MONTREAL -- Trying to rank the top 10 of the Montreal Canadiens' 24 Stanley Cup championships through a century of a vastly changing game is hockey quicksand.
The most successful team in professional hockey won its first title in 1916 in the National Hockey Association, one year before the NHL's birth. The Canadiens went on to win the Stanley Cup in nine consecutive decades, between 1916 and 1993, when they won their most recent championship.
In all, 210 players have won at least one Stanley Cup with the Canadiens; that's nearly one-quarter of the 843 on the all-time roster heading into the 2016-17 season.
Some would reasonably include each of the 1956-60 titlists among the top 10 Cup champions in Canadiens history, 12 players having suited up for all five. Others would include each of the four champions between 1976 and 1979. Instead, this list is a subjectively assembled cross section of 10 great Canadiens teams, all united by a Stanley Cup championship:
Regular-season record: 60-8-12, .825 winning percentage
Coach: Scotty Bowman
Future Hall of Famers: 9
No team in NHL history has been as dominant as the 1976-77 Canadiens, the only team to lose fewer than 10 times in a season of 60 or more games.
Steve Shutt led the NHL with 60 goals, setting a League record for a left wing. That was four more than linemate Guy Lafleur, whose 136 points earned him the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's top scorer and the Hart Trophy as most valuable player. Lafleur also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There was more silverware: Ken Dryden and Michel Larocque won the Vezina Trophy as the goaltenders for the team that allowed the fewest goals; Larry Robinson won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman; and Scotty Bowman won the Jack Adams Award as the best coach.
The defending-champion Canadiens, on their way to four consecutive titles, closed out the regular season with a 12-game unbeaten streak (10 wins, two ties). In the 22 games before that, they went 17-1-4.
Then-captain Yvan Cournoyer jokes to this day that he'd call a meeting of players when the team had lost two games in a row. It never happened.
The Canadiens steamrolled through the playoffs. They opened by sweeping the St. Louis Blues in a four-game quarterfinal, outscoring the Blues 19-4, then defeated the New York Islanders in six games before sweeping the Boston Bruins in the Final.
The playoff run told just a part of the story. This Canadiens team set 21 NHL records, including the mark for the most regular-season points (132), which still stands, and the record for biggest goal differential (plus-216).
Regular-season record: 40-18-12, .657
Coach: Toe Blake
Future Hall of Famers: 9
Some would argue that the Canadiens' 1960 championship team is the greatest in NHL history, though it's difficult to say it was better than the 1976-77 edition.
The opinion is probably shaped by the fact this was the Canadiens' fifth consecutive title win, and the 10th straight time Montreal had gone to the Final.
"It was the best I ever played on," said Henri Richard, who won an unprecedented 11 Stanley Cup titles.
This was the swan song for legendary captain Maurice Richard, who retired after winning his eighth championship. His departure would signal a passing of the torch to Jean Beliveau, who would hold the captaincy for a decade following the 1961 trade of one-season captain Doug Harvey.
The 1959-60 Canadiens breezed through the playoffs in the minimum eight games, three by shutout, sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs to win Montreal's 12th NHL title.
Regular-season record: 45-15-10, .714
Future Hall of Famers: 10
No one could have imagined the run on which the Canadiens were embarking, a streak of five consecutive championships. But with veteran captain Butch Bouchard anchoring a roster that featured Maurice Richard and younger brother Henri, as well as Beliveau, Bernie "Boom" Geoffrion, Dickie Moore, Harvey and goaltender Jacques Plante, the Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings in a five-game Stanley Cup Final and were unbeatable for the rest of the decade.
The Canadiens finished first in the six-team NHL during the regular season, leading the League in goals scored (222) and allowing the fewest goals against (131). They knocked off the New York Rangers 4-1 in the semifinals, then ended the Red Wings' bid for a third consecutive championship by winning the Final in five games.
The Stanley Cup parade covered 30 miles and lasted nearly nine hours, prompting Blake to tell Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau that the Canadiens would stop winning championships if they were subjected to marathon celebrations in the future. The city abandoned parades for a decade, and the Canadiens obliged by winning the next four NHL titles.
Regular-season record: 38-5-7, 830
Coach: Dick Irvin
Future Hall of Famers: 6
It had been a 13-year, seemingly endless drought for Canadiens fans who longed for a championship. But Montreal returned to the NHL's summit in an impressive manner in 1943-44, losing just five games in a 50-game wartime schedule and then winning the Cup in nine games, one over the minimum.
The Canadiens were led by the newly formed "Punch Line" of center Elmer Lach between right wing Maurice Richard and left wing Blake, who coached the Canadiens to championships in the 1950s and '60s.
Blake, Richard and Lach were 1-2-3 in scoring during the playoffs, but ambidextrous goaltender Bill Durnan was the revelation. The brilliant rookie went on to win the Vezina Trophy six times during his seven-season career.
Regular-season record: 36-23-11, .593
Future Hall of Famers: 7
The Canadiens' run of five consecutive championships from 1956-60 had fans believing that winning the Cup was a guaranteed rite of spring. But two teams had other ideas: Chicago ended Montreal's run in 1961 and the Toronto Maple Leafs won the next three titles.
It's almost comical now, reading the words of Beliveau when he spoke of Montreal's 1965 title as an end to its "drought."
Thirteen members of this team won the Cup for the first time, the roster having been largely overhauled from the dynasty of the late 1950s. It was also Montreal's first Cup win in a stretch of four championships in five seasons.
