I’m sick and tired of writing about the lock-out. So here’s an idea. Let’s talk about hockey today. Even better, let’s talk about the Habs. Even better than that, let’s talk not about the sad-sack Hab-nots of 2011-2012 but let’s have a word about what some believe was the last truly great Canadiens’ squad – the gang that rather improbably won the franchise its 24th Stanley Cup in the spring of 1993.
But were they really a great team? I may have tossed a couple of off-hand insults their way the other day. I believe I may have said – in a blog about why the Habs haven’t been contenders for a couple of decades – that “they were over-achievers with lots of heart with one not-so-secret-weapon in the greatest goalie in the history of hockey.” I then went on to mention that if they set an all-time record for most overtime victories in one playoff that only served to underline that they had to into extra time ten times to beat some pretty mediocre teams, including the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders.
Now of course I was exaggerating for added effect. Heck I’m a columnist. We always play to the cheap seats. But I was also saying something loads of Habs fans believe. That :Les Boys got lucky that post-season, that the Habs kept avoiding having to play the Big Boys. When the Isles knocked-off en-route-to-a-dynasty two-time-champs the Pens in overtime in game seven, the Habs dodged a bullet (or more precisely, they dodged Super Mario and Jags in their prime). Same thing with Toronto. When the Loafs lost in OT of game seven, all of Canada missed out on potentially the greatest Stanley Cup final of the modern era and frankly there would’ve been a good chance that masochistic Leafs fans (they love it!) would no longer be calling themselves ‘losers since 67’ if Gretzky hadn’t stopped them from getting to the final.
But there are two sides to every story and this one ain’t no exception. A fellow who goes by the handle of L’homme de Sept-Iles sent a thought-provoking comment Top Shelf’s way making the case for that team as, well, a truly great team. Here’s the comment:
“The 92-93 team was not an overachieving unit as the dominant narrative suggests. That team won more games (48) than all but two other NHL teams (Pitt, Bos). Many league observers weren’t familiar with how great certain players were, as well; Desjardins, Leclair, Damphousse, Schneider and Keane were all relative unknowns who were eventually much more widely recognized as top-tier players. And the team had some high-quality established vets to go along with Roy (Muller, Bellows, Skrudland and others). Carbonneau’s contributions, in particular shutting down Wayne Gretzky, continue to be underplayed. He neutralized Wayne Gretzky in that player’s prime. It’s worth a study.”
Gotta admit he makes some good points. First-off, no crap team ever wins the Cup. Also I like his argument about players who went on to flourish elsewhere, traded away by some of the worst management ever to occupy the executive suites of the greatest team in the history of professional hockey. John Leclair. Johnny, we hardly knew ya. He scored two overtime winners in that final against the Kings and was promptly shipped off to Phillie, along with Eric Desjardins, both of whom had stellar careers with the team we most love to hate aside from the Bruins.
And let’s not forget My Cousin Vinnie. Damphousse had 39 goals and 97 points that year, without question the last great offensive star to play for the Canadiens. (What’s up with that? How is it that not one player has scored 40 goals for Montreal since Damphousse hit that plateau in 1993-94? That’s just pathetic. But I digress.)
And then of course there’s my all-time favourite Hab, Mike Keane.This is not hyperbole. I named my son after him for heaven’s sake. Keane is the ultimate heart-and-soul guy. He is one of only ten NHL players to have won the Cup with three different teams. Many consider the Patrick Roy trade to be the worst in the history of the Habs and they’re right, but mostly ’cause Rejean ‘Who Was Crazy Enough To Make Me General Manager?’ Houle tossed Keane into the deal for no reason other than to underline that Pierre Lacroix was a much better manager than Houle was. Keane should’ve ended his career in Montreal and I for one won’t be forgiving Peanut for that one any time soon.
So yeah that 92-93 team had some talent. But do you think they would’ve triumphed over Mario Lemieux and the Penguins? Or even beaten that tough edition of the Leafs? The one thing I will say is that the Habs that year had grit, depth, and soul like no Habs team since. Oh and a bunch of hometown francos too. Grit, depth, soul and franco stars. Hmmmm that might just be the formula we need M. Bergevin.