Montreal fans needed a program to keep track of the trades. No sooner had the cash-strapped Montreal Expos unloaded top pitchers John Wetteland and Ken Hill than the struggling Montreal Canadiens pulled off one of the biggest swaps of the National Hockey League season. In a desperate attempt to save the storied franchise from the unthinkable—missing the playoffs for the first time in 25 years—the Habs sent their captain, Kirk Muller, defenceman Mathieu Schneider and a minor-leaguer to the New York Islanders. In exchange, they received Islander captain and Quebec native Pierre Turgeon, and Russian defenceman Vladimir Malakhov. Suddenly, for the first time since the departure of Guy Lafleur in 1985, the Canadiens have a high-scoring FrenchCanadian to lead them. As a result, said David McGarry, general manager of a La Cage Aux Sports bar in Montreal’s west end, fans will likely forgive Canadiens general manager Serge Savard for trading the popular Muller. “It is nice,” said McGarry, “to have a great player from Quebec, that’s for sure.”
Like virtually everything that happens around the Canadiens, the trade was packed with politics and emotion. Muller, a 29-year-old centre, led the Habs to the Stanley Cup in 1993, but they have been playing mediocre hockey ever since. Reporters with the city’s hockey-mad, French-language newspapers had even suggested that a cabal of disgruntled English players was undermining the team.
Now, with the club languishing below .500 and the playoffs less than a month away, there was immense pressure on Savard to act. On the day of the trade, an article in La Presse openly mocked Savard, saying he lacked the “courage and flair” to engineer a blockbuster deal.
His last attempt backfired. In February, Savard traded winger John LeClair and defenceman Eric Desjardins to the Philadelphia Flyers for right-winger Mark Recchi. Since then, while Recchi has played well enough, LeClair has emerged as a prolific scorer on a suddenly powerful Flyers team. Now, with a top playmaking centre like the 25year-old Turgeon to set up Recchi, the Canadiens are hoping to generate more offence. And in his first game against Montreal’s archrivals, the Quebec Nordiques, Turgeon scored the tying goal and set up the winner. Said Montreal coach Jacques Demers: “Now we have what every team wants—a major impact line.”
A native of Rouyn in northwestern Quebec, Turgeon could also help restore the club’s emotional link to the great French-Canadian players of its past at a crucial time. Next spring, the team will vacate the Montreal Forum, its fabled home since 1924, and move into a new 22,000-seat arena. Turgeon appears ready for the challenge. “Coming here,” he said, “is an old childhood dream come true.” The dream of Habs fans, however distant, is for Turgeon to lift them into Cup contention.
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