Guy Carbonneau became the standard of defensive excellence in the post Bob Gainey/Doug Jarvis era. The premier defensive shadow in the age of high scoring stars such as Gretzky, Yzerman and Lemieux, Carbonneau was a masterful face-off specialist and a superb shot blocker. And he excelled while his team was shorthanded. An incredible penalty killer, Carbonneau was always out against the other team's power plays, especially in the dreaded 5-on-3 penalty kills.
Born in Sept-Iles, Quebec, Guy played junior hockey with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. At that time players from the "Q" were rarely noted for the defensive play. High scoring games were the norm in the "Q" in the 70s and 80s, and Carbonneau sure did his share of scoring. Guy had a mind boggling 171 goals and 435 points in 273 career games with Chicoutimi. While he was definitely an offensive threat, in his own zone he wasn't exactly the Guy Carbonneau that he would later become.
The Montreal Canadiens did Guy and themselves a big favor when they didn't rush Guy into the NHL. The 44th overall pick by the Habs in the 1979 Entry Draft, Guy spent two full seasons apprenticing in the AHL where he scored 88 and 94 points respectively. However Guy's apprenticeship in the minors wasn't about offense, but defense.
“You didn’t play in Montreal until you learned how to play offensively and defensively, not even Guy Lafleur,” said Ron Low, a former NHL goalie and coach. “Teams don’t teach the right way to play the way the Canadiens once did."
Montreal brought Guy, along with so many other fine players prior to the late 1980s, in slowly to the NHL. Under the guidance of such Montreal greats as Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson and Mario Tremblay, Guy was raised in the mystique of the Montreal Canadiens, something he would later pass on to the next generation of Canadiens.
While Guy learned a lot from his coaches and teammates, he also had the help of some special Habs alumni.
"Just to be able to sit around and talk with Maurice and Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau, Toe Blake. . . . When you’re a young guy, that means a lot," Carbonneau said. "When they tell you a story, it’s from the heart. Those guys, they played for the love of the game."
So did Carbonneau.
Carbonneau had the instinct and ability to be a better scorer in the National Hockey League. His hockey sense, soft hands and good wheels should have seen him score more than he did. But Guy was so team oriented that he sacrificed his own point totals for the good of the team. Instead of becoming the next Guy Lafleur, he became the next Bob Gainey
Guy was a consistent offensive contributor, though not prolific. He never scored more than 57 points in a season, but scored at least 50 points in 5 years. He scored at least 18 goals in 9 of his seasons, including a career high 26 in 1988-89.
In total Carbonneau scored 221 goals in 12 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens. He was in the prime of his career when the Habs won the Stanley Cup in 1986. For Guy it was his first taste of Stanley Cup champagne. He played a huge role in those playoffs too. In addition to his usual defensive work, Guy contributed 7 goals and 12 points in 20 post season games.
Carbonneau won the Frank J. Selke Trophy three times in his career - 1988, 1989, and 1992 - and was the runner up twice more. Because of his zestful love of the game it came as no surprise that Guy was named as captain of the Montreal Canadiens. In 1989-90 he shared that duty with Chris Chelios and by 1990-91 he assumed the full captaincy role.
After the completion of the regular season in 1992-93, it looked as though Guy Carbonneau's days were numbered. He finished with career lows (at that point) in games (61), goals (4), assists (13) and points (17). It was certainly a season to forget for the aging veteran and speculation was that the 1993 playoffs would be Carbo's last hurrah in a Habs jersey.
However something funny happened that post season. Led by the heroics of Patrick Roy and some timely scoring by the Habs forwards, the Habs unexpectedly advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals where they faced off against Wayne Gretzky's Los Angeles Kings. Guy's re-energized youthful play against the Great One rejuvenated his career. Carbonneau shadowed Gretzky all series long and played an important role in the Habs 1993 Stanley Cup championship.
Carbonneau returned the following season and rebounded with 14 goals and 38 points in 79 games. However Guy's advancing age and salary convinced Montreal management to trade the veteran center to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for prospect Jim Montgomery.
Guy played one season in St. Louis, where he played an important role under head coach Mike Keenan. Keenan loved defensive forwards and Carbonneau was a natural fit in Keenan's system. Carbonneau also was teamed up in St. Louis with Esa Tikkanen, another top defensive forward in the late 1980s/early 1990s.
Carbonneau's stay in St. Louis was short however, likely due to his age - 36. The Blues moved him to Dallas in exchange for Paul Broten in 1995.
Going to Dallas was like a Montreal Canadiens reunion for Guy. The Dallas GM who traded for Guy was none other than Bob Gainey, Guy's one time mentor. Behind the bench was Doug Jarvis. On the ice he eventually was once again teaming up with some great Montreal defensive players from the past - Brian Skrudland, Mike Keane and Craig Ludwig.
Don't underestimate the importance of the ex-Hab factor in the Stars 1999 championship.
“There’s a lasting effect on people who learned how to play the game for the old Montreal Canadiens. There’s the tradition, the winning attitude they had. It carries over wherever they go. It gets in your blood, and it trickles down to everybody around them.” says Mike Modano. “The experience, the values they’ve learned rub off on you. How to be unselfish, to be patient, to play with passion has rubbed off on me.”
While many criticized the Stars for acquiring older veterans, the Stars knew exactly what they were doing. They wanted winners to come into their dressing room and teach their team how to win. Winners who would help the Stars win a championship of their own.
Winners like Guy Carbonneau.
"Players like him love the game for all the right reasons," said coach Ken Hitchcock "I don’t care if these games were played in an outdoor rink, it doesn’t matter to Guy. He just loves the game. He absolutely loves it. And he never picks his spots. He just plays. He's a competitive person. Money and the amount he gets paid is irrelevant to Guy Carbonneau. That's why he's an older player who can survive in a young man's game."
Carbonneau and the Stars returned to the Stanley Cup finals the following season, but fell short the New Jersey Devils. At the conclusion of the season, Carbonneau retired.
All told, Guy Carbonneau finished his career with 1318 games played, 260 goals, 403 assists and 663 points. He added 231 post season games where he scored 38 times and assisted on 55 others.
While he was not in the same class as the superstars of his era, Guy Carbonneau will always be mentioned in the same sentence as the Gretzkys, Lemieuxs, Yzermans and Hulls - as the man who shut them down.