All-time Habs vs. Leafs? No contest

Mike Zeisberger, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:39 AM ET

To the throng of Maple Leaf supporters shoehorned into the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, watching the ceremony honouring the leading scorer in franchise history will be a special moment indeed.

A well-deserved moment that Mats Sundin has definitely earned.

At the same time, you have to wonder what will be going through the minds of long-time Montreal Canadiens staff members, media and observers when they see Sundin’s banner being hoisted prior to the game.

Once it takes its rightful place in the rafters, it will fittingly dangle among those of such all-time Maple Leaf greats as Borje Salming, Darryl Sittler, Johnny Bower, Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Turk Broda, Hap Day, Red Kelly, King Clancy, Tim Horton, Charlie Conacher, Ted Kennedy, George Armstrong, Frank Mahovlich, Ace Bailey and Bill Barilko.

Question is, are any of those players better than, say, one of the top five Montreal Canadien players of all time?

Even the top 10?

For Habs followers who have witnessed similar festivities in Montreal for legends such as Maurice (The Rocket) Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur, where would Sundin have fit in the pecking order had he worn the bleu blanc et rouge instead of Leafs blue and white?

Let the debate begin.

Keep in mind that this is a very polarizing issue. Leaf fans and Canadiens supporters have been at each other’s throats for so long, you would swear the rivalry dates back to the days of Upper and Lower Canada, even though we all know hockey’s two most storied franchises didn’t sprout up until long after those titles had been changed to Ontario and Quebec.

As such, there will be no shortage of emails and tweets of disagreement. So be it. That’s what happens when arguments are made based on opinion, not fact.

Having said that, it says here that no Maple Leaf player would crack the Habs’ all-time top 5.

Who would you replace? The Rocket? Le Gros Bill? Guy? Howie Morenz? Doug Harvey? With apologies to the likes of the Dave Keons and Syl Apps, who easily were stars themselves, there isn’t one Leaf who would usurp this scribe’s five best Canadiens, a list that includes Richard, Beliveau, Lafleur, Harvey and Morenz, the Stratford Streak.

Even in their respective eras, Keon was overshadowed by Beliveau, Sittler by Lafleur. And there are those of us who strongly feel that the Rocket belongs with Gretzky, Lemieux, Orr and Howe in any conversation about the best players ever to grace an NHL ice surface.

If you expand the list past the top five, it’s still a grey area.

Take goaltenders, for example. When it comes to the Leafs, Broda, Bower and Terry Sawchuk are among the game’s elite and are all in the Hall of Fame. Sawchuk, to be fair, is probably better known for his time in Detroit than in Toronto.

Having said that, is that trio better than Montreal’s troika of Jacques Plante, Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden? If you don’t believe Dryden belongs there, you could always insert Bill Durnan, who won four consecutive Vezina Trophies until Broda ended the streak in 1947-48.

On the blue line, Leaf supporters can make a legitimate argument for the inclusion of Hall of Famer Borje Salming. Fair enough. But whenever Salming stepped onto the ice at the Montreal Forum, he could look across at Guy Lapointe, Serge Savard and Larry Robinson, three defencemen who also would go on to be inducted into the Hall.

Harvey versus Horton? While you could make legitimate cases for both, consider that the Hockey News voted Harvey as the second-highest ranked defenceman behind Orr in its Top 100 NHL Players of All Time.

Up front, the likes of Sundin, Keon, Sittler, Gilmour, Apps, Mahovlich, Armstrong, Conacher and Busher Jackson, among others, deserve respect and consideration. Then again, so do some of the Hab forwards we haven’t mentioned, guys like Henri RIchard, Jacques Lemaire, Steve Shutt, Yvan Cournoyer, Aurele Joliat, Elmer Lach, Toe Blake and Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion.

It’s a fun debate to have. At the same time, when it comes to all-time greats, it’s obvious that the Habs come out ahead in this argument.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger

 

 

 

 

 

 


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