After losing in the second round for the third consecutive season in the 1992 playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens went about making significant changes to their lineup in the summer.
The Habs top three point scorers in the 1991-92 season were centers, Kirk Muller, Denis Savard and Stephan Lebeau, so they entered the offseason with a clear desire to upgrade their scoring on the wings.
Four days after acquiring left winger Vincent Damphousse from the Edmonton Oilers, the Canadiens traded Russ Courtnall to the Minnesota North Stars on the last day of August, for goal scoring right winger Brian Bellows.
Though Courtnall was also an offensive player, he was coming off a season in which he played just 27 games, scored 21 points but struggled in the postseason with just two points in ten games.
Courtnall bounced back immediately with the North Stars, approaching a point per game for each of the next three seasons. Although Courtnall was still a solid offensive player after leaving Montreal, there is no way of telling what would have happened had he stayed with the Canadiens.
We can look back and see what happened when the Canadiens had Brian Bellows in the lineup. In his first year with the Habs, Bellows helped the team to their 24th Stanley Cup in 1993.
The Canadiens finished the 1992-93 with 102 points in the standings, a number they could not match for the next 14 seasons. Patrick Roy was a big part of any team success, but offensively Bellows played a huge role right away.
Bellows led the 1993 Habs with 40 goals, a total that had only been reached once by a Canadiens player since, (Damphousse in 1994), and he finished third on the team in points with 88.
The biggest reason for the Canadiens to make the trade at the time, was to bring in a more seasoned playoff veteran. Bellows had a long history of postseason success during his ten year career with the North Stars, while Courtnall’s playoff history was spotty at best.
At the time of the trade, Courtnall had played nine seasons split between the Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. In those nine years he played 84 games in the postseason and scored only 49 points.
Bellows had played in 81 playoff games as a member of the Minnesota North Stars, and piled up an incredible 83 points in that time. A point per game playoff player is extremely difficult to find, but that is exactly what the Canadiens were able to do in 1992, and less than a year later it led to a Stanley Cup.
Bellows missed a pair of postseason games in 1993, but finished with 15 points in 18 games, third on the team behind linemates Kirk Muller and Vincent Damphousse. There is no guaranteeing that the Canadiens would not have won the Cup with Courtnall in the lineup, but there is significant evidence Bellows was a huge upgrade in the postseason.
After failing to advance past the second round for three straight seasons, the Canadiens traded as offensive right winger, for an offensive right winger with a great playoff history. Ten months later they won the Stanley Cup, with their new acquisition being one of their top offensive players all season.
Courtnall scored 36 goals and 79 points in 1993, while Bellows scored 40 goals and 88 points for Montreal. That is only a small advantage, but Bellows stepping up in a way that Courtnall never could for Montreal in the playoffs, makes this the sixth best trade in the past 26 years by the Montreal Canadiens.
Tags: Montreal Canadiens