Pat Hickey: Serge Savard broke up the Stanley Cup-winning Canadiens he created

The 1993 Habs had only two Hall of Famers, and only three players over 30. Within two and a half years, all but five were gone.

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Members of the Canadiens’ 1993 Stanley Cup team were at the Bell Centre Thursday to help pay tribute to team physician Dr. David Mulder, who has retired after six decades of service to the organization.

Coincidentally, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the team’s 24th and last Stanley Cup victory, and that provides an opportunity to reflect on a dynasty that could have been but never was.

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Unlike the Montreal dynasties of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, the 1993 team was not populated with future Hockey Hall of Famers.

Goaltender Patrick Roy and captain Guy Carbonneau are the lone members of the team to be selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, while John LeClair and Mathieu Schneider earned spots in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on the strength of their play after they left Montreal.

But this was a team of talented young players, with the emphasis on young.

There were only three players over 30 — Carbonneau, Denis Savard and Rob Ramage.

The season started with 14 players under the age of 25. Vincent Damphousse, the leading scorer with 37 goals and 97 points, was 24, and 21-year-olds Patrice Brisebois and Kevin Haller were among the six defencemen under 25.

Kirk Muller, who had 37 goals and 94 points, was 26. Brian Bellows, with a team-high 40 goals, was a relative old-timer at 28, but Stéphan Lebeau, a 31-goal scorer, was 24 and Gilbert Dionne put up his second consecutive 20-goal season at 22.

With Roy — who was 27 when he hoisted the Stanley Cup for the second time — in nets, this group figured to stay together and continue winning games and competing for the Cup for the better part of the next decade.

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“I thought we had the perfect team,” former general manager Serge Savard said prior to Thursday’s dinner. “We had Patrick in goal, we had four guys between 80 and 90 points. We had a leader in Carbo and a strong defensive team. Some people said we were lucky to win, but I thought we could win more Cups.”

It didn’t happen.

There’s a misconception that the Canadiens’ demise began with the 1995-96 season when Savard and coach Jacques Demers were fired and were replaced with Réjean Houle and Mario Tremblay.

But this team had been gutted before the Tremblay-Roy feud blew up on Dec. 2, 1995. After Roy and Mike Keane were traded to the Colorado Avalanche a mere 30 months after the Stanley Cup win, there were only five players remaining from the 1993 team — Damphousse, Brisebois, Lyle Odelein, Benoit Brunet and Oleg Petrov, whose 1993 contribution consisted of nine regular-season games and two playoff appearances.

Most of the other players exited via trades in which the Canadiens emerged as the losers, and it was Savard who played the key role in dismantling his prefect team.

The worst deal saw LeClair, Dionne and Éric Desjardins go to Philadelphia in exchange for Mark Recchi. LeClair joined Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg to form the Legion of Doom line and he scored 50 goals in each of his first three full seasons with the Flyers, followed by two 40-goal campaigns. He was a first-team all-star three times and a second-team choice twice. LeClair scored 235 goals over five seasons; Recchi had 106 in four full seasons in Montreal. Desjardins? He shored up the Flyers’ defence and was a two-time all-star.

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Muller and Schneider were dealt to the Islanders for Pierre Turgeon and Vladimir Malakhov. This one might have worked out if Turgeon had stuck around. Turgeon, who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, led the Canadiens with 96 points in 1995-96 but he was traded — by Houle — to St. Louis early the next season in a deal that brought a declining Shayne Corson back to Montreal.

Carbonneau went to St. Louis in return for Jim Montgomery, a prolific collegiate scorer at Maine who proved to be a far better coach than a player.

Bellows was traded to Tampa Bay for defensive centre Marc Bureau. Finally, Lebeau was on pace for a fourth consecutive 20-goal season when he was sent to Anaheim for backup goaltender Ron Tugnutt.

A fitting tribute: The Bell Centre was transformed into the city’s most expensive five-star restaurant as more than 900 former players, business leaders and politicians gathered to honour Mulder and 19 members of the 1993 team. Tickets for the event ranged from $20,000 to $50,000 for a table of 10.

The gala raised more than $1.5 million for the Montreal General Hospital Foundation, the Serge Savard Fund, which assists student athletes at the Université de Sherbrooke, and the Canadiens’ Centennial Emergency Fund, which assists former players in need of financial or medical support.

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