The following is a profile on Jean Beliveau from the 2008 book Habs Heroes by THN senior writer/columnist Ken Campbell. Beliveau was ranked No. 2 all-time among Canadiens players behind Maurice (The Rocket) Richard.
Had Jean Beliveau not been a man of such unwavering principle, he just might have been remembered as the greatest Montreal Canadiens player of all-time.
One thing is certain: Beliveau’s bank account would have been much, much larger, almost as imposing as the mystique that surrounds the man who embodies the class and dignity of the Canadiens like no other.
“The two greatest figures of the Canadiens in the past 60 years are The Rocket and Jean Beliveau,” former Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden once observed. “One of them evokes love, the other evokes admiration.”
At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Beliveau was difficult for the Canadiens to ignore. That he possessed a rare combination of power and grace and a wonderful, swooping stride made the Canadiens covet him all the more from the time Beliveau turned 18. But instead of joining the Canadiens, Beliveau played junior for the Quebec Citadelles for two years. Then, feeling a sense of obligation to the people of Quebec City who supported him as a junior player, he spent two years with the Quebec Aces of the Quebec Senior Hockey League.
Eighteen seasons after joining the Canadiens, Beliveau left the game for good following Montreal’s unlikely Stanley Cup win in 1971. He recorded 76 points that year, one of the highest totals for a player in his final NHL season.
“I actually wanted to retire from the Canadiens the year before,” Beliveau said. “But (GM) Sam Pollock and (owner) David Molson asked me to stay another year. We had a lot of young players and Sam Pollock told me, ‘Jean, I’ll feel much better if I know you’re in the room.’ So I said, ‘All right, Sam, I’ll play another year, but it will be my last.”
And this is where Beliveau’s legacy comes into the picture. As it stands, Beliveau is third on the Canadiens all-time list for goals with 507, 37 behind Maurice Richard. He’s second in points with 1,219, 27 behind Guy Lafleur and fourth in games played with 1,125, 131 behind Henri Richard.
Had Beliveau played the four years prior to joining the Canadiens and a couple more instead of retiring, there’s no question he would have broken all three marks and easily be at the top of each category. Even if he had joined the Canadiens as a 20-year-old, he would have been around for their Stanley Cup win in 1952-53 and had he played longer, he would have been there for their Cup victory in 1973. That would have given Beliveau 12 Stanley Cups as a player, one more than all-time leader Henri Richard.
“Numbers to me are very secondary,” Beliveau said, “compared to when people are honest with me. I have a very hard time to split with somebody who has been good to me.”