Jean-Claude (J.C.) Tremblay is one of the most intelligent, two-way defenders of all time. Yet very few give him recognition as such. Tremblay's departure in 1972 to the World Hockey Association on one hand helped to establish the WHA as a true alternative to the National Hockey League, but on the other hand appears to have hurt his shot at eternal fame.
J.C. starred for years with the Montreal Canadiens. He became a regular in 1961 and played for 794 games until 1972. Tremblay was an excellent all around performer during this time, and saved his best performances for the playoffs.
Thanks partially to injuries to Serge Savard and Jacques Laperriere, Tremblay exploded to posted career highs with 11 goals, 52 assists, and 63 points in 1970-71. The following year he scored 6 goals and 51 assists for 57 points. Tremblay had arrived as one of the best players in the league. In the eyes of the unitiated, he went from a good player to a great player.
Then in 1972-73, Tremblay, at the top of his game, jumped to the World Hockey Association. He captained the Quebec Nordiques as he led the league in assists with 75. He also added 14 goals for 89 points. Tremblay went on to be perhaps the best defenseman in the WHA's existence, as he had a career 66 goals and 358 assists for 424 points in 455 games.
Tremblay's jump to the World Hockey Association on one hand helped to establish the WHA as a true alternative to the National Hockey League and Tremblay as one of the highest skilled defenders around, but on the other hand appears to have hurt his shot at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
For years J.C. played in the NHL and didn't put up great numbers until his 11th season. Then, when he reached his prime, he left the NHL to join a league which was mostly regarded to be of lower quality than the NHL. If he had stayed in the NHL he, as it turned out, would have won 4 more Stanley Cups and be part of what many believe is the greatest team of all time (the 1976-79 Canadiens). Who knows how good the Habs defense would have been if Tremblay was added to the big three of Serge Savard, Larry Robinson, and Guy Lapointe?
So while it can be said J.C. Tremblay's jump to the WHA has hurt his chances of joining the Hockey Hall of Fame, Tremblay truly is a legend of hockey.