Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Today in Habs History: September 4th Edition



For the Better. But in the Long Run, For Not



It had been a busy and difficult summer for Canadiens GM Serge Savard in 1990. He had made one controversial trade already, sending future Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Chelios to the Chicago Blackhawks and had later sent the popular Bobby Smith back to Minnesota. Savard’s dealings were not done as training camp overseas approached.



Having groin and abdominal injuries during the season that limited him to 39 regular season games, not to mention a toxic relationship with his coach, the Montreal Canadiens sent Claude Lemieux to the New Jersey Devils for Sylvain Turgeon on September 4, 1990.



Lemieux had solid seasons of 27 or more goals in his first three full years in Montreal, but his troubles with coaches, that dated back to his junior career, would escalate from the start of the 1988-89 season.



The Canadiens were entering their first season under head coach Pat Burns, who took a solid disciplinary approach to the game. For Lemieux, who could frustrate the opposition with his diving antics, his approach would not sit well with the rookie coach.



In the Habs home opener Lemieux had put on what Burns referred to as a “floor show,” taking a double minor and a game misconduct, after arguing with the official. The coach sat his forward for the next game game. After another disappointing performance, Lemieux found himself in the press box for the following game. He responded enthusiastically in his next game, scoring a hat trick. It would be that kind of season for Lemieux.



Game One of the 1989 Stanley Cup Playoffs truly set the stage nationwide for the Burns/Lemieux quarrels. After a collision with Calgary Flames defenseman Jamie Macoun, the Canadiens forward dropped to the ice in a heap, appearing to be withering in pain. Unfortunately for Lemieux, the refs weren’t buying it, the crowd at the Saddledome wasn’t buying it, and neither were his teammates or his coach.



“I just remember lying there thinking,’Where’s the trainer? Nobody’s coming,” Lemieux said. “And then I have to get back to the bench. It was very embarrassing.” As to why the trainer never came out, Burns was holding onto the sweater of Gaetan Lefebvre, who had started to hop over the boards to attend to Lemieux. During the intermission, Lemieux reportedly berated the team’s trainer before Shayne Corson intervened, accusing him of disrupting the team.



It could be seen as a peculiar time for Burns to react to Lemieux’s antics, especially in the playoffs, where a penalty could turn the tide of a game. “I told him it doesn’t work anymore,” Burns said. “The referees aren’t stupid.” In an interview years later, Lemieux said he wished that Burns would have just taken him aside privately and asked him to stop diving as often.



Lemieux claimed he had a stomach tear that team doctors couldn’t diagnose, which had been affecting his playoff performance (just four points to that point.) Regardless he was on the ice for the next practice, but found himself watching form the press box for Game Two. Rejean Tremblay of La Presse responded by claiming Burns was making scapegoats out of francophone players (both Lemieux and Stephane Richer). Tremblay’s column got him kicked off the team’s charter back to Montreal.



The Flames went on to win the Cup and Lemieux started asking for a trade. He was not going to play for Burns any longer. A trade never developed, and Lemieux opted for a new start with the Canadiens.



Unfortunately the Habs winger reported to camp out of shape and re-aggravated a groin injury. The stomach tear that he claimed to have had in the spring of 1989 indeed turned out to be true, as he would go under the knife in November, missing two months of action.



Tensions between player and coached continued, though maybe not as stressful as before. Nonetheless Lemieux wanted out of Montreal. As the team prepared to leave for Sweden and the Soviet Union on a goodwill exhibition series, Lemieux was not on the plane.



Serge Savard recounted how he sat down with the pair to try to work things out, but it was to no avail. “He (Burns) had a real rough time with Claude Lemieux. I had to get rid of Claude because those two could not reconcile,” Savard said. “That’s something Pat should have been able to do. But he was very stubborn. That’s one side of Pat that could have improved, and did improve later.” Plain and simple, Savard and the Canadiens had to make a decision.



La Presse’s sports section on September 5 led with the headline, “The Divorce is Over.”



The deal on paper looked to be a straight up deal in Savard’s eyes. Turgeon, who had shown his scoring touch with the Hartford Whalers was fresh off a 30-goal season in New Jersey. It wouldn’t carry over to Montreal, as back surgery and playing under Burns system limited him to 12 points in 19 games in 1990-91. He would be claimed but the Ottawa Senators in the 1992 Expansion Draft.



In the meantime, Lemieux would have three straight 30-goal seasons with New Jersey and go on to win his second Stanley Cup in 1995, taking the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. The man nicknamed “Pepe” would then move on to the Colorado Avalanche the following season, picking up this third Stanley Cup and an eventual fourth with New Jersey in 2000.



“As a manager, you have the choice to get rid of a player or a coach. Obviously in this case it was the player who went,” Savard said. “It turned out to be a terrible mistake for us, a very bad trade for us. Turgeon turned out to be a bad player.”



Also on This Day….



1946: The NHL increased the regular season game schedule from 50 to 60 games.



1957: Le Club de Hockey Canadien and the Canadian Arena Company are sold to Senator Hartland and Thomas H.P. Molson.



1978: Irving Grundman is announced as the Canadiens new General Manager, succeeding Sam Pollock.



1979: Bernie Geoffrion is introduced as the Canadinens new head coach.



1990: The Canadiens trade Craig Ludwig to the New York Islanders for Gerald Diduck. The U.S. born Ludwig was seeking a renegotiation of his contract, either a raise from $350K to $450 or a trade to a U.S. team, where he would play less tax. “When you play for Montreal, money isn’t everything,” said Ludwig. “When you get to a certain stage in your career, you have to start thinking about security.”



Habs Born on This Day: Emile “Butch” Bouchard, Cliff Malone (1925), Bert Olmstead (1926), Sergio Momesso (1965), Craig Conroy (1971)





DiManno, Rosie, Coach: The Pat Burns Story


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



The Spokesman Review, September 5, 1990, Canadiens continue trades, get rid of Lemieux,  Ludwig

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