Sunday, July 26, 2009

July 1989: A changing of the guard in Habs leadership

The 1988-89 NHL Season concluded with the Montreal Canadiens losing in six games in the Stanley Cup Finals at the hands of the Calgary Flames.

Much like the the 2008-09 off season departures of Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev ands Mike Komisarek, several leadership changes were about to unfold for the Montreal Canadiens as their 1989-90 season approached.

On July 18, 1989 with five Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe trophy and four Selke trophies to his name, Canadiens’ captain Bob Gainey announced his retirement.

gainey D’Arcy Jenish chronicled Gainey’s retirement in his recent book: The Montreal Canadiens: 100 Years of Glory

Bob Gainey’s last act as captain occurred on July 18, 1989. He sat at a table in the media room at the Forum with Serge Savard to his right, wife Cathy to his left and a large crowd of teammates, team officials and journalists before him. He spoke in English and French, switching effortlessly from one to the other, performing with customary poise and distinction, as one writer put it, and announced that after sixteen bruising and sometimes punishing seasons, he was through.

“The people of Montreal are known, and rightly so, as the strongest and most knowledgeable fans,” he said. “I tried to perform for them every night I played and I’ll carry with me many great memories.”

Savard spoke warmly of his former teammate. He cited his many accomplishments: the Stanley Cup championships, the individual awards, the all-star nominations and the appearances with Team Canada. “If I can describe Bob Gainey in one word,” Savard said, “it would be determination. He once played with two separated shoulders and no one even knew about it. In his prime he was one of the most feared players in the league. He is one of the greats in the history of the Canadiens hockey club.”

Pat Burns spoke of the future and the challenge ahead. “You don’t replace Bob Gainey,” Burns said. “You put someone else out there, but you don’t replace him.”

A week later on July 26, 1989 longtime Canadiens’ defenceman Larry Robinson, a more than suitable replacement as captain, was left without a contract and signed a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Kings.

robinson_01 Larry Robinson signed a three-year deal with the Kings on 07/26/89 playing all three seasons and appear in the playoffs for a record 20 consecutive seasons.

With two key leaders gone from the Canadiens’ ranks, and no clear replacement, the team would be asked to vote on the next captain.

Three rounds of voting wound up in ties between Guy Carbonneau and Chris Chelios.


Savard made the decision to name Carbonneau and Chelios as co-captains, alternating the “C” every other game.

Ultimately, the captaincy would fall to Carbonneau alone.

Despite signing a new five-year deal in February 1990, Chelios was traded in June 1990 to Chicago for Denis Savard.

It was a move that surprised Chelios, Burns and fans alike.

There was speculation that Canadiens’ president Ronald Corey was tired of Chelios’ alleged off ice antics and demanded the trade, but Savard claimed it was his decision based on team doctors’ concerns that Chelios’ knee might shorten his career.

That theory can be thrown out the window twenty years later.

Carbonneau would lead the Canadiens to their last Stanley Cup in 1993.guy%20carbonneauHe remained captain until he too was traded in the summer of 1994 to the St. Louis Blues. He would win another Cup five years later with the Dallas Stars and then GM Bob Gainey.


morgen said...

Interesting synopsis.

Not sure if you've misquoted Jenish or his book's off by a couple decades, but "Bob Gainey's last act as captain occurred on July 18, 1969."

Think that might be 1989???

Kevin aka "yathehabsrule" said...

Typo my part. Correction has been made.. Thank-you Morgen!