Throughout their history, the Montreal Canadiens have had a lot of greats. However, there are some whose contributions aren’t recognized enough. A great example of this is Jacques Lemaire, who was a key part of the late 1960s and 1970s teams, but was often overshadowed by his more flashy teammates.
In terms of points, Lemaire managed to score 835 in 853 games. He stayed around a point per game for his career thanks to his incredible consistency. There was also so much more to his game than just points.
What Lemaire Brought to the Habs
Lemaire was the type of player that could do it all in a time when there wasn’t as many star two-way forwards. He was the type of forward who could do it all on both ends of the ice. This was especially the case when looking at the Habs of the late 70s. He was the type of player that coach Scotty Bowman could rely on at any time.
His linemates Steve Shutt and Guy Lafleur were clearly known for their offense, but Lemaire brought the defensive side to the line. That’s not to say he couldn’t produce offense, as in fact, on average he’d produce higher numbers than Shutt. He would regularly average over a point per game but there were times he’d sacrifice his offense for defense in order to help the team win. This was one of the reasons that his point totals were a lot lower than his linemates during the 1976-77 season.
Lemaire had many clutch moments in a Canadiens jersey during the playoffs. He actually scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in his final NHL game. He also got the overtime winner in Game 4 of the 1977 Stanley Cup Final that sealed the deal on the Habs 20th Stanley Cup. In 12 NHL seasons, Lemaire captured eight Cups.
Why Is Lemaire Underappreciated?
During his time with the Canadiens, Lemaire often played on a line with the team’s best offensive talent and would often just be seen as a complementary forward on his line. As mentioned earlier, he played with Lafleur in the late 70s, however even before that, he played on a line with Yvan Cournoyer. This definitely helped his point totals, but he also helped his linemates out on both ends of the ice.
Sure, Lemaire isn’t as good as Lafleur but he’s not as far off Cournoyer as a lot of people realize. Generally, the two forwards would put up around the same amount of points, but Lemaire also had a strong defensive game to go with it. However, Cournoyer is said to have been the better player between the two. Honestly looking deeper into it, it’s a lot harder to say which player is better. Although Cournoyer may have recorded a measly 27 more points than Lemaire in his career, he did so in 115 more games.
Cournoyer definitely had the goal scoring and speed advantage over Lemaire. However, Lemaire had the playmaking and defensive advantage over Cournoyer. Therefore, it can be said that they were equally as effective as one another in their prime.
The reason this matters is that Cournoyer got his jersey number retired, whereas Lemaire hasn’t, and it is very unlikely it will happen. It is arguable that he is the best player that hasn’t had his number retired yet in Habs history.
Where Does Among Lemaire Place Among All-Time Habs?
When looking at Lemaire, he actually left the NHL at the top of his game. He could have easily played another three or four years following the 1979 season but he chose to become a player-coach in Switzerland instead. He’d return to coach the Habs in 1983-84, where he stayed for two years. If he had decided to play a couple more years in Montreal, it is highly likely that Lemaire would have been one of only four players to score 1,000 points in the bleu, blanc et rouge.
With that being said, there are a lot of legends who played when there were fewer games, therefore he tallied up a lot more games than some who could have possibly made it in a different era. In conclusion, it can be argued that Lemaire is somewhere in the 15-to-20 range on the team’s all-time list. That is a great accomplishment for anybody, but oftentimes his production gets forgotten, as Cournoyer, who was around his skill level, gets a lot more attention. The Canadiens don’t seem to include Lemaire in the same sentence as Cournoyer, but at the end of the day, he should be there.
Lemaire went on to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984.