April 22, 2022

Guy Lafleur 1951 - 2022

The man known as "The Flower" entered the National Hockey League in 1971 under perhaps the most intense pressure of any projected- superstar.

By 1971 the Montreal Canadiens had a long established history of French Canadian superstars. Names like Morenz, Richard and Beliveau had all set the standards, and with Beliveau retiring in 1971 Montreal was looking for a new hero to take the proverbial torch.

Enter Guy Lafleur.

After two outstanding seasons with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, one of which saw him score 130 goals and add 79 assists for a then-record total of 209 points, Montreal fans expected Lafleur to score at will in the NHL right from the get-go.

However it did not happen.

Lafleur had respectable totals in his rookie year, but respectable was not what management and fans had hoped for. With 29 goals and 64 points in his rookie season, people said "just wait for next year." Next year his totals slipped to 28 goals and 55 points, and the year after that 21 goals and 56 points. Meanwhile Marcel Dionne, another French Canadian player drafted 2nd behind Lafleur, was tearing up the league with Detroit.

In his fourth season " The Flower" blossomed into the scoring machine everyone knew he was capable of. Lafleur, who wore a helmet his first three years but removed it at the beginning of year four, erupted 53 goals and 119 points.

That was just the beginning of an era where the Canadiens were the dominant team in pro hockey, and Lafleur eclipsed Bobby Orr as the game's dominant player. He would go onto lead the league in scoring the next three years in a row, and recorded an amazing 6 consecutive years with at least 50 goals. Twice he was named as the NHL MVP and three times he was awarded the Pearson Trophy. He was the most exciting player in the second half on the 1970's, and helped lead the Habs to five Stanley Cup Championships, including four straight to end the decade.

His blazing speed and long flowing hair combined with his puck wizardry placed him first in Montreal Canadiens all time scoring and second on Montreal fan's all time favorite list, behind the immovable Rocket Richard, of course. He was one of the rare players that got you out of your seat almost every time he touched the puck. And to witness him score a goal was more often than not an event onto itself.

The Canadiens went through a transitionary period immediately following their dynasty at the end of the 1970s. The team became extremely focused on defensive hockey, and Lafleur's style did not fit in well. Injuries also slowed Lafleur.

After being at odds with the coaching staff, Guy decided to retire after 19 games in 1984-85.

Following the mandatory waiting period of three years, Guy was an obvious election into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.

After taking his place as a legend of hockey in hockey's famous shrine, Lafleur made a surprising return to hockey in 1988, first with the New York Rangers and later in the city where his hockey career started so many years ago with Quebec. Perhaps one of his finest moments in his comeback was his first game back at the Montreal Forum, where he played so brilliantly for 13 and a half seasons. After a boisterous reception, Lafleur had the best game of his second career, notching 2 goals.

Guy retired permanently at the end of the 1990-91 season after 1 year in New York and 2 years in Quebec City. In total he brought his numbers to 1126 games, 560 goals, 793 assists and 1353 points.

Almost all of those points were scored with a flare of excitement that few other men in National Hockey League history have ever delivered better than Guy "The Flower" Lafleur.

No comments: