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Revisiting St. Patrick Roy and “Le Trade”

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1995 is a year of infamy for Montreal Canadiens fans. It was the year Patrick Roy was traded to the Colorado Avalanche. It was less the trade per se (if Wayne Gretzky could be traded then any athlete on the face of this earth can be traded) and more how he left town that left Montrealers with a feeling of being betrayed.

Roy will no doubt go down as one of the greatest goaltenders in the history of hockey. Some already claim — with some justification — he stands above everyone. He was ordained St. Patrick for his angelic playoff of performances where he would literally perform miracles.

However, on December 2, 1995 he acted anything but a saint in the eyes of many. Head coach Mario Tremblay elected to keep Patrick Roy in a game against the Detroit Red Wings after he allowed nine goals. The unwritten rule is that when your star goalie is having an off night you take him out. Sort of like what a manager does with a pitcher who does not have his stuff.

Whatever the motivations were that lead to Tremblay’s decision, it’s how Roy reacted that will stay with me as a sports fan. He was obviously and rightly upset. However, he let his ego get the better of him in full public view. He allowed his emotions to cloud his judgment. After finally being yanked, he walked past Tremblay behind the bench and straight to President Ronald Corey where he said this was his last game with Mario Tremblay as coach of the Canadiens.

A black night indeed. He was soon traded in what is known as “Le Trade.” General Manager Rejean Houle was unfairly forced into it and it turned out to be a bad one for the Habs.

Roy was traded to the Avalanche. Instead of asking for Joe Sakic straight up, they threw in Captain Mike Keane along with #33 in exchange for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky, and Andrei Kovalenko. Three players who never had a significant impact on the Habs let alone the league. It was a steal for the Avalanche who went on to win two Stanley Cups with Roy.

The Roy trade set the Canadiens organization back a few years. It was a deal that was triggered by Roy’s impetuous outburst. Houle should have been more patient, but hindsight is always 20/20. The day they announced the trade I was listening to the radio with my brother before leaving for school. We could not believe it.

Roy remains unapologetic about that day. He felt justified. I think otherwise. Especially considering he wishes to one day return to the Montreal Canadiens family. The reality is that he alone was responsible for what happened that night. He could have kept his cool. Who knows? Maybe the Habs would have won two cups with him instead of the Avs. We’ll never know. What we do know is that Roy ripped the hearts of many Canadiens fans.

He has to make amends with the fans first. Then perhaps we can consider his return. He lost his cool once before in front of a live audience — what’s to say he wouldn’t do the same with important decisions within the Canadiens organization? Indeed, all evidence seems to indicate that Roy remains the supreme egoist he always was. While an effective coach, he has been involved in some scuffles in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The Canadiens organization for one reason or another has always earned the scorn of former players from Geofferion to Richard to Lafleur. In the case of Roy, it’s hard to see, no matter how hard one tries, that he was right all along. I still feel the same now as I did then. The onus was on him to handle it better. It should have been done behind the scenes and away from the screens to be broadcast like a cheap opera. Everyone deserved better — the fans, the Habs, and above all, Patrick Roy and his legacy.

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About Alessandro Nicolo

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ Elliott
  • http://www.friendlymisanthropist.blogspot.com alessandro nicolo

    Good one. Remember that one. Roy has had his share of classic clips. Personally, aside from the great brawls of the 70s and 80s, one of the greatest hockey scenes of that era was when Ron Hextall attacked Chris Chelios in the 1989 (?) playoffs between the Flyers/Habs. I think there was a chemical power surge and everyone simply lost their marbles at the end of that game. Hextall’s tongue, Bobby Smith’s deformed head petruding out as Philly fans through beer at him and Chelios all round abnormal behaviour – Ah, good times. THOSE were the days. I wonder if there’s a clip of that incident.

  • Newfie habs fan

    You’re wrong about asking for Sakic for Roy straight up. Montreal needed to get a goalie to replace Roy. Pat Jablonski was the backup, and there was no way he would have been the top goalie of the Habs. Thibeault performed well for the Habs (23-13-3 record after the trade, and was 12-2-2 before), as did Ruckinsky, who scored 25 goals, had 35 assists for 60 points in 56 games, so it didn’t look like such a bad deal until years later, when both players never continued to live up to that first season. They didn’t have a top goalie in the farm system. Although they had Theodore, he didn’t have his first winning season until 2001-2002 (he had one season where he was 4-12).

    If Montreal did Roy for Sakic, who would have been the top goalie for the Habs?

    Montreal also had Turgeon and Damphousse (who both had 90+ point seasons that year), so they didn’t need another centre. And why would Colorado want to trade their top player to get a goalie when they had, at the time, one of the best young goalies in the game in Thibault? That would have left Colorado with Roy and Thibault, which didn’t make sense for them.

  • http://www.friendlymisanthropist.blogspot.com alessandro nicolo

    Dontcha love notes that start “you’re wrong!” Newfie, you’re right on a techinical level. But that’s not the point here. Roy’s value – in a perfect world – was equal to Joe Sakic’s. Who cares we had Damphousse and Turgeon – a reluctant player the media pushed into the captaincy thus effectively ending his career here. I digress.) In any event, Sakic eclipses both. You forgot Mark Recchi he completed that line. Go for the equal value. Instead, we got basically a bag of pucks and some hockey tape. Thibault was/is ok but if it’s one thing the Habs are good at it’s finding goalies. So that should not have been the over arching worry – Jablonsky notwithstanding. Rejean Houle got fleeced pure and simple. He was fleeced because Roy pushed Habs management into making a hasty decision. AND PIERRE LACROIX KNEW THIS. The age old art of wheelin’ and dealin’ and we weren’t very good at the wheelin’ part. They were pushed around. The terribly imperfect and inexperienced coach Mario Tremblay did not want Roy to be bigger than the team. THAT was my point here. Again, you’re right. Those considerations probably did handicap them further.

  • http://www.friendlymisanthropist.blogspot.com alessandro nicolo

    My mistake. I forget how they used Recchi. He had just come from Philly. I think he played more often with Koivu. Koivu, Damphousse and Turgeon were all centers. I think they may have ushed Damphouuse or Turgeon to the left or may have used them together on the PP. I forget but he did play with one of them. Maybe someone remembers the exact line combos?

  • Newfie Habs fan

    I agree they were equal in star status, but rarely does a star get traded for another star. Gretzky was traded to St. Louis for Patrice Tardif, Roman Vopat, Craig Johnson, and draft picks. Hasek was traded for Vyacheslav Kozlov and a first round pick in 2002. Messier was traded for Bernie Nicholls, Steven Rice, and Louie Debrusk. Jagr was traded for three prospects. Jagr was also traded for Anson Carter. Marcel Dionne was traded with Bart Crashley for Terry Harper, Dan Maloney, and Los Angeles’ 2nd Round Pick in 1976.

    None of those trades gave equal value, and that’s the way it was/will be for many trades. It’s just a fact of life most big time trades don’t result in equal players.

    As for the lines in Montreal, I don’t remember them all at the time. They tried Recchi, Damphousse and Turgeon together, but the line stank, so they had to split them up. I know Damphousse and Ruckinsky played together for sure, and I think Bure was their linemate. Kovalenko was on the top line for his half a year, probably with Turgeon. Recchi-Koivu-Savage usually played together. Then guys like Stevenson, Petrov, Brashear, etc. took spots on the fourth line and higher when guys were injured. That’s the best I can remember.

  • http://www.friendlymisanthropist.blogspot.com alessandro nicolo

    Ah, yes the Gretzky to St.Louis deal. Good points on those trades. Then again, who could possibly measure up to Gretzky or Jagr right? That’s why Roy for Sakic seemed so straightforward in a time when money wasn;t thta much of an issue. How about Thornton for Stuart, Primeau and Sturm? Thornton for Marleau dammit! Ah man, the under achieving Rucinsky. Thanks for bringing me down. Before Recchi-Savage-Koivu I think they shoved Damphousse in there. All three played well. In fact, I remember going to a game and being thoroughly impressed with them. For a time the big four were quite productive. Theywere the last pure goal scorers we had. Now we have Ryder and Higgins for the future – we’ll see. Kovalev doesn’t count. Unless he plays with thoroughbreds that guy is just another supremely talented player. He and Koivu work magic when together. Nice comment!

  • Avs-Nords

    The greatest trade ever made…unless you’re a Habs fan. This was a great day and it lead directly to the Avs’ two cups. Being an Avs fan and before them a Nords fan, it’s really twice as nice. Not only did my Avs get a great tender and become a contender for years to come, but the Habs got screwed. Oh yes, what a trade…

  • Eric

    First of all, you don’t keep your star goalie in the game when he’s given up nine goals. You just don’t. It’s ALL Mario Tremblay’s fault. You don’t leave Patrick Roy out like that in front of Montreal’s crowd. You think Patrick Roy was just going to listen to the abuse of the fans and teammates.

