- George Johnson, NHL
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Regardless of your rooting interests, or geographical locale, or fondness for any sort of monarchy, they are unquestioned royalty. The upper crust.
Check out our coverage of the Montreal Canadiens' 100th anniversary, with the top 100 moments in Habs history and the top 50 Canadiens of all time. Launch
Bleu, blanc et rouge.
Hockey's answer to the classic Armani suit. The fashion that outlasts the fads. The jersey that never goes out of style. Let the Bruins be big and bad, the Maple Leafs be laughable and the Blackhawks be hard-luck. The Flying Frenchmen have always been the choice of stylists everywhere.
Not only have the Montreal Canadiens won more Stanley Cups than anyone else through the years, they transformed an arena, the old Forum, into a shrine, a building that actually turned out to be as magical when you finally got there as it appeared on TV. They also had the best anthem singer (Roger Doucet) and play-by-play man (Danny Gallivan), the sharpest GM (Sam Pollock), and the two most decorated coaches (Scotty Bowman and Toe Blake) of all time. They also fielded an unparalleled assemblage of superstar talent to match MGM Studios in the 1940s.
In honor of the franchise's 100th anniversary and its hosting of this weekend's NHL All-Star festivities and using the criteria from last season's "Ultimate NHL Player" (with minor modification), here is an all-time Canadiens hybrid, mined from the most compelling and honored franchise in the sport's history:
All-around skill set
Maurice Richard, RW (1942-43 to 1959-60)
The Rocket. The first man to score 50 goals. The first man to score 50 in 50. God to a province. Hero to a culture. The night the Forum closed down in 1996, he stood at center ice, and for 16 minutes, the love and respect washed over him in the building where enraged Montrealers had rioted over his playoff suspension 41 years earlier. Quite simply, the quintessential Canadien. He could skate, shoot, pass, fight (when provoked). No one in the game has arguably matched The Rocket's raw and relentless push to excel. It has been said that watching him play was like peeking inside the window of his competitive soul.
Jean Beliveau, C (1952-53 to 1970-71)
Ambassador, gentleman, consummate class. A 10-time Stanley Cup champion (as a player, not forgetting the other seven he's won with the organization in other capacities), two-time Hart Trophy recipient, six-time first All-Star team center, Le Gros Bill was then, and remains, the epitome of effortless elegance and class in the best sense. A natural. If he'd gone into politics, he could've been prime minister. If he'd gone into religious life, he could've been the pope. Instead, he chose hockey and became a legend.
Emile (Butch) Bouchard, D (1941-42 through 1955-56)
An ideal foil to the puck-rushing style of the master stylist, Doug Harvey. During fights, he used to pick people up out of the pile and shed them, the way a snake sheds its skin. A big, tough, strong, competitive -- but fair -- defenseman.
Yvan Cournoyer, RW (1964-65 through 1978-79)
Aptly nicknamed "The Roadrunner," the pint-sized Cournoyer would get control of the puck on the fly and everyone, most noticeably the six players in opposing colors on the ice at the time, would hold their breath. At warp speed, he was nothing more than a blur, tongue hanging waggishly out as he left some unfortunate defenseman rooted to the spot, seemingly as still as a stone gargoyle atop a medieval church.
Bernie Geoffrion, RW (1950-51 through 1963-64)
The second man ever to score 50 goals in a season and the first to be renowned for his slap shot, "Boom Boom" Geoffrion would play in 11 All-Star Games. The power and quickness of his shot remain vivid to all those lucky enough to have seen him play. He set the standard for Bobby Hull and Guy Lafleur, among others, to follow.
Jacques Plante, G (1952-53 to 1962-63)
"The Snake" was an apt nickname. The man who introduced the goalie mask on Nov. 1, 1959 after having his nose broken by an Andy Bathgate shot, was one of the quickest, and quirkiest, to ever set up shop between three pipes. In an amazing decade-long span, Plante and the Habs won six Cups, including five in a row.
Guy Lafleur, RW (1971-72 through 1984-85)
It ranks among the iconic sporting images of an era -- the man wearing No. 10 speeding down the right boards, hair flying, before uncorking a shot. "The Flower," as he was called, began oozing that indefinable quality known as star power after his first 100-point-plus season in 1974-75. Not since "The Rocket" had a player caught the imagination of Quebecers in quite the same way.
