Monday, June 20, 2011

Deconstructing a Champion

So, here we are, eighteen years after the Canadiens last won the Stanley Cup. Fans who remember the sixties and seventies must feel as though they're trudging through the desert with no oasis in sight, but, thanks to the Canucks choke job, the Habs remain the most recent Canadian champion.

Reflecting on the great moments of '93, and the players who provided them, one must wonder why that success didn't continue. The Canadiens had some very good players which should have either kept producing well or brought a solid return that would have produced in their stead. Shockingly, however, a series of absolutely disasterous trades let Cup-winning players go for guys who were never able to duplicate any level of their success. In fact, if you break down where each player ended up, and what the Habs got back, it turns out there are only two players affiliated with today's organization with any links at all to that last champion.

Take that year's Conn Smythe winner, for example. Patrick Roy was one of the best goaltenders the NHL had ever seen, and was instrumental in bringing the last two Cups to Montreal. When he and management fell out and Ronald Corey decided he had to go, Roy and heart-and-soul Mike Keane went to Colorado for Andrei Kovalenko, Martin Rucinsky and Jocelyn Thibault. Kovalenko was later traded to Edmonton Oilers for Scott Thornton, who was then traded for Juha Lind (who went back to Europe). Rucinsky was later included in a trade that sent Benoit Brunet to Dallas. Thibault went in the Dave Manson trade to Chicago. Neither the Rucinsky or Thibeault trades returned anything worthwhile to Montreal.

The Cup-winning captain, Guy Carbonneau, was dumped to the St.Louis Blues one year later for Jim Montgomery, who was claimed off of waivers after playing five totally unproductive games for the Canadiens.

The big stars on offense went for little-to-nothing as well. Brian Bellows, who put up 88 points in '93, and 15 more in the playoffs, was traded for Marc Bureau who later left as a free agent.

Vincent Damphousse, led the team in scoring in the Cup-winning season with 98 points, and was traded to Tampa for draft picks that became Marcel Hossa (traded for Garth Murray, who was lost to waivers) and Marc-Andre Thinel (left for Europe).

Kirk Muller was the second-highest scorer on the '93 Habs, and a revered leader in the dressing room. He has a complicated legacy with the Canadiens. Two years after the Cup win he was traded to the Islanders for Vladimir Malakhov (later traded to New Jersey Devils for Sheldon Souray (walked as a free agent), Josh DeWolf (left for Germany) and round 2 pick in the 2001 draft (Andreas Holmqvist, who played out his career in Europe)) and Pierre Turgeon. Turgeon was later traded to St. Louis Blues for Murray Baron, Shayne Corson (left as a free agent) and 5th-rounder in the 1997 draft (Gennady Razin who left for Russia). Baron was traded for Dave Manson the same year. Manson was later traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for Jeff Hackett, Eric Weinrich, Alain Nasreddine and a conditional draft pick (Chris Dyment, traded for a Czech pick who never came over, who, in turn was traded for Michael Lambert who never made the NHL). Hackett was traded to San Jose Sharks for Niklas Sundstrom (left Montreal for Sweden) and a 3rd-round pick in the 2004 draft (Paul Baier, who never made the NHL) who became part of a package to the Kings for Christobal Huet and Radek Bonk.) Huet was traded to Washington for a 2nd round pick (which became Jeremy Morin), which was traded along with the Habs 2010 3rd to Atlanta for Mathieu Schneider (left as a free agent) and a third round pick (Joonas Nattinen). Weinrich was traded to Boston for Patrick Traverse (later traded for Mathieu Biron, who left for Europe). Nasreddine was traded to to Edmonton Oilers for Christian Laflamme (left as a free agent) and Matthieu Descoteaux (left for Europe). So, Nattinen, recently signed to an entry-level deal with the Habs, is one of the two players directly connected to the '93 Cup victory.

