Montreal Canadiens: This Date in Habs History: Sam Pollock Sets Table To Get Guy Lafleur

NEW YORK - CIRCA 1979: Guy Lafleur Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - CIRCA 1979: Guy Lafleur Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

Montreal Canadiens legends are scattered throughout hockey’s history books. Dating back to the early days of the NHL when Howie Morenz dazzled fans and Hart Trophy’s, all the way to Carey Price hoisting the same League MVP award in 2015, there have been stars shining for the Habs.

The greatest dynasty was built in the 1950’s as the careers of Canadiens greats Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau overlapped for several years. They were joined by Jacques Plante, Boom Boom Geoffrion, Henri Richard, Dickie Moore and Doug Harvey to form the nucleus of a team that would win five consecutive Stanley Cups from 1956-60.

Though the 1950’s saw the greatest dynasty, going half a decade winning the Stanley Cup each year, the best teams in franchise history played in the late 1970’s.

More from Editorials

These teams were built around the incredible goaltending of Ken Dryden. Tremendous defensemen Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe and forwards like Steve Shutt, Jacques Lemaire, Yvan Cournoyer and of course, Guy Lafleur.

Lafleur was the offensive leader of the team, and the best scorer in the world during the time the Habs won four straight Stanley Cups from 1976-79.

However, if it weren’t for some shrewd trades, including one made on this day, Lafleur never would have worn the Canadiens sweater.

Looking back at the history books, the trade made on January 26, 1971 doesn’t sound like a huge one. It shows Ralph Backstrom was dealt from the Canadiens to the Los Angeles Kings for Ray Fortin, Gord Laboissiere and a second round pick that would become Peter Martin.

Fortin and Labossiere would combine to play zero games for the Canadiens and score a total of 46 NHL goals in their careers. So, what makes this deal so notable?

It wasn’t so much what the Habs got in return, it was what Backstrom did with the Kings.

About a year earlier, Habs GM Sam Pollock traded the 10th overall pick in the 1970 NHL Draft and Ernie Hicke, who was a decent looking prospect at the time, for the California Golden Seals first round pick in the 1971 NHL Draft.

Well, halfway through the 1970-71 season, Pollock realized that the Golden Seals might not finish in last place like he predicted and hoped. The Los Angeles Kings were sitting too close to the bottom of the standings for comfort, and finishing last would have given them the rights to the first overall pick. Everyone knew for years that Guy Lafleur would be the first overall pick in 1971 and Pollock wanted to make sure he played for the Canadiens.

So, Pollock traded Backstrom to the Kings in hopes it would lead them to a few more wins than the Seals could muster in the second half of the season.

It worked, perfectly.

Backstrom had fallen down the Habs lineup and wasn’t producing much in the 1970-71 season anyway. He had just five points in 16 games for the Habs that season, but did produce five 20 goal seasons previously. He had a bit of a renaissance when he landed in Los Angeles, where he had a much larger role.

When Backstrom arrived in L.A., the Kings had a record of 14-23-8, while the Golden Seals were 14-30-3. Backstrom would score 27 points in 33 games for the Kings. After acquiring Backstrom, the Kings would pull well ahead of the Golden Seals, and California would sit comfortably (for Pollock) in last place.

The Canadiens would go on a surprising run, led by Ken Dryden, to win the 1971 Stanley Cup. A few weeks later, they would announce the selection of Guy Lafleur with the first overall pick.

Lafleur would go on to set many records for the Montreal Canadiens and win many NHL Awards. He finished his Habs career with518 goals, second most in team history, 1246 points, the most in Habs history, as well as three Art Ross Trophy’s, three Lester B. Pearson Awards, two Hart Trophy’s and a Conn Smythe.

Next. Everything Bergevin's been touching has turned gold. dark

If it weren’t for a few shrewd trades, including one made on this day, 50 years ago, Guy Lafleur would not have been playing for the Montreal Canadiens.