the goalie and pop in rebounds.
Serge Savard's career offensive statistics suffer from the defensive role he was forced to play by circumstance but he was a hugely talented offensive defenseman as well.
8. P. K. Subban
I was shocked to see that even with 100 plus years of team history to work with, the 23 year old P.K.Subban, with only 201 regular season games under his belt, made it into my top ten.
He has just passed Ted Harris to move into 30th place for career regular season scoring among Canadiens' defensemen. He has scored those points in less than half the games it took Ted Harris to do it in.
Subban is currently acquiring points at the rate of .560 a game. That's slightly behind the pace Mathieu Schneider and Andrei Markov set. He is currently 8th among defensemen who have played at least 90 games for the habs in points per game. Barring a devastating injury like those Serge Savard and Andrei Markov suffered, the 23 year old is only likely to get better.
P.K. is an aggressive, 360-degree skater. He is fearless with the puck and a little less likely to lose it than he was in his first few years in the league. Subban is unpredictable on offense. His shot from the point just seems to be getting better and better.
The one player Subban reminds me of more than any other is a young Chris Chelios. Their style of play seems very similar. He seems to be able to annoy opponents as much as Chelios did as well. Hopefully the Canadiens hang on to this young talent longer than they did Chelios.
He is still only a point behind Max Pacioretty with one game left to play in this season.
7. Mathieu Schneider
Mathieu Schneider was a third round pick (44th overall) for the Montreal Canadiens back in 1987. He made the team as a 20 year old during the 1989/90 season. The next year he lead all habs defenseman in points with 30 in only 69 games His best season in Montreal was 1993/94 when scored 20 goals and 52 points.
Schneider was the classic power play quarterback. He was clever with the puck at the point and could almost always get his shot through.
The Canadiens traded Schneider along with Kirk Muller and Craig Darby to the New York Islanders for Pierre Turgeon and another offensive defenseman, Vladamir Malakhov. He returned to Montreal at the age of 39 and was still useful on the point of the power play some 14 years later.
Mathieu Schneider played a mere 383 regular season games with Montreal but his 68 regular season goals rank him 9th among Canadiens' defensemen. He scored goals at the same rate Chris Chelios did when he was in Montreal. His .564 points per game place him sixth among Canadiens' defensemen who played at least 90 regular season games.
Mathieu Schneider was a bit of a power play specialist in his career. He developed those skills playing for Les Habitants in Montreal.
6. Andrei Markov
Andrei Markov is a hugely talented offensive defenseman whose numbers have suffered in the trap clogged, big pad NHL. He is a creative offensive force on the point for the Canadiens.
Markov has managed to produce a sparkling .581 points a game in 683 regular season games to date. He has a sneaky point shot and is the consummate power play quarterback. His ability to counter punch with the puck from his own zone is phenomenal.
Two devastating leg injuries have slowed him just like they did Serge Savard. The fear that another such injury will end his career looms.
He has returned for this lock-out shortened season and been a huge boon for Montreal Canadiens defensive core. He is actually putting up points this year faster than his career average. His best season to date saw him score 16 goals and he is on pace to have done that this year if it was an 82 game season.
Hopefully Markov can stay healthy for four or five years and continue to shepherd a young Canadiens' defense.
5. Sprague Cleghorn
Sprague Cleghorn played in an era that's almost impossible to relate to modern hockey. He was considered, at the time, one of the nastiest players ever to play the game.
The Canadiens traded for Cleghorn sending another offensively productive defensemen Harry Mummery, Cully Wilson and Amos Arbour to Hamilton for Cleghorn and defenseman Bill Couture.
Cleghorn scored 17 goals in 24 games for Montreal in the 1921/22 season.
Cleghorn played four seasons with the Canadiens but only 98 total games. Still his 42 career goals and his .429 goal per game average are big numbers among Montreal Canadiens' defensemen.
He still holds the Montreal Canadiens' record for most goals by a defenseman in one game. He is tied with Harry Cameron with four.
Sprague is currently still the only Montreal Canadien defenseman ever to lead his team in scoring for a season.
4. Chris Chelios
The scrappy Chelios sometimes gets forgotten when lists of great offensive defensemen are compiled. Part of the problem with a career that spans eras is that the beginning can be lost in the mists of time. Chris was a second round draft pick (40th overall) of the Montreal Canadiens back in 1981. He played his last game in the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers during the 2009/10 season at the age of 48.
Chris Chelios was a late bloomer. He was a Frozen Four champion with the Wisconsin Badgers in 1983. He started playing with the Canadiens during the 1983/84 season and he shone in the playoffs with 10 points in 15 games as Montreal made it to the Conference Finals. He was second in team scoring in the playoffs that year behind a 24 year old Mats Naslund. This line-up still featured 30+ stars Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Larry Robinson and Bob Gainey.
Chelios was a star with the team from that point on, putting up 64 points in 74 games the next year. He was third in team scoring.
Chris Chelios was always a good skater who could distribute the puck and had a reasonable shot. The thing that set him apart seemed to be his passion. Chelios was always active, always interested and always in the other team's face. Chris's aggressive style and even the way he would move the puck remind me a lot of P.K. Subban and his talent and combativeness.
