What Killed the Canadiens?

With the NHL’s trade deadline just one day away, here’s looking back at one of the league’s all-time most infamous deals – the move that sent Patrick Roy packing, the move that created an era-defining Avalanche team, the move that for-good ended Montreal’s hold of the hockey world.

by Kolby Solinsky

White Cover Magazine

“With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight on the 20th anniversary of the trade that un-did the Montreal Canadiens, think about this: maybe none of this happens if there had been a simple piece of plexiglass in the Forum.”

That’s the opening from Michael Farber, in the video below from 2015 – which, because it’s a non-licensed upload from a Bell Media property to YouTube, might be taken down by the time you’re reading this. It’s a solid opening from a man who’s always had a way with words. Not unlike his subject, Patrick Roy:

When NHL fans stare at their screens and refresh their notifications on Twitter or TheScore’s app, they’re dreaming about trades like this – hoping their team either will pull a Roy-sized rabbit out of its hat, or that they won’t be on the other end of something like this. (Although, it should be noted, Roy was dealt in December, not February or March.)

Most fanbases have one or several claims to either – a trade deadline coup, or a trade deadline disaster. Canucks fans here in Vancouver will rave until their dying days about how Pat Quinn swindled the experienced Pittsburgh Penguins brass in 1996, sending the foil-knuckled beer leaguer Alex Stojanov to Steelers Country in exchange for Markus Naslund, the player who would help resurrect a drowning pack of Orcas, captain the Canucks to one of their greatest-ever eras, retire as the team’s all-time leading scorer and one of the franchise’s finest-ever players.

On the sloppier side? The Cam Neely trade wasn’t a deadline move – Vancouver shipped him to the Boston Bruins during the offseason, on June 6, 1986 – but it’s still the example of what was once a classic Canucks bungle. Neely, a born-and-bred British Columbia who was drafted ninth overall by Vancouver in 1983, would surge to a Hall of Fame career in Beantown, score 50 goals three times, and reset the standard for what a power forward should and could be. (Trust, this trade hangs so heavily on the Canucks’ franchise, it’s cause them to double-clutch on every flailing prospect they refuse to trade – Jake Virtanen, for example, right now.)

But the Roy trade is the ROY TRADE. Farber hangs the Habs’ general franchise decline on the deal, which it fitting but probably unfair.

Montreal has coasted by for decades on reputation, legacy, and slowly unraveling history of having first rights on every single prospect coming out of Quebec. Their ‘Original 6’ awesomeness was stretched-out over the 70s and thinned-out during the 80s and 90s, thickened only by surprise Cup wins in 1986 and 1993 – both due to Roy’s heroics. But Roy’s exit didn’t cause their decline; it broke the camel’s back. And if it was a French-Canadian camel, chances are it’s the one with a cigarette in its mouth.

In the 21st Century, the Canadiens are just one of 30 teams in a league of terrific players. Patrick Roy’s self-imposed trade was a self-imposed slice of mercy. And while the Habs may complain still about the deal that cleaved them from a franchise icon, they can’t pretend his presence would have helped them any more than his absence did. Roy won two more Stanley Cups with Colorado, but that team was en route to greatness anyway – a Grade-A goalie was their last puzzle piece, but they already had Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote, eventually Rob Blake, and a slew of other wonderful cogs.

The Roy trade is easy to footnote as the moment Rome crumbled into Constantinople, but the daggers were planted in Caesar centuries before.

What’s so wonderful about hindsight isn’t that you can see clearer, it’s that you’re still so very blind.