The Montreal Canadiens hockey club was formed in 1909, making it the oldest professional hockey franchise in the world. It was founded by J. Ambrose O’Brien as a team especially for the francophone community of Montreal in the National Hockey Association, which preceded the National Hockey League (NHL). The team came dead last in their first season, but their fortunes started to improve after management was switched in 1910, and in the 1915-1916 season they deserved to rent out a party bus service, because they won their first Stanley Cup.
In 1917, along with the Montreal Wanderers, the Ottawa Senators, the Quebec Bulldogs, and the Toronto Blueshirts (later to become the Toronto Maple Leafs), the Canadiens, fondly known by their fans as the Habs, formed the NHL. Under the leadership of Howie Morenz, the Canadiens won their first NHL Stanley Cup in the 1923-1924 season. Though they managed two Stanley Cup wins in a row, in 1930 and 1931, the remaining years of the 1930’s weren’t particularly kind to the Canadiens, as they suffered both on the ice and off, the latter thanks, of course, to the Great Depression. Luckily, the Habs avoided being sold to a potential investor in Cleveland after local investors were found in Montreal.
Between 1953 and 1960, the Canadiens won six Stanley Cups, five of them in succession (from 1956 to 1960), setting a record. 1965 to 1979 brought another ten cups to the Canadiens, with the 1977-1978 season brining them a 28-game winning streak, a streak that remains second-longest in the NHL. The Canadiens continued successfully for decades, winning at least one Stanley Cup each year until the 2000’s, when that streak was broken. Having lost their star goalie, Patrick Roy, to the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, the team settled into decline, hovering around the middle of the league, and failing to make it into the playoffs for a number of years, not making it past the second round of the playoffs until 2010.
At the end of the 1990’s, things weren’t looking good for the Habs; the team wasn’t winning games, and they weren’t making money. This slump caused the owners, the Molson Brewery, to sell the franchise in 2001 to an American businessman by the name of George N. Gillett Jr., who ended up selling it back to a group of investors led by the Molson family in 2009 (for a whole lot more than he paid for it eight years before). In hopes of revitalising the team, Bob Gainey, a former Canadien, was hired to coach the team starting in 2003, after the team had missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
The team’s fortunes did increase a bit, but not enough for them to make it very far in the playoffs, being knocked out in the first couple of rounds in both 2004 and 2006. Jacques Martin took over as coach in 2009-2010, and a number of trades were made in hopes that a switch up in the roster would lead to some success. It seemed to work, as the Canadiens managed to grab a spot in the Conference Finals in 2010 for the first time since 1993. The Habs got a new head coach once again in 2012 in the form of Michael Therrien, and in the 2013-2014 season, the team won the Atlantic Division.
In the end, it’s a franchise that deserves everyone’s respect. They are the only team to have operated with cessation since the league’s history, and they’ve won the Cup more times than any other franchise (they’ve raised it 24 times, to be exact). Boasting alumni such as Maurice Richard, Jacques Plante, Guy Lafleur, Patrick Roy, and countless others, and setting numerous league records, this Original Six team continues to boast a fiercely loyal fan base, and will, undoubtedly, continue to impress us for decades to come.
Watch the Canadiens in their 1971 Cup win against the Bruins: