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When Montreal traded Rod Langway to the Caps

The Caps have never played Montreal in the playoffs, have no geographic or cultural rivalry with that city, and are perfectly happy playing the half smokes to Montreal's poutine.

But there's at least one indelible hockey transaction linking the two franchises: Montreal provided D.C. with Rod Langway, this city's first hockey icon.

The trade (which happened in mid-September of 1982) was clicktastic in Montreal; four news stories in the Gazette, a Red Fisher column, and a headline stripped across the front of sports: "Canadiens Make Blockbuster Trade." (See the image at Habs Eyes on the Prize.)

And in Washington? Somewhat less so, although the "Capitals Trade Walter and Green to Canadiens" headline did make the sports front:

In the most significant trade in the history of the franchise, the Washington Capitals yesterday sent Ryan Walter, the team captain, and defenseman Rick Green to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for defensive all-stars Rod Langway and Brian Engblom, center Doug Jarvis and forward Craig Laughlin.

"This trade makes the Capitals competitive," David Poile, Washington's new general manager, said at a news conference at Capital Centre. "We've added four quality players. For the first time in Capitals history, we have a defense."

The best part of the story was a Langway quote from a Montreal radio station; he told the station that he was "ecstatic," and that Habs exec Irving Grundman had made "the worst trade in the history of the NHL."

By the next day, Coach Bryan Murray was expressing concern that his team was too confident, so excited was everyone about the talent infusion.

"All of a sudden we're talking as if we're in the Stanley Cup, and it's not meant that way at all," he said. "Maybe we'll be a top 12, or top 10 team, but I don't want to think too far. The pressure will really be applied to this team now. But it's a positive kind of pressure."

Two days later, everyone reported to Hershey for training camp, and the newcomers were all quizzed about their reactions.

"I know the Montreal feeling," Laughlin said. "Once you play there, wear a Canadiens' uniform, you get a feeling that every time you play, you have to go out and give better than 150 percent. You just go out and win. Maybe Washington didn't have that."

"Winning and losing are kind of trends," Engblom said. "You've got to break one to get into the other. It's time for the Capitals to break a trend."

"Washington got a great deal," Langway said. "Here I know I'll have a chance to bloom."

Langway, in fact, had wanted a trade to the U.S. for tax issues. But he said that city still had a certain allure.

"They, meaning Montreal, make an average player look better because of the quality of play," he said. "Some guys think it's just as good to sit out in Montreal as it is to play any other place."

By Dan Steinberg  |  April 14, 2010; 11:16 AM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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After Abe Pollin died, David Poile was a guest on 980 and told a funny story about this trade. He said that Ryan Walter was Pollin's favorite Capital, and when Poile called him and told him about the trade, he said there was a long pause after he gave him the details and then Abe said, "I hope you know what you're doing."

An amazing trade that changed the whole team.

Posted by: TheFingerman | April 14, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Dan, would have been nice to at least put the year this trade happened in your article. I remembered it was in the early '80s but had to go to the Montreal link to see it was 1982.

Posted by: AnnandaleAnnie | April 14, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Dan, would have been nice to at least put the year this trade happened in your article. I remembered it was in the early '80s but had to go to the Montreal link to see it was 1982.

Posted by: AnnandaleAnnie | April 14, 2010 11:43 AM

wow. talk about lazy!

Posted by: beaupre33 | April 14, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

This was the trade that marked the real beginning of the CAPS. Walter had a great career with the HABS, Green not so much. It was a steal. Langway, Locker and Jarvis were really relly good. The CAPss were snakebit in the playoffs in the 80's but had some good teams.

Posted by: adhardwick | April 14, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Funny, I worried that I was being overly critical in a comment I posted the other day...but the whole 1982 deal? Wow. Cut the Stein dog a break.

Posted by: DisgustedinArlington | April 14, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Not that anyone noticed, but doesn't the Expos/Nationals thing count?

Could you get a comment from Youppee!? Afterall, he was abandoned in place by the Expos and picked up by the Canadiens.

Posted by: kolbkl | April 14, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

A great deal for the Caps, but a caveat,

remember, Walter & Green both have their names on the Cup, winning it with the Habs in '86.

Langway's name is on the Cup, but only with his time with Montreal in '79, not with the Caps, something still to be achieved.

Posted by: dgresh | April 14, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

By the way, '86 was the year the Caps should have won the Cup, their best chance & team until this year (50 wins), but they were upset by the Rangers, or really, the goalie, Vanbiesbrook

& the Habs came out of nowhere, due to another goalie, a rookie named Roy.

Posted by: dgresh | April 14, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Poutine reference #2! And no, i don't care that I'm the only one playing this game I invented.

Posted by: ThisGuy | April 14, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

after almost a decade of miserable Caps hockey, this trade turned things around. Hail, Hail, David Poile & Rod Langway!

Posted by: Hattrik | April 14, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

While Rod Langway did teach the Caps how to win, there is a bit of a history between these two teams. Montreal won something like its first 30-plus games against the Caps before Washington finally earned a tie with the Habs and picking up its first-ever win over the franchise in February of 1980. Since that time, the all-time series has almost evened out.

Posted by: stwasm | April 14, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Ah for the days when Langway and a fuzzy-cheeked Scott Stevens manned our crease. No fans back then ever whined that we needed a "crease-clearing defenseman" at the trade deadline. :) But aside maybe from that '84-85 season (when Carpenter had 53 goals, and Gartner) 50, they never enjoyed anything close to the firepower of today's Caps.

I do think if the current Caps had just one D-pairing like Langway/Stevens (in their primes), we'd be totally unstoppable. :)

Posted by: blackjack65 | April 14, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

The Caps never had Langway/Stevens as a defense pairing, as both played Left.

The pairings were Langway/Murphy and Stevens/Hatcher. I think, obviously, having a Langway or Stevens in their prime would help the team -- they're Hall of Famers!

Posted by: dlgood | April 14, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Langway dominated the game as few defensive defensmen in history ever have. He was the franchis player for years after his arrival. As others have pointed out, this trade made the Caps a competitive franchise. I remember the Caps playing the Islanders in the playoffs that season. Stevens was a rookie and Murray basically played just 3 defensemen as there was such a talent dropoff after the top 3: Langway, Stevens and Engblom.

Posted by: randysbailin | April 14, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

What about the Caps picking up Pierre Bouchard and Guy Charron from the Montreal organization in the 70s? Those acquisitions helped to improve the Caps from being one of the worst franchises in sports history to being merely lousy.

Posted by: randysbailin | April 14, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

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