The 5 Biggest Villains in Montreal Canadiens History
Among these stars, however, have also been some villainous characters, ranging from dirty players everyone hated playing against to brute enforcers, who were some of the toughest in hockey history.
Here are the five biggest villains in Montreal Canadiens history.
Mike Ribeiro had a rough go in Montreal. Even though he was born on the island, he had a hard time getting his hometown crowd to like him. His inconsistent play and lack of defensive effort enraged Habs fans.
Then there was the fake injury incident in 2004, which made the entire hockey world hate him. Ribeiro went down and twisted in pain after an innocent-looking hit from Boston's Mike Knuble. A short time later, Ribeiro was seen smiling and even taunting the Bruins bench. No one likes a diver.
There are times when one incident defines a career, and that's certainly the case with Alexander Perezhogin.
The stick-swinging incident that occurred while he was playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs was one of the ugliest in the history of the game. Perezhogin was suspended for an entire season, charged by police and fined.
5. P.K. Subban
The Norris Trophy wasn't the only award P.K. Subban received in 2013—he was also honored with being the most hated player in the NHL, at least according to Sports Illustrated.
Loved by Montreal fans for his physical play and offensive talents, Subban does not receive the same warmth from opposing players or fans. Since becoming a mainstay on the Habs' blueline three seasons ago, the Toronto native has quickly built up a reputation as one of the most villainous players in the league.
Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins tells Canadiens Magazine reporter Shauna Denis why Subban is already notorious around the NHL:
A big reason people either love him or hate him is he’s a great player, and that aggravates people. But there’s a lot that comes with his game. He’s very vocal, and he does a lot of extracurricular things people may not like, and it gets under the skin of some people. When teams play Montreal, guys focus on P.K. and want to run at him. He brings a lot of attention to himself and draws a lot of penalties because of that.
Subban's NHL career is still in its infancy, yet he's already regarded as one of the most disliked players in the NHL. At just 24 years of age, Subban still has plenty of time to add to his infamy and climb the list of the top villains in Montreal Canadiens history.
4. Claude Lemieux
An offensively-talented player with a knack for being a playoff performer, Claude Lemieux will famously be remembered as a pest who opponents detested until the day he retired (after a brief comeback attempt) in 2009.
Although his Canadiens career only lasted 281 games, his infamous reputation definitely began in Montreal.
Things then escalated in the 1987 playoffs.
Lemieux had a habit of firing pucks into the opponent's net to end the warm-up session. The Philadelphia Flyers were not keen to this and warned Lemieux about trying it against them. Lemieux, of course, had other plans. What ensued is best summed up by legendary Montreal Gazette writer Red Fisher:
(Ed) Hospodar and teammate Chico Resch tried to prevent Lemieux shooting the puck. When they finally abandoned the net and the Habs' Shayne Corson shot the puck, the Flyers' Chico Resch pursued Lemieux, triggering the brawl.
The brawl Fisher speaks of lasted ten minutes and involved dozens of players who all rushed back to the ice. As there were no rules at the time covering a pregame incident, no penalties were assessed, and the game began as usual.
Lemieux went on to disturb and take cheap shots at countless opponents (just ask Kris Draper) over his NHL career with five other NHL teams, but he did enough in Montreal to earn himself a spot on the Canadiens' top villains list.
3. Maurice Richard
Maurice Richard is best known for being one of the greatest goal scorers in NHL history, but "The Rocket" had a mean streak as well.
Richard's offensive accolades have been well documented, but a lesser-known stat is that he finished his career with 1,285 penalty minutes. That ranks him fourth of all time on the Canadiens, only behind Chris Nilan, Lyle Odelein and Shayne Corson.
While most NHL teams employ enforcers to protect their superstars, the Montreal Canadiens of the 1950s and '60s chose not to roster one. They did not need one. Richard was happy to stand up for himself.
Like the time he broke his own teammates's nose with a headbutt while celebrating a goal. Or the time he knocked out a fan who questioned his injury while he was watching a game in street clothes. Or the time his temper eventually led to a citywide riot.
The Richard Riot began after Clarence Campbell suspended The Rocket because of a maniacal episode on the ice against the Boston Bruins March 13, 1955.
Bruins defenseman Hal Laycoe caught Richard above the eye with a high-stick and was penalized. Richard, however, didn't feel a couple minutes in the penalty box was due justice, so he chased down Laycoe, using his stick as a weapon as he beat on the Bruins defender.
Richard was relentless in his attack and repeatedly went after Laycoe after being pulled off. A linesman was finally able to pin Richard to the ice, but Richard was not finished. As he was released, The Rocket was still hot and wanted to hit whatever he could.
Unfortunately, the closest person to him was lineman Cliff Thompson. Richard assaulted the official with his fist—twice—before anyone could restrain him.
The incident led to Richard being suspended for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs and, of course, was the trigger of the Richard Riot.
2. John Ferguson
After winning five straight Stanley Cups from 1956-60, the Canadiens were held trophyless over the next four seasons. Their lineup was missing some toughness. John Ferguson proved to be the answer.
It did not take long for Ferguson to show the NHL why the Montreal Canadiens signed him before the 1963-64 season. Twelve seconds into his first shift, "Fergie" dropped the gloves and was credited with his first fighting major.
The Habs won five Cups in eight seasons with Ferguson serving as enforcer. He proved to be an invaluable asset, giving the goal scorers room to maneuver while chipping in offensively as well.
In addition to the 1,215 penalty minutes in 500 games with the Canadiens, Ferguson added 145 goals and 158 assists.
While opponents were happy to see Fergie retire after eight NHL seasons, others wondered why. According to Ferguson, he was simply looking out for the safety of everyone else in the league.
"I was beginning to worry about doing some serious damage to someone," Ferguson said in Brian McFarlane's book The Habs.
1. Chris Nilan
Here are a few signs that you're the biggest villain in the history of the Montreal Canadiens:
- You have almost 1,000 more penalty minutes than anyone in the 100-year history of the organization.
- You own the NHL record for most penalties taken in one game with 10 (March 31, 1991).
- You own the NHL record for average penalty minutes per game with 4.42.
- Your nickname is Knuckles.
Chris Nilan is undoubtedly the biggest villain in Montreal Canadiens history. He suited up for the Habs from 1979-88 (and again in 1991-92) and played the role of enforcer as well as anyone in the history of the organization.
Nilan was tasked with protecting the scorers of the 1980s. His presence and reputation as one of the best fighters in the league opened up more space for the skilled Habs to operate.
Over the course of his career, he would play in 523 games as a Canadien and amass a Habs record 2,248 penalty minutes—881 more than the next on the list.
"Fighting was easy. It was second nature to me. Now, playing hockey was the hard part," Nilan told ESPN.
Nilan was one of the toughest players of his generation, and he was hated by opposing players fans alike. He is well-deserving of the top spot on the list of biggest villains in Montreal Canadiens history.