Tretiak, The Habs, And The Hall Of Fame


(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.)

16 thoughts on “Tretiak, The Habs, And The Hall Of Fame”

  1. Why is a former KGB spy ( Our ennemi for 40 years) in the Hall of Fame. If you can remove Eagleson, then Tretiak should also be removed

  2. Hey Dennis;I totaly agree with you on this,I remember Tretiak making these statments and thinking he was pretty high on himself.I think the reason he is in there is because he was a great goalie.I dont think they check for egos at the doorway to the hockey hall of fame ,otherwise there would be less hockey players in there.

  3. Thanks, Derry. Here’s my basic thoughts. He was great only in international situations. And he slammed the North American system. And he slammed our style of play.

  4. Ludger, that’s the thing. He wasn’t exactly on the same page as us. The Hall of Fame? Not from his comments. The book was unbelievable in its propaganda.

  5. Well Dennis we all cant play like robots,as the Russians were refered to,they had no reason to slam our hockey style,they lost in the 72 series,which was the first test between styles.I think that our style of play has changed over the years since that tourney,but it is still a great way to play hockey.I think that the nhl has taken lots away from the true form of hockey that it once was.The junior tournamen that I saw in Regina was by far the greatest form of the game in this day ,because of all the rule changes this too is not the way the game should be plaed.

  6. That book was definitely closely edited by the Soviet authorities, probably rewritten in many sections if not the majority of the book. It’s hard to take much from that book. That is just how the regime was back then, as hard as it is nowadays to believe.


  7. He’s a fitting inductee, it’s the hall of fame for all hockey. He’s in there for his playing, not his writings, which only proves he’s no Dryden. The shame is he’s in after allowing the goals that help define our country, but not Henderson who scored many of them.
    Dennis, maybe one day the hall will expand it’s journalists section to include bloggers and you’ll be inducted too. Can’t argue with the arena voters.

  8. The Russians certainly had better systems than the Canadians at all levels of the sport. They took what worked from our game and because they were new to it, they were more open to new ideas and added some good ones of their own. Often the innovators are the newbies because they don’t have the baggage of tradition holding them back.

    If, as seems likely the case, Tretiak’s book was edited with a heavy government hand, this is no fault of the goaltending icon. He was honest in the early eighties and was forced to tow the party line by the late eighties. He has since resumed saying great things about the Canadiens and openly says that he would have loved to play in Montreal. He repeated these sentiments at Dryden’s retirement ceremony last season at the Bell Centre.

    The Hall of Fame is a different kettle of fish. Some folks believe that a person’s personal ledger should be taken into consideration for admission. Others believe an athlete should be admitted on his playing merits alone. I don’t have a hard position on this but Tretiak qualifies for me in both regards.

    By many significant Canadian accounts, Tretiak is a respected man; Ken Dryden, Wayne Gretzky, Bob Gainey and Harry Sinden have all said admiring things about the former CCCP great.

  9. HDS, thanks. I remember an interview with Boris Mikhailov and he said all the Russian players thought Phil Esposito was amazing and there were many things they could learn from a guy like that. And Yakushev there was just one thing the Soviets couldn’t do that the Canadians could, and that’s passion and the will to win.

  10. Christopher, I’ve been doing a kind of personal poll about Henderson for years and most feel he doesn’t belong. But I do. He scored arguably the most important goal in Canadian hockey history, along with a few other game winners. I think he should be in, even if they have to create a new category.

  11. Thanks, Joe. If I was Tretiak, I’d be embarrassed by this book. Yes, it was definitely ghost written by a party guy.

  12. Hhey Dennis;Yes Paul Henderson did score a very important goal,yes he scored many important goals,yes he will tell you al about them givin an iota of a chance.This gujy is all ego as far as I’m concerned.I’ve lstened to hisinterviews ,how he called Pete Mahovolich off the ice because he felt he wasnt doing the job and how he felt he had a purpose from god to score the winning goal,sorry Dennis.He doesn’t get my vote

  13. Thanks Derry. I’ve not got the impression Henderson had ego like that but he very well could have. He’s quite a religious man. The biggest argument against him being in the Hall is that he never had Hall of Fame numbers, only 1972 numbers.

  14. Hi Dennis
    I saw the picture at the top of the page that Tretiak signed to you. I recognized it from a hockey card show i promoted in 1991. I bought the rightrs to that photo from the Edmonton journal and made copies that Tretiak signed for me. Just wondering which show you got that at. Calgary, Edmonton or Vancouver. Brought back many great memories for me. Brent

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