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Where does Pierre Turgeon fit in Montreal Canadiens history?

Nov 14, 2023; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; NHL Hall of famer and former Montreal Canadiens captain Pierre Turgeon is inducted into the Montreal Canadiens ring of honor before the game between the Calgary Flames and the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. | Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday night, one day after his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Pierre Turgeon was celebrated by the Montreal Canadiens and placed in their Ring of Honor.

The Ring of Honor is located around the upper bowl of the Bell Centre in Montreal, and highlights every Hockey Hall of Famer (both players and builders) who was a significant member of the Canadiens’ history. When Turgeon was first announced as being inducted, I didn’t really pay much mind. As someone who grew up in the years he was a part of the organization, I knew his time was short, but I didn’t see him as an outlier among the other names.

Looking into it, however, paints a different picture.

Turgeon is the 60th member of the Ring, but there are actually nine additional players who had nice Hall of Fame careers and played at least one game for the Canadiens but are not in the Ring. Some of the players even pre-date the NHL, only playing for the Canadiens in the National Hockey Association: Reg Noble had a long NHL career, but only after he played in the NHA with the Canadiens. Jimmy Gardner was a player for the Montreal Wanderers, among other teams, for a long time before joining the Canadiens for their last two seasons before joining the NHL. Tommy Smith had a long career, but his time with the Canadiens was short and also pre-dated the NHL. Some others, like Tony Esposito and Doug Gilmour, are recognizable names but their time in Montreal was not deemed long enough to be recognized.

Hockey Hall of Fame members not in the Canadiens’ Ring of Honor

Roy Worters (G)1
Reg Noble6 (non-NHL)
Tony Esposito (G)13
Tommy Smith14 (non-NHL)
Harry Cameron16
Jimmy Gardner17 (non-NHL)
Marty Berry30
Gordie Drillon49
Doug Gilmour131

As you can see, Gilmour has far and away the most games, and more than Turgeon. Turgeon had 103 regular season games with the Canadiens. Gilmour even has him beat in playoff games (12-6, and in playoff rounds won, 1-0). This isn’t an argument that Gilmour should be included (although I think that would be hilarious, especially so I can see the reaction of my father who is a Toronto Maple Leafs fan), or that Turgeon shouldn’t be included, but something about the selection process worth pointing out.

Turgeon, as it turns out, isn’t even the Canadiens player in the Ring with the fewest games. There is the caveat that a season had many more games when Turgeon played than when Jack Laviolette, Joe Hall, Joe Malone, Herb Gardiner, and Newsy Lalonde played. All of those players had under 100 games with the Canadiens, but made their marks and their inclusion should not be debated.

Although Turgeon has fewer games played than Gilmour, he actually spent parts of three seasons with the team, counting the season he was acquired and the one when he was traded away. Every player to spend more than two different seasons with the organization has now been recognized. Gilmour spent parts of two seasons with the Canadiens. Turgeon was also captain, and not just any captain, but the captain when the Montreal Forum hosted its last game. Him holding the torch is as memorable a moment as any since the 1993 Stanley Cup.

That’s not to say Gilmour didn’t have a memorable moment of his own with the Canadiens, and fans who are slightly younger may even remember that one more than Turgeon and the Forum.

Gilmour was with the team when Saku Koivu returned from cancer, and was a key member of the team that upset the Boston Bruins in the 2002 Playoffs.

In terms of Ring of Honor players in the Expansion era, Turgeon and Gilmour are in a group of their own. Goaltenders like Gump Worsley and Rogatien Vachon had 172 and 206 games with the Canadiens respectively, and when you expand it to skaters, the closest ones are Denis Savard (210), Frank Mahovlich (263), and Rod Langway (268).

There are several former Canadiens who may get inducted in the future, and a decision will have to be made on them. Shea Weber played 275 games with the Canadiens, and was the team’s captain, so he’s likely a lock if inducted. Corey Perry is more likely to make the Hall of Fame, but 49 regular season games and 22 playoff games likely isn’t enough. The same goes for Eric Staal and Ilya Kovalchuk, should they get in. A player like Vincent Damphousse is a sure-fire lock with over 500 games, a Stanley Cup, and a captaincy.

In the end, Turgeon’s addition may seem strange for someone who wasn’t around for his time with the Canadiens and just takes a look at his career statistics or compare it among other players both in and out of the Ring, but there are enough extenuating circumstances to have him included without changing the precedent for future players.