It is well-known that the 1985-86 Canadiens Stanley Cup-winning team was one that had eight rookies that made the team in addition to having a rookie coach lead them, Jean Perron. Out of those eight rookies. the two most prominent players we remember are Patrick Roy and Claude Lemieux for their inspirational playoff contributions. Normally, when you have eight rookies on the team, it is unlikely that the team is expected to win the Stanley Cup or even make the playoffs without having key veterans to surround and mentor them with.
However, when you have solid leadership group with veterans who have winning experience(s) (e.g., Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson, Chris Nilan, etc.) and combine them with a group of young upcoming talent, it makes for a well-balanced and synergized team that can achieve unexpected results. The General Manager of the 1985-86 team was Serge Savard; his planning and preparation of the roster was by no means a fluke as the eight rookies that made the team were drafted and developed successfully under his watch.
Nonetheless, there is one transaction that he made three years prior to winning the 1986 Stanley Cup which was impactful and influenced the success of the team/organization in the following years. Prior to joining the Canadiens, Bobby Smith was with the Minnesota North Stars and was very successful for them, as a 6’4, over 200 Ibs scoring centre. Due to certain reasons, he became discontent with his situation with the team and requested a trade. Serge Savard shrewdly capitalized on this opportunity and traded for him by sending Mark Napier, Keith Acton, and a draft pick to Minnesota.
Most of the centres (Shayne Corson, Stephane Richer, and Guy Carbonneau) on the 1986 team were arguably inexperienced but were gradually establishing themselves as key players. The addition of Bobby Smith was a key piece that paid dividends especially in the 1986 Stanley Cup playoffs, where he scored key OT goals and the eventual Stanley Cup-winning goal against the Calgary Flames. Apart from Smith’s playoff performance, what he meant to the team at the time that he was acquired up to the 1986 Stanley Cup win, was the fact that he was the most offensively talented centremen they had at that position at that time in comparison to the others. He drove the offence with his size, speed, and skill while being defensively responsible.
To briefly touch upon the current Habs team, we have Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Phillip Danault, and Jake Evans as the centres. Since Suzuki has been given the responsibilities at centre, his excellent two-way playmaking abilities have eliminated any doubts about his ability to produce and drive the offence for Les Canadiens. Kotkaniemi has the size and has shown us skills in spurts and in the 2020 playoffs we saw some of his potential gradually coming to fruition.
On the other hand, it is known that Danault has excellent defensive skills and abilities and is great at faceoffs, but throughout his career has not been able to drive the offence of his team as a true first or second-line centreman. There was much discussion about the pros and the cons of adding a player of Pierre-Luc Dubois’s calibre, his value as a first-line centre, his attitude/salary-cap implications but with the current overall depth of the team and their recent play so far it could have unwise to diminish the depth built during the offseason.
Although it is a different era and team structure, it could have been somewhat reminiscent and had the makings of the Bobby Smith (Minnesota North Stars) situation, where a player coming from a negative circumstance can lead the team’s offence and guide them to a possible Stanley Cup. Yes, the price to acquire Pierre-Luc Dubois would have been significant as well as the short and long-term implications to the roster both from a talent and salary cap perspective, but currently speaking Price, Weber, and Petry, three key players from the core leadership are not getting any younger and even though they now have depth at the centre position that was long overdue, Suzuki is the only legitimate centre who can consistently drive the offence.
Kotkaniemi is young and still shows glimpses of the talent he possesses but if Suzuki has a slump or has an injury, can Kotkaniemi take control and lead the offence? That’s a question the Canadiens are certainly hoping that they won’t need to find out the answer to. Otherwise, they could be regretting the opportunity to pass up on Dubois who could have potentially been the modern-day Bobby Smith acquisition to help put them over the top.