Patrick Roy

Canadiens Patrick Roy

Alternate NHL history: Patrick Roy’s exit from Montreal


With 2019-20 NHL season on pause we are going to take an occasional look back at some of the alternate timelines that could have existed throughout the history of the league. Here, we contemplate what would have happened had Patrick Roy not been embarrassed in a 1995 game against the Detroit Red Wings and demanded a trade out of Montreal. 

At the start of the 1995-96 season Patrick Roy was already one of the most accomplished goalies in the history of the Montreal Canadiens, and on a path that was going to lead him to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

But on Dec. 2 of that season, in the Canadiens’ 22nd game on the schedule, the proverbial turd hit the fan.

It was on that night that Roy was humiliated in his own building, embarrassed on national TV, and ultimately played his final game as a member of the team before being traded to the Colorado Avalanche (along with team captain Mike Keane) for Jocelyn Thibault, Andrei Kovalenko, and Martin Rucinsky.

It remains one of the most significant moments in the history of the Canadiens’ franchise.

The Gathering Storm And The Eruption

Just four games into the 1995-96 season the Canadiens fired coach Jacques Demers, replacing him with Mario Tremblay, a former Canadiens player with no prior coaching experience. Things quickly devolved into chaos between Roy and Tremblay, and the stories of tension between the two are legendary at this point. Things ultimately reached their boiling point against the Red Wings on that now infamous night at The Forum.

The Red Wings opened the first period by scoring five goals on 17 shots against Roy, each one a more beautiful masterpiece than the one that preceded it. Instead of making a goaltending switch, Tremblay instead made the fateful decision to leave Roy in the game. The Red Wings goals never stopped coming. At one point in the second period Roy made a routine save and received a mock cheer from Montreal crowd, resulting in Roy raising his arms in celebration.

Finally, after allowing nine goals, Tremblay made the decision to remove Roy from the game in favor of backup Pat Jablonski. Upon returning to the bench, Roy stormed by his coach before leaning over to team president Ronald Corey and informing him that he had just played his final game with the team.

Just a few days later, general manager Rejean Houle sent Roy and Keane to Colorado. It was the perfect confluence of incompetence that saw an inexperienced, in-over-his-head general manager (just 40 days on the job), make a disastrous trade that only became a necessity after his equally inexperienced coach couldn’t coexist with one of the greatest players in the history of the league, and then completely humiliated him for no real reason.

That leads us to the questions.

What if Tremblay had simply avoided embarrassing Roy?

We could go back even further and ask “what if the Canadiens had hired a different coach,” but for now let’s just stick with this part of the equation.

There comes a point in every blowout game where the losing coach makes a goaltending switch even if they know it will not make a difference in the game. Sometimes your goalie has a bad night. Sometimes the team in front of them plays like garbage and you just want to spare them the embarrassment. But it usually happens. It usually happens before nine goals enter the back of the net in less than two periods.

The simple answer is that Roy continues on as goalie of the Canadiens, maybe has a rocky relationship with his coach, but ultimately outlasts him because he’s the superstar Hall of Fame player.

The Canadiens would have still had a franchise goalie, and that could have been a game-change in the short-term. Maybe it doesn’t bring another Stanley Cup to Montreal (they didn’t have that sort of team), but even without Roy they were still a playoff team in 1995-96 and the next two years after that. Thibault had a solid start to his Montreal career before self-destructing in the first-round of the playoffs that year against the New York Rangers. He never really solidified the position after that, was eventually traded two years later, and the Canadiens went through a revolving door of goalies over the next decade.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, Roy was the final piece of the puzzle for the Avalanche and helped bring two Stanley Cups to Denver, including his very first year with the team. He finished that postseason with a .922 save percentage, won 16 out of 22 starts, and delivered one of the most devastating quotes ever.

Had Roy not demanded a trade out of Montreal, how does the Colorado mini-dynasty shake out? They clearly had a team that was ready to win. But was Stephane Fiset or Thibault the goalie to get them there? It is difficult to imagine either one performing at the level that Roy did, especially in the Western Conference Final that season against the very Red Wings team that helped push Roy out of Montreal.

That Red Wings team set an NHL record with 62 regular season wins and was by far the highest scoring team in hockey. Roy held them to two goals or less in four of the six games, including a Game 2 shutout. No Roy in Montreal could have meant the Red Wings play in the Stanley Cup Final that season where they would have almost certainly trounced the Florida Panthers with the same level of ferocity that the Avalanche did. That would have set the stage for a potential three-peat, and taken them from simply being “The team of the decade” in the 1990s to one of the NHL’s all-time greatest dynasties.

