Welcome to the third article in a series spanning 10 (almost 11) decades of the history of the Montreal Canadiens. Throughout this series, we’ll be taking a look at the history of the oldest hockey team in the NHL from their inception to where we are today. So far, we’ve taken a look at the birth and early years as well as 1920 through 1930. This week we’ll be taking a look at all of the exciting developments for the Habs between 1930 and 1940.
Without further adieu, let’s jump right into it!
The Habs began their 1930-’31 season as the reigning Stanley Cup champions, but the effects of the Great Depression did not go unfelt. Now more than ever, hockey fans needed something to lift their spirits and thankfully, for Habs fans, there were plenty of fantastic players to keep their minds off of the harsh reality they were facing. Howie Morenz was able to boast a 50-point season as well as being awarded the Hart trophy for a second time.
The team finished at the top of the Canadian division by the end of the regular season, and went on to beat both the Boston Bruins (thanks to Wildor Larochelle) and the Chicago Blackhawks for their second straight Stanley Cup. This was, in part, due to outstanding play from rookie, Johnny Gagnon, who scored eight goals in 10 games during the playoffs.
The 1931-’32 season was an unremarkable one for the Canadiens, save for Howie Morenz’s 49 points in 48 games and George Hainsworth achieving his 64th career shutout. Morenz and Hainsworth both represented a substantial challenge to rival teams, and when it came time for the playoffs, the New York Rangers were ready for the powerhouse that Morenz represented. The Canadiens lost three games in a row following an opening win, and ended their streak of Stanley Cup wins.
Newsy Lalonde returned to the Canadiens organization in 1932 to replace Cecil Hart as the coach. Hainsworth was named the team’s new captain by Hart, replacing Sylvio Mantha and becoming the first goalie in the team’s history to fulfill the role.
The team struggled throughout the season with threats of a shakeup from owner Leo Dandurand and Lalonde. Morenz was taken off the top line and replaced with Alfred Lapine by Lalonde after a poor first half of the season. At this time, Aurele Joliat also became the first player to appear in 400 games with the Montreal Canadiens. Once again, the team fell to the New York Rangers.
The beginning of the 1933-’34 season saw the departure of George Hainsworth, who was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Lorne Chabot. In December, Howie Morenz scored his 250th goal, overtaking Cy Denneny of the Ottawa Senators as the top goal scorer in the NHL. The rest of his season was disappointing, though, as he only scored eight goals.
After a late season fraught with injuries, and a playoff loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, Howie Morenz became the target of trade rumours for the first time in his career. Aurele Joliat won the Hart Trophy despite being eighth in the league in terms of goal-scoring for the first and only time in his career. Joliat reached his 500-game milestone on February 8, 1934.
The 1934-’35 season was a messy one for the Canadiens. Howie Morenz was dealt to Chicago, Johnny Gagnon was traded to Boston in exchange for Joe Lamb (but returned at the end of the season), and in December of 1934, Newsy Lalonde ended his brief stint as coach by resigning. The team finished out the season with a disappointing record of 19-23-6, though they came in at third in the Canadian division. The Canadiens once again fell to the New York Rangers, losing their total-goals series 6-5.
Despite the Canadiens’ ability to draw in crowds, the organization began to feel the weight of the Great Depression during the 1935-’36 season. After his request to suspend operations for a period of one year are denied, Dandurand sold the Montreal Canadiens to the Canadian Arena Company, which owned the Montreal Maroons.
For the first time in 10 years, the Canadiens missed the playoffs after finishing last in the league with a record of 11-26-11. The season’s silver linings come as Sylvio Mantha became a playing coach for the team while Aurele Joliat celebrated his 400th career point, becoming the first Montreal Canadien to do so in the NHL.
The 1936-’37 season began with the return of Howie Morenz, but his return would be short lived. On January 28, Morenz broke his leg in four places after his skate was stuck and another player fell on top of him. Morenz died on March 8th as a result of complications, however it is unclear whether that is a result of his injuries.
Morenz’s open-casket, state funeral was attended by over 200,000 people, and in 1945, his number would be the first to be retired and raised to the rafters by the team. Morenz would also be one of the inaugural 12 men inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and be voted outstanding hockey player for the first half of the 20th century in 1950.
The devastated Canadiens didn’t offer much of a challenge for the Detroit Red Wings following Morenz’s death. They lost both of the first two games in the series by a four-goal margin, but won the next two games three to one. The Habs ultimately fell to the Blackhawks with a goal in the third overtime period.
Throughout the course of the 1937-’38 season, benefits and tributes were held in Morenz’s honour, with over $25,000 being raised to support his children. Aurele Joliat celebrated his 700th career game, however, this season was his final one on the ice as Habs president Ernest Savard offered him the coach’s job with the Verdun Maple Leafs. The Habs fell in the playoffs to the Chicago Blackhawks after beating them in every game during the regular season.
With the departures of Joliat, Alfred Lepine, and Marty Burke, the Canadiens organization saw a major shake-up that did not go in their favour. After a disappointing first half, where the Habs lost 21 of their games, management fired coach Cecil Hart and replaced him with Jules Dugal. Toe Blake joined the ranks of the late Howie Morenz, leading the NHL in terms of scoring and earning 47 points during the regular season. The Canadiens finished their season with a 15-24-9 record and later fell to the Detroit Red Wings during the playoffs.
Ernest Savard appointed Babe Siebert, Hart Trophy winner and former Habs defenceman, as the Canadiens’ new coach. However, Siebert tragically drowned before the beginning of the season and Savard then appointed Alfred Lepine as coach with unfortunate results.
The Habs achieved seven out of 13 wins at the start of the 1939-’40 season, but only won three of their next 35 regular-season games. Toe Blake had a strong season with 17 goals and 19 assists, but the Habs went on to lose 15 straight home games, a record that lasted for half a century. They finished the season in seventh place with a 10-33-5 record.