Then there's the defence. The Cup-winning defence consisted of, at various times, Eric Desjardins, Mathieu Schneider, Kevin Haller, Patrice Brisebois, J.J.Daigneault, Lyle Odelein, Rob Ramage, Sean Hill and Donald Dufresne. Daigneault was traded to St. Louis Blues for Pat Jablonski, who, in turn, was traded to Phoenix Coyotes for Steve Cheredaryk (left as a minor-league free agent). Schneider was included in the Muller trade to the Islanders. Haller was traded to Philly for Yves Racine, who was then claimed on waivers by San Jose. Breezer left as a free agent. Odelein was traded to Devils for Stephane Richer, who was then traded to Tampa Bay Lightning for Patrick Poulin (demoted and retired), Igor Ulanov (included in Nasreddine trade) and Mick Vukota (went to IHL and then retired). Ramage was traded to the Flyers for cash. Hill was claimed in the expansion draft by the Ducks. Dufresne was a weird one. He actually was traded for Rob Ramage, but as a "future consideration." Because Tampa hadn't settled that part of the trade with Montreal, both Dufresne and Ramage won the Cup.

Then there's Desjardins. He, along with Gilbert Dionne and John LeClair went to Philly in one of the worst trades of the period. They were traded for Mark Recchi and a 3rd-round pick in the 1995 draft (Martin Hohenberger, who left for Europe). Recchi was later traded back to the Flyers for Dainius Zubrus, a 2nd-round pick in the 1999 draft (Matt Carkner, who left as a free agent) and a 6th-round pick in the 2000 draft (Scott Selig, who left hockey in 2006). Zubrus was traded to the Capitals for Jan Bulis, who left as a free agent, Richard Zednik and a first-round pick in the 2001 draft (Alexander Perezhogin, who left for Europe). Zednik was traded for a Capitals 3rd-round pick in 2007. That pick was Olivier Fortier, the only other player in the Canadiens organization with a direct link to the '93 Cup.

If a team is to have long-term success, it needs to make the most of its assets over the years. Some of the players the Canadiens got back for the Cup-winners they traded were useful and helped the team for a time. In the end, however, management's failure to bring back a solid return for star players like Roy, LeClair, Muller, Damphousse and Desjardins, as well as important support players like Carbonneau, resulted in the arid period of stagnation we witnessed through many of the years following that Cup win.

It's kind of sad that the legacy of the last Canadian champion consists of only Olivier Fortier and Joonas Nattinen; a third-line grinder with a big heart and a Finnish centreman who's good on the draw. They may or may not ever make the NHL, but back in '93, you wouldn't have traded both of them for Guy Carbonneau. As it turns out, the Canadiens traded the entire Stanley Cup-winning team for them.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Now I'm really depressed!

Woodvid said...

Great article, as usual. On a totally unrelated note, isn't nice to see Desharnais resigned?

Kevin Smith said...

This is a very interesting thing, but I wonder how it would apply to other teams over 18 years? I might just try doing this with LA and Toronto from that year (Toronto because their fans seem to think they would have won the cup if not for Kerry Fraser), or perhaps Pittsburgh from 91-92 and the Rangers from 93-94.

I kind of figure that most teams undergo so much change, and there are so many bad trades, that most teams would only have at most 5 players connected to their team from almost 20 years before. But I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Very nice deconstruction J.T. This organization has to decide what it wants to be. I really like Gainey but his legacy will show his inability to sell the public on getting the most for Koivu, Tanguay, Kovalev, Souray and others when they were only going to get into the playoffs by the skn of their teeth. They let all of these guys walk . I thought he could have been more creative...

Are the Habs to be a dominant team? The biggest shortcoming is the inability to identify a big time, large bodied center with some hands that will be with them for years to come. Can they do that in free Agency? I suppose so ......

But it strikes me that this is something they could have gotten back for Halak istead of a Lars Eller, a center that is projected as second line at best and a journeyman. If St. Louis wanted a first line goaltender , which is what everyone believed he was, then perhaps he should have commanded more.

They have to draft better. I maintain they should use central scouting projections because time and time again the scouting team has not done the job. I have heard that Timmins is hardworking and progressive but he gets failing grade as far as I am concerned.

