Saturday, 14 September 2013

Today in Habs History: September 14th Edition

Dryden Calls it Quits

With two Stanley Cups, a Calder Trophy, a Vezina Trophy and a Conn Smythe Trophy to his merit, in just three seasons, Ken Dryden took a look at the two year contract he signed with the Montreal Canadiens at the end of the 1972 season. To him it just wasn’t right, and unable to renegotiate his contract, Dryden (26 at the time) announced that he would not be back for the 1973-74 season.

“It’s a matter of pride. I could name six goaltenders that were higher paid than I was a year ago,” Dryden said at a self-conducted press conference in Montreal on September 14, 1973. “That bothers me and I can’t see why this should be the case.”  At the time, Dryden was making an estimated  average $80K per season ($100K with bonuses tacked on).

The Canadiens had a policy that they would not conduct contract renegotiations, unless agreed upon in advance (Guy Lafleur for example). Reports at the time pegged Dryden seeking a three-year, $500K deal, while the Canadiens were responding with a one or two year extension at $110K and $120 K respectively.

The goalie’s demands put him in the $150K per year mark, which at the time was what captain Henri Richard was making as the team’s highest paid player. GM Sam Pollock, despite knowing the public outcry for letting their top goalie walk, was not going to go for that, fearing a line at his door from the established veterans on the club would be seeking new deals. “Does no one think Ken has an obligation to fulfill his contract?,” Pollock said.

Dryden acknowledged the the Canadiens had no legal obligation to renegotiate his contract, but hoped that they would be willing to if they hoped to have a long-term relationship and that both himself and the team had been looking at the deal for several months. “Pay should be based on performance, not on the ability of your negotiator,” he said. “Certainly Montreal does very well. They’re not impoverished in any way.”

He also noted how other NHL clubs had recently signed players to new six-figure deals. Shortly after Dryden signed his deal in 1972, the New York Rangers agreed to new terms with Vic Hadfield, Brad Park and Rod Gilbert. Dryden picked up on these salaries, and others, as players boasted about their new deals Team Canada ‘72’s training camp. “If other teams can, it seems to me that they should be able to as well.”

The Canadiens had given up a lot with Dryden became number one goaltender, having traded veteran Rogie Vachon in 1972. They had already given away future hall of famer Tony Esposito three years before that, feeling secure in their goaltending needs in their organization. Dryden was included in that security.

It had to be a risky move for the Canadiens, who had already seen Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif scooped by the WHA’s Quebec Nordiques for double to triple the money they were making in the NHL. According to Habs GM Sam Pollock at the time, they didn’t even try to negotiate and just left for the rival league.

Would the WHA be interested in acquiring Dryden, if things didn’t work? Of course they would.

“No I haven’t signed with the Toros,” Dryden said of the WHA’s Toronto club.”I have talked with them, but we have reached no agreement. For Dryden it was not about the money but looking toward his future aspirations as a lawyer. The holdout was a tough decision for the Canadiens goaltender, but it would allow him to clerk at the Toronto law firm of Osler, Hoskins and Harcourt for the year, for a $135 a week salary, rather that wait until the end of his playing career.

“You talk about doing something, but when it comes to do it, it isn’t easy,” he said. “Especially when you’ve had three great years here.” The aspiring lawyer also added, “If I’m 34 or 35, it would not be so easy. It was by far the most difficult decision I have made.”

To stay in shape on the ice, Dryden would play defence for Vulcan Packaging in the Toronto Industrial League.

In a statement from the Canadiens, president Jacques Courtois said the the organization was, “that Ken Dryden has decided to announce, just a few weeks prior to training camp, his intention not to abide by his contract.”

“They’ll survive nicely without me,”Dryden said when asked how he thought the team would fare without him.

Canadiens coach Scotty Bowman was shocked by Dryden’s announcement, but stated he had confidence in backups Michel Plasse and Wayne Thomas to fill the void.

The Canadiens allowed 56 more goals in the 1973-74 season, than they had the year prior, and Plasse struggled with a GAA of 4.08. Rookie Michel Larocque would emerge as Thomas’ backup, playing 27 games. Larocque go on to play all six of the Canadiens playoff games, bowing out to the New York Rangers in the first round. He became Dryden’s regular backup, upon his return, for the next five seasons.

Also on This Day…

1938: The Canadiens acquire Bob Gracie, Claude Bourque, Des Smith, Jimmy Ward, Marvin Wentworth and Stewart Evans from the Montreal Maroons for cash.

1971: The Canadiens acquire Rey Comeau from the Vancouver Canucks for cash.

1979: Montreal trades Brad Selwood and a 4th round pick #64 (Dave Gans) in 1982 to the Los Angeles Kings for a 4th round pick #69 (John Devoe) in 1982

1990: The Canadiens defeat Dynamo Riga 4-2 during a pre-season exhibition tour of the Soviet Union and Sweden. Shayne Corson, Russ Courtnall, Stephane Richer and Denis Savard each had goals.

Habs Born on This Day: Tom Kurvers (1962), Olivier Michaud (1983), Mike Vukota (1966), David Desharnais (1986)


The Leader Post, September 15, 1973, CP, “So Long Kenny”

The Montreal Gazette, September 15, 1973, Ted Blackman, “Dryden sought $150,000 – as much as Richard”

The Montreal Gazette, September 15, 1973, Dick Chapman “Three goalies in line for Dryden’s job”

The Windsor Star, September  15, 1973, CP,  “Dryden Rejects Habs for Return to Law”

Irvin, Dick, The Habs: An Oral History of The Montreal Canadiens

Janish, D’Arcy, The Montreal Canadiens: 100 Years of Glory

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