The Montreal Canadiens of the 1995 lockout shortened season were a team in turmoil. Just two years removed from winning the franchise’s 24th Stanley Cup, the core of the Cup winning team was rapidly showing signs of their age, and the team was on its way to missing the 1995 postseason altogether.
Early in the season, the Canadiens would pull off a blockbuster, that landed them one of the game’s highest scoring wingers, but ultimately set the team back further than they could have ever imagined at the time.
The Habs had sent young John LeClair and stud defenceman Eric Desjardins to the Philadelphia Flyers in return for Mark Recchi. You know the old saying that says if you get the best player in a trade, you win that trade? Well, it is usually correct.
Recchi was certainly the best player of the trio at the time of the trade, and outscored both LeClair and Desjardins combined in career points, but LeClair became a goal scoring machine upon arriving in Philly where he played alongside Eric Lindros. The former Hab winger scored 50 goals three consecutive seasons, and was one of the NHL’s best goal scorers for several years after the trade.
Desjardins continued to be a number one defender for the Flyers, and no number of points scored by Recchi could make this deal a winner for Montreal.
The Habs made a similar deal just a few months later, trading one of their top defenceman, as well as a key piece of their forward group that helped them win a Stanley Cup two seasons prior, in exchange for some immediate help.
This time, however, the trade made a lot more sense for the Canadiens.
Montreal sent Kirk Muller who was the top center on the Cup champs in 1993, along with top pairing defender Mathieu Schneider to the New York Islanders, for high scoring center Pierre Turgeon and a huge offensive defenceman in Vladimir Malakhov.
Though Schneider, only 25 years old at the time, had a lot of hockey left in him, and many points as a solid offensive defenceman, Malakhov helped reduce the sting of losing Schneider.
Malakhov has twice reached the 50 point plateau in his first two full NHL seasons on Long Island, and reached double digit goal totals in three of his four full seasons in Montreal. He hit a high of 44 points in a Habs sweater during the 1997-98 season and chipped in seven playoff points in nine games, helping the team oust heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round.
Malakhov could not replace Schneider, but he was a very reasonable facsimile for his short stay in Montreal. He was later dealt to the New Jersey Devils for Sheldon Souray, who blew both players out of the water when it came to producing offense from the blue line.
Where the Canadiens really won this trade was the swap of centers. Though Muller was a tremendous player for the Habs, and a huge part of the Cup winning team in 93, the offensive side of game was leaving him quickly.
Muller played a very physical game his entire career, and it appeared in 1995 that it was catching up to him. He had scored 94 points in the Cup winning season, but had just 19 in 33 games at the time of the trade in 1995.
Following the deal, Muller would only hit the 30 point plateau three more times in his career, and reached a high of 40 after leaving Montreal.
Turgeon on the other hand, proved to be one of the highest scoring players in the league during his short stay in Montreal. After being acquired, he scored 20 points in the final 15 games of the 1995 season, and followed that up with 96 points in what would prove to be his only full season in a Habs sweater.
In 1996-97, having scored 11 points in 9 games, Turgeon was dealt to the St. Louis Blues in what was one of the worst trades ever made by the Habs. The putrid return of an aging Shayne Corson and Murray Baron made little sense at the time, and looks even worse years later.
In fact, Craig Conroy was thrown into the deal by Montreal, sent to the Blues alongside Turgeon, and would become by far the second best player in the trade after Turgeon.
Turgeon scored 127 points in just 104 games with the Canadiens, a point per game average of 1.22 that trails only Guy Lafleur in the history of the Habs franchise. He was an elite first line center, and the Canadiens peddled him away after making a great trade to acquire him.
Pierre would continue piling up points with the Blues, scoring 355 points in 327 games in the five seasons after leaving Montreal. He also chipped in 45 points in 50 postseason games with the Blues, an area he was criticized for by Habs fans, even though he had six points in his six playoff games while a member of the Canadiens.
The Canadiens were lucky to have a point per game first line center for one full season. No one has scored more than Turgeon’s 96 points in a Habs sweater since he did it nearly two decades ago. Had the team had any foresight at the time, they could have had him for many more.
The awful trade that was made with St. Louis does not undo the great trade that was made with the Islanders. That is why acquiring Turgeon and Malakhov was the 7th best trade the Montreal Canadiens have made since Wayne Gretzky was sold by the Edmonton Oilers.
Tags: Montreal Canadiens