The Colorado/Quebec Angle

It was later revealed that the Canadiens and Avalanche had trade discussions involving Roy earlier in the 1995-96 season because then-Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix had once been Roy’s agent. Talks were so far along that they had even reportedly agreed in principle a deal that would have sent Roy to Colorado for Owen Nolan and Fiset. But with the Canadiens losing their first five games of the season, they fired Demers and general manager Serge Savard (replacing them with Tremblay and Houle) and nixed the trade. Colorado then sent Nolan to San Jose for Sandis Ozolinsh a few days later. Ozolinsh ended up making a huge impact on that Stanley Cup run, along with Roy.

But the intrigue here is the fact that the Avalanche even existed. This was their first year in Denver after relocating from Quebec, and it results in another massive what if. What if everything had played out exactly as it did in Montreal, but the Nordiques had never moved to Colorado?

The Canadiens would have still been in a position where a trade was necessary, but there is almost zero chance they would have even entertained the thought of trading him to one of their fiercest rivals.

Where would Roy have gone, and what impact would that have had on the league? In hindsight, Boston is one team that would have really stood out (even if it presented a similar issue for Montreal — trading within the division to a rival team). They were in a position to win, they were still trying to get Ray Bourque his Stanley Cup, and they had an absolutely appalling goaltending situation that they tried to remedy in-season with a trade for Bill Ranford.

Either way, it almost certainly would not have been Quebec, leading us down an entirely different timeline.

More alternate NHL history:
What if the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Alex Ovechkin lottery?

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Time Machine: Karma bites fan who mocked Steve Sullivan


Throughout the season we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back to when a fan mocked Steve Sullivan for getting hit in the face by a high stick … and was then later hit in the face by a puck.

With the Chicago Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche facing off on Wednesday Night Hockey (watch live on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET) we are hopping in the ole time machine to take a quick look back at the most absurd moment to happen between these two teams. Yes, it’s the Steve Sullivan fan incident from Jan. 26, 2001, when a heckler in the stands ended up getting a taste of his own medicine.

Chapter 1: The matchup

During the 2000-01 season the Blackhawks and Avalanche were two trains going in two very different directions.

The Blackhawks were stuck in the middle of the most irrelevant stretch in franchise history and looking completely hopeless. It was an impossibly bad 10-year run where they made the playoffs one time, were in the process of ruining the relationship with fans, and were on their fifth different head coach in four years.

The Avalanche, meanwhile, were one of the elite teams in the league. They had an All-Star laden roster that was five years removed from a Stanley Cup, had been in the Western Conference Final three more times since then, and were on their way to winning a second Stanley Cup a few months later.

It was a mismatch, and the game started exactly as you would expect with with the Avalanche racing out to an early 3-0 lead.

Chapter 2: Steve Sullivan gets high-sticked

It was at that point, midway through the second period, that an otherwise random high-sticking incident took place involving Sullivan and Avalanche forward Alex Tanguay.

As Tanguay attempted to clear the puck out of the Avalanche zone, his stick inadvertently clipped Sullivan in the face leaving a cut on the bridge of his nose. When Sullivan skated back to the bench, slumped over and in pain with a towel to his face, a glass-banger in the front row decided to start heckling the injured forward.

It did not go unnoticed by Sullivan.

Steve Sullivan Fan Incident

Banging on the glass is annoying, but I’m not going to stop you.

If you want to try to heckle the other team, just keep it clean and within the lines of good taste. You’re the fan paying the money to sit in the good seats, do what you want (again, within reason).

A good rule of thumb, though, is do not mock the injured players.

Chapter 3: Sullivan gets some revenge on the scoreboard

Maybe he was feeling some extra motivation. Maybe it was some good luck. Whatever the case, Sullivan did his best to bring the Blackhawks closer on the scoreboard by scoring a pair of shorthanded goals against Patrick Roy on the same penalty kill to cut the deficit to 3-2 late in the second period.

Sullivan was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise bad Blackhawks team, finishing the season with 34 goals including a league-leading eight shorthanded goals.

A good way for a player to silence a heckler is to do something during the game that impacts the result. For a few minutes, it looked like Sullivan might be able to do that. But again, the gap in talent between these two teams was so much that not even two shorthanded goals in less than a minute were enough to swing the result in Chicago’s favor (the Avalanche went on to win 5-2).

Chapter 4: Sullivan strikes back

It turned out to the best way to get even for Sullivan in this case was simply the opportunity to return the favor.

With the second period coming to a close, Roy attempted to clear the puck off the glass and accidentally put it in the stands where it hit an unsuspecting fan in the head.

You will never guess which fan it ended up hitting.

In the video posted above, Sullivan points out that he didn’t realize what happened until teammate Tony Amonte pointed it out to him. Sullivan then skated over to the glass and shared some “choice words” with the fan who had done the same earlier in the period.

