Canadiens’ Retired Jerseys – the Story of a Famed Franchise

The Montreal Canadiens, one of the oldest professional sports franchises in North America, have a very storied past of success. They have honoured 18 players by taking their 15 jersey numbers out of circulation (three players shared the same number). The Canadiens have the most retired numbers of any NHL team.

Canadiens Banners Bell Centre
Canadiens Banners are shown suspended in the ceiling of the Bell Centre, March 17, 2011. (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

Sixteen of these 18 honourees (all except Émile Bouchard and Guy Lapointe) are also on the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players List. Here’s a look at the players whose jerseys have been retired by the Canadiens and their celebratory stories.

Howie Morenz #7 – Nov. 2, 1937

Howie Morenz, known more lovingly as the ‘The Stratford Streak’ and ‘The Mitchell Meteor’, wore the first number ever retired by the Canadiens. Morenz was one of hockey’s first superstars and was amongst the original nine inductees to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1945. He won the Hart Trophy as league MVP three times and helped the Canadiens win a trio of Stanley Cups. Morenz sadly broke his leg in four places during a game on Jan. 28, 1937. He died less than two months later at the age of 34. 

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Did you know? Morenz’s cause of death was documented as complications due to a blot clot from his broken leg but many say he truly died of a broken heart after learning his injury would put an end to his hockey career.

Maurice Richard #9 – Oct. 6, 1960

Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard was the first NHL player to score 50 goals in 50 games, a statistic that is still highly revered today. He helped the Canadiens win eight championships and was the first player to score 500 career goals. Richard’s impact on the game of hockey has transcended the sport and the importance he played with fans of the Canadiens has been unparalleled. They thought of him, not only as a superstar athlete but also, as a friend. When the league suspended Richard in 1955, Montreal fans rioted, and in 2000 his passing was honoured with a nationally broadcasted state funeral – the first-ever for a Canadian athlete.

Did you know? Richard wore number 15 during his rookie year but broke his leg after 16 games. Before his second season with the Habs, he and his wife had their first child who weighed in at nine pounds. When number nine became available, Richard quickly switched in honour of his daughter.

Jean Béliveau #4 – Oct. 9, 1971

No player is more representative of the Canadiens than Jean Béliveau. Béliveau, a gifted player and class act, wore the ‘C’ for 10 years with the Habs – the longest captaincy in team history.  He helped Montreal win 10 Stanley Cup championships and was named the first recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1965. 

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Did you know? Béliveau was known to be one of the finest humans that ever walked this planet. ‘Le Gros Bill’ had a greatness that was unparalleled both on and off the ice and the stories of how he helped people throughout his life are endless. This is a man who turned down the Canadiens for three seasons at the start of his career to stay with the Quebec Aces of the Quebec Senior League. They had just built a new arena and he felt loyal to the fans and compelled to help strengthen the franchise.

Henri Richard #16 – Dec. 10, 1975

Henri Richard, ‘the Pocket Rocket’ was the younger brother to Maurice and played a very different style of hockey, but many say he was just as highly skilled. Richard was a grinder who went on to win 11 Stanley Cup rings.

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Did you know? Henri Richard leads the franchise for his playoff appearances in 18 seasons and has 1256 games played in a Canadiens jersey, leading all other players.

Guy Lafleur #10 – Feb. 16, 1985

Guy ‘The Flower’ Lafleur was one of the most dynamic players of the 1970s and the cornerstone of five Stanley Cup championship teams with the Montreal Canadiens. His charismatic style and electrifying shot had fans chanting “Guy, Guy, Guy” every time he touched the puck. 

Guy Lafleur
NHL legend Guy Lafleur (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot)

Did you know? Lafleur wore number four in his domination of the Quebec Junior League so when he got drafted to the Canadiens, the recently retired Jean Béliveau offered Lafleur his number four sweater. However, the expectations of following in those footsteps were too intimidating and Guy politely declined to go on to make number 10 famous in Montreal.

Doug Harvey # 2 – Oct. 26, 1985

Doug Harvey was known for bringing his offensive style to the defensive position and was an integral part of the notorious Canadiens dynasty team that won five consecutive Stanley Cup championships in the 1950s. He also won the Norris Trophy six times, as the NHL’s top defenceman.

