Today’s article is the final Montreal Canadiens article in this series. All of THW’s Habs writers voted on a top-three system to declare who is the best Montreal Canadiens player of all-time. At the conclusion of the voting, there was a two-way for most votes, between Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau. Due to having more first-place votes, Richard got the edge. However, we decided to make cases for both players below.
1. Maurice Richard, 1942-1960 (Written by Melissa Boyd)
Choosing the Canadiens’ all-time greatest player is a nearly impossible task considering the many worthy candidates to choose from. Case in point, our team vote ended in a first-place tie between Richard and Béliveau when we each chose our top-three. We gave the edge to the “Rocket” on account of his three first-place votes, but a strong case can be made for both legends.
When you think of Montreal and Canadiens, usually the first name that comes to mind is Maurice Richard. He revolutionized the game like no other and set the table for all the great players who wore the ‘bleu-blanc-rouge’ after him. He overcame adversity to become the best player of his generation.
Richard scored 32 goals in 46 games during his first full NHL season in 1943-44. That year was also the first of 14 straight seasons in which he was named an All-Star. He etched his name in the history books the following year when he became the first player to score 50 goals in a season and he needed just 50 games to do it. He also became the first player to score 500 goals in the NHL.
Not only is Richard the subject of the popular children’s book “The Hockey Sweater”, but he is also a hero and a cultural icon in Quebec to this day – not only because of his incredible feats on the ice, but also because he always used his platform to stand up for his heritage and Quebecers followed suit.
Richard was bigger than the game. When he passed away from cancer in 2000, he was given a state funeral in Montreal that was attended by more than 115,000 people. The Habs’ AHL team in Laval is named after him and the NHL’s top goalscorer trophy bears his name.
It’s only appropriate that our top vote-getters are both Quebec-born players, considering that hockey and the Canadiens have become such an important part of the province’s culture. No player has had more of an impact on that culture than No. 9, Maurice “Rocket” Richard.
2. Jean Beliveau, 1950-1971
Jean Beliveau, also known as “Le Gros Bill,” needs to be included in the conversation when mentioning the best Habs player of all-time. Getting Beliveau to commit full-time to the Canadiens was a challenge, as he wanted to stay loyal to the City of Quebec. Despite having a contract that he signed with the Canadiens in 1950, he would remain full-time with the Quebec Ramparts and Quebec Aces. During that time, he played a few games here and there for the Canadiens. However, when he did arrive full-time for the 1953-54 season, he instantly took the Canadiens to another level.
In his prime, he led the Habs both on and off the ice, winning 10 Stanley Cups, including five as captain. The five Stanley Cups ties him with Maurice “Rocket” Richard for most as a Habs captain. However, he played huge parts in winning those five Cups alongside Richard, who was captain during the five consecutive Cup dynasty. At that point, Beliveau was building up his pedigree to become the next captain. Therefore, having Beliveau helped Richard to be able to capture those Cups as captain.
Beliveau captured his one and only scoring title and first of two Hart Trophies (the other came in 1963-64) in the 1955-56 season. He also won the first-ever Conn Smythe Trophy in 1965, when he led the Habs past the Chicago Blackhawks to win his first Cup as captain.
Beliveau’s 6-foot-4 stature and smooth skating allowed him to have an advantage to outplay his opponents on any given night. While he wasn’t known as much for goalscoring as playmaking, he did manage to be one of only three players to score 500 goals in a Habs uniform. Plus, he was the only playmaker of the bunch.
Beliveau led the Canadiens in points in 7 of his 18 full seasons with the team, including his final season in 1970-71. His best season came in 1958-59, where he scored 45 goals and 91 points, but he didn’t lead the team in points as teammate Dickie Moore led the league with 96.
Throughout his career, Beliveau scored 1,219 points in 1,125 games, and, to this day, is still the all-time leader in Habs regular-season points. He went on to play in 13 All-Star games, and earned six first-team All-Star and four second-team All-Star selections.
Beliveau was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972. He also continued to be an ambassador of the team until his death on Dec. 2, 2014.
While Richard may seem like the easy choice as the greatest player in Canadiens history, Beliveau can be argued to be the best as well.