Probably the best part of the exchange is the fans wife/girlfriend/friend holding the towel on the fan’s head, laughing, and giving Sullivan a thumbs up.

You can see everything, as well as Sullivan’s commentary, in the video above.

For more stories from the PHT Time Machine, click here.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Our Line Starts podcast: Struggling Lightning, Penguins; George McPhee interview

In the debut episode, Pierre McGuire interviews George McPhee of the Vegas Golden Knights, while Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones react to the biggest news from Week 1 in the NHL. Is the sky falling in Tampa? Can the Penguins overcome Evgeni Malkin‘s long-term injury? Jones and Roenick also dive into the Matthew Tkachuk-Drew Doughty rivalry and talk about the best individual battles of their careers.

0:00-1:10 Intro
1:10-4:35 Pressure already mounting in Tampa Bay
4:35-9:20 Is Pittsburgh’s playoff streak in jeopardy?
9:20-12:25 Drew DoughtyMatthew Tkachuk rivalry
12:25-14:45 JR’s battle with Craig Berube
14:45-18:00 Jones gets under Steve Thomas’ skin
18:00-20:05 “Would you fight Tie Domi?”
20:05-35:30 Pierre McGuire interviews George McPhee
35:35-42:30 Patrick Roy impersonator trash talks the guys

Our Line Starts is part of NBC Sports’ growing roster of podcasts spanning the NFL, Premier League, NASCAR, and much more. The new weekly podcast, which will publish Wednesdays, will highlight the top stories of the league, including behind-the-scenes content and interviews conducted by NBC Sports’ NHL commentators.

Where you can listen:




NBC Sports on YouTube:

PHT Morning Skate: Is Patrick Roy good fit for Sens?; Flyers need a center

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at

• Patrick Roy and Sens GM Pierre Dorion were spotted leaving a hotel in Montreal on Tuesday. (Ottawa Citizen)

• TSN’s Travis Yost breaks down whether or not Patrick Roy is a good fit for the Ottawa Senators. (TSN)

• Should women’s hockey align with the NHL? It may not be as good of an idea as you think. (The Hockey News)

Brandon Carlo‘s first Stanley Cup playoff has been pretty positive. (NHL)

• Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson is leaving the Boston Bruins to sign in the Swedish Hockey League. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

Brett Kulak went from being a minor leaguer to a key contributor on the Canadiens’ blue line. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Find out how soccer could be the key to fixing officiating in the NHL. (NBC Sports Washington)

• What should the Flyers expect from Sean Couturier next season? (Broad Street Hockey)

• The Flyers should also add a number two center this offseason so that they can move Nolan Patrick further down the depth chart. (

• Can the Tampa Bay Lightning find the cap space to bring Erik Karlsson into the fold. (Raw Charge)

• Pens forward Dominik Simon has been an offensive force for the Czech Republic at the Worlds. (Pensburgh)

• What should the Avalanche be targeting in free agency and how much money do they have to spend? (Mile High Hockey)

• Sportsnet breaks down seven teams that are in salary cap trouble. (Sportsnet)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Patrick Roy set to interview for Senators’ coaching vacancy: report

Getty Images

Interested in seeing more of this?

Or maybe some of this?

Well, you just might be in luck.

Postmedia’s Bruce Garrioch reports that Patrick Roy is set be the last interview done by Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion as the search for the next bench boss in Canada’s capital continues.

Roy has most recently been coaching the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He last coached in the NHL in 2016 with the Colorado Avalanche, a job he resigned from following that season. Two years earlier, he won the Jack Adams Award for the NHL’s best coach after the Avalanche went from last to first in the Western Conference.

Roy is 130-92-24 during his 246-game coaching career in the NHL.

“Those close to Roy believe he’d like to return to the NHL in the right situation and initially the only pressure in Ottawa will be to develop the young players,” Garrioch wrote. “The Senators have the potential to have 17 picks in the first three rounds of the next three drafts and finding the right fit is paramount.”

The Senators, according to Garrioch, have already interviewed several candidates, including fellow former Avalanche coach Mark Crawford, along with former Senators coach Jacques Martin and Dallas Stars assistance Rick Bowness.

Roy’s experience coaching young players, as Garrioch points out, would be appealing for a team as young as the Senators, who also have a litany of draft picks coming their way over the next three years.

Can Roy work under Senators owner Eugene Melnyk? Can he work with Dorion? Roy didn’t exactly have the best professional relationship with Joe Sakic and Roy would likely want some level of control of the direction of the team.

It remains to be seen, but Roy has a decent track record that is appealing, certainly.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck