When you follow a team that generates as much discussion and speculation as the Habs, urban legends and outright myths are bound to spring up like dandelions. Two of the most popular myths that have endured for years are that the Canadiens cannot lure superstar free agents to Montreal for reasons relating to media pressure, taxes, political strife, and the fishbowl atmosphere. When former General Manager Bob Gainey signed big names like Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri to long-term contracts, much of the long-held myth died. Other lower tier free agents like Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek and Travis Moen also elected to ply their trade in la Belle Province. Tomas Plekanec elected to return to Montreal when he could have likely gone elsewhere for more money. Gainey proved that as long as the dollars are there, the signatures will follow. This doesn’t mean that it will be a cake walk to sign big names in the future, but it’s far cry from the “fat chance” that it was just a few years ago.
The other myth is one that has needed a debunking in the worst way, and that is the long-held belief that once the Canadiens give up on a young player, he goes on to stardom elsewhere in the league. I don’t know where the myth started, but maybe it traces back to the early 90’s when the Canadiens sent John LeClair to Philadelphia. LeClair went on to 50-goal fame with the Flyers, something no Habs fan saw coming, and something that hasn’t been easy to swallow nearly 20 years later. Perhaps some would refer to the deal that sent Chelios to Chicago for an over-the-hill Denis Savard? On the flip side, let’s also recall that youngster Gilbert Dionne, he of 60 career goals with the Canadiens over parts of 5 seasons was sent packing, only to accomplish less than nothing with the duration of his NHL career. If he had scored 2 goals per game in the 27 games he had left in front of him in his NHL career, he would not have matched his career output in Montreal. Eric Desjardins and Mathieu Schneider went on to have terrific careers after playing with the Canadiens (and being contributors to a 24th cup victory, I may add), but its not like the Canadiens “gave up” on those guys. Both played several years in Montreal and were part of deals that were intended to make the Canadiens better. Give to get, as it were.
Today it seems that the consensus among fans is that once the Canadiens trade Andrei Kostitsyn away, he will instantly fulfill his first round draft pick promise and score 30 goals without breaking a sweat. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. If he finds the right fit, he will. If he doesn’t get his head in the game, he won’t. If he does manage to consistently score, it will undoubtedly fuel the fire that says youngsters departing Montreal instantly get better by changing scenery, or escaping the clutches of vile gangster Jabba the Hut Head Coach Jacques Martin.
But let’s take a quick look at the ledger, shall we? Without breaking down every stat and every situation, the Canadiens have let the following “young” players go over the past few years:
- Michael Ryder
- Chris Higgins
- Mike Komisarek
- Mikhail Grabovski
- Sergei Kostitsyn
- Kyle Chipchura
- Guillaume Latendresse
- Max Lapierre
- Matt D’Agostini
- Ryan McDonagh
- Jaroslav Halak
It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, and without breaking it down in to minutae, at a glance we can see that of those names, only Belarussians Mikhail Grabovski and Sergei Kostitsyn have Habs fans up in arms today. Micheal Ryder has remained a decent player, but isn’t blowing anyone away in Boston and while Latendresse had some success after his trade last year, he’s been hurt for the vast majority of this season. Matt D’Agostini has posted respectable numbers overall, but he isn’t exactly burning up the scoresheet, either. In fact his recent stats suggest he’s slipping back to the form that saw him wear out his welcome in Montreal. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh has been a solid addition to the Rangers blue line but has a long way to go. He will always be known as a guy that was traded away so that the Canadiens could get their man in Scott Gomez. No doubt that the sting of that trade will help fan the flames. The rest of the names: Higgins, Komisarek, Chipchura, and Lapierre have all gone on to circle the drain in their post-Canadiens tenures. Higgins continues to struggle to find the form that had Habs fans labeling him as the team’s future captain. He’s seen time in New York, Calgary, and now Florida, with few signs that he will return to being the player that had three consecutive 20-goal seasons in Montreal. Mike Komisarek has been a huge failure in Toronto after signing a big contract, and everyone except Brian Burke will admit that. Kyle Chipchura is a spare part in Anaheim as he was in Montreal, and Max Lapierre is utterly lost with the same Anaheim team. Perhaps most famously, Jaroslav Halak has been very average with the Blues this season after enchanting an entire city with his performance last year. After a fantastic start to the season, his play has eroded significantly.
Circumstances vary, and the jury is still out on many of these players, but it’s clear from just taking a quick look at the list that very few players actually leave Montreal and become poster boys for success, or are cautionary tales for giving up too early. The myth is just that: A myth. It’s no guarantee that a young player will become a star elsewhere. That said, in this age of the salary cap, it is imperative that teams get the best from their young players or suffer the consequences. The Canadiens have struggled in this aspect, but it’s pretty clear to me that they were not always dealing with blue-chip stocks. I’m not getting in to what the Canadiens got (or didn’t get) in return for these players when they were given their walking papers. That’s a separate issue for another time.
But for now, we can at least try to shelve the discussion that all youngsters dumped by the Canadiens become superstars elsewhere.
Can you think of any other Habs that were traded away, only to become stars elsewhere?