Many Habs' fans point to the fateful night of December 2, 1995, as the turning point in our history. This was the night Patrick Roy allowed 9 goals at home versus the Red Wings. Rookie Head Coach Mario Tremblay, for whatever reason, allowed Roy to be embarrassed on a Saturday night in front of an angry crowd with a short memory. Short is an understatement as Roy was less than 3 seasons removed from winning the Conn Smythe and still in his prime.
When Roy was finally pulled, he walked straight to Ronald Corey and told him he had just played his last game for the Habs. Had Mario Tremblay apologized, maybe this never happens. In retrospect, it is easy to blame this incident on the Habs’ *26 year Stanley Cup dry spell. ( *26 is the number of my childhood hero, Mats Naslund. Weren’t the ‘80s the best?)
The Cubs had the curse of the billy goat and Steve Bartman. The Red Sox had the Curse of the Bambino. The Senators have the curse of Eugene Melnyk and the Leafs have the curse of colour television. The Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns look in a mirror, they see a curse.
The more I think about it, the Habs are not suffering from the curse of Patrick Roy. Rather, they're suffering from the curse of Vincent Damphousse.
Starting goaltending since “St. Patrick” departed has not been the issue. Carey Price, Jaroslav Halak, Jose Theodore and everyone’s favourite lighting-in-a-bottle, Cristobal Huet, have all played admirably over the years. (My wife still has a Cristobal Huet t-shirt she purchased at the Bell Centre and she looks fantastic in it!)
The Habs have been cursed at the center-ice position and the evidence is painful. When the Habs won the cup in 1993, their centers (Goals-Assists-Points) were Vincent Damphousse (39-58-97), Kirk Muller (37-57-94), Stephan Lebeau (31-49-80) and Guy Carbonneau (4-13-17 and 3-time Selke Winner). In 1999, Damphousse was traded to the San Jose Sharks for a 1999 5th round pick (#145-Marc-Andre Thinel), 2000 1st round pick (#16-Marcel Hossa) and a 2000 or 2001 2nd round pick (Sharks option) (2001 #53-Kiel McLeod).
The 2000 draft was a weak one and the Habs get a pass on the Marcel Hossa pick at center as the only centers of significance taken after Hossa were Steve Ott (#29), Jarett Stoll (#46), and Antoine Vermette (#55).
The 2003 draft is where the Vinnie Damphousse curse took a full grasp on the franchise. The Habs picked #10 that year and took Andrei Kostitsyn. The next pick was #11Jeff Carter, #19 was Ryan Getzlaf, #23 was Ryan Kessler and #24 was Mike Richards. You think that hurts? Well, get some Advil because the Habs had the 40th pick and they took Cory Urquhart. Cory Urquhart wasn’t even a household name in his own house! You diehards know what is coming next. With the #45 pick, the Bruins took Patrice Bergeron. At least he hasn’t haunted the Habs for the last 15 years!
The first decade of the new millennium was one debacle after another at center ice. Who could forget the likes of Danius Zubrus, Sergei Zholtok, Craig Darby, Yanic Perreault, Mike Ribeiro, Max Lapierre, and Scott Gomez? (At least they didn’t set the franchise back another 10 years at defence to get Gomez. Oh wait, the Habs traded Ryan McDonagh. Thanks a lot, Vince Damphousse!) The Habs then tried veterans running on fumes and nostalgia. We had the likes of Trevor Linden, Doug Gilmour, Robert Lang and Daniel Briere.
Before you hit the comment section of this blog with, “Hey Waldo1947, what about Saku Koivu and Tomas Plekanec?” Great guys, amazing dedication and Habs through-and-through. The problem is that they were 2nd-line centers - at best. You put them on any other team the Habs faced in the last 20 years and they would not have played at the #1 position. I loved both of them and respect the hell out of what they did for the city. Saku is a legend for his amazing contributions off the ice and he will forever be revered in the city.
The Habs even screw-up when acquiring other teams’ 1st-round centers. Remember when Jaroslav Halak was at his highest trade value in 2010? The Habs picked up #13 overall pick Lars Eller from the St. Louis Blues. Eller was a 2nd line center at best and could not possibly live up to the expectations. People literally had stop signs painted over with Halak’s name on it!
The curse keeps getting better. In 2012 the Habs pick Alex Galchenyuk #3 and we are thinking that we may have a big, top-line center. (In true Habs’ fashion, rather than let him develop, they rushed him to the pressure-cooker that is Montreal, complain he can’t win faceoffs and destroy his confidence.) Then on June 15, 2017, Bergevin trades blue-chip defensive prospect (where have I heard this story before) Mikhail Sergechev for Jonathon Drouin. The Habs needed a center and Bergevin gets a winger who will be shoehorned in at center? Then exactly one year later, on June 15, 2018, the Habs trade Galchenyuk for Max Domi.
Which brings us to the 2019-2020 season. The Habs begin the year with Max Domi, Phillip Daneault, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Nate Thompson at center with Nick Cousins and Ryan Poehling pushing for a spot. Can Max Domi repeat? Did they rush Kotkaniemi? Is Daneault merely a younger version of Plekanec? Does Vincent Damphousse know what he has done to Habs fans?
We get to find out in 5 days! (I hope my wife is wearing that Huet t-shirt!)
- Waldo1947, SWP Sports Journal