Doug Jarvis, C (1975-76 through 1981-82)
An Ironman long before Robert Downey Jr. designed the suit. Not a big man by any means (5-foot-9), but he played in 560 consecutive games, through pain and injury, as a Canadien from Oct. 8, 1975 to April 4, 1982, a franchise record.
Ken Dryden, G (1970-71 through 1978-79)
In a business famous for nervous goaltenders like Glenn Hall, who spent most of his free time before games and between periods praying at the altar of the porcelain throne, Ken Dryden seemed an oddity. In goal, the lanky intellectual never seemed to be ruffled or disturbed or even mildly put off. He turned calmness at the position into an art form. After playing in only six regular-season games in 1970-71, the rookie put on one of the most memorable playoff performances in modern times, backstopping the Canadiens on a 20-game Stanley Cup run. The trademark lean on his goal stick as he waited became his signature, and he packed more into seven seasons than most players could into 20.
Larry Robinson, D (1972-73 through 1988-89)
The Big Bird arrived in Montreal a raw, ungainly package midway through the 1972-73 season. At that time, the Broad Street Bullies held sway. He was just the man to knock the Flyers off their perch by offsetting their physical intimidation dominance, thus allowing Montreal's skill advantage to make the difference. A two-time Norris Trophy winner in 1977 and 1980, Robinson still holds the franchise record for points by a defenseman (85). One of the most feared hitters of his era.
Patrick Roy, G (1985-86 through 1995-96)
During the past century, they've had Flowers and Snakes, Rockets and Pocket Rockets, Boom Booms, Roadrunners and (Chicoutimi) Cucumbers and Senators. But only one man, Patrick Roy, reached the religious realm of Saint. A deity with a fiery temper and outsized ego, Roy was as competitive an athlete as has ever strapped on a pair of puffy pads.
Doug Harvey, D (1947-48 to 1960-61)
Unquestionably, among the top half-dozen defensemen ever to play the game, and the first to turn the position into an offensive weapon. A pity he isn't more appreciated by modern hockey fans. A seven-time Norris Trophy winner and 11-time consecutive All-Star, Harvey forever seemed a step ahead of the curve. He thought the game as well as any defenseman ever has.
Henri Richard, C (1955-56 through 1974-75)
A small man -- only 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds -- in a land of giants, but blessed with a fierce competitive nature. Richard helped the Habs win 11 Cups -- a number unmatched -- during his playing career. Despite his size, the "Pocket Rocket" lasted two decades at the top. As former NHL defenseman and onetime Habs coach Al MacNeil noted: "They only brought Henri Richard up for a cup of coffee because he was the Rocket's kid brother, and he wound up staying 20 years."
Dickie Moore, LW (1951-52 through 1962-63)
Renowned for his hard, accurate shot and innate ability to stickhandle past opponents, Moore twice won the Art Ross Memorial Trophy as the league's leading point producer. In 1958-59, he established a seasonal points record of 96, shading Gordie Howe's existing mark by one. Moore's smooth offensive talents helped the Habs to those legendary five consecutive Cup wins from 1956 to '60.
John Ferguson, LW (1963-64 through 1970-71)
Slope-shouldered, beady-eyed and wearing menace the way most men wear cashmere overcoats, John Ferguson Sr. arrived in Montreal out of the minors in the late fall of 1963 and was given a mandate to ride shotgun for all the Habs' slick stars. He stuck around eight seasons, won four Stanley Cups and earned a reputation as the toughest SOB in the game. Fergy once said he wanted to be remembered as "the meanest, rottenest, most miserable cuss ever to play in the NHL." In that, he got his wish.
Maurice Richard, RW (1942-43 to 1959-60)
Like two red-hot coals in a snowbank, the Rocket's glare could wither. With the net in sight, he would not be deterred nor denied. He had the high beams on and continuously running long before Mike Singletary was born.
Bob Gainey, LW (1973-74 through 1988-89)
It's not an easy task bearing the burden of being called the greatest player in the world by no less an authority than Russian hockey czar Anatoli Tarasov. Particularly when you're a defensive left winger regularly assigned to check the opposition's most gifted player. But Gainey -- captain, emotional fulcrum, on-ice example and consummate Canadien -- had shoulders broad enough to take the strain.
George Johnson, a columnist for the Calgary Herald, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
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