Sam Pollock. (CPimages \'98/Fred Chartrand)
His death was was noted on the Canadiens' website. The Montreal native, born Dec. 25, 1925, won nine Stanley Cups during his tenure as general manager from 1964-65 to 1978.
Friends and colleagues said he had been ill for some time with cancer, but even they had few details.
"He was a very private man," said former Canadiens star Jean Beliveau. "I'd bet that even his closest friends didn't know how sick he was."
Beliveau first met Pollock when he ran the Junior Canadiens in 1949. He was a player when Pollock became the Canadiens' GM and they later worked together in the team's front office.
"He had great vision of what his team would look like in three or four years time," the former Canadiens captain said. "He loved to win and he was such a hard worker.
"Even after hockey, I was on the board of a company with him and he knew every word of all of the information they sent us a couple of days before a meeting. He was the same in hockey. He wanted information right away. We'd see the coach calling him after games on the road."
A moment of silence was held before the Toronto Blue Jays game at Rogers Centre on Wednesday in honour of Pollock, who was on the club's board of directors in the 1990's before serving as chairman and CEO from 1995-2000.
Pollock later served as vice-chairman on the Jays Care Foundation board.
"On behalf of the organization I would like to extend our sympathies to the Pollock family. His contributions to the Toronto Blue Jays were many," team president Paul Godfrey said in a statement.
"The Blue Jays organization has benefitted greatly from his leadership and vision. I was honoured to have worked alongside him. Sam brought the same fierce competitiveness and intelligence to baseball that made him a legend in hockey."
Pollock is the standard against whom other National Hockey League general managers have come to be measured.
He was considered the shrewdest evaluator and dealer of talent of his era, pulling off brilliant moves to land greats like Guy Lafleur and Ken Dryden and build a team that was the class of the league.
"He always had the players ready and the coaching staff, too," said Rejean Houle, one of his former players. "That way he helped us be a better team.
"I had a lot of respect for Mr. Pollock."
In one of his oft-recalled moves, he sent two undistinguished prospects to the Boston Bruins for the rights to Dryden, then a relatively unknown goaltender at Cornell University who would grow into a Hall of Famer.
But it was the landing of Lafleur that cemented his reputation.
Among the first to recognize that the entry draft, inaugurated in 1963, was the key to team building, he found fellow general managers from the six clubs that joined the NHL in the six-team expansion of 1967 willing to take aging but well-known players in exchange for their draft picks.
In May, 1970, he sent Ernie Hicke and a first-round choice to Oakland for the obscure Francois Lacombe and the now defunct Seals' first-rounder, all the while with his eye on the gifted Lafleur, then tearing up junior hockey with the Quebec Remparts.
The following season, when it appeared that Los Angeles may finish last and claim the top pick, Pollock sent veteran Ralph Backstrom to the Kings to boost them ahead of Oakland and allow Montreal to claim Lafleur first overall in the 1971 draft.
Lafleur went on to become the best player of his era. His No.10 is now retired by the Canadiens.
"That move was unbelievable," said Houle.
Amassing draft picks allowed him to claim future stars like Larry Robinson, Steve Shutt and current Montreal GM Bob Gainey to build the team that won four consecutive Stanley Cups in the late 1970s.
He left the team after the 1977-78 season when Peter and Edward Bronfman, who purchased the club in 1971, sold it back to the Molson family.
His team won the Cup again the following season, but the now-legendary coach Pollock had hired and nutured, Scotty Bowman, left because he had been passed over as the new G.M. in favour of Irving Grundman.
The team then went into a funk until another Pollock protege, Serge Savard, was named G.M. in 1983 and built Cup-winners in 1986 and 1993.
"He was all business, but when I think about it, he brought to our organization a kind of discipline we needed to be able to win," added Houle. "As a person, he kept things inside, but when I'd see him, he'd always ask about my family and how they were. I think that inside, he had a very tender heart."
Pollock coached teenagers in the 1940s and managed a softball team that included some Canadiens players. He was hired as a scout by the club in 1947 and within three years was named director of player personnel.
Junior teams under his management won Memorial Cups in 1950 and 1958. It was after helping the Omaha Knights win the Central Hockey League title that he was named GM of the Canadiens.
Pollock was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 1978 and received the Order of Canada in 1985.