Welcome to the ninth 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 1990’s, but before we do that, be sure to check out parts one through eight 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
Part Eight: 1980-1990, Carbonneau, Savard, South Shore ‘Alcatraz’
Without further adieu, let’s jump right into it!
At the start of the 1990-’91 season, Habs GM Serge Savard traded one of the team’s captains, Chris Chelios, to Chicago in exchange for Denis Savard, leaving Guy Carbonneau alone in the captain’s seat. Before the season even began, the team also lost Claude Lemieux and Craig Ludwig to trades, as well as gifted forward Mats Naslund, who returned to Switzerland to be with his family.
Despite the loss of so much talent from the team’s roster, the Canadiens still finished the season in second place in the Adams Division with a 39-30-11 record. Team president Ronald Corey made the announcement during the post-season that the Montreal Forum would be replaced as the home of the Canadiens.
The Habs experienced a few slumps during the 1991-’92 season. Most of the team’s success during the season can be attributed to Patrick Roy and the team’s defensemen. Roy achieved five shutouts during the regular season with a 2.36 goals-against average. He helped the team finish the season at the top of the Adams Division standings with a record of 41-28-11 and 93 points.
Roy’s performance earned him both the Vezina trophy and the William M. Jennings trophy for the year. After a tough second-half of the season, which included a strike by NHL players, the Habs were unable to find their footing and they place fifth overall in the league, ultimately losing out to the Boston Bruins in the playoffs.
Head coach Pat Burns left the team at the beginning of the 1992-’93 and was replaced by Jacques Demers. Of the five major trades that occurred in the pre-season, perhaps the most shocking of all came when Shayne Corson, Brent Gilchrist, and Vladimir Vujtek were sent to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Vincent Damphousse.
Despite all of the upheaval, the Canadiens quickly rose to the top spot in the league alongside the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Habs finishrf the regular season as the Eastern Conference champions, though they finished third in the Adams division standings with a record of 48-30-6 and 102 points.
The Stanley Cup playoffs were a whirlwind for the Canadiens. Despite an unsatisfactory performance in the first two games, Patrick Roy bounced back and helped the team to sweep the Quebec Nordiques, the Buffalo Sabres, and the New York Islanders before facing off against the Los Angeles Kings in the final.
The Canadiens experienced difficulties in the first two games of the series, including a loss in game one, thanks to two power-play goals by Luc Robitaille. After the Habs earned an overtime victory in game two of the series, the momentum carried the team to their 24th Stanley Cup victory, and the final Cup on Forum ice. This was the last time the Habs would win the Cup, 25 years ago.
Despite some carry-over from their Stanley Cup win and a successful start to the 1993-’94 campaign, the Habs floundered as Patrick Roy struggled to find his footing in the first half of the season. Roy bounced back in 1994, achieving a record of 35-17-11, with a goals-against average of 2.50 and seven shutouts.
Damphousse led the team in scoring with 40 goals and 51 assists for a total of 91 points, followed by Brian Bellows with 33 goals and 28 assists and Kirk Muller with 23 goals and 34 assists. The Canadiens were ultimately bested by the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, losing the series 4-3.
The 1994-’95 season was an absolute mess for the Canadiens. Before the season started, Guy Carbonneau was traded to St. Louis in exchange for native Montrealer Jim Montgomery. A league-wide lockout meant the season didn’t get underway until January, and even then, the Canadiens lost 13 of the first 20 games.
Desperate to change the team’s fortunes, Savard traded Eric Desjardins, Gilbert Dionne, and John Leclair for Mark Recchi. The GM also traded captain Kirk Muller, Mathieu Schneider, and Craig Darby for Pierre Turgeon and Vladimir Malakhov. Despite these major moves, for the first time in 25 years, the Habs missed the playoffs and finished sixth in the Northeast division standings.
At the beginning of the 1995-’96 season, Canadiens president Ronald Corey fired almost the entire management staff, including Serge Savard and Jacques Demers. Rejean Houle became the new GM, Mario Tremblay replaced Demers as head coach, and Yvan Cournoyer and Steve Shutt became the assistant coaches.
The team enjoyed a brief period of success before hitting a wall. Eventually, after an infamous loss against the Red Wings, Roy demanded to be traded. The Habs goaltender was dealt to Colorado along with Mike Keane for goalie Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky, and Andrei Kovalenko.
On March 11, 1996, the Canadiens played their final game on the Montreal Forum’s historic ice against the Dallas Stars, winning the game 4-1.
At the post-game ceremony, former player and captain Maurice Richard was accorded a standing ovation as Habs old and new celebrated the Forum’s history with fans of the team. Days later, the new Molson Centre replaced the Forum, which had housed the Canadiens since 1924.
The Canadiens struggled immensely during the 1996-’97 season. Shayne Corson and Stephane Richer returned to the team, while Pierre Turgeon, Rory Fitzpatrick, Lyle Odelein, and Craig Conroy were all traded away. Saku Koivu led the league in scoring (with 38 total points by December) until he suffered a knee injury, something that would become a common theme amongst the Canadiens over the course of this season.They finished eighth in the Eastern Conference, but were eliminated by the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the playoffs.
At the beginning of the 1997-’98 season, Alain Vigneault replaced Mario Tremblay as the team’s head coach. In December of 1996, the team played their 5000th game in the NHL and scored their 6000th point. After the Winter Olympics, the Habs struggled to find their footing and finished the regular season seventh overall with a record of 37-32-13. The Habs defeated the Penguins 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs, but were ultimately swept by the Sabres and eliminated from the playoffs.
The 1998-’99 season was, to put it lightly, a disaster for the Habs. The team failed to reach the 200-goal mark for the year, something that they had been able to maintain and surpass each year since the 1953-’54 season. In March, Mark Recchi was traded to Philadelphia and Vincent Damphousse was traded to San Jose in exchange for three draft picks. The team continued to struggle for the rest of the season, finishing out the regular season with a record of 32-39-11 and missing their shot at the playoffs.
The Canadiens started off the 1999-’00 season with Pierre Boivin replacing Ronald Corey as president of the organization. The team, under newly-minted captain Saku Koivu, struggled for the first half of the season. Plagued by injuries, the Habs sat in 12th place in the Eastern Conference until the second half of the season.
The Habs were able to move up to eighth in the east, but they fell behind the Buffalo Sabres and once again lost out on a shot at the Stanley Cup. On May 27, the Canadiens and the hockey world went into mourning when Maurice Richard passed away at the age of 79. Over 100,000 people came to pay their respects to the Rocket at the Molson Centre over the course of the next few days.