The Montreal Canadiens’ long and storied history is based on the exploits of the homegrown talent they’ve cultivated over the century. From Maurice Richard to Carey Price, team success was born by their talent. The last true “Stanley Cup contender window” the Habs enjoyed was the period between 1985 and 1994. Despite having to compete with two dynasties in the 80s, they won one Cup and had at least one playoff round victory every season – except for 1994.
Now in the salary cap era, becoming a contender takes the same ingredients as it did in the 80s, but there is more of a need to focus on the draft and the development staff. To prevent overspending on a small number of players and leave no money for depth, this is the method used by today’s NHL general managers (GMs). In this article, we will compare the impact players drafted by the Canadiens in 1983 and 1984 had on that contender window, and what the 2022 and 2023 draft classes can do to open the next one.
1983 and 1984 Drafts
In the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, the Canadiens had the 17th overall pick and selected centerman Alfie Turcotte, who only played 85 games for the Habs. Hey, not every pick is a home run. Yet the team held the 26th and 27th picks and chose Claude Lemieux and Sergio Momesso. Add in John Kordic at 78th and the Habs added three players who had a significant impact on the 1986 Cup win but also success in the years to come.
Lemieux was a home run. He played 1,215 NHL regular season games and 234 playoff games. He won four Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1995, and was the quintessential playoff pest – any Detroit Red Wings fan would agree. Momesso and Kordic won the 1986 Cup with Montreal, but their trades allowed for players that would add to future success. The Kordic for Russ Courtnall trade is still reviled by Toronto Maple Leafs fans as one of their worst, ever.
Yet the 1984 Draft is where then-GM Serge Savard truly opened his Cup window. The top four picks in this draft all played over 1,000 games. There is a two-time 50-goal scorer, a Hall of Fame goaltender, and two All-Star quality players. This draft is still to this day, the greatest draft class for the Canadiens in the modern era.
|8||Shayne Corson||Left Wing||1,156||273||420||693||2,357|
|29||Stephane Richer||Left Wing||1,054||421||398||819||614|
Richer needed to become a scoring threat when Guy Lafleur retired. No pressure, right? Shayne Corson was the power forward they needed, he was a big, physical forward who could score and wouldn’t back down from anyone. Svoboda was a true two-way defender. He could shoot, pass, skate, and get physical. He was also the first player from behind the Iron Curtain to appear at the draft in person. But the one pick that made the largest impact, leading to two Cups for Montreal, was Roy who became one of the best goaltenders in NHL history.
2022 and 2023 Drafts
Montreal hosted the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, and it was with more than the usual fanfare found in hockey-mad Montreal as it was the first draft held in-person since the COVID-19 pandemic struck causing shutdowns and games in empty buildings across the NHL. Adding to the carnival-like atmosphere was the fact the Canadiens won the draft lottery, giving them the 1st overall selection for the first time since 1980.
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Leading up to the day of the draft, Shane Wright was seen as the consensus first-overall pick. Yet after much debate and research, GM Kent Hughes selected the 2022 Olympic MVP and behemoth Slovak winger Juraj Slafkovsky.
There will be more of an impact from this draft class in part due to the next three picks. Filip Mesar (26th overall), Owen Beck (33rd overall) and Lane Hutson (62nd overall) are all projected to play key roles in the Habs’ future, but the one that has shot up the prospect pool rankings in Hutson is now seen as a possible star offensive defenseman. A class, if they all reach their potential, can add two top-six wingers, a middle-six center, and a top-four offensive defenseman, which can become a key part of a contender window.
The 2023 Draft is scheduled for June 28-29 in Nashville and the Canadiens are in a good position to add a significant player with the fifth overall pick. This draft class is seen as being very deep, one NHL GM told ESPN. “Sounds like you can even get first-round talent in the second round, too, and those picks may be stronger than first-round picks [in 2022].” With Montreal holding fifth, 31st or 32nd (depending on if the Florida Panthers win the Cup) and the 37th selections, that would be as if the Habs held three first-round picks and that could fill significant gaps in their prospect pool in goal and on right defense.
Comparing The Drafts
The 1983 and 1984 Drafts provided seven quality NHL players including a Hall of Fame goaltender. These players and the returns they fetched in trades formed the basis of that era’s contender window. The approach to these players was to allow for a development path for each player. Draft and develop, that was the key approach for GM Serge Savard who had nine players from his first two drafts on the roster when the Habs won the Cup in 1986.
Over the length of that contender window, most players on the roster were drafted, developed, and trained in the Canadiens’ way to play hockey. Stability in the front office leading to stability in the philosophy of building a team allowed for stability as contenders. In 1995, the Habs began to have a revolving door in staff, and that led to years of mediocrity.
Under Marc Bergevin, stability returned, somewhat. His approach changed mid-way through his tenure, but there was some playoff success, but it was led by future Hall of Fame goaltender Carey Price. Now, with Hughes, fans hope to see a return to the draft-and-develop approach Savard had success with. Fans can have hope as the Canadiens are approaching development in a modern way — as a marathon, where it isn’t about meeting specific standards by specific dates. They allow the players to grow in their way and time until they reach their potential. The goal for the team is to draft and develop players who will be capable of long and productive NHL careers, filling every role a team would need. And the 2022 and 2023 Draft classes will form the basis of this approach.
The Canadiens’ success in the 1980s, winning a Stanley Cup in 1986 and losing in the 1989 Final was a direct result of drafting and developing several impact players from each draft class over a decade. While a strong draft in 2022 and 2023 will go a long way in rejuvenating the Canadiens’ hopes, they will still need to develop and sustain draft floor success if they hope to replicate the 10-year Cup contending window they had from 1985 to 1994.