Habs struggle during centennial

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At home in Prince Edward Island, Canada, he's known as Lyle Richardson. But around these parts, he's known as Spector, FOXSports.com's Prince of Pucks. Check in with Spector's NHL Blog on Yardbarker.com for NHL rumors and analysis.

The Montreal Canadiens were chided by some critics for their seemingly endless celebration of their centennial, but when you've got the richest history of all NHL teams and a legacy that stretches back before the birth of the league itself, there's a lot to celebrate. The Habs history certainly has been impressive with 24 Stanley Cup championships and 45 players in the Hockey Hall of Fame but since winning their last Stanley Cup in 1993, the subsequent seasons have not been good ones for this proud franchise.
From 1993 to 2009, the Canadiens made the playoffs only nine times and made it past the first round five times. Little wonder they put so much hype upon their glory years. Most Canadiens fans believe the Habs' decline started with the 1995 trade of goaltending great Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche, but it actually goes back into the early 1990s. Their draft and trade record over the past 20 years reveals poor decisions by a series of general managers resulting in over 15 years of mediocrity. From Serge Savard to Rejean Houle to Andre Savard to current general manager Bob Gainey, the Canadiens have not drafted well and for the most part failed to acquire quality talent via trades or free agency. Savard did build two Stanley Cup champions teams, in part because from 1984 to 1987 he selected a superstar in Roy plus players like Eric Desjardins, Mathieu Schneider, John LeClair, Stephane Richer, Petr Svoboda and Lyle Odelein, who formed the core of a solid Canadiens team in the late '80s and early '90s. But from 1988 to 1995, Savard never achieved the same level of success at the draft table as in his earlier seasons, which set in motion the Habs' inevitable decline. He was also responsible for two of the most lopsided deals in NHL history. The first was dealing away superstar defenseman Chris Chelios to Chicago in 1990 for fading scorer Denis Savard, the other was packaging LeClair and Desjardins to Philadelphia in 1995 for forward Mark Recchi. Those trades significantly improved the Blackhawks and Flyers respectively but did little to help the Canadiens. Houle took over for Savard as GM in 1995 and was forced to trade Roy following his falling out with then-head coach Mario Tremblay. The return of Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko was another blunder for Montreal while Roy went on to further pad his Hall of Fame resume with the Colorado Avalanche. The Canadiens were heading into decline prior to the Roy trade but that move accelerated the process. Other notable players dealt away by Houle, including Schneider, Pierre Turgeon, Craig Conroy and Darcy Tucker, also went on to better things with new teams while Montreal got little in return. Houle's draft record — save for 1998 when he selected Andrei Markov, Mike Ribeiro, Michael Ryder and Francois Beauchemin (the latter three, of course, no longer with the Canadiens) — is considered among the worst in team history. Houle was — and still is — a nice guy who did his best but was ultimately ill-suited for the role of general manager. Andre Savard (no relation to Serge) took over from Houle midway through 2000-01 and, after stepping aside as GM in 2003 for Gainey, had a hand in the Canadiens draft selections until 2006. The club spent most of this decade rebuilding through the draft and in recent years publications and Web sites that track young hockey prospects consistently ranked the Canadiens depth in promising talent among the top five or 10 teams in the league. Unfortunately, the reality is few notable players during this decade have come through their system and none could be considered franchise players. Mike Komisarek, Tomas Plekanec, Mark Streit, Carey Price and Andrei Kostitsyn are the few notables selected since 2001 thus far to go on to NHL careers with the Habs. Price is still trying to establish himself as a starting goalie, Plekanec is a solid second-line center who could depart next summer via free agency and Kostitsyn's performance since a promising 53-point effort in 2007-08 has sharply declined. Komisarek and Streit were lost to free agency. This season, the Habs' best players came from other teams via unrestricted free agency last summer and likely because they were among the few teams willing to spend the big bucks to land them. In previous years, the top free-agent talent shunned Montreal for a variety of reasons, but the biggest factor was the fish bowl existence of a Canadien as fans and media seemingly watch their every move on and off the ice. It's been almost impossible in this decade for the Canadiens to land quality players via trades, partly because of the salary cap but also because they've had little to offer up in return. Great management was why the Canadiens for much of their 100 years consistently had great teams. But going on 17 years since the last Stanley Cup parade in Montreal, it's apparent their management over that time has been anything but great. Until the Canadiens resolve this problem, they'll remain mired in mediocrity and wallowing in past glory.
Tagged: Bruins, Flames, Blackhawks, Stars, Canadiens, Islanders, Flyers, Avalanche, Maple Leafs, Canucks, Craig Conroy, Jocelyn Thibault, Chris Chelios, Pierre Turgeon, John LeClair, Mark Recchi, Darcy Tucker, Andrei Markov, Mike Ribeiro, Francois Beauchemin, Michael Ryder, Martin Rucinsky, Mathieu Schneider, Eric Desjardins, Lyle Odelein, Tomas Plekanec, Mark Streit, Andrei Kostitsyn, Carey Price

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