Did you know? Doug Harvey was one of the best NHL defensemen of all time but some would argue this natural athlete was even better on the football field and baseball diamond. Harvey was the MVP in the Quebec Rugby Football Union, whose team went on to win the Grey Cup in 1944; also played semi-pro baseball with the Ottawa Nationals who won the Championships of the Class ‘C’ Border League in 1947.

Jacques Plante #1 – Oct. 7, 1995

Jacques ‘Jake The Snake’ Plante was an integral part of the Canadiens dynasty of the 1950s and had the league’s lowest goals-against average each year of the Canadiens record five-year run. In addition to his six Stanley Cup rings, he also owns seven Vezina Trophies. 

Jacques Plante (THW Archives)

Did you know? Plante is known as one of the greatest inventors in the game of hockey. Aside from being the first goalie to don a mask, he was also the first goalie to skate behind the net to stop the puck for his defensemen and was also the pioneer of raising his arms on an icing play to communicate with his defence.

Dickie Moore #12 – Nov. 12, 2005

Dickie Moore was an outstanding all-around player and some say one of the toughest the league has ever seen. Moore, another member of the 1956-60 dynasty, won the league scoring title in 1958 and 1959.

Did you know? Moore played with a broken wrist for the last half of the 1957-58 season. With his wrist in a cast, he went on to win the Art Ross Trophy that year for the NHL’s leading scorer.

Yvan Cournoyer #12 – Nov. 12, 2005

Yvan ‘The Roadrunner’ Cournoyer earned his nickname for his speed on the ice. He earned 10 Stanley Cup rings, including the playoff MVP in 1973. The Canadiens decided to honour both Cournoyer and Moore by retiring the same number 12 for two different players, the first time this was done in club history. 

Yvan Cournoyer scores against the Black Hawks (THW Archives)

Did you know? Cournoyer was said to be the fastest of the ‘Flying Frenchmen’. In one game in 1977, he skated two circles around the New York Rangers net without anyone being able to catch him. This play even got an applause from the Rangers fans.

Bernie Geoffrion #5 – March 11, 2006

Bernie ‘Boom Boom’ Geoffrion earned his nickname by popularizing the slap shot. This skilled playmaker helped the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup six times and in 1961, he won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the League’s MVP. Geoffrion once told his wife, Marlene, that his jersey would hang in the rafters alongside her father’s number seven. On March 11th, 2006 (also the same day as his death), Geoffrion’s shirt was retired. As his number five was being raised, number seven was lowered and when both shirts were level, the shirts of Bernie Geoffrion and Howie Morenz were raised together in honour of their greatness. 

Did you know? Marlene, Geoffrion’s wife, is the daughter of Canadiens great, Morenz. Marlene and Bernie’s son, Dan, played for the Canadiens in 1970-80. Their grandson, (Dan’s son) Blake, was drafted in 2006 by the Nashville Predators and then traded to Montreal in 2012. The Morenz-Geoffrion family is the first fourth-generation hockey family and all have played with the Canadiens organization. 

Serge Savard #18 – Nov. 18, 2006

Serge ‘The Senator’ Savard played 16 NHL seasons and won eight Stanley Cups as a part of the Canadiens dynasty teams of the ’60s and ’70s. He continued his tenure with the Canadiens as their General Manager from 1983 to 1995.

Did you know? Serge Savard won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1969 and was the first defenceman to win this prestigious MVP award for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Ken Dryden #29 – Jan. 29, 2007

Ken Dryden played only six regular-season games in the 1970-71 season but led the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup title and clinched the playoff MVP. He is the only player in history to win the Conn Smythe Trophy the year before winning Rookie of the Year. He is also the only goalie to win the Stanley Cup championship before losing a regular-season game. He went on to win five Vezina Trophies and six Stanley Cups with the Canadiens.

Ken Dryden #29 of the Montreal Canadiens
MONTREAL, CANADA – CIRCA 1975: Ken Dryden #29 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during a game at the Montreal Forum circa 1975 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

Did you know? Dryden was originally drafted by the Boston Bruins in the 1964 draft. A few days later, the Bruins traded him to the Canadiens and his agent told him that Montreal had drafted him. He wouldn’t find out that he had originally been a Bruin until the mid-1970s.

