Former Canadien Chris Chelios was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame Monday in his first year of eligibility. Chelios played until he was 48 years old and finished his career with 948 points in 1,651 games.
Many think that the 1990 trade of Chelios to the Chicago Blackhawks is the worst in Canadiens history. I’m part of that group and I was around to witness the departures of Patrick Roy, Rod Langway and John Leclair to name three more brutally lopsided transactions.
The motivation for his trade will forever be a blot on the history of the team’s front office and more directly the team ownership, which at the time was Molson Breweries.
All Chelios did in his six years with the Canadiens was lead the Canadiens with 55 assists in his first full season in 1984-85. In his second year he was a key part of a Stanley Cup and a Norris Trophy. He was back in the Stanley Cup final in 1989 a year in which he led the entire team with 58 assists. Chelios was a playoff monster. Ask Ron Hextall. He played hurt. He fought his teammates’ battles. He was co-captain of the Canadiens on the day he was traded.
But it’s Chelios off-ice reputation that had the suits in the upper reaches of the Canadiens front office getting their shorts in a knot. Chelios was developing a reputation of something of a boulevardier. As long as he was doing what he was doing on-ice, general manager Serge Savard was not about to lose any sleep over his night time rambling. Not so for the team’s president Ronald Corey who had just enough hockey knowledge to be dangerous, and Molson Breweries who owned the team and were only concerned with corporate image. They made up the perfect storm of hockey incompetence. A Norris Trophy winner was traded because the suits were more worried about beer sales than winning hockey games.
They ordered Serge Savard to unload Chelios, sooner rather than later and on June 29, 1990 they had their way. Savard, who for the most part was a very intelligent horsetrader, engineered a perfectly awful deal. He traded Chelios to the Chicago Blackhawks in return for fading centre Denis Savard. Knowing that Savard was not dealing from strength, the Hawks also demanded a second round draft pick to complete the deal. In 1990, Denis Savard was a beaten-up 29 year old. He had missed 42 games through injuries the two previous seasons. In two of his three seasons with the Canadiens Savard was competent, but hardly the Hall of Famer he was with Chicago. The Canadiens, thanks to Patrick Roy, won the Stanley Cup in 1993. Savard produced 0 goals and was injured for the entire final against Los Angeles.
In the meantime Chelios went on to win two more Norris Trophies with Chicago and was a runner-up in ’95. Over the seven years between 1991 and ’97 he was an NHL all-star five times; three times on the first team and twice on the second. Also, during his years with Chicago he developed a fitness obsession. Yet, at the age of 37 the Hawks, thinking his career was winding down, traded him to Detroit. He played 578 games for the Wings and was instrumental at the age of 40 and again at 46 in Detroit Stanley Cup victories. He was the second oldest player in NHL history when he retired at 47. And this week – the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Oh, what might have been but for the bumbling Molson Brewery/Ronald Corey era – an era incidentally that also produced the Patrick Roy fiasco.
The Canadiens have only that one Stanley Cup in the 23 years since Chelios was traded. When you tick off the greatest defensemen in the Canadiens last sixty years you arrive at Doug Harvey, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Larry Robinson and……. Chelios.
The Patrick Roy trade? Scott Gomez? Rod Langway? John Leclair? Chris Chelios was the worst.