Top 5 greatest Montreal Canadiens of all time

When a team has been around for more than 100 years, and is the most successful in the history of their sport, naturally they are going to have seen more than their share of superstars grace their roster. Such is the case with the Montreal Canadiens. The venerable franchise has won an incredible 24 Stanley Cups over the years and has more former players in the Hockey Hall of Fame than any other franchise. My task in narrowing down the list to just five was challenging indeed, but after much agonizing I've managed to whittle it down. Read on to see who made the cut as the best Montreal Canadiens of all time.

5 - Howie Morenz

I go way back into the annals of NHL history for my number five choice. The man nicknamed "The Stratford Streak" was arguably the NHL's first true superstar. Morenz dominated his era much like Gretzky did during the 80s, putting up incredible offensive stats. In an era when forward passing was not allowed, Morenz thrilled fans with his dazzling end to end rushes. Such was his speed that opposing defenders were almost helpless to stop him as he "streaked" by. Morenz only played 550 career games, but over that span he scored 270 goals, including 40 in 44 games in the 1929-30 season, and won three Hart Trophies as NHL MVP.

4 - Jacques Plante

I wanted to make sure I included a goalie in this list of the best Canadiens of all time and there were no shortage of candidates. George Hainsworth posted 22 shutouts in 44 games in the 1928-29 season. Ken Dryden lost only 57 out of 397 career games with the club. Patrick Roy led two otherwise mediocre Habs teams to Stanley Cups in 1986 and 1993, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP each time. Ultimately I settled on Jacques Plante.

Plante is most famous for popularizing the goalie mask. After having his nose broken by a shot, Plante defied his coach, Toe Blake and donned the mask for protection. Over the years his peers began to follow suit, changing the game of hockey forever. That was just one of Plante's innovations. He was also the first to go behind the net and stop the puck for his defensemen, a common sight in today's games.

Ultimately, it was his unparalleled puck-stopping ability that earned him a spot on the list. He backstopped the Canadiens to an NHL record five straight Stanley Cups between 1956 and 1960, and over his career he won an NHL record seven Vezina Trophies as the NHL's best goaltender as well as a Hart Trophy as league MVP.

3 - Jean Beliveau

One of the classiest individuals to ever pick up a hockey stick, Jean Beliveau was the consummate Montreal Canadien. The towering center from Trois Rivieres, Quebec spent his entire NHL career with the Habs, many of those years as the team's captain. During the nearly two decades he spent with the team Beliveau won ten Stanley Cups, the second most in NHL history, and his individual accolades included an Art Ross Trophy, a Conn Smythe Trophy and two Hart Trophies. He finished his career with 507 goals, and his 1,219 points rank him second behind only Guy Lafleur for most in franchise history.

2 - Guy Lafleur

Perhaps no player in NHL history had the ability to pull fans out of their seats like "The Flower" could. Much like Howie Morenz had so many years before Lafleur electrified fans with his push-rushing ability, and the image of him flying down right wing, his long blonde hair streaming behind him is one of the most enduring in hockey. Lafleur's speed, his shiftiness with the puck, and his blistering slapshot confounded opposing defenders and goalies alike, and in the latter half of the 1970s he was the most dominant offensive force in the game.

Lafleur broke the 50 goal and 100 point barriers in each and every season between 1974-75 and 1979-80, scoring a whopping 766 points over that six season span. His dominance earned him three Art Ross Trophies, two Hart Trophies and a Conn Smythe Trophy, and he was an integral part of five Stanley Cup championships during his time with the club.

1 - Maurice "The Rocket" Richard

As great as Guy Lafleur was, one man stands above him in the hearts and minds of Habs fans as not only the greatest Montreal Canadiens player of all time, but also the most popular. Rocket Richard was beloved by the people of Montreal, and with good reason. No player before or since was as hungry to score goals as Richard was, and he was all but unstoppable at times after he crossed the opposition's blue line.

Richard first carved his name in NHL lore when he became the first player in history to score 50 goals in a single season, accomplishing the feat in 50 games. The feat of 50 in 50 wouldn't be duplicated for more than three decades, when New York Islanders' sniper Mike Bossy turned the trick during the 1980-81 season. Richard would go on to score 544 goals over his legendary career, far and away the highest total to date at the time of his retirement. He played his entire NHL career with the Habs, winning nine Stanley Cups along the way, and winning the hearts of hockey fans everywhere with his unmatched desire to win.

Sources:

hockey-reference.com

Top 50 Best NHL Players of All Time - HockeyHermit.com

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Updated Friday, Nov 19, 2010