But it wasn't a romp. It took the Canadiens six games to eliminate the Maple Leafs in the semifinals, and they needed seven games to get past Chicago in the Final.
Beliveau was awarded the inaugural Conn Smythe Trophy, introduced to recognize the most valuable player of the postseason. Mayor Drapeau resurrected the Stanley Cup parade last held in 1956, though with a much shorter route.
Regular-season record: 48-30-6, .607
Coach: Jacques Demers
Future Hall of Famers: 2
A Stanley Cup is not won with the efforts of a single player, but you could argue that goaltender Patrick Roy carried the Canadiens on his shoulders for their 24th and most recent championship.
Roy played all 20 playoff games, winning 16; he had a save percentage of .929 and goals-against average of 2.13. More impressively, he led his Canadiens to a record-setting 10 consecutive overtime victories: two against the Quebec Nordiques; three (in consecutive games) against the Buffalo Sabres; two against the New York Islanders, including one game decided in double overtime; and three (consecutively) in the Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings.
Eric Desjardins became the first defenseman to score three goals in a game in the Final, and Roy repeated his Conn Smythe Trophy win from 1986. Roy and Guy Carbonneau were the only two members of that 1986 team who were part of the 1993 team.
Regular-season record: 59-10-11, .806
Future Hall of Famers: 9
The Canadiens were coming off their second straight Stanley Cup win and there was little to suggest that the 1977-78 edition would be anything but a heavy favorite again. The 1976-77 team lost eight games in regulation; the 1977-78 edition lost 10 and finished with 129 points, three fewer than the superpower that preceded it.
Defenseman Larry Robinson won the Conn Smythe Trophy, leading Montreal with six points (two goals, four assists) in the six-game Final win against Boston. Montreal defeated Detroit in a five-game quarterfinal and swept Toronto in the semifinals before defeating Boston again in the Final.
A Canadiens win against the Bruins was a given to almost everyone, including the Bruins, if you flipped through the record books. The Canadiens beat Boston for the Stanley Cup in 1930 and 1931, lost in the semifinals in 1929 and 1943. But from 1943-87, Montreal eliminated the Bruins from the playoffs 18 consecutive times. In 1978, the Canadiens made it 13 in a row, five of them in the Final.
"Death, taxes and the Canadiens getting the first power play in Montreal," Bruins general manager Harry Sinden famously grumbled.
Regular-season record: 13-11-0, .542
Coach: Leo Dandurand
Future Hall of Famers: 6
This Stanley Cup victory was the Canadiens' second of 24 but their first in the NHL, which was founded in 1917.
Six members of the 12-man 1923-24 Canadiens made the Hockey Hall of Fame: Howie Morenz, Aurel Joliat, Joe Malone, Sprague Cleghorn, Sylvio Mantha and goaltender Georges Vezina.
Morenz, the NHL's first true superstar, was a rookie, having turned pro when his father signed a contract for him to play with the Canadiens. Joliat, bad blood in every vein of his 135-pound body, had arrived from the Canadian prairies in a trade for the hugely popular Newsy Lalonde, and he and Morenz provided the offense in front of Vezina, whose name is on the trophy given annually for goaltending excellence.
The Canadiens won their first NHL championship with a 5-2 two-game, total-goals victory against the Ottawa Senators, then defeated the Vancouver Maroons of the Pacific Coast Hockey League to advance to the Stanley Cup challenge final. Once there, they swept the Calgary Tigers, representing the Western Canada Hockey League, to win the Cup.
Regular-season record: 42-23-13, .622
Coach: Claude Ruel, Al MacNeil
Future Hall of Famers: 11
Dryden arrived late in the season, called up from the American Hockey League. The stood the postseason on its ear, winning the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy before he had lost a regular-season NHL game, and before he won the Calder Trophy as the League's best rookie in 1971-72.
The Canadiens' stunning comeback early in the quarterfinals against Boston was a highlight: Montreal was down 1-0 in the series and trailed 5-1 in Game 2, but scored six straight goals to win 7-5.
Montreal defeated Boston in seven games, the Minnesota North Stars in a six-game semifinal and Chicago in a seven-game Stanley Cup Final. Brothers Frank and Peter Mahovlich led Montreal scorers in the Final with eight and seven points, respectively.
It was a perfect exit for Beliveau, the graceful captain, who won the Cup as a player for the 10th time; his name was engraved on the trophy seven more times as a Canadiens vice president.
Regular-season record: 42-22-10, .635
Future Hall of Famers: 10
If not for Canada's Centennial-year Maple Leafs, the Canadiens might have had a second run of five consecutive championships. The Maple Leafs' 1967 title shoved a stick in the spokes of those hopes, but Montreal won again in 1968 and 1969 following victories in 1965 and 1966.
The NHL had just expanded from six to 12 teams, and the 1967-68 Canadiens made short work of Bowman's St. Louis Blues in the Final, sweeping them in four games following a five-game Semifinal win against Chicago and four-game sweep of Boston in the quarterfinals.
Cournoyer led the Canadiens in playoff scoring with 14 points (six goals, eight assists), and 38-year-old goalie Gump Worsley won 11 games without a loss with a 1.88 GAA to win his third of four Stanley Cup titles.
The Canadiens' 14 other Stanley Cup winners, with regular-season record:
1915-16 (National Hockey Association), 16-17-1
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