This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.
Team: Montreal Canadiens (1990-91 to 1999-00)
362-317-107, .529 WIN PCT, 2,403 GF vs. 2,267 GA, +136 Diff, 7/10 Playoff Appearances, 1 Stanley Cups
The Canadiens were a powerhouse during the early 1990s, but they kept running into the Boston Bruins: the Bruins knocked the Habs out in the second round in 1991 and 1992. The Canadiens rebounded for a magical run as 1993 Stanley Cup Champions. They had a strong showing the following regular season, but lost to (whom else?) the Boston Bruins in the first round. During a four-year run from ’90-91 to ’93-94, the Habs had a 57.9% win percentage and +165 goal differential. But they slumped badly in ’94-95, and began making a series of trades the gutted the team’s core: they traded away Patrick Roy, Eric Desjardins, John LeClair, Kirk Muller and Pierre Turgeon between February 1995 and October 1996. As a result, the team slumped, posting sub-.500 record three times in six years (and winning just one playoff series between 1994 and 2000). From ’94-95 to ’99-00, the Canadiens had a 49.7% win percentage and a -29 goal differential. Which isn’t awful, but compared to how the team had been in the 70s and 80s, it was a massive let-down for Habs fans. Overall, the Canadiens had a 52.9% win percentage, which ranked 11th out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s. The Canadiens were middling offensively, scoring 3.06 goals for per game (ranked 15th). They were fairly solid defensively, allowing 2.88 goals against per game (ranked 8th). The resulting +136 goal differential ranked them 11th in the league during the 1990s. They were no longer Les Glorieux by the end of the decade, but they still have the 1993 Stanley Cup (which, as of 2013, is still the most recent Stanley Cup victory by a Canadian NHL franchise).
Left Wing: Kirk Muller (267 GP, 104-143-247, +1, 292 PIM, 15 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Martin Rucinsky
Kirk Muller was an absolutely fantastic acquisition by the Canadiens. He couldn’t match the pure skill of Stephane Richer (whom the Habs gave up for Muller), but Muller gave them leadership and a physical edge they had been lacking. He had 36 goals and 77 points in his first season (’91-92), and then a monster 37-goal, 94-poitn season in ’92-93. He was +23 during this time. He did slow, however; he had 23 goals and 57 points along with a -1 rating in ’93-94, and in ’94-95 he was brutal: 19 points in 33 games with an UGLY -21 rating before he was traded to the New York Islanders. Still, he had two fantastic seasons and one competent one, not to mention being arguably the team’s best skater when they won the 1993 Stanley Cup. During his first three seasons in Montreal, he scored an impressive 36 powerplay goals, and a stellar 14 game-winning goals. He had 7 game-winners alone in ’91-92, and overall 14% of his goals won the game for Montreal. An honourable mention to Martin Rucinsky, who unfortunately has the distinction of coming to Montreal as part of the ill-fated Patrick Roy trade. Rucinsky spent five seasons in Montreal, hitting the 20-goal mark four times and the 50-point mark three times (his best year saw him score 60 points in 56 games after being acquired early in the ’95-96) season). Rucinsky also had a positive +/- rating four times, with the lone exception being an ugly -25 in ’98-99. But Muller had a greater impact and was a more valuable player, so Rucinsky is relegated to honourable mention.
Centre: Vincent Damphousse (519 GP, 184-314-498, +26, 559 PIM, 35 GWG)
Vincent Damphousse was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers in an absolute steal of a deal (costing the team Shayne Corson, Brent Gilchrist and Vladimir Vujtek). Damphousse went on to play in parts of seven seasons with the Habs; he didn’t miss more than 6 games in any of his first six seasons, and he was dealt to San Jose late in the ’98-99 season. He had three seasons in the 38-40 goal range, and another with 27 goals. He hid the 90-point mark three times, and had another with 81 points. He also had a productive lockout-shortened season in ’94-95, scoring 10 goals and 40 points with a +15 rating despite the team falling below .500. Damphousse managed to have a positive +/- rating four times (and was even on another occasion), and he was never worse than -7 (leading to a +26 rating overall). Damphousse was also the definition of clutch: he had 35 game-winning goals, an amazing 19% of his goal total for Montreal. Between ’92-93 and ’93-94 alone, he had 18 game-winners. He was also a constant threat on special teams: he had four seasons in the 7-13 PPG range, and scored 12 shorthanded goals (including 4 SHG in ’95-96). He also cleared the 240 shots-on-goal mark four times. A fantastic talent and terrific leader, as well as one of the finest French-Canadian talents to play for Montreal in the past 30 years.
