In at least one way, 1959-60 was the Montreal Canadiens’ last kick at the can, as it was the final season of superstar Maurice Richard’s career. It just so happens, 100% uncoincidentally, they had been successful hitting it out of the park the previous four seasons too en route to vying for an unprecedented fifth straight Stanley Cup. Needless to say, successful in defense of their title, the Canadiens would set a record in the process that has yet to be broken, as the only team in NHL history to accomplish the feat.
Richard Hands Reins to Beliveau
While the five Cup-winning teams were a dynasty in their own right, the streak effectively represented the birth of the Canadiens as one. As a result, the 1959-60 Canadiens cemented the franchise’s legacy, establishing the Canadiens as arguably the most successful team in league history. Considering the streak effectively served as a handing-off of the baton from Richard to Jean Beliveau as the team’s pre-eminent franchise player and the Habs employed the services of both throughout, including that final 1959-60 season, this specific team has a clear-cut case to be considered the best in NHL history.
Admittedly, Richard wasn’t as productive as he once was, scoring 19 goals and 16 assists in 51 games. However, as a 28-year-old at the time, an in-his-prime Beliveau picked up the slack with a team-leading 34 goals and 74 points, good for third in the league (Bobby Hull of the Chicago Black Hawks and Bronco Horvath of the Boston Bruins).
Furthermore, as one might expect, it wasn’t just those two. Up front, the Canadiens also featured Richard’s younger brother, Henri, Bernie Geoffrion and Dickie Moore, who had won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer for two straight seasons leading into 1959-60. Reigning Calder Memorial Trophy winner Ralph Backstrom led an impressive supporting cast.
On defense, the Canadiens had Doug Harvey and Tom Johnson. Harvey would win the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league’s best defenseman that season, the fifth of seven times in a span of eight seasons he would capture the title, with Johnson winning the trophy the other time, the year before.
Strong from Net out with Masked Plante Manning Crease
Meanwhile, Jacques Plante, who introduced the mask into the mainstream in a game on Nov. 1, 1959 against the New York Rangers, manned the crease for the Canadiens. Plante would win the Vezina for the fifth straight season, owning a monopoly on the trophy over the streak. To further put an exclamation point on the Canadiens’ strength in net, Charlie Hodge, Plante’s backup, was no slouch either, going on to win two Vezinas himself (1964, 66).
Overall, with exception to Hodge, Backstrom and Johnson, each of the above players went on to have their jerseys retired by the Canadiens. Meanwhile, including Johnson, each of those players with retired Canadiens jerseys eventually got inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, with head coach Toe Blake also enjoying the honor. In other words, the 1959-60 squad, which went a first-place 40-18-12, was stacked with talent and it showed on the ice.
To be fair, the 1968-69 Canadiens team arguably had an even deeper lineup. However, the 1959-60 edition’s 13-point margin of victory for the regular-season title was far more impressive than the three the former earned. That dominance extended to the playoffs.
Legacy of the 1959-60 Canadiens
In the regular season, the Canadiens perhaps unsurprisingly scored a league-leading 255 goals in 70 games, 35 more than the second-ranked Boston Bruins. They also gave up a league-low 178 goals, with a goal differential of 77, 66 more than the second-ranked Black Hawks, who the Habs faced and ultimately swept in the first round.
After two straight 4-3 wins, including Game 2 in overtime on a goal by Harvey, the Canadiens shut out the Black Hawks the rest of the way outscoring them 6-0, on the road no less. The Canadiens went on to face the Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup Final, also shutting the Maple Leafs out in decisive fashion in the deciding game, 4-0. The headline though is that score mirrored the outcome of the series, just like in the opening round.
Breaking it down, the Canadiens went 8-0 in the playoffs, playing the bare minimum amount of games en route to winning their fifth straight title. While some may argue the preceding teams in the dynasty were stronger on paper, none of them were able to accomplish the feat, each losing at least two games on their respective roads to the Cup.
In fact, no team since the 1952 Detroit Red Wings had won every single of their playoff games. More importantly, no team since either, with these Habs thereby securing their place in hockey lore. Granted, with the NHL’s 1967 expansion to 12 total teams and an expanded playoff bracket, it has become exceedingly difficult for teams to run the table in the postseason. However, from another angle, with just six NHL teams in the fold at the time, talent was concentrated to a far greater degree. There are few better examples of the phenomenon than the 1959-60 Habs, featuring the multiple generational talents they did.
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 also written for 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 have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.