Welcome to the seventh 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. This week we’ll be taking a look at the 1970’s, but before we do that, be sure to check out parts one through six below.
Part One: Birth and Early Years of the Canadiens
Part Two: 1920-1930, Morenz, Hainsworth, Two Cups
Part Three: 1930-1940, Trading Hainsworth, Return of Lalonde, Tragedy Strikes
Part Four: 1940-1950, The Rocket, Two Canadiens Cups, Shakeups
Part Five: 1950-1960, Welcome Beliveau, Six Stanley Cups, Goodbye Rocket
Part Six: 1960-1970, Plante to New York, Captain Beliveau, Reorganization
Without further adieu, let’s jump right into it!
The 1970-’71 season saw many new additions to the Canadiens organization. Claude Ruel was replaced as head coach by former player Al MacNeil, who had played just one season with the Habs. Guy Lapointe, Pete Mahovlich, Frank Mahovlich and Ken Dryden, who would become known as the “four-storey goalie,” began their inaugural seasons with the Canadiens as veteran players such as Jean Beliveau and John Ferguson were getting ready for their final hockey games.
The addition of Dryden to the team later in the season spelled success for the Habs, as his performance in the playoffs helped to earn the team’s 17th Stanley Cup. The end of the season unfortunately saw the conclusion of Beliveau’s hockey playing career, and his jersey raised to the Forum’s rafters in 1971.
The 1971-’72 was unremarkable for the Canadiens save for the additions to the team and the records set by pre-existing players. Scotty Bowman, one of the most decorated coaches in NHL history, began his eight-year tenure with the team at the start of the season.
The most notable debut of the season belonged to Guy Lafleur, whose first season with the Habs saw him score 29 goals. Maintaining his stellar record from the previous season, Ken Dryden finished the regular season with a 2.44 goals-against average and a record of 39-8-15, which earned him the Calder trophy. The Habs unfortunately lost during the playoffs to the New York Rangers.
1972-’73 was a great season for the Canadiens. By the end of the regular season, the Habs managed to secure a record of 52-10-16 thanks to the efforts of Guy Lapointe, Serge Savard, and Larry Robinson, otherwise known as the “Big Three”, who helped the team allow less than 200 goals over the course of the season. Frank Mahovlich, Jacques Lemaire, and Yvan Cournoyer all boasted above 60 points for the season.
Dryden’s own efforts and 2.26 goals-against average not only helped the team earn the Eastern Conference title, but the Stanley Cup as well. This season would also be the first of five times that Dryden would win the Vezina trophy.
Frank Mahovlich and Jacques Laperriere both finished their NHL careers during the 1973-’74 season. Unfortunately, they did not get to finish as champions or title holders, as the Habs played poorly for most of the season, finishing with a 45-24-9 record and coming in second to Boston in the Eastern Conference. Without the four-storey goalie, who was focused on completing his legal studies, the Habs fell to the New York Rangers in the quarter-finals.
Forward Guy Lafleur rose to stardom in the NHL during the 1974-’75 season, netting 53 goals and earning a total of 119 points. With Dryden back in net and the “Big Three” patrolling the blue line, the team lost only 14 out of 80 games, finishing the season with a record of 47-14-19. After a great run in the quarter-finals against the Vancouver Canucks, the Canadiens fell to Buffalo Sabres in the semi-finals.
The end of the season also spelled the end of team captain Henri Richard‘s hockey playing career; he would go on to run Henri Richard’s Tavern, though it would close in 1986. His No. 16 jersey was raised to the rafters of the forum in December of 1975, and he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979.
Following the retirement of Henri Richard at the end of the previous season, Yvan Cournoyer took up the captaincy at the beginning of the 1975-’76 season. The team had incredible success this year, with a record of 58-11-11 and a total of 127 team points, putting them at the top of the Eastern Conference. With a 2.04 goals-against average and a record of 42-10-8, Ken Dryden was once again named the Vezina trophy winner for the year.