He came back from injury to help lead the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in 1986.
Chris Chelios scored 20 goals the next year and 73 points the season after that with Montreal. These were to be the best offensive totals of his entire 26 year NHL career.
Chris Chelios suffered a second severe injury during the 1989/90 season and GM Serge Savard traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks for Denis Savard in the off-season that year. It was destined to be one of the worst trades in Montreal Canadiens history.
Montreal seems to have had a love hate relationship with their offensive defensemen throughout their history. Montreal is a team that has been famed in the past for their dedication to wide open offensive hockey. Yet even the great Doug Harvey couldn't play his entire career in Montreal.
Canadien draft picks like Chris Chelios and Mathieu Schneider only lasted seven and six and a half seasons in Montreal. It is almost like there is a systemic intolerance for risk from their defenseman.
Chelios played 402 regular season games in a Montreal Canadiens' uniform. He leads all Montreal Canadiens' defensemen in points per game at .769. His 309 regular season points were the eighth most in team history for a defenseman. He tied for second in playoff points with Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe and behind only Larry Robinson and he did it in fewer games.
His 16 goals put him fourth in team playoff history for a defenseman.
Chelios was a top quality offensive defenseman at the beginning of his career. Injury and age slowed him down but the Canadiens did certainly get some of his best offensive output in seven short years.
3. Larry Robinson
Larry Robinson was the youngest and the best of the big three defenseman that patrolled the blueline for the Montreal Canadiens in the 70's and 80's.
He was known for his offense and defense in Montreal. While not the goalscorer some of these offensive defensemen are, his skating ability made him capable of end to end rushes that were a trademark with the lanky Robinson.
His shot from the point was also a feature on the power play.
Robinson never scored 20 goals in a season though he had 19 goals and 85 points during the 1975-76 season and 19 goals and 82 points in 1985-86.The 85 points are a team record for a defenseman.
Robinson won two James Norris trophies. He also won the Conn Smythe in 1977-78 with 21 points in 15 playoff games to tie with Guy Lafleur for the team playoff scoring lead. He also had 20 points in 17 games in the Canadien's 1985-86 playoff run.
Robinson managed just under .7 points per game over a 20 year career. He's ninth in career points by a defenseman in NHL history.
2. Guy Lapointe
Guy Lapointe was the best offensive defenseman of Montreal's Big Three from the 1970's. He was a strong skater with a great point shot and nose for the net.
Scoring 15 goals during the 1970/71 season, he set a team record for rookie defensemen that still stands.
Guy scored 19 goals during the 1972/73 season, surpassing Sprague Cleghorn's mark of 17 which had stood as the team record for a defenseman for 51 years.
Lapointe would go on to score 20 goals in a season three times. His 28 during the 1974-75 campaign is still the record for goals in a season by a Montreal Canadiens defenseman.
He scored .736 points per game for the Canadiens in the regular season. This is the third-best average among Canadien defensemen behind only Chris Chelios (.769) and Sprague Cleghorn (.745), both of which both played significantly fewer games with the Canadiens than Lapointe.
Lapointe was known for his great point shot. His 166 goals are second only to Larry Robinson's 197 which came in 425 more regular season games. His 25 goals in the playoffs equaled Robinson's total, even though he played just over half as many playoff games as Robinson (112 to 203).
Guy Lapointe played with a great group of defenseman in Montreal, especially Larry Robinson and Serge Savard. He was the middle player who came along between the older Savard and younger Robinson. Like many middle brothers, he doesn't seem to have gotten all the attention he deserves. Players of his era like Brad Park or Bobby Orr, who didn't have the same supporting cast on defense, certainly got more attention than Guy. Still, Guy Lapointe is the second greatest Montreal Canadiens offensive defenseman of all time.
1. Doug Harvey
Doug Harvey was an all-time great offensive defenseman born in an era where such play was characterized as risky and undesirable. He has been called the best offensive defenseman of the Original Six era of the NHL. He is often called the first offensive defenseman in the NHL.
He was known as a non-conformist in an era, the 1950’s, when conformity was king. That resistance to conformity apparently fueled his offensive instincts. He was famous for his ability to steal the puck from attacking forwards. He favoured long passes out of his own zone after drawing the forecheckers on to him. Coach Dick Irvin feared Harvey would end up coughing up the puck in front of his own net, but it almost never happened.
His prowess was recognized through-out the league. He and his mostly offensive skills won seven James Norris trophies as the league's best defenseman. He was a first team All-Star 10 times and made the second team once.
He quarterbacked one of the greatest power-plays of all time in Montreal, featuring himself and Geoffrion on the points and Beliveau, the Rocket and Bert Olmstead.
Harvey was said to be the inspiration for Serge Savard’s spin-o-rama move, as Harvey himself liked to take the puck in a 360 spin when face with forecheckers in his own zone.
Doug Harvey eventually paid the price for high risk play and was dealt to the New York Rangers after he supported Ted Lindsay’s attempt to start a players association back in 1961.
Doug Harvey has the third most regular season points among Montreal Canadiens defensemen with 447. He is seventh in goal scoring for his career. Harvey is fifth in playoff scoring among all Montreal Canadiens defensemen.