Ministers of defense
(From top left) Emile Bouchard, Doug Harvey, Jacques Laperrire, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and Larry Robinson are six of nine Canadiens defensemen in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
MONTREAL - While they weren't in the spotlight as often as the legendary forwards they played behind, defensemen who have called the Montreal blue line home over the years make up an impressive list filled with All-Stars, Hall of Famers and, of course, Stanley Cup champions.
Any discussion of Canadiens defensemen begins with Doug Harvey, the player who blazed the trail for today's power-play quarterbacks. Having understandably played second fiddle to Maurice Richard and then Jean Beliveau over the course of his 14-year Canadiens career, Harvey's puck control style and offensive flair was a huge part of six Stanley Cup triumphs with Montreal, including five-straight from 1956-60.
Look no further than the names engraved on the Norris Trophy as further proof of Harvey's domination of his era. A seven-time winner of NHL top defenseman honors, he sits only one shy of Bobby Orr's league record of eight. Harvey, however, isn't the only Habs defenseman to have been the toast of the NHL.
Joining Harvey as the only other multiple Norris Trophy winner in club history is Larry Robinson, who won the award in both 1977 and 1980. Robinson wasn't alone on the Canadiens blue line during the 1970s as he was but one component of a three-headed monster aptly dubbed the "Big Three."
Along with Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe, Robinson spearheaded a defensive corps that is widely regarded as the greatest unit the league has ever seen. The trio was a big reason why Montreal steamrolled its way to six Stanley Cups in the 1970s, including four-in-a-row from 1976 through 1979.
As one would expect, the defenseman chapter of the Habs record book is covered in their fingerprints, co-starring Lapointe who sits alone with the top three positions all to himself for goals in a season, and Robinson who leads the way in both assists and points. The Big Three also never saw an NHL All-Star Game they didn't like with Savard, Lapointe and Robinson combining for an incredible 17 All-Star appearances, with nine of those coming courtesy of Robinson.
For a franchise forever linked to the enduring image of the Flying Frenchmen, their flight would have been considerably shorter and a whole lot bumpier without the Canadiens' blue line pillars being there to ensure a smooth landing.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com