MONTREAL – When Guy Carbonneau became the first player to receive the Stanley Cup from new NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on June 9, 1993, he never imagined that no other Montreal Canadiens captain would have followed his not 30 years later.
Before this long drought, the longest streak of the prestigious Canadian Hockey Club without winning the Stanley Cup was 13 years, between the triumphs of 1931 and 1944. Today, it is difficult to predict when the Canadian will be able to organize his next parade on Sainte-Catherine Street.
“Today, the bar is very low compared to our time,” said Serge Savard, who lifted the Stanley Cup eight times as a player and twice as general manager, including in 1993. We were asked before the season if we were going to win the cup. Now, we wonder if the Canadian will participate in the playoffs. We are not talking about the cut at the start of the season.
“A team that hasn’t won a cup in 30 years has happened to several teams. But with the Canadian, we are not used to that, ”he added during an interview with The Canadian Press.
Carbonneau admits he never would have thought in the summer of 1993 that Montreal would be without the championship for the next three decades.
“Everyone understands that the league is different today, underlined Carbonneau, who won the Stanley Cup in 1986 and 1993 with the Habs, then with the Dallas Stars in 1999. There are more teams and it’s still difficult to qualify for the playoffs. But yeah, it’s hard to see that the Canadiens haven’t won the cup since 1993.”
In addition to the expansion of the NHL, all observers questioned about the Habs’ shortage also spoke of the introduction of the salary cap in 2005 as a factor explaining the current Canadiens’ shortage.
“I played at the end of the period before the salary cap. If a team needed to get a left winger, it didn’t matter if he cost nine million dollars because there were no restrictions, Carbonneau said. Today, it is much more complicated. It cuffs teams in their construction and the window to aim for a championship is smaller.
“Before 2010, you could imagine a 10-year window for a good team. Today, it is unthinkable,” he added.
The new management of the Canadiens, led by vice-president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton and general manager Kent Hughes, has made no secret of its intention to start afresh and the emphasis has clearly been placed on player development during the from the last campaign.
The majority of fans seemed to accept this approach, believing it to be the right one to bring the Habs back to the top teams in the NHL. And while Savard has expressed confidence in Gorton and Hughes, he admitted to feeling some unease during his visits to the Bell Center this winter.
“I saw a phenomenon that I had never seen before,” he said. The times I was there and the Canadiens lost, I almost saw smiles. I didn’t see very disappointed people. It was like everyone was convinced that if we lost, we were guaranteed to have little (Connor) Bedard. So the world was not disappointed with a defeat. ”
The Canadian, however, did not win the NHL lottery and will not be able to select Bedard first in the next draft.
Carbonneau observed the same phenomenon as Savard, but he believes that the patience of the supporters will still have limits.
“I feel that with the new management, the team, the players and the organization have a bit of a reprieve,” he said. I’m not sure fans are going to be willing to wait another two or three years. I dare to believe that after maybe another year of development, the Canadian will be in the group that can fight for the Stanley Cup. ”
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard was born in 1999 and has therefore never seen the Canadian win top honors, despite being familiar with the club’s history from his father’s stories. His earliest memories date back to the spring of 2006, when the Canadiens were eliminated in the first round by the Carolina Hurricanes, who would eventually defeat the Edmonton Oilers in the final.
The Arvida, Saguenay, native admits there hasn’t been much talk about the team’s Stanley Cup hopes during his time with the big club this winter.
“In the context where we found ourselves, it was already difficult to imagine participating in the playoffs,” said Harvey-Pinard, who was recalled in mid-January. If we had been in the playoff race, probably the Stanley Cup and the long drought would have been mentioned a little more often. ”
The strength of local talent
The Canadian had had a magical journey in the spring of 1993.
Inspired by Jacques Demers behind the bench and transported by the performances of Patrick Roy in net, the group won 11 games in a row after suffering losses in its first two outings against the Quebec Nordiques. The Habs also won 10 times in overtime and easily defeated Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in five games in the final.
“We had a good team, but the click happened and we had unshakeable confidence,” mentioned Carbonneau.
In all, 14 Quebec players had their names engraved on the Stanley Cup in 1993.
Harvey-Pinard was one of nine Quebec natives to wear a Canadiens uniform this season, the highest total since 2006.
“I would like that,” replied Carbonneau when asked if the Canadiens should count on more Quebecers in their ranks. They say it’s difficult for a Quebecer to play in Montreal, but for us, it wasn’t just Patrick Roy. There was Roy, me, Denis Savard, Vincent Damphousse, Éric Desjardins, and many others. The pressure was shared.
“I’m one of those who believe it could help the level of the team to have more Quebecers. But to have 20 Quebecers who are not good, that does nothing either, ”he qualified.
Harvey-Pinard flourished with the Canadiens this winter with 14 goals in just 34 games. Alex Belzile also had some good times during his first long NHL streak at age 31. Goalkeeper Samuel Montembeault showed unexpected potential.
“I am convinced that a local player will offer a better performance since he has additional pressure,” insisted Savard, after citing the hatching of Harvey-Pinard as an example of a local player who surpasses himself thanks to this pressure.
A flayed pride
Not only has the Canadian not won the Stanley Cup since 1993, but all of the Canadian NHL teams have been on a dry spell since that triumph.
They have appeared in the final only six times during this drought, most recently in 2021 when the Canadian lost in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“Hockey is our national sport,” said Savard. It’s a bit like with Italy, which was excluded from the last World Cup. It was a dishonor for the Italians and they wanted changes from A to Z in the administration of the team.
“We, hockey, it’s a bit like that,” he continued. It’s our sport. To see that there is not a Canadian team that has not won the Stanley Cup for 30 years, not only the Canadian, I find it painful. ”
But despite this long crossing of the desert of Canadian teams, the NHL has never generated so much revenue and the Canadian has retained its privileged place in the hearts of sports fans in Montreal and Quebec.