(I hope my Russian friends in St. Petersburg don’t get mad at me for this.)
Beginning mostly in 1976 after Montreal and Moscow Red Army played that beautiful 3-3 game on New Year’s Eve of ’75, (Super Series ’76), Vladislav Tretiak admired the Montreal Canadiens and thought that if he were to ever play in the NHL, Montreal would be the right fit for him. He liked the skill set of the Habs which reminded him of Soviet hockey, and he probably wondered more than once what it would be like to have a fat wallet for a change, as Russian players were not exactly rolling in dough back then.
Montreal’s GM Serge Savard finally drafted Tretiak in 1983 but the Russian authorities pooh-poohed the whole idea and the great goaltender ended his career shortly after, at the end of 1984. The dream of playing in the NHL for the Habs died a quiet death.
Patrick Roy was also poised to become Montreal’s netminder so we didn’t need an aging Soviet goalie anyway. And there was no way Tretiak was going to take Ken Dryden’s job in the late ’70’s.
There’s another part of this story, however.
Even though the entire hockey world knew Tretiak wouldn’t mind playing for the Habs, behind the scenes the Soviet Hockey Federation bigshots weren’t happy with both the idea of it and Tretiak himself, and Tretiak ended up pretending it was all a lot of bullshit.
In his 1987 book,”Tretiak, The Legend’, the goalie spouts the party line in a big way. Here’s what he said about this little saga. “I never for a moment considered playing in the NHL. It wouldn’t suit me, as an officer and a Soviet citizen, to wear the uniform of a North American professional player. The fuss continued for some time. The rumour reached me that the proposed salary offer had risen to an amount that had never before been offered to any professional player. Then they understood the hopelessness of this deal.”
There’s one thing I’d like to point out about this. Tretiak was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1989 but in this book, he slams the NHL, the players, the system, and almost everything about the North American game. It’s a complete Soviet piece of propaganda, probably ghost-written by a hard-core guy with Kremlin connections, and it’s mostly drivel. Tretiak does nothing but beat his own drum throughout, tell us how wonderful he is, and tell over and over just how superior Russian hockey is to the NHL.
This book, which is so critical of our hockey, is the main reason why I don’t feel he should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
(If you have an opinion about this, whether you feel Tretiak should or shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, I’d love to hear it.)