The 1980-81 Gang That Didn’t Quite Shoot Straight

Below, the 1980 Habs baseball team. Even though he’s not in the photo, Maurice Richard also played on the team.

The Canadiens just couldn’t get it done in 1981, being swept by the upstart Edmonton Oilers with a skinny kid named Wayne Gretzky emerging as a freak of nature in the Oiler’s lineup. And shortly after the disappointing sweep, Montreal coach Claude Ruel resigned and was replaced by Bob Berry. (11 different coaches have followed since). It just wasn’t a rosy time for all concerned.

These were the days of the New York Islanders dynasty, with Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Brian Trottier, Billy Smith and company winning four straight. They were good, I give the bastards that. But if you think I’m going to rave about the New York Islanders, you’ve got another thing coming.

By then, the idea of the Habs winning four-straight as they did in the late 1970’s was only a pipe dream. It had become painfully obvious that the dynasty wasn’t just on life support, it was officially over. The Flower’s greatest years were behind him, his 50 goal seasons would come no more. Goaltending had cracks. And Patrick Roy was still several years away.  

Steve Shutt was the team’s leading point-getter in the 1980-81 season, recording 35 goals and 38 assists for 73 points. Mark Napier was next with 71 points, while Lafleur was third with 70 points. The goaltending duties were shared by four guys that season – Richard Sevigny, Michel Larocque, Denis Herron, and Rick Wamsley.

Doug Wickenheiser, the Habs first-overall pick, chosen over fan favourite Denis Savard, suited up in this 1980-81 season and turned out to be not quite the player Montreal thought they were getting. He had been a star in junior with the Regina Pats and his big body at centre ice had folks wondering if they might have a new Jean Beliveau on their hands. But Wickenheiser never managed to become a major impact player (115 points in 202 games in Montreal), and was finally dealt to St. Louis. And to add salt to everyone’s wounds, including Wickenheiser’s, Denis Savard had become the toast of the town in Chicago.

It would be five more years before the Canadiens would become champs, and at the time, a handful of years was unacceptable. Nowadays, my calculator can’t count how long it’s been. It’s just ridiculous. But the slump may end soon.



13 thoughts on “The 1980-81 Gang That Didn’t Quite Shoot Straight”

  1. May end soon!!! My God man your practically an owner. Have a little more faith in your team. This is no time to be realistic! Why even the Maple Leafs feel they will make the play-offs so its a time to let go of reality and dream big. My prediction is Montreal wins the cup and Don Cherry pulls on a Canadiens jersey and praises PK Subban as a good Canadian boy who is a model of respect in the NHL.
    Phoenix will move to Saskatoon where they will be renamed the Snowballs. Daniel Briere will win the Lady Byng, Tort’s the coach of the year and Tim Thomas will keep his mouth shut for the full season while his Bruins finish in eigth place beating out the Leafs by one lousy point.

  2. Don – Will end soon. I feel it in my bones. I very much do. But your thing about the Leafs making the playoffs? C’mon, that’s just way too far fetched. I’ve never heard such an outlandish statement.
    And yes, I’ve been an outspoken optimist all along. I believe the Canadiens have what it takes.

  3. Even playing baseball, Lafleur’s long blond mane could not be contained by a cap.

    Picking Wickenheiser over Savard was a mistake, but such things happen in the crap shoot of the draft. The bigger tragedy was trading the still improving Norris winner Chelios for the aging Savard. If not for that trade, I think we could have had a dynasty in the years around that last cup.

  4. Chelios could have stayed but he had to be shipped due to off-ice issues apparently. I don’t know what those issues were exactly (I’ve heard at least two different stories) but that’s why he was shipped off. Let’s just pray we don’t ship off PK, who will be a Norris winner without a doubt.

    I’ve always wondered what would have happened if Scotty Bowman had been made the GM like he wanted. Would we have won that 5th Cup or maybe even a 6th? What would the team have looked like in the 80s?

    I’ve said this before but I have been so tired of being mediocre for these last two decades. Look at how long we went before making the Conference Final!

    I do think this year we will do it. I’m a really big pessimist and I always feel the worst about this team. For some reason, after we got eliminated (and took a few days to calm down) I started getting this strange vibe. I started to feel that I shouldn’t worry. As time went on, this feeling got better and better.

    I haven’t felt this positive about this team since 93. I had that vibe then and I’m sure feeling it now. Maybe I’m just a nut but god-willing I’m right!

    Ah, this season can’t start soon enough!!! Heck even training camp feels like it’s still years away.

  5. the flower……………. red fisher said ” i won’t say lafleur was the best player ever to wear the habs jersey but he was the most exiting”.

  6. Darth, Jean Beliveau talks about the Bowman thing in a book I have here. He said he had a say in whether Bowman should be GM or not, and he voted against him. He said that everytime a player pissed Bowman off, he’d run upstairs and demand that the player be traded or sent down. Beliveau said he thought Bowman was too loose a cannon, that the team would be in shambles if he was boss. I think Beliveau was smart about this, even though it would mean losing Bowman, who had been in the organization forever and had become so successful. You can’t be giving up on players because they had a lousy practice. Also, we see now a mature Bowman when he’s on TV, but back then I think he was a bit off his rocker. It worked for awhile with a team of stars, but this moodiness and unpredictability that he showed doesn’t cut it with everyone.

  7. Chris, Darth is right about the Chelios thing. I don’t know any specifics either, but Chelios was known as a swinging bachelor, a partier who broke curfew often, who sometimes maybe didn’t take things seriously enough. And it’s entirely possible he was doing much more than listed here. But he was a good one and it was shame he didn’t become a mainstay on the blueline. He was heralded when he first joined the team. I remember the headline “The Coming of Chris.”

  8. Dennis, would that be in Beliveau’s book? I have it but haven’t read it yet. I look forward to reading it.

    I know we have sent a few people packing due to their behavior off-ice. Souray was one of them I believe (the dive didn’t help much though).

    Guy Carbonneau went, when he was a player, for giving a photographer the finger (at least that’s one of the reasons).

  9. Darth, I believe it’s in Dick Irvin’s book “The Habs.” This is a great read and I recommend it. It’s a collection of stories from the players themselves.

  10. I didn’t know about Chelios’s problems. But even so, why the rush to make such a bad trade. This may have been an omen to the Roy trade. Is it my imagination or do the Canadiens come up on the short end of too many big trades over the past 20 years.

    Does Montreal suffer from more than the usual off-ice problems? Is the city just too exciting a place for a young player with lots of money to behave professionally? Having the Forum and now the Bell Centre right downtown in the midst of all the action doesn’t help. Is it too late to add a clause to Subban’s contract that he must be supervised by another player with no desire for the nightlife?

  11. Oh and I love headline “The Coming of Chris”. I wish I had a quote of the day to which I could post it.

  12. Christopher, I think Montreal should play their home games in Powell River. There’s a Tim Hortons and and A&W, and several pubs, most of which close down at 4 on Sunday in the summer. PK and Carey and all the young guys can lawn bowl up in the Townsite. Or volunteer to help tranport bear and other creatures back out into the wild after they’ve strayed into town. Buty if they come here and I get drinking beer with them, I’m not responsible for what I write when I have a hangover.

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