The Montreal Canadiens have entered the quietest time on the calendar. While there is little to look forward to in the month of August, we decided to take a look back at some of the greatest players in franchise history. We start our site countdown of the five best wingers in Canadiens history with Bob Gainey.
Gainey does not jump out at the top of the scoring statistics pages among Habs history. In fact, he is ranked 24th all-time in points by a Canadiens players and is 15th in goals scored by a Canadiens skater.
While those are not bad totals, they shouldn’t immediately include someone in the list of greatest of all time. What separates Gainey apart from anyone in Habs history is his defense. While his scoring was nothing to ignore, his defensive impact was greater than anyone else who ever played in Montreal.
Until Patrice Bergeron came around, Gainey was widely renowned as the greatest defensive forward to ever play in the NHL. There was no argument. Now, the debate can rage on between Gainey and Bergeron, but there is no question Gainey is the best defensive forward in the history of the Canadiens.
The native of Peterborough, Ontario was playing in the OHA with the Peterborough Petes in his NHL Draft year. Though he had just 43 points in 52 games, he was selected by the Canadiens with the 9th overall pick in the 1973 NHL Draft. There were much higher scorers available at the time, even similarly named defenseman Bob Dailey, who went with the next pick, put up more points than Gainey, but the Canadiens were not looking for more scoring at the time.
They rolled the dice on a smart, defensive-minded but two-way winger who was ready to immediately step onto an extremely talented roster and help them out. In his first season he scored just three goals and ten points in 66 games, but opportunity was limited for a rookie on a team that featured wingers like Frank Mahovlich, Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, and Yvan Cournoyer.
Gainey would go on to become a key piece of probably the greatest NHL team ever assembled. The late-1970’s Canadiens teams were far superior to their peers, winning four consecutive Stanley Cups while also having a 60-8-12 record in the 1976-77 season.
For his part, Gainey won the Frank J Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward when it was first introduced in 1977-78, and he took home the award each of the next three seasons as well. Had the award existed previous to 1978, Gainey would have won a few more as well. Bergeron is the only player to have won the award more than Gainey as he just won his sixth Selke this season.
Gainey and Doug Jarvis formed an elite shorthanded tandem that not only killed penalties extremely well, but also kept the power play on its toes because they didn’t want to give that pairing a shorthanded break.
The Selke was not the only award Gainey would win in his career. In 1979, on a team that featured future Hall of Fame players like Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, and Ken Dryden, it was Gainey who won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. He had six goals and 16 points in 16 games that postseason and was of course incredible defensively and constantly asked by head coach Scotty Bowman to shut down the best players on the opposing teams.
Gainey would later team up with Guy Carbonneau and Chris Nilan to form one of the best defensive lines in hockey history, and help the Canadiens win yet another Stanley Cup in 1986, which would be his fifth after closing out the 1970s with four straight.
His best offensive season came in 1980-81 when he scored 23 goals and 47 points, but he played all 16 of his NHL seasons with the Canadiens, was a huge part of the best team ever assembled, and is the greatest defensive forward in Canadiens history.
It all adds up to the fifth best winger to ever play for the storied Montreal Canadiens franchise.
Want your voice heard? Join the A Winning Habit team!