Daily Archives: January 12, 2016

Greatest three what-ifs in Habs history

What if Maurice Richard was traded to the Rangers in 1942?

This is one of those neat bits of trivia not many people know about. The Habs almost traded the Rocket to the New York Rangers only 16 games into Richard’s career, getting Phil Watson back in the deal. But Rangers GM Lester Patrick nixed the idea. One theory I read was that Patrick thought Richard was too brittle.

Which isn’t far off from the truth. Richard played only one game in the 1940-41 season in the Quebec senior league after breaking his ankle. When he made the Habs in 42-43, he broke his ankle again, and that’s why he played only 16 games.

Everyone knows Richard’s story. He became one of the greatest players of all time, and won eight Stanley Cups in 16 years.

So what would have happen if that deal had gone through?

Man oh man, it’s almost scary to think about. First off, the Habs still would have had some success and won some cups. After all, they still would have had Jean Beliveau, Elmer Lach, Bert Olmstead, Doug Harvey, Toe Blake, Henri Richard, Bill Durnan, Bernie Geoffrion, Jacques Plante and Dickie Moore. Unless they had a curse like the one on the Red Sox after trading Babe Ruth, the Habs would have still been contenders.

However, they wouldn’t have won as many Cups as they did. Guys would have stepped up and filled in the void, but they would not have had Richard’s ability to dominate a game as often as he did.

More importantly, the impact Richard had on the French-speaking population of Quebec would have never happened. That tension needed a Quebec-born player. The Richard riot never would have happened if it were Billy Reay who got suspended instead of Richard. Quebec fans feel closer to those who have suited up for the Habs. (Marcel Dionne and Gilbert Perreault aren’t as revered in Quebec as Guy Lafleur, for example).

And that brings up another point: If the Richard riot had never happened, what type of impact would that have had on Quebec politics?

And none of this even mentions the impact Richard would have had on the Rangers.

Fun trivia: A few years after rejecting this trade, the Ranger loaned Phil Watson to Montreal for the 1943-44 season. The Habs went on to win the Cup, their first in 13 years.

What if the Habs went with Racicot in the 1993 playoffs?

After two games against the Quebec Nordiques in the first round of the ’93 playoffs, the Habs were down 2-0, and fans were calling for head coach Jacques Demers to pull Patrick Roy and start Andre Racicot instead.

Racicot’s regular-season record was 17 wins, five losses and one tie. His goals against was 3.39 and his save percentage was 0.881. Those numbers sound high, but they’re actually good when you look at the era. Only two goalies who played more than 25 games had a goals against average of under 3. And only five goalies had a save percentage of over .900. So in essence, Racicot was a good goalie for his era. Not great, but good.

According to this Sports Illustrated article, a poll in a Montreal newspaper before the 1993 playoffs thought Roy should be traded, and many of them were saying Racicot should have played Game 3.

Of course, Roy went on to win the Cup and the Conn Smythe.

But what if Racicot did play Game 3 against Quebec?

I don’t think the Habs would have gotten by Quebec. Roy stood on his head the rest of the series, starting in Game 3 (a 34-save performance in a 2-1 OT win). Racicot did see spot action in the playoffs, mostly when Roy was injured.

With Racicot in nets, the Habs lose game 3 against the Nordiques, lose the series in the first round and major changes happen that summer (they hadn’t gotten out of division since losing in the finals in 1989, losing three straight series to the Bruins and this one to the Nordiques). General manager Serge Savard would have been fired that summer. With no faith as Roy as the number one, the Habs would have traded Roy within a year (and not to Quebec/Colorado and probably for another goalie, so it would have impacted the Nordiques/Avalanche franchise greatly as well), and the Habs descent into a mediocre team would have started a few years earlier than it did.

What if the Habs drafted Denis Savard instead of Doug Wickenheiser?

Back in 1980, the Montreal Canadiens and the Chicago Blackhawks had the first and third overall picks respectively, thanks to some shrewd deals. Montreal had made a trade four years before this for the rights to this pick, while Chicago made a trade a year previous where they got the Quebec Nordiques pick on the promise not to take Real Cloutier in the expansion draft.

 

Anyways, the Habs had a tough decision. Take Doug Wickenheiser, who was ranked as the top prospect by the Hockey News, led the Western Hockey League in goals with 89 that and captained his team to a spot in the Memorial Cup. Or they could take Quebec-born Denis Savard. The Habs chose Wickenheiser.

 

Quebec fans were upset because they wanted a French player. So the deck was stacked against Wickenheiser from the start.

So what if the Habs took Savard instead? Could Savard have had the same great career in Montreal that he did in Chicago? I don’t think so. I think Savard would have struggled in Montreal. Savard got to Chicago and was able to play top minutes because there was no one else on the roster. Savard was competing with Tom Lysiak, Reg Kerr, Bob Murray, Tim Higgins and Terry Ruskowski for ice time. The only other blue-chipper on that squad was Darryl Sutter. Savard was able to make mistakes and keep playing.

Montreal’s squad was tougher to crack: Steve Shutt, Guy Lafleur, Bob Gainey, Doug Risebrough, Mark Napier, Mario Tremblay, Rejean Houle, Yvon Lambert and Pierre Larouche. It would have been tough to get top minutes right away. If he made a mistake, he would have been benched (remember, Wickenheiser played just 41 games that season).

What do you think? What would have happened to Montreal in any of these scenarios?

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