Montreal Canadien Guy Lafleur.
With a league-leading 24 Stanley Cups, the Montreal Canadiens have a wealth of great seasons on which fans can look back, at least from a team perspective. Sometimes the most noteworthy campaigns, though, are the ones authored by individuals who go relatively unnoticed as a result.
Some of them even come in nonchampionship years, giving fans literally thousands of individual campaigns from which to choose, each with its very own accomplishments and place in history.
Here are the top five Montreal Canadiens seasons in franchise history:
Jose Theodore is not a Hall of Fame-caliber goalie, but for one season he played the part to near perfection.
Allowing five or more goals just twice over the course of the entire regular season (30-24-10) and setting a team record with a .931 save percentage, Theodore captured both the Hart Memorial and Vezina trophies that year.
Now, one can make a decent argument that he didn’t deserve both awards, but there is little doubt as to which one.
Vezina runner-up Patrick Roy (with the Colorado Avalanche at that point) had a 1.94 goals-against average, after all. However, no player—goaltender or not—meant more to his team’s success than Theodore, who backstopped a team which—missing captain Saku Koivu due to cancer—Yanic Perreault led in scoring with just 56 points.
Theodore even capped it off with one of the all-time greatest saves against Boston Bruin Bill Guerin in the first round of the playoffs to help propel the eighth-seeded Habs into the second round.
OK, technically he capped it off with a piss-poor performance against the Carolina Hurricanes, allowing five goals in just over 20 minutes as the Habs got eliminated four games to two in the second round with an 8-2 loss.
However, the Habs wouldn’t have gotten nearly that far without him.
While linemate Elmer Lach capture the Hart Trophy as the MVP in 1944-45, Maurice Richard stole the show by setting a new league record with 50 goals to go along with 23 assists (Lach had 80 points to win the scoring title).
While 50 goals are scored relatively routinely in a given season these days, it was the manner in which Richard did it that separated him from the pack, as he scored 50 in just 50 games.
Just his third year in the league, 1944-45 put Richard on the map and birthed a legend. Also recording the league’s first eight-point game that year (Dec. 28, 1944), he did it in spectacular fashion more nights than not.
Of note, Richard broke former Hab Joe Malone’s previous highwater mark of 44 goals in a year, set in the league’s inaugural 1917-18 season. What’s most noteworthy about Malone’s accomplishment is he was able to do it in just 20 games.
Unfortunately, Malone, a Hall of Famer in his own right, gets slighted on this list because it’s hard to gauge how much of Malone’s feat was due to his abilities as a goal scorer and how much was due to the high-scoring nature of the league when it was still finding its legs, competitively speaking.
To illustrate that point, Ottawa Senator Cy Denneny scored 36 goals that year and Toronto Maple Leaf Reg Noble scored 30 (both in 20 games as well).
Meanwhile, Richard and his 1944-45 season get the edge because the next-closest player, Boston Bruin Herb Cain, scored a full 18 goals fewer. Richard was just so much more prolific than anyone else in the league and, essentially, was one of a kind.
Montreal Canadien Jacques Plante's No. 1 hangs in the Bell Centre.
Goalie Jacques Plante is perhaps best known for bringing the hockey mask into the mainstream. As a result, it’s easy to forget that he wasn’t just a pioneer but one of the greatest goalies to ever play the game. Plante has a record seven Vezina Trophies to his name, including his first in 1955-56.
Indeed, a full four years before the mask came along in 1959, Plante recorded a team-record 42 wins (42-12-10). It was the first of two times he would win that many games, with the second coming in 1961-62, when he won both the Hart and Vezina (like Theodore in 2001-02).
However, 1955-56 gets the edge here due to two small reasons: a career-best and team-record 1.86 goals-against average (35-game minimum) to go along with an incredible .929 save percentage.
On Nov. 11, 1955, against the then-Chicago Black Hawks, he even recorded the most saves a Canadiens goalie would ever make in a shutout with 52.
Of course, there is little debating Plante benefited from a great team in front of him, one that won the first of five straight Stanley Cups that year. However, few can deny Plante had as much to do with the dynasty as anyone, which is an impressive statement, if for no other reason than Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau played together on all five teams.
Montreal Canadien Larry Robinson at his number-retirement ceremony.
Speaking of great teams, the 1976-77 Habs were arguably the greatest in hockey history, losing just once on home ice all season and posting an overall record of 60-8-12. Needless to say, at least one player on that team should be included here.
That brings us to Larry Robinson, who recorded the most assists for a Habs defenseman (66) and points (85) that year. Perhaps even more impressively, he also recorded points in 16 straight games (23 in all) from Feb. 23 to March 27, 1977.
He would duplicate the streak in 1979-80, winning the James Norris Memorial Trophy on both occasions as the top blue-liner, but '76-77 gets a spot for one simple reason: The 171 goals allowed that year (2.14 per game) were the fewest the Habs ever allowed in an 80-game season (240 in 1979-80).
As a defenseman, Robinson was a big part of that and lands the No. 2 spot as a result.
Montreal Canadien Guy Lafleur.
The second consecutive entry from 1976-77 makes this list, courtesy of the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, Guy Lafleur. While Lafleur would only score 58 goals in 1976-77 (linemate Steve Shutt would set a team record with 60), he did score a team-record 136 points (Shutt had 105 that year).
Lafleur set another team record that year with the longest points streak, at 28 games, from Feb. 1 to April 3, 1977. During that stretch, he scored an incredible 61 points (19 goals, 42 assists).
To put that in the proper perspective, 61 points would be considered a very good total for an entire season for any Habs player today, and Lafleur was able to score that many in a third of a season.
While hardware isn’t everything, Lafleur won the Art Ross Memorial Trophy as the leading point-getter and Hart Memorial Trophy as the MVP that year. Of note, in 1977-78 he won both for the second straight year, even tying Shutt’s goal record in the process.
As such, Lafleur’s 1977-78 campaign could have easily placed in the No. 1 spot here too (or at least a case could have been made to that effect). The fact that it didn’t even rank proves there are no shortage of great Montreal Canadiens from which to choose.
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