Welcome to the eighth 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 1980’s, but before we do that, be sure to check out parts one through seven 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
Part Seven: 1970-1980, Farewell Beliveau, Six More Cups, Four-Storey Goalie
Without further adieu, let’s jump right into it!
The start of the 1980-’81 season was a disappointing one for the Habs. Draft picks from the end of the previous season weren’t panning out the way management had hoped, and the Canadiens were dead last in the Norris Division.
However, during November and December, the team saw a rapid turn-around for the boys in the tricolore as they won 17 out of their 24 games in that two month period. Out of the 30 games they played, the Habs lost only six, finishing out the season with a 45-22-13 record and 103 total points, which earned them the Eastern Conference championship title. Unfortunately their luck from the end of the season didn’t carry over and the Habs were defeated by the Edmonton Oilers (and a young Wayne Gretzky) in the first round of the playoffs.
Following Serge Savard‘s retirement at the end of the previous season, Bob Gainey was named team captain at the beginning of the 1981-’82 season. Pierre Larouche was traded to the Hartford Whalers just after Christmas.
By the middle of the season, the Canadiens had already positioned themselves to win their division championship, which they did with a 46-17-17 record and 109 regular season points. Keith Acton enjoyed his only real successful season with 36 goals and 52 assists for a total of 88 points, finishing as the team’s season leader for points and goals. After a tough series against the Quebec Nordiques, the Habs are eliminated in the semi-finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The 1982-’83 season was a bit of a mess for the Canadiens. Both Guy Lafleur and Larry Robinson threatened to pull out of training camp if management refused to renegotiate their contracts. The mess was sorted just hours before camp began, but that was just the start of the team’s troubles that season.
The Habs earned 19 points in November alone and the impressive offensive efforts from Mats Naslund, Piere Mondou, and Mario Tremblay, earn a combined total of over 200 points. The season was plagued by crushing defeats and the Habs finished with a 42-24-14 record. Not only did Montreal lose their division title after keeping it for the previous eight years, but they were swept by the Buffalo Sabres in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Serge Savard became the first French-speaking GM of the team since the 1930s at the beginning of the 1983-’84 season. One of Savard’s first moves as GM was to trade Mark Napier and Keith Acton along with a draft pick to the Minnesota North Stars in favour of Bobby Smith. Weeks later, Savard traded Robert Picard to the Winnipeg Jets for a third draft pick that would ultimately turn into Patrick Roy.
The Habs finished the season with an abysmal record of 35-40-5 and only 75 total points for the regular season. Despite this, the Habs faced off against the Boston Bruins, Quebec Nordiques, and the New York Islanders in the playoffs before being eliminated.
The 1984-’85 season marked the 75th anniversary of the Montreal Canadiens. A ceremony is held in January at the Forum with the fans’ “dream team” of Toe Blake, Jacques Plante, Doug Harvey, Larry Robinson, Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Dickie Moore, and the oldest surviving Habs player Aurele Joliat.
Unfortunately, the celebrations came to an end when Guy Lafleur announced his temporary retirement and when Steve Shutt was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. Guy Carbonneau played his best season to this point, with 23 goals and 34 assists for a total of 57 points.
The combined efforts of rookies Petr Svoboda and Chris Chelios helped the team finish first in the Adams division standings with 94 points and a record of 41-27-12. Unfortunately, after a tough run against the Boston Bruins, the Habs were eliminated from the playoffs by the Quebec Nordiques.
The 1985-’86 season was a remarkable one for many reasons. Patrick Roy, Shayne Corson, Brian Skrudland, and Kjell Dahlin were among the eight rookies to join the Habs lineup at the beginning of the season, along with new coach Jean Perron. Roy’s inaugural NHL games did not go as planned, and the Habs won only nine of their first 20 games.
The Habs’ bad luck continued into the second half of the season, with few wins in-between. They finished out the regular season just behind the Quebec Nordiques in the Adams division.
It became clear to management that the team was fragmented and not playing their best, so it was decided to take the team to Montreal’s South Shore and keep them in a hotel. The hotel would come to be known as “Alcatraz” by the players. The strategy worked, however, as the Habs went on to sweep the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs.
The combined efforts of Roy, Carbonneau, Gainey, and Claude Lemieux helped the Habs to defeat the Nordiques and sweep both New York Rangers and the Calgary Flames to become Stanley Cup champions for the 23rd time in franchise history.
The 1986-’87 season got off to a rough start as the Habs and Bruins duked it out in the halls of the Boston Garden in November following a 3-1 victory by the Habs. The beginning of this season also saw the Habs become the first team in the NHL to hit 5000 points after the Habs defeated the Winnipeg Jets 5-3.
The Habs finished out the season with a record of 41-29-10 and 92 points. The Habs swept the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, but after two tough series against the Quebec Nordiques and the Philadelphia Flyers, the Habs were defeated, losing their opportunity to win consecutive Cups.
The Habs’ 1987-’88 season got off to a similarly rocky start as the previous year. Patrick Roy was given an eight game suspension for slashing Warren Babe in an October game against the Minnesota North Stars. Many of the players were beginning to show their displeasure with Perron’s coaching style, eventually causing the players to host player-only meetings. At the end of January, Serge Savard traded Chris Nilan to the New York Rangers.
Despite this rough patch, the Habs finished the season at the top of the Adams division standings with 103 points and a record of 45-22-13. For the second year in a row, Patrick Roy and Brian Hayward were awarded the William M. Jennings trophy, awarded each year since 1982 to the goalie or goalies with the fewest goals scored against them.
Unfortunately, their late season luck does not carry over into the playoffs and the Habs were defeated by the Boston Bruins.
The Montreal Canadiens had an incredible season in 1988-’89. The regular season was virtually untarnished; the Habs won 22 of their first 25 games, and Patrick Roy put together a winning streak of 29 games that surpassed Bill Durnan‘s 1943-’44 season at the Forum.
The Habs finished the regular season with a record of 53-18-9 and 115 points. On top of being Eastern Conference champions, individuals from the organization reel in five awards:
- Patrick Roy was awarded his first Vezina trophy.
- Roy and Hayward are once again awarded the William M. Jennings trophy.
- Chris Chelios was awarded the James Norris trophy.
- Pat Burns was awarded the Jack Adams trophy.
- Guy Carbonneau was awarded the Frank J. Selke trophy for the second year in a row.
Their regular season luck continues into the playoffs, with the Habs beating Hartford Whalers, Boston Bruins, and Philadelphia Flyers in quick succession.The Habs were able to keep pace with the Calgary Flames during the Stanley Cup final series until games five and six of the series when the Flames delivered crushing victories. For the first time Montreal’s history, a visiting team celebrated a Stanley Cup win on the Forum’s rink.
Veteran Bob Gainey retired at the beginning of the 1989-’90 season, handing over the captaincy to Guy Carbonneau and Chris Chelios, making them the team’s first co-captains. The team is dealt another heavy blow when Larry Robinson departed for the Los Angeles Kings.
Despite the team struggling defensively throughout most of the regular season, Patrick Roy managed to record a 2.53 goals-against average and earned the Vezina trophy for a second time. Montreal finished the regular season with 93 points and a 41-28-11 record, coming in third in the division behind the Boston Bruins and the Buffalo Sabres. Unfortunately, the Habs were defeated by the Boston Bruins and their playoff dreams were cut short.