Since 1909, plenty of amazing players have "rocked the sweater" as Annakin Slayd would say. Le Gros Bill, le Rocket, le démon blond, le Pocket Rocket... the list could go on and on... Unfortunately, many of us were not even born when these guys were plying their trade, or if we were, we were still in diapers and don't really have any memories of seeing them play. This got me thinking, if I could select my starting six from the best/favourite Habs players I've seen play, what would it look like?
Some choices were easier than others, it took me all of 0.1 second to select my goaltender, of course, it had to be the man who got me into hockey in the first place; Patrick Roy. Saint-Patrick for some or Casseau for others played 551 regular season games with the Bleu, Blanc, Rouge and managed to gather 289 wins and posted a save percentage of .904 and a goal against average of 2.78. However, the main reason I chose Roy is how clutch he was. Whether we like it or not, without him the 1986 and 1993 Stanley Cup wins just don't happen. He was named MVP of both of those conquests and to this day he remains the sole player to have won the Conn Smythe trophy 3 times. Furthermore, Roy was so instrumental in the province of Québec becoming the official goaltender supplier of the NHL, he popularized the butterfly style and every weekend at the outdoor rink you could see plenty of kids wearing his famous 33 jersey.
On the blue line, I've got one player who was Roy's teammate for the '86 Cup conquest and the other who left the Habs recently.
Larry Robinson When I started watching hockey the core of those 70s Cup wins had pretty much all retired, the sole survivors were Bob Gainey and Big Bird. Robinson is without a doubt the first d-man I really admired, he could really control the play, go on an end to end rush, anchor the power play and rack up the points. In 1202 games with the Habs, he cumulated 883 points and is still the all-time points leader in team history when it comes to defensemen. He's also the first free agent departure I remember, I might only have been 9 years old but I felt a pinch when they reported his signing with the Kings on the radio...Yeah, back in those days, that's how you'd hear, not from Twitter or a notification on you phone. I read his biography last summer, if you have a chance you should do so, it's called The Great Defender : My Hockey Odyssey it covers everything from his humble beginnings to his post career as a coach.
Andrei Markov I bet some of you thought I'd mention P.K. here, I'll confess that the it did cross my mind but Andrei was special for me. He played with the Habs for his whole career and I saw it from start to finish. From 2000 to 2017 Markov was a regular for the Canadiens, he played 990 games and managed to climb the rankings to 3rd in points amongst Habs d-men. 119 goals, 453 assists for 572 points (tied with Guy "Pointu" Lapointe for 2nd but since he has more goals, he's number 2). I also greatly admired Markov's determination, he battled through some rather serious knee injuries and always managed to come back. With the years, he became less rapid then he once was but what he lacked in speed he had in hockey IQ. His departure really hurt the Canadiens blue line which is, let's face it, still a mess today.
Mats NaslundAt left wing, it just has to be the little viking for me. In 8 seasons in Montreal, he managed to reach the 12th rank in all-time team scoring. He played 617 games wearing the colours of la Sainte-Flanelle and managed to put up 612 points, that's almost a point per game which is quite a feat even though he played less games than a lot of the Canadiens great. In 1985-1986, he got 110 points, the first one to pass the 100 points mark since Guy Lafleur had done it in 1979-1980. His 110 points were the 8th best season in NHL history. I sure wish we still had players able to produce at that rate today. To me, the sole blemish to his name is that he played for the Bruins!
Brendan Gallagher I know, Gallagher is young and is nowhere near as talented as most of the Montreal Canadiens' legends but Gally has so much heart and dedication. I think no one can argue that the last few years have not been particularly fun for Montreal Canadiens fans... Missing the playoffs, losing way too often and being disappointed more often than not but through it all, Gallagher and his style of play have been like a beacon of light. When he's out there, he doesn't stop, he doesn't give up. He'll chase every single puck like his life depended on it and will battle to the end. When you see Gallagher in his office (for him that's the front of the net and not the back like Gretzky) you know that it will not be easy to get him out of there even with his diminutive shape. A 5th round draft pick in 2010, Gallagher has already played 450 games in league and has 264 points to show for it. When NHL.com did a rewrite of the 2010 draft, they put Gallagher at spot number 12 in the 1st round, talk about a good pick! Finally, while everything was going wrong for everyone with the Habs last season, Gallagher posted his best career totals and notched 31 goals. He may not be a legend and he'll probably never be but he's still my favourite right winger.
Vincent Damphousse At centre, it just has to be Vinnie Damphousse! Probably because he's the last real number one centre the Canadiens really had. While he only played in Montreal for the best part of 7 seasons (519 games) he still comes in at 16th in team scoring with 498 points. During the 1992-1993 Stanley Cup win, he got himself 23 points in 20 games which was good for 4th in the league but 1st on the unexpected Champions that were the Canadiens. I believe he's also the last Habs player to score 40 goals in a season...Pacioretty did reach 39 and 37 but never managed to turn the counter the 40.
There you have it, that's my starting 6 based only on the players I've seen in my life. I was born in 1980 so I did see Guy Lafleur play but not with the Habs and by the time he played for the Rangers and the Nordiques, he just wasn't the same player. Yes, I did play favourite by putting Gallagher in there but he's the type of players that make me enjoy hockey even when the going gets tough. What would your starting 6 be? Remember, those are personal choices based on what you've seen...There are no right or wrong answers!