    You think he was ready for the media abuse after the game? Mario Tremblay had to take him out of the game and he didn’t. Why??? Just to embarass him. Just to show him who’s boss. Well Roy was not stupid. He wasn’t some minor league call up who should be taking that kind of treatment. Furthermore Mario Tremblay knew Roy had a temper and yet Tremblay just left him there.

    If Mario Tremblay would’ve simply did what was expected, what any coach is supposed to do when the goalie is struggling, perhaps maybe Roy would’ve won some cups for Montreal. When Roy was pissed he meant he didn’t want to play another with Mario Tremblay behind the bench and what does the GM Rejean Houle do? He chooses the coach over the already well on his way hall of famer. Is this the way you treat your MVP who won you 2 Stanley Cups? No, you don’t treat this guy the way the habs staff did. People who blame Patrick Roy really have no clue. It wasn’t about his temper. Anyone would’ve gone crazy listening to jeers and boos from the crowd.

    It really should’ve been directed the coach. In fact Mario Tremblay should’ve been fired. We could’ve easily found some other coach, Roy would’ve stayed and perhaps he would’ve found his game in no time and won us another cup.

    And “The Trade”. If you ask me I think the management and coaches were just fed of paying Patrick Roy. The way they got rid of him was more like a salary dump.

    The bottom line is Patrick Roy was a far superior man then any of those imbeciles staff in the habs organization at the time. Roy was man of dignity and tarnishing his reputation and dignity like that in front of his fellow Quebecers was big mistake. Roy maybe had an embarassing day but his failure only lasted one day while the habs failed to get far in the playoffs for next 10 years without him.

    As for Roy well he’s got his stanley cup rings, records, trophies, and money. What more could he have accomplished? Any player knows if it doesn’t work out in one place, it will work out somewhere else.

    I don’t remember what the Montreal media was saying at the time but the way people talk about it, the media seemed to biased towards the coaches and management. If you ignore the media and look at it objectively, it was really the most awful coaching decision ever. Mario Tremblay should’ve been hanged.

  • Eric

    Oh and no, Mario Tremblay was FAR more responsible for what happened that night. To say that Roy alone was responsible is absurd. Roy doesn’t have to apologize for a thing. Roy is a champion. Mario Tremblay is a jerk. So is Rejean Houle.

    In case you don’t know, the GM hired Tremblay when there was already tensions between Roy and Tremblay. Before he joined the coaching staff the two had already had a history of arguing and fighting. It was bound to happen. If the GM wasn’t incompetant he would’ve known the signs. With Rejean it was all about making money for the owner by getting rid of high priced players.

  • Darkforce

    The coach should of been fired for his conflicts with Roy before this point, when you have Patrick Roy on one hand or a crap coach on the other why choose the coach?

    It was mishandled by management that led to Roy leaving, if the habs fans have anyone to be upset with it’s the organization itself. Roy was entirely justified to refuse to play for that coach again, i would of as well.

  • giantpeon

    Its the coaches job to manage players and keep them happy. If stroking an already inflated ego is required, then so be it. Do what it takes on the bench, and Roy will do what it takes on the ice. Trembley was a mediocre journeyman player at best and quite mediocre as a coach. He did not do his job with his star player. He did not play his role or earn his salary. His own ego got in the way and he used his power to bully and rule, ultimatly causing his star player to seek employment elsewhere. Management 101 fail. He should have been fired.

  • Evan

    Have to agree with most everyone commenting – not Roy’s fault but completely the fault of management and mainly the coach. I don’t think Roy for Sakic would have even been considered by the Ave’s they were simply not that stupid. Montreal management forced their own hand in the trade – they could have simply fired the GM and coach and kept Roy. Which would have been the smartest move they could have made. I remember this trade as the day I stopped being a Canadians fan and started to support my home team the Ottawa Sens – and man they sucked at that point in time so that was a hard decision. Roy made made me love hockey, Montreal management made me fall out of love with the Canadians.

  • Mav

    Was watching a piece on this on NHL Network last night. Sorry, this is all on Tremblay. No way you leave any goalie in for nine goals. A rec league coach knows that. He tried to prove to Roy who had all the power and he reaped what he sowed. Very sad for Habs fans. Tremblay’s ego cost the Habs their best player and essentially gift-wrapped a Stanley Cup for the Avs.