Guy Lafleur received recognition as one of the best players in the league, winning both the Art Ross trophy and the Lester B. Pearson trophy, which is awarded to the most valuable player as selected by the NHLPA. The Habs went on to sweep the Philadelphia Flyers in the finals, making them Stanley Cup champions for the 19th time.
It seems as if the previous season was just a precursor of what was to come for the Montreal Canadiens during the 1976-’77 season. Here is a list of achievements from the team during the year, on top of finishing the regular season with 132 team points and a 60-8-12 record.
- The Habs won both the Prince of Wales trophy and the Stanley Cup, in a sweep against the Boston Bruins
- Ken Dryden and Michel ‘Bunny’ Larocque shared the Vezina trophy this year.
- Guy Lafleur was awarded the Hart, Conn Smythe, Art Ross, and Lester B. Pearson trophies.
- Larry Robinson was awarded the James Norris trophy.
- Scotty Bowman was, unsurprisingly, awarded the Jack Adams trophy, given to the coach of the year every year since 1974.
The pattern of exceeding the previous season’s achievements continued in 1977-’78. Despite some team shakeups, including sending Pete Mahovlich to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the start of the season and adding Pierre Larouche, Pierre Mondou, and Gilles Lupien, the Habs were able to finish out the regular season with 129 and a record of 59-10-11. Here are some of the team’s achievements over the course of the year.
- History repeated itself as the Habs once again win the Prince of Wales Trophy, making them Eastern Conference champions once again.
- After sweeping both Detroit and Toronto, the Canadiens faced off against the Boston Bruins and took the series 4-2, earning them the Stanley Cup.
- Michel Larocque and Ken Dryden proved to be one of the best goalie duos in the league, earning themselves the Vezina trophy for the second year in a row.
- Bob Gainey was awarded the Frank J. Selke trophy.
- Larry Robinson was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy.
- For the second year in a row, Guy Lafleur was awarded the Art Ross, Hart, and Lester B. Pearson trophies.
The 1978-’79 season was plagued with injuries as some of the team’s star players were forced to sit on the sidelines to heal. Yvan Cournoyer missed all but 15 games due to chronic back pain, and Jacques Lemaire was sidelined due to injuries as well. In spite of this, the Canadiens played a great regular season, once again coming out on top as the Eastern Conference champions with a record of 52-17-11 and a total of 115 team points.
Serge Savard was awarded the Bill Masterson trophy, while the team of Dryden and Larocque once again earned the Vezina trophy. The Habs faced off against the New York Rangers for the Stanley Cup and were able to pull out on top, winning the series 4-1 and making the Habs Stanley Cup champions for the 22nd time.
The Canadiens organization lost many people at the beginning of the 1979-’80 season. Scotty Bowman left the organization prior to the start of the season in favour of Buffalo Sabres and was replaced first by Bernard Geoffrion and then Claude Ruel during the season. Ken Dryden, Yvan Cournoyer and Jacques Lemaire all retired at the same time as well.
Serge Savard took over the captaincy from Yvan Cournoyer as one of only two players on the team in their thirties. Losing so many veteran players before the season even began proved taxing for the Canadiens, and despite coming in third overall in the NHL in terms of points, the Canadiens lost out on their opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup finals after a tough series against the Minnesota North Stars.
Here are a few additional notes on Jean Beliveau.
Beliveau was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972, just one year after his retirement. He was presented the Order of Quebec in 1988 and the Order of Canada in 1998. Beliveau was even offered the position of the Governor General of Canada by then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in 1994, a position which he declined in order to be with his family after the death of his son-in-law. Since 2003, the Canadiens organization has awarded the Beliveau trophy to the player who displays the best leadership qualities in their communities.
Jean Beliveau died on December 2, 2014 after struggling for many years with his health. Like Maurice Richard before him, Beliveau’s body lay in state at the Bell Centre and his funeral was broadcast bilingually across the nation. Canadian flags across the country flew at half-mast in honour of one of the greatest hockey players the world would ever see.