August 20, 2010

Who Was Better? Montreal's Big 3

Seen here celebrating a Stanley Cup victory with team captain Yvan Cournoyer and other teammates, Serge Savard, Larry Robinson and Guy Lapointe comprised arguably the best blue line group any team has ever had.


In the 1970s the Montreal Canadiens were blessed with arguably the three best defenseman ever on the same team. Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe were all Hall of Fame defenders, and aside from Bobby Orr and Brad Park, all three were considered to be the best in the game.

No wonder why Montreal won all those Stanley Cups in the 1970s.

But how does history rank these three great teammates? Who was the best?

My personal impression always had Robinson as the best. Savard was a fantastic defensive dman whose overall contribution was underrated albeit hampered by early career serious leg injuries. Guy Lapointe was a wonderful offensive defenseman with an overlooked defensive game. But Robinson was a combination of the two with a commanding, intimidating presence about him to go with it. Robinson, who was the only of the three to win a Norris Trophy (he won it twice), ranks as the best of the three in my opinion.

But I wanted to ask a few Montreal Canadiens experts as to their thoughts.

Robert Lefebvre of Eyes On The Prize also went with Robinson, although it was far from a decisive decision. He put so much thought into it he has a whole post over at his website. Here's a quote:
Back during their prime years, I recall being asked by a fellow fan, which of the three was the best.

It was tough to answer then, as it is now.

The way the question was put to me was in hypothetical terms, such as a draft scenario with Canadiens holding the first overall pick and all of The Big Three being available prospects at that imaginary time.

Without the benefit of hindsight, who would you choose between the lanky and raw Robinson, the wild but promising Lapointe, or the composed Savard?

It's tough to call isn't it?
Dennis Kane had some great commentary on the issue.
I can picture like it was yesterday those three and the way they played and how how great they were on great teams.

They were different players for sure. Savard was big and smooth, skated with poise, and pulled off that spinerama move with grace and style. He was smart, confident, and a leader.

Lapointe was a great skater and playmaker, and we hear about his antics in the dressing room as a practical joker, but he was all business on the ice and loved to carry the puck, often end to end. He had a low, hard shot like Orr, and was a real danger. He was a beauty.

Robinson wasn't quite as good a skater as either Savard and Lapointe, but got from A to B and the way he did it would raise fans out of their seats. He liked to go with the puck, and it was a beautiful thing when he would blast one home from the blue line.

They were all different, and all great. But you asked me who I thought was best, and I'm choosing Robinson because he not only had great skills, but was also strong as an ox, and it was a sorry fellow who decided to drop his gloves with him. Robinson commanded respect all around the league.

Making things more conclusive, Kevin from Ya! The Habs Rule! also ranked Robinson on top.
With Robinson, you got it all. Defense, offense, and a reputation as an extremely solid hitter to go with his "finger pointing" intimidation of opponents.

I always felt his presence in the lineup was the backbone for the '70s Habs teams when facing the Bruins and the Flyers.

His longevity as an effective player (including 20 straight post-season appearances) and two Norris Trophies solidify his spot as the top of this group.

GHL friend Jennifer Conway, an University of North Dakota student writing her MA on the 1972 Summit Series, campaigned for Savard:
Out of the three, statistically speaking, Larry Robinson is the winner. Personality wise Guy Lapointe is the winner. But I really enjoyed Serge Savard. He was one of those guys, just heart and soul. He would play injured, he would play however you needed him to, whenever you needed him to.
What really sticks out with me is Savard's unmeasurable contributions. Yes, all three were very good, and stats verify that especially in Lapointe's and Robinson's case. But Savard was the one guy who really stirred the drink in Montreal. If you took one of the Big 3 out of Montreal's 1970s dynasty picture, who would the Habs have missed the most? I think the answer very well may have been the steady Serge Savard.

When you breakdown all three players' games I still think Robinson had all the tools to be the prototypical defenseman every general manager would die to have on their team. His legacy is of higher profile and higher stature. He is generally considered to be the best of the Big 3 and I tend to agree with it.

But I think Serge Savard may have been the most important blue liner in Montreal in the 1970s.

On The 'Net - Earlier this summer Jennifer Conway wrote an interesting story of how Montreal Canadiens players, particularly Serge Savard, saved several people including Scotty Bowman from a hotel fire in St. Louis. Read the article here.

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