Thursday, September 3, 2015

Guy Carbonneau Autographed Card

Guy Carbonneau is the reverse/bizarro Jacques Lemaire. On all levels.

First, let's start with Lemaire: he was without a doubt one of the five best offensive centers of his era, probably top-3, possibly top-2. If it was just that he had Guy Lafleur on his side, one could argue that it may have been Lafleur leading the way and Lemaire just benefitting, but Lemaire also fed another 50-goal winger on the same line, Steve Shutt. When one center has two 50-goal scorers at once on his wings, he's doing something right.

After his playing career, Lemaire turned to coaching, and his perfecting "the trap" into a near-flawless defensive system helped the Montréal Canadiens to two more Stanley Cups (1986 and 1993), the New Jersey Devils to their three including the one where he was behind the bench (1995, 2000, 2003), and made the Minnesota Wild a playoff team practically from the time they joined the NHL as an expansion team.

Offensively gifted turned defensive genius.

Carbonneau was a star in the LHJMQ in Juniors, but behind such centers as Bobby Smith, Stéphan Lebeau and Vincent Damphousse with the Habs, had to resort to playing the checking-line game if he wanted decent ice time. He did learn from the best (of their era) by sharing a line with Bob Gainey and Doug Jarvis, but by being a center who would often lead the league in face-offs won, he added a whole new dimension to the two-way forward role that neither had achieved. He shadowed the NHL's best and often had them finishing in the minuses because he could also contribute on the score board - all while playing clean hockey and not trying to get under their skin verbally.

The most obvious display of that mastery was in the Stanley Cup Final in 1993, as he shut Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings like no one had before and captained the team to what remains the last Cup having been won by a Canadian team to date.

After retiring, he held different management jobs, from assistant coach to assistant general manager to director of player personnel, until he was named the Canadiens' associate head coach in 2006-07 with the plan being that he would take on the job on his own the following season. And when he did, the Habs finished first in the Northeast Division with 104 points, and had the highest-ranked offense in the league with the Detroit Red Wings. When he was dismissed the following season (essentially for not following the company line and using Jaroslav Halak to win games instead of a struggling Carey Price), his team was still second in the Northeast - and they finished even lower after Gainey replaced him behind the bench.

For most of his tenure, the team led the league in penalty-killing (which was to be expected), but also on the powerplay. The result was a combination of having highly-skilled players such as Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Andrei Markov who were all allowed to be creative with the puck, sure, but also factoring in was Carbonneau's knowledge of how penalty killers think and react, and teaching his forwards to find ways around that.

Essentially, when he was hired as coach, he had three years to help the Habs win the Stanley Cup; he was ultimately given one and a half, because Gainey felt that goaltending wasn't that important a piece of the puzzle and it was better to go with the line-up he had envisioned for the Canadiens' Centennial instead of the one that worked and gelled. He was the boss, so it was his call, wrong as it was.

However, on the ice, Carbonneau did eventually supplant Gainey; he innovated past the teacher's lessons and became a master himself. Gainey's in the Hall Of Fame, and the main reason why the Selke Trophy even exists (having won it in its first four presentations); he played on 5 Cup-winning teams.

Carbonneau won the Selke three times (1988, 1989 and 1992) and probably deserved it in 1990 (Rick Meagher) and 1991 (Dirk Graham) as well. He's also played on three Cup-winning teams, including the 1999 Dallas Stars, on which Gainey was GM. It's while he was in Dallas that his daughter met her husband, Brenden Morrow.

If Gainey's in the Hall, so should Carbo. Not only was he the best at what he did for a long stretch (8 seasons in my count), but he revolutionized the position completely. Now every team has a third-or-second-line center shadowing the opposition's best player. That's all Carbo.

And so, for the first time I feature him, here he is depicted as a young player (before he ever sported the "C", so probably in 1985 or 1986 judging by the assistant coach on the bench), card #46 from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Parkhurst Champions set, showing him in the Habs' classic bleu-bland-rouge jersey:
He signed it in blue sharpie. Now that he's a TV analyst for RDS, he's relatively easy to find at all Canadiens home games.

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