The Truth Behind the Canadiens' "First Choice of Quebecers" Rule: Part 1

A common complaint regarding the success of the Montreal Canadiens is that they had an unfair advantage during the 1930s-60s with the French Canadian player rule. Fans of other teams and haters of the Canadiens franchise use this point as a way to dismiss the success of the franchise, when in reality, this rule had little-to-no real effect on the success of the NHL's oldest franchise. Today, we will take a look back into the 1930s and 40s to see what this rule actually did for the Canadiens and their franchise.
For starters, we need to establish how the rule actually worked. If you ask most hockey fans today, they will likely tell you that the Canadiens simply had first choice of French-Canadian players, and other teams could take whoever Montreal did not want. This is completely inaccurate. In reality, the Canadiens were able to protect two Quebec-born players per year, so long as they were not already signed to a "C form." These are forms signed by players which grant NHL teams the rights to that player, and they can be signed at a very young age (Bobby Orr apparently signed his as early as 13 years old).  This carried on for seven years, between 1936 and 1943.

Hockey historian Liam Maguire points out that Montreal protected 14 players in that time (two per season each year), but none of those players actually made the NHL. Maguire asserts that "anybody who could tie their skates and chew gum at the same time were already long signed by other NHL teams including the Canadiens who certainly weren't going to survive solely with this rule." So how did the Canadiens manage to win as much as they did during the 1940s-60s? Well it turns out that it can be attributed to two or three things. First was the signing of Elmer Lach, a native of Saskatchewan, to a C form. Second was a trade for Hector Blake, more commonly referred to as "Toe Blake." The final move was... not really a move, but rather a failed attempt at trading a young Francophone forward. You may have heard of him, his name is Maurice Richard. Teams wanted no part of him because he had injury troubles up until the 1940s. 
Those three players put together arguably the best forward line in hockey history, commonly known as "The Punch Line." 
Elmer Lach: 664 games played, 215 goals, 623 points, 3 Stanley Cups
Toe Blake: 569 games played, 235 goals, 527 points, 2 Stanley Cups
Maurice Richard: 978 games played, 544 goals, 966 points, 8 Stanley Cups

As you can see, the first iteration of the "First Choice of Quebecers" rule had almost zero effect on the Canadiens success, with absolutely no players protected by that rule turning into an NHLer. Instead, their main help was via signing and trading for players just like any other team.
Tomorrow, we will take a look at the effect of the "First Choice of Quebecers" rule during the 1960s. 

Here is the link to the full article by Liam Maguire:

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