"How do you pick the best 10 Canadiens -- the team's all-time all-stars as the NHL All-Star Game comes to Montreal Jan. 25 for the 12th time -- among this special group of athletes going back to the 1955- 56 season? Where do you start? Who's in? How do you leave some players out?"
-- Red Fisher
It's all in the numbers: 21 of the skaters and four goaltenders (Jacques Plante, Gump Worsley, Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy) who wore the CH on their hearts during the last half-century have been voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (current Montreal coach and former player Guy Carbonneau has been nominated, but hasn't received the required number of votes ... yet.)
Their names shine now, as they did during their years with the Canadiens, and in a perfect world at least another half-dozen would be alongside them in The Game's shrine. It's not necessary to look far, for example, to find people who can't understand why goaltender Rogie Vachon doesn't share a place of honor with them. How about Claude Provost, a member of nine Stanley Cup teams, as well as a first-team all-star in 1965? J.C. Tremblay has his supporters, and so has Jean-Guy Talbot. Others, as well.
Was the Canadiens team that won a fifth consecutive Stanley Cup in 1960 without losing a game in two playoff series better than the one that lost only eight regular-season games during the 80-game 1976-77 season? Was the 1960 team, which allowed only 11 goals and posted three shutouts in eight playoff games, stronger than the team that accumulated a record 132 points in 1976-77? One team scored 255 goals in 70 games, another scored a franchise record 387 goals in 80 games. One team allowed 178 goals against, the other only 171, despite playing 10 more games. How much did expansion dilute the product? The answer is that it's an exercise in futility. Different times for different folks.
The fact that the teams were the best of their time should be more than enough. Let it go. Trouble is, people won't let it rest. Players won't. History refuses to do so. Answer this question, however: How do you pick the best 10 Canadiens -- the team's all-time all-stars as the NHL All-Star Game comes to Montreal Jan. 25 for the 12th time -- among this special group of athletes going back to the 1955- 56 season? Where do you start? Who's in? How do you leave some players out?
There is no question that over the years, and it's still true, teams don't win Stanley Cups without exceptional goaltending. The Canadiens dynasty of the '50s included some of the best players in the six-team league, but Plante was as important a piece of the puzzle as any of the great names wearing the sweater en route to a record that never will be matched. Where would the Canadiens have been without Dryden while they were winning six Cups in eight seasons with him in the '70s? They would not have won in 1986 and '93 without Roy.
However, don't look for these names among the Top 10 Canadiens of the last half-century because starting with today's No. 10, only the forwards and defensemen are being considered.
That doesn't diminish the goaltenders' contribution in any way, but if you would take the Top 10 one step farther in terms of value to the organization, wouldn't GMs Frank Selke Sr. and Sam Pollock and coaches Toe Blake and Scotty Bowman have to be included in the group of candidates? Hey, nobody said it would be easy, but why did it have to be so hard?
Montreal Gazette columnist Red Fisher has been covering the Canadiens for 54 seasons. You can read more Canadiens and NHL All-Star Game news on the newspaper's popular blog, www.habsinsideout.com.