The Montreal Canadiens have arguably gone from the best roster since the 1993 Stanley Cup to one of the worst-performing teams in franchise history in a single season. So much so that a hypothetical second NHL-wide pause due to the pandemic in two years might be welcome… both for public safety and to preserve the illusion that the 2021-22 Canadiens, who are now 7-21-3, can turn it around, some way, somehow.
Keep in mind though, that two seasons ago, before the league first paused due to the pandemic, the Canadiens were among the league’s worst teams. They were so trouble-stricken on the ice that analysts questioned the wisdom holding onto the likes of Jeff Petry and Tomas Tatar that trade deadline, despite there still being term left on those two deals.
Those Habs were 24th in the league, but had a 31-31-9 record, or .500 points percentage (PTS%), and ended up making the playoffs by the skin of their teeth on a technicality. To put it in perspective, these 31st-ranked Habs have one of .274. They’re (much) worse.
Of course, there is hope to be had in how Petry and Tatar did contribute the following season in 2020-21 as the Canadiens reached the Stanley Cup Final. It is possible that these Canadiens similarly turn it around in the not-too-distant future, but, for the time being, consider how the 2021-22 edition had gotten off to the worst 10-game start in team history since 1941 (2-8-0). So, it’s not going to be this season.
For the record, the 1941-42 Canadiens started off at 1-8-1 in their first 10 games. At the 31-game mark they were 8-21-2 (with five of those losses coming in overtime, which would earn them single points today). So, they had a better record at this point than the current team, ending up at 18-27-3. More to the point, in the seven-team league at the time (Brooklyn Americans) the Canadiens actually made the playoffs, losing in the first round to the Detroit Red Wings.
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So, if a playoff appearance is a disqualifying factor, ranking the worst Canadiens teams of all time, where would the 2021-22 squad place? Looking primarily at points percentage, among the very worst, that’s for sure:
5. 1914-15 Montreal Canadiens (6-14; .325 PTS%)
The current Montreal Canadiens are not alone, coming oh so close to greatness only to hit rock bottom. The 1913-14 Canadiens finished tied atop the National Hockey Association (NHA) standings, losing the Stanley Cup to the co-first-place Toronto Hockey Club. In 1914-15, the Canadiens finished dead last, losing 14 of 20 games, including one in overtime for a .325 PTS% (by today’s standards).
On paper though, the team had significant upside, especially compared to the current incarnation. In fact, the Habs had several future Hall-of-Fame players on the roster including Georges Vezina in net playing behind the likes of Jack Laviolette, Didier Pitre and Newsy Lalonde, the latter of whom played just seven games due to a contract dispute.
As fate would have it, the Habs would live up to that potential, winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in 1915-16 after a little roster retooling (keeping the core intact). So, there is hope in the present.
4. 1925-26 Montreal Canadiens (11-24-1; .333 PTS%)
Vezina is going to be a recurring theme on this list, through little fault of his own it would seem. In 1925-26, he was slated to be the team’s star netminder once again, but he only played part of one game, the opener. Vezina couldn’t finish, was diagnosed with tuberculosis and tragically died soon after the season ended.
Herb Rheaume, Alphonse Lacroix and Bill Taugher split goaltending duties the rest of the way. None of the three so much as played another game in the NHL between them. Hall-of-Famers Howie Morenz and Aurel Joliat co-led the team in scoring, even finishing in a tie for fifth place in league scoring. However, it was not enough, with the Canadiens allowing a second-worst 108 goals in 36 games (compared to the Ottawa Senators’ league-low 42).
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3. 1909-10 Montreal Canadiens (2-10; .167 PTS%)
It’s almost sacrilege to list the first-ever Hab team on here, but the numbers don’t lie. They won just two games their inaugural season, excluding their first ever, a 7-6 overtime victory, which didn’t count as it was as members of the Canadian Hockey Association, days before the NHA was formed. Despite the list-low .167 PTS%, they get something of a pass due to extenuating circumstances, i.e., a 12-game season. Things could have changed for the better over a longer schedule, in theory.
Similar to the 1914-15 team, the team was led by the likes of Lalonde, Pitre and Laviolette and technically backstopped by a Hall-of-Fame goalie. Only thing is that goalie was Joseph Cattarinich, who was inducted as a builder, not a player, going on to co-own the Habs later on in his life. Back in 1909-10 though, he actually retired mid-season, after an exhibition loss to an amateur team of all things.
