Wednesday, March 24, 1999
Curse of the Hab captains
Damphousse to San Jose ...
By DICK CHUBEY -- Edmonton Sun
Once upon a time, it was the most prestigious players' position in all of hockey.
Wearing the captain's 'C' for the Montreal Canadiens was totally where it was at as le bleu, blanc et rouge collected Stanley Cups in the manner today's NHL millionaires count their money.
When Butch Bouchard, Maurice (The Rocket) Richard, Jean Beliveau, Henri (The Pocket Rocket) Richard, Yvan Cournoyer and Bob Gainey proudly were the Habs' captains, they were career Canadiens.
Start to finish.
No one else need apply.
Now-a-days the Habs deal their captains in a fashion similar to Liz Taylor collecting and disposing of husbands.
Every player who has worn the 'C' in Montreal over the past decade has been bitten by the curse.
Guy Carbonneau, Chris Chelios, Kirk Muller, Mike Keane and Pierre Turgeon have all been traded. Yesterday Vincent Damphousse joined the ranks when he was informed at 35,000 feet that his services were no longer required.
The former Edmonton Oiler, who becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1, went to the San Jose Sharks for a fifth-round pick in June and a second rounder during the 2000 entry draft.
While he follows in the footsteps of a long line of traded captains, Damphousse undoubtedly experienced a day unlike any of the others before him.
Initially, he hopped the Habs' charter aircraft to Edmonton for tonight's date with the Oilers. At 12:50 p.m. somewhere over Manitoba, he almost again became an Oiler as GM Glen Sather thought he had a deal.
Perhaps it would have been the lesser of two evils whereby Damphousse was concerned.
After all, Montreal scribes inform that Damphousse has long spoken highly of his relationship with Sather during the 1991-92 campaign when he accounted for 38 goals, 51 assists in 82 games. He also chalked up 14 points (6-8) during 16 playoff games with the Oil during their last trip to the Western Conference final.
But when the 1 p.m. deadline passed, he had become the newest member of the Sharks and apparently wasn't immediately enthused with the manoeuvre.
As the collection of travelling Montreal media types waited to talk to the 31-year-old at the Edmonton International Airport's departure lounge, he remained aboard the aircraft. He was still there when it returned to Montreal.
"Everybody missed him. He decided not to come out,'' lamented Mario Leclerc of the Journal de Montreal, adding that Damphousse had said during earlier conversations that he badly wanted to remain in his native Montreal.
In the meantime, a couple of local photographers and writers awaited his arrival in the luggage-claim area. Had we known Damphousse wasn't talking, we wouldn't have been politely banging our heads against a wall of tight airport security.
Oh well, probably won't be the last wild goose chase of a wily (?) old vet's newspaper career.
Back to the plight of Vinny ...
Originally drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs (sixth overall) in 1986, his hockey career took a personal turn for the better when Sather dealt him and a fourth-round draft to the Habs in exchange for Shayne Corson, Brent Gilchrist and Vladimir Vujtek on Aug. 27, 1992.
Winning the Stanley Cup over Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in his first season with the Canadiens was the coup de grace.
But with his pending free agent status and the fact he is being paid .275 million US for scoring a sub-par 12 goals (including four of the empty-net variety) and 24 assists in 65 games, Damphousse was anticipating an address change this spring. After all, he was at the centre of trade rumours in hockey-mad Montreal.
So now Damphousse is listed among the many rent-a-players who changed teams during the deadline flurry.
It's even been suggested that he could wind up back with the Habs, but he doesn't think so.
"Why would they offer me a contract in the summertime when they haven't all season?'' he said earlier yesterday.
The Sharks play in Toronto tonight while the Habs visit the Skyreach Centre.
The same Canadiens, by the way, whose leading goal scorer may not crack the 20-goal barrier for the first time in 59 years (1940-41).
Former Oiler Martin Rucinsky leads Montreal with a paltry 15 goals.
How times have changed with the Habs, all right.