August 19, 1994 would see the second instalment of the dealings of Habs leadership that spanned for a decade. In total, ten players would wear the “C” in Montreal from 1989 to 1999.
With the retirement of Bob Gainey in 1989, the Canadiens players split the vote and elected Chris Chelios and Guy Carbonneau as co-captains for the 1989-90 season. The intent (apparently decided by the pair) would be that they would alternate wearing the revered honor during home and away games.
By the start of the 1990-91 season, Carbonneau was the lone captain in Montreal. The organization, tired of the off-ice antics of Chelios, dealt the Norris winning defenceman to the Chicago Blackhawks on June 29, 1990. GM Serge Savard attempted to mask the deal, fuelled by team President Ronald Corey, stating that he felt Chelios' knees were still questionable in the long run. Chelios retired 20 years after Savard’s comment.
Carbonneau would lead the Canadiens to their 24th Stanley Cup in 1993, but he too was no saint himself at times both by self admission and through the eyes of Ronald Corey. A year following the franchise’s last Stanley Cup, he too was on his way out.
Unlike Chelios, Carbonneau had perhaps a better understanding of the leadership role in Montreal. On a pair of occasions he found himself threatened to be benched by coach Pat Burns, a coach he always praised for bringing discipline to the team.
The first came in Burns’ first season behind the bench. Carbonneau, known for his defensive prowess, was being encouraged to be more involved in the offensive end. It was either be more offensive, or ride the pine in Burns’ view, truly a gamble to say in the language divided city of Montreal. It was a gamble that paid off. Carbonneau missed only one game all season ad had a career high in goals (26) with 10 of them being game winners.
The following season, Carbonneau did serve a one-game “suspension” after he and Craig Ludvig snuck off to a bar, following a 5-3 loss to the Boston Bruins. “Even If I’m captain, the rules are there for everybody,” Carbonneau said.
The Habs’ captain was one never afraid to voice his own opinions on matters, something that Ronald Corey frowned upon, always visioning the captaincy to pattern after the incomparable Jean Beliveau. Corey tolerated his captain’s comments, but in the summer of 1994 it came to a grinding halt on a golf course.
Three days following the Canadiens elimination from the playoffs, at the hands of the Boston Bruins, Carbonneau, Patrick Roy and Vincent Damphousse spent the day at a local golf course. Normand Pichette, a camera carrying member of Le Journal de Montreal, got a tip that the trio would be there and tagged along from a distance, hoping for a few quotes along the fairways.
The story has a bit of a “he said, he said,” scenario but comes across that the three Canadiens players really wanted a bit of off-season privacy. Carbonneau claims that Pichette accepted the players’ requests not to comment on the season, and even enjoyed some non-hockey conversation and a few jokes.
Perhaps the joking got out of hand as the following day, Pichette’s photo pf Carbonnea flipping the bird made Le Journal’s cover, sparking controversy and a potential PR disaster for Corey. The article claimed that Pichette had been threatened by the players, quite the opposite to Carbonneau’s statements. The Canadiens captain did apologize and assured that his act was not directed at fans. Carbonneau joked that he was merely testing the wind.
To Corey it was no joke and Canadiens Savard announced that the matter would be “handled internally.”
A couple months later, while Carbonneau, who was in his option year on his contract and representing the Canadiens’ players in negotiations with the NHL, Corey pulled his strings and Savard dealt his captain to the St. Louis Blues for a 25-year-old center named Jim Montgomery.
Savard again covered Corey’s wishes, citing that Carbonneau’s “We’re No. 1” gesture was unrelated and that it came down to contract negotiations and that the 34-year-old had undergone surgery to both knees in his career. Savard just wanted to get value for the three-time Selke Trophy winner while he could and saw hidden potential in Montgomery.
“It’s like buying stock at $4,” Savard said. “You think it will go up to eight in a year’s time. Montgomery’s got a chance to become a good third or second-line player.”
Unfortunately for Savard, nobody bought into it. Succeeding Canadiens captain Mike Keane said, “It was a big mistake.” Journalist Jack Todd called the deal, “a full-scale header off the diving board into an empty pool,” and La Presse’s Rejean Tremblay wrote, “Bullshit! Carbo wasn’t a superstar, but he was the real thing. Tough stubborn, proud and capable of speaking his mind.”
Carbonneau, shocked by the deal, had hoped to remain with the club at least until they moved fro the Montreal Forum in 1996.
Montgomery, who said was flattered by the trade, saw his stock drop faster than Nortel or Briex. He would play five games for Montreal in the abbreviated 48-game season, before being claimed on waivers by the Philadelphia Flyers. Having played 67 games for St. Louis in 1993-94 (20 points), Montgomery played just 55 more NHL games over eight years, picking up 14 points.
Guy Carbonneau, and his two surgically repaired knees, played effectively in his defensive role for one season in St. Louis and another five with the Dallas Stars, winning this third Stanley Cup in 1999.
The St. Louis/Montreal deal comes full circle: The dealing of Guy Carbonneau to St. Louis completed some trade circles that date back to 1971. In December of that year, forward Phil Roberto was dealt to St. Louis for winger Jim Roberts, who had been with the Habs prior.
Roberts was then dealt back to St. Louis, following the 1976-77 season for a third round pick in the 1979 NHL Amateur Draft. Canadiens GM Irving Grundman smartly used the 44th pick to select Guy Carbonneau.
Also on This Day…
1986: The Montreal Canadiens obtained goaltender Brian Hayward from the Winnipeg Jets, in exchange for goalie Steve Penney.
DiManno, Rosie. Coach: The Pat Burns Story
Janish, D’arcy. The Montreal Canadiens: 100 Years of Glory
Lefebvre, Robert.: Tales from the Montreal Canadiens Locker Room