For what it’s worth, that team was Vezina’s Chicoutimi Sagueneens. Cattarinich recommended the team sign him as he hung them up. The Canadiens wisely did by the end of the calendar year.
2. 2021-22 Montreal Canadiens (7-21-3; .274 PTS%)
Expectations should have been tempered heading into 2021-22. Getting to the playoffs, even after reaching the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, was always going to be difficult. However, no one expected this:
- A leading scorer with just 18 points in 31 games (Nick Suzuki)
- Three projected shutdown defensemen in the top four when healthy
- A depth player on paper leading that defense in scoring (Chris Wideman)
- A one-time Calder Memorial Trophy favorite with one goal (Cole Caufield)
- Questionable decision-making that until recently regularly limited that rookie to less than 13 minutes per game
Ultimately, there’s a lot of blame to go around. It’s not just the players. It’s not just the coaching. It’s not just the construction of the team, but it most certainly is not just the injuries.
Sure, there are a lot of injuries and even a pandemic. However, the Canadiens can’t blame it all on bad luck when every other team has to deal with similar circumstances. Hell, teams more injured than them are doing much better in the standings. When it comes down to it, the Habs’ struggles this season are proof of what happens when you structure your team in such a way that you rely primarily on goaltending… and then take that goaltending away.
The loss of goalie Carey Price to personal issues and Shea Weber, who was arguably acquired in large part to insulate the former, to retirement has exposed huge holes in the lineup. The depth down the middle, which, for a time, had actually been looking like a strength, took a huge hit when Phillip Danault left due to free agency.
The end result is a team that has scored a second-to-last 2.13 goals per game, has allowed a fourth-worst 3.52 goals per game. The Habs also have a fourth-worst 71.6% success rate on the penalty kill and a tied-for-last-place 12.5% success rate on the power play. They haven’t won more than a game in a row all season.
The one saving grace is there’s a lot of runway left (in principle) and it’s hard to believe these Habs don’t go on some sort of run. Just like the 1909-10 Canadiens can’t honestly be considered the worst ever because of a short schedule, the Canadiens can do better. Specifically speaking, Price makes this team better, but you can’t rely on Weber coming back at all, leaving serious questions as to how effective Price would even be, namely: “Is it even worth bringing him back at all?”
1. 1939-40 Montreal Canadiens (10-33-5; .260 PTS%)
Shades of 2015-16 when the Canadiens stormed out of the starting gate with a 9-0 record only to miss the playoffs altogether. Only the 1939-40 didn’t have the same excuse, with goalie Price injured, missing all but 12 games due to injury.
The 1939-40 Habs were actually undefeated in the season’s first six games (4-0-2) and 7-4-2 after 13. They won just three games the rest of the way, though. That equates to a 3-29-3 record (.129 PTS%). They also finished last in goals scored and goals against.
They weren’t without talent per se, but in terms of future Hall of Famers, it was just Marty Barry in his last NHL season and Toe Blake, who led the team in scoring with a modest 36 points in 48 games. Blake had found scoring success previously, but he was still lacking “punch,” in the form of the infamous Punch line, of which he was a key member. Elmer Lach only joined the Canadiens the following season. Maurice Richard only debuted in 1942-43. The line itself only got formed in 1943-44.
Of note, the 1939-40 Canadiens suffered several lengthy losing streaks. Their longest was nine games, right after their aforementioned good start to the season. They also had two separate 10-game winless streaks as well as a stretch of 15 winless games at home, a league record up until 1995-96 (Ottawa Senators).
Also, it was the last time the Canadiens finished last in their division until 1998-99, which in and of itself represented a dark time in Canadiens history, the start of three straight non-playoff seasons, coinciding with the end of the Rejean Houle era. However, none of those teams earned less than 70 points in the standings. The 1939-40 Canadiens would have been on pace for 43. The 2021-22 Habs? 45.
Do with that information what you will, but the point remains the Canadiens are currently performing at a historically low level to put it rather politely. Feel free to replace the wording of that last sentence with alternative language that’s as colorful as you wish. However, the old cliché is it’s always darkest before the dawn. A new regime that’s currently being put in place should make sure this is indeed rock bottom, because as history proves they can’t possibly get much worse.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to cover the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.