This organization was known for getting the most out of late round picks. That is what a Champion is known for. Not necessarily the Crosby's or Ovechkins. But what you can do to find a character guy that is taken in the late rounds.

Footnote: This organization should have found a way to keep Boucher. I like this guy , he is a progressive thinker and the elan with which his teams play is something the Habs should be known for instead of JM trap.


V said...

Mark... I have heard many people comment on how Gainey did not get enough (in some cases he did not get anyone) for people who eventually left through free agency.

I don't think this is a fair knock given that I believe his teams made the playoffs every year except for one (and just missed in their last game of that year).

Sure, in hindsight he could have done better, but making the decision on whether to go with what you have to see how they handle it or blow it up while they still have a good chance to make the play-offs is an extremely tough decision.

And it wasn't a case of not properly selling the prospect of blowing the team up to fans. As a player's GM, he would know just how unfair it is to the players to take their destiny out of their hands.

And on Halak/Eller. Too early to tell how that trade turns out... give it a couple more years before evaluating. The hell with projections - let's see what they actually do before calling a winner. My guess it will be a draw at worse.

Woodvid said...

One thing to remember is that trading a player near the end of his contract has nowhere near the value it used to.

In the 70s, before free agency became de rigeur, you built your team via the draft and trades. You didn't really have any other options.

Free agency has changed this. Now if you don't like a player, you let him go and use the money to buy another player, something that wasn't possible back in the day. Instead of trading one player for another, you simply transfer the salary to another. It amounts to the same thing.

Yes, you can still get something if you trade a soon-to-be UFA, but I think the market has dipped because everyone knows they can hit up the free agent market for somebody just as good, who will sign a contract and stay.

This only applies to impending UFAs though. Doesn't change bad trades such as the John Leclair and Guy Carbonneau doozies. Ugh.

dusty said...

I want to change one word in comment #1. Wow! Now I'm really impressed. By the work you put into this post, that is. Now it is clear to all of us fans that management had no plan and carried it out badly. We will see in the next six weeks or so whether anything has changed.

Boston had a plan and though I thought the players they selected were mediocre at best, they put together FOUR lines that can play meaningful, important minutes. The Hawks beat the Flyers because they had a fourth line and the Flyers didn't. If PG doesn't learn from the last two Cup winners the Habs will fizzle again when the going gets tough.

Woodvid said...

I think any team who tries to emulate Boston will be in for a sharp surprise. Tim Thomas had a performance for the ages. Without it, they would've been gone in the first or second round.

Anonymous said...

Yves Racine in turn was the last vestige of the trade that brought Pete Mahovolich to Montreal in 1969, a trade that had a 26 year trail from 69 to 1995, one of the best trades Sam Pollack ever made.

Anonymous said...

Damphousse was not traded to Tampa. He was traded to San Jose.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on a solid work of research. You have done a good job in showing that the post-Pollock legacy has been quite dismal. The surprising thing about the Habs is that they have continued to make it to the post-season on a regular season in spite of its poor record in trading and drafting. We see the trend continuing today. However, packing bags in late April is simply not good enough for Montreal fans.

As much as I admire Gainey, he did a poor job. I respect his integrity for acknowledging his shortcoming (or, in retrospect, his frustration) and stepping down. Timmins should have done the same thing especially for passing up home grown talent in favour complete busts. Sure, he picked up a couple decent players in the later rounds, but so does everybody else, including the Leafs. Letang, Vlasic, Giroux, Bergeron, J Demers, Perron etc all could have been had. Very few players he drafted remain on the roster and this is a condemnation of his abilities because those that are no longer with the team are not shining elsewhere either.

I hope the new CEO turns things around. They must find a way to move up and grab a decent prospect. In addition, teams like Florida need to spend to meet their obligations under the salary cap s they may listen to offers. And, finally, they need a coach who lives in the 21st century, one who has the ability to appreciate that a team is made up of diverse characteristics. The times, they are a changin'....