Right Wing: Mark Recchi (346 GP, 120-202-322, +23, 222 PIM, 18 GWG)
Mark Recchi gets a lot of flak for costing the Canadiens Eric Desjardins and John LeClair. But he has no say in what a team gives up for him; he can only control his own play. And he did that quite well. For four straight seasons, he was a point-per-game threat for Montreal. He had 43 points in 39 games after being picked up by Montreal in ’94-95, and then followed that up with three straight season in the 28-34 goal range and 74-80 points range. He had three seasons in -1 to -4 territory for his +/- rating, but had two seasons of +20 (’95-96) and +11 (’97-98). He was a strong threat on the powerplay, scoring 35 PPG between ’94-95 and ’97-98. He also had a pair of seasons where he scored 6 game-winning goals, and had 18 overall (15% of his total). He had three seasons where he fired between 191 and 216 shots on goal. He was a constant threat to score when he was on the ice. His final season in Montreal wasn’t his strongest (12 goals and 47 points in 61 games before he was traded back to Philadelphia), but he had a solid four-year run as an excellent offensive player for Montreal.
Defense: Mathieu Schneider (312 GP, 56-122-178, +37, 337 PIM, 10 GWG)
Mathieu Schneider developed into an excellent two-way defenseman for the Canadiens. His points totals steadily improved from 30 to 32 to 44 to 52 from ’90-91 to ’93-94. He also scored a high of 20 goals in’93-94, and scored 8-13 in the previous three seasons. During that four-year run, he also had 10 game-winning goals, and 21 powerplay markers (including 11 in ’93-94). His +/- was between +7 and +15 each season. He struggled along with the rest of the team in ’94-95, posting 20 points in 30 games with a -3 rating (and just 2 PPG) before he was traded to the New York Islanders in the Kirk Muller-Pierre Turgeon swap. He was a constant threat (164-193 shots on goal over a four-year span) from the point, solid in his own zone, and he could play a physical game (he had four straight seasons of 60+ PIM, with a high of 91 in ’92-93. And he was a core contributor to their 1993 Stanley Cup championship.
Defense: Eric Desjardins (314 GP, 38-111-149, +45, 274 PIM, 7 GWG)
Eric Desjardins has a story similar to Schneider. Four solid seasons showing largely steady improvement. He went from 25 to 38 to 45 points, posting +/- in the +7 to +20 range. He slowed slightly in ’93-94, dropping to 35 points and a -1 rating. He played just 9 games for the Habs in ’94-95 (6 points, +2) before being traded to Philadelphia along with John LeClair for Mark Recchi. Desjardins had a solid run as a key contributor on Montreal’s powerplay, scoring 17 PPG between ’91-92 and ’93-94. He also chipped in 7 game-winning goals, and increased his shots-on-goal total each year from 114 in ’90-91 to 193 in ’93-94. He will be best remembered as a hero in the 1993 Finals, where he became the first (and to date, only) defenseman to score a hat-trick in a Stanley Cup Finals game.
Goalie: Patrick Roy (310 PG, 156-108-37, 17 SO, 2.74 GAA, 0.908 PCT)
Honourable Mention to Jocelyn Thibault
Jocelyn Thibault actually had a decent run in net for the Canadiens. He went 23-13-3 in his first partial season with the Habs, and then posted a 44-43-21 record over the next 2+ seasons. In his first two seasons his GAA was 2.87, and his save percentage was .911. He slowed a bit his next season and change (he was dealt early in ’98-99) with a .903 PCT, but still had a 2.49 GAA. But unfortunately for Thibault, he was both traded for and following behind the most popular Habs player since Guy Lafleur: Patrick Roy.
Roy played 48 games in ’90-91, going 25-15-7 with a 2.71 GAA and .906 PCT. He then played 60+ games the next three seasons, winning 30+ games each year. He then played in 43 of 48 games in ’94-95. Roy could be a little up-and-down; his GAA from ’91-92 to ’94-95 went from 2.36 to 3.20 to 2.50 to 2.97, and his PCT read .914, .894, .918, .906. But what was undeniable was his ability to perform in the clutch. Roy rose to stardom as a rookie, helping the Canadiens win the 1986, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP in 1986. He repeated the feat in 1993, winning the Conn Smythe as the Canadiens defeated Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings in the finals. Roy posted 17 shutouts, with 7 coming in ’93-94. His overall win percentage was 56.3%, and he only had one sub-.500 season (17-20-6 in ’94-95). It’s a shame he left Montreal so abruptly, both because Habs fans didn’t have the chance to say goodbye and because a hurried trade resulted in poor returns that contributed to the Canadiens’ descent into mediocrity in the late 1990s. But Roy deservedly has a reputation as one of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history, and “St. Patrick” will always be beloved by Habs fans.