Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Myth of 93

Patrick Roy will have his number retired.

I couldn't agree more with this decision. He was the best of a good group of players to grace the Canadiens mini-dynasty 85-93.

But you know, ever since the announcement has been confirmed, we've been subjected to tales of Roy's miraculous goaltending in the 1993 playoffs and how he single-handedly won a Cup with a middling team.

Let's put an end to this.

1993 Canadiens

The first thing you should know is that the Canadiens were not a middling team that year. In fact, apart from the end of the regular season, they were a very similar outfit to last year's squad:

- They had 48 wins and 102 points
- They were winning the division as late as mid-March (pipped to the post by Boston and Quebec)
- They were one of the top defensive teams over the year
- And, surprisingly, but for the top 5 or so teams, the Canadiens were right there offensively among a number of teams with 320-330 goals

In fact, if you looked across the league that season, there was not a lot to separate the contenders. That is apart from the Stanley Cup and league champion Pittsburgh Penguins who were the class of the show. The Bruins were perennially there. The Nordiques were growing but not ready yet (not with Hextall anyway). The Capitals were the next best in the East, so you get the idea. In the West, a mish mash – Blackhawks looking the class, Detroit on the ascendancy but not ready (a la Nords) and the Canucks and Flames right in the Canadiens league.

No the Canadiens were a top 5 outfit. Admittedly, it was a 4- or 5-way tie, but they were not outsiders.

Playoff opponents

Secondly, barring that first round "upset" of the Nordiques (a team 2 points their superior in the first round), the Canadiens would have done poorly to lose any of the next three series.

The Sabres, though they did well to beat the Bruins (thanks Brad May), were the second-worst team in the playoffs, maybe even the worst. They had one of my favourite top lines of all time, but then we had Carbonneau to put an end to that nonsense. Beyond Lafontaine, Hawerchuk and Mogilny, they were inferior in every way to the Habs. Keeping in mind that Hasek wasn't their choice goalie in the playoffs.

The Islanders were a gift. How they beat the Penguins, I'll never be clear on. But, that edition of the Islanders was as 1993 playoff teams go a sad bunch once they lost Turgeon (their one and only stand out). This series should have been and was the easiest. And I remember at the time thinking there was no question of making the final at that point.

In the final, the Kings. This was a puzzle of a team. A Gretzky injury in the regular season obscured how good they were. But, in reality, they'd have been a low 100-point team with the Great One for those extra 30 games. Their defence was an intriguing mix, but relied heavily on very young players (Blake, Zhitnik and Sydor) and some older boys (McSorley, Huddy and Tim Watters). And to face a 3.86 GAA goalie without a viable backup in the playoffs proved a real treat too. This series was Gretzky and Robitaille vs. our depth.Once again, our defensive forwards were prominent.


One of the greatest tales of the 1993 playoffs is the shutout goaltending of Patrick Roy in OT. I don't want to belittle the achievement of 1 goal allowed in 11 OT appearances, but it is worth noting that toted up, OT was a surprising 96 minutes in all.

This brings to the fore the importance of the other players in OT, who by scoring often and early were saving energy and doing excellent work.

Consider that 7 players scored in OT in the 1993 playoffs. 3 scored twice each – Muller, Carbonneau and Leclair. These 3 players epitomised the success of the Habs that year for me, even as much as Patrick Roy:

- Muller was Mr. Reliable. He was a real goal threat with defensive awareness to boot. A bigger Saku Koivu.

- Carbonneau was a star in the league, known as the premier shut-down man. His 2 OT playoff GWGs were impressive considering he only scored 3 in all in the playoffs. 4 in the regular season. A classic Canadiens captain, the goalscoring record speaks for how he could raise his game more than a few notches.

- Leclair was one of the exciting youngsters to go with the green blueline corps, Gilbert Dionne and 8-playoff goal man DiPietro. In retrospect, this was Leclair's coming out party. His 2 OT goals will never be forgotten by grateful Habs fans who wanted to get to bed.

In addition to the skaters, one must consider Jacques Demers. He who consistently outcoached his rivals. Famously there was the stick measurement. But don't forget the goal off the faceoff. And 9 OT games won in the first frame, 7 in the first 12 minutes, 5 in the first 10, and 2 in the opening seconds (in the final!). This is good on the ropes coaching.

Patrick Roy

Of course, all this was achieved while knowing Patrick Roy was right there behind them. But the players out on the ice did translate the time he gave them to wins. They even rescued a few blushes (Patrick must thank Leclair for rescuing the 2 leads he would blow in the second periods in LA, 3-0 and 2-0).

What Patrick did was provide the most solid foundation to build on. But the building on top was some what masterful in looking back. Did you know for example that from 1984-85 to 1993-94, the Canadiens were basically the team to beat (with the Flames):

1. Calgary: 433-274-101, 967 pts, +590
2. Montreal, 430-274-104, 964 pts, +509
3. Boston, 412-294-102, 926 pts, +334
4. Washington, 413-312-83, 909 pts, +327
5. Edmonton, 399-314-95, 893 pts, +292

One could argue that it was because of Roy, but why sell those teams short? 2 Cups, 3 finals, a haul of trophies.

I'll celebrate

I'll certainly celebrate the retirement of Patrick Roy's sweater. The memories he provided me and a generation of fans are too numerous to quantify. His personal moments are counted among highlights of my hockey watching life.

But, November 22 will also prompt me to remember the cast that played with Patrick – Carbonneau, Chelios, Muller, Damphousse, Desjardins, Schneider, Smith, Naslund, Green, Richer, Corson, Lemieux, Skrudland, Savard, Bellows, Lebeau and the rest. All of these guys deserve credit one way or another for those years and even those Cup runs. Their numbers will never be retired, but in playing the way they did for the Habs in critical moments, they ensured they'll have one sweater they can look up at to remind them of their own treasured memories.

[Incidentally, when I was looking around for inspiration for this article, I came across a piece which suggests Roy is way overrated. I don't agree with all of what this guy says, nor with his thesis statement and reason for blogging that Brodeur is an average goalie, the article is well worth reading, if only for its comprehensiveness. As with any well-argued debate, the comments are just as informative.]

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