Larry Robinson #19 – Nov. 19, 2007

Larry ‘Big Bird’ Robinson was a force to be reckoned with on the Montreal blue line. He has six Stanley Cup rings and two Norris Trophies with the Canadiens. However, his most impressive accomplishments may be that the Canadiens made the playoffs in each of his 17 seasons and that he is the all-time NHL plus-minus leader at a remarkable plus-722.

Did you know? Montreal chose Lafleur first overall in the 1971 draft. They would pass on Robinson twice more before finally taking him with their fourth pick (20th overall). Fast forward 20 years and the only two men still playing in the NHL from that year? You guessed it. Lafleur and Robinson.

Bob Gainey #23 – Feb. 23, 2008

Bob ‘Le Capitaine’ Gainey was in on five championship teams with the Canadiens, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1979, and was the NHL’s best defensive forward, winning the Selke Trophy four times. Gainey continued with the Canadiens post-retirement and became their general manager from 2001 to 2010.

Bob Gainey celebrating another Stanley Cup victory in Montreal. (THW Archives)

Did you know? Gainey was known as a fan favourite throughout his time in Montreal and he didn’t disappoint on the night his jersey got raised to the rafters. Gainey came out on the ice, to the delight of the fans, from the Zamboni doors in full gear to do one last lap around the rink.

Patrick Roy #33 – Nov. 22, 2008

Patrick Roy (along with Dryden) won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy as a rookie goaltender. He is famously known for introducing his butterfly style of goaltending, influencing a generation of goaltenders. He is the only NHL player in history to win three Conn Smythe Trophies and he won them in three different decades!

Did you know? Roy never won any individual awards and was never on any All-Star teams throughout his junior career. The first major individual award that Roy was honoured with was the Conn Smythe trophy in 1986.

Émile Bouchard #3 – Dec. 4, 2009

Émile ‘Butch’ Bouchard is among the best defencemen in Canadiens history. He was said to possess Herculean strength and was known as both a leader and a mentor. In 1948, Bouchard became the first Quebec-born captain of the Canadiens, a position he kept until his retirement eight years later.

Did you know? Bouchard grew up during the depression and did not begin skating until he was 16 years old.

Elmer Lach #16 – Dec. 4, 2009

Elmer Lach was a member of the Canadiens’ famed ‘Punch Line’, playing between Toe Blake and Maurice Richard. He is known as one of the NHL’s greatest playmakers of all-time and when he retired in 1954, he was the NHL’s all-time leader in assists with 408.

the punch line
Maurice Richard, Elmer Lach and Toe Blake – the Punch Line. (THW Archives)

Did you know? Lach suffered numerous injuries throughout his career including breaking his nose seven times and his jaw three times. In the 1940s, he was offered an enormous $17,000 by his health insurance company to retire from hockey. He politely declined.

Guy Lapointe #5 – Nov. 8, 2014

Guy ‘Pointu’ Lapointe wore the most recent Canadiens’ number put into retirement. He was a member of the 1970s Canadiens dynasty team who won six Stanley Cups. He still holds the Montreal Canadiens record for most goals scored in a season for a defenceman with 28.

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Did you know? Guy Lapointe was also famous for his sense of humor. He once pranked Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau with a vaseline coated handshake.

The Great One

Wayne Gretzky’s number 99 was officially retired across the NHL at the 50th All-Star Game in 2000. The ‘Great One’ holds every major career scoring record and is inarguably the best player who has ever laced up in the NHL. Gretzky is the only player with this honour.

best hockey players Gretzky and Lafleur
Wayne Gretzky chats with Lafleur (Photo by Frank Lennon/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The Next One

Toe Blake, Chris Chelios, Bill Durnan, Jacques Lemaire, Frank Mahovlich, and Georges Vezina round out the players on the NHL’s Top 100 Players list whose numbers have not been retired by the Canadiens. Will we see one of these greats raised to the rafters next or will it be the youth of tomorrow? One thing is for certain… there are still many stories left to write.