Guy Lafleur, the flashy high-scoring Hall of Fame winger from the Montreal Canadiens’ 1970s dynasty, has died. He was 70.
Those Canadiens teams were loaded with Hall of Famers in net, on defense, at forward and behind the bench, but Lafleur was easily recognizable for his flowing hair as he sped down the ice and for his dominance on the scoresheet.
“Everyone wanted to grow their hair long, with no helmet, and skate fast over the blue line,” said former NHL defenseman Steve Duchene, who grew up admiring Lafleur.
Lafleur revealed in October 2020 that his lung cancer came back. He had surgery in November 2019 to remove a lobe and lymph nodes, about two months after he had quadruple-bypass surgery.
“You didn’t need to see Guy Lafleur’s name and number on his sweater when ‘The Flower’ had the puck on his stick,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement Friday. “As distinctively stylish as he was remarkably talented, Lafleur cut a dashing and unmistakable figure whenever he blazed down the ice of the Montreal Forum, his long blond locks flowing in his wake as he prepared to rifle another puck past a helpless goaltender – or set up a linemate for a goal.”
Lafleur won five Stanley Cups with Montreal, including four in a row from 1976-79. His No. 10 was retired by the team and he made the NHL’s Top 100 list in 2017.
To start their four-year run, the Canadiens first had to get past the Philadelphia Flyers, who were two-time defending champions. Even though Lafleur had to play against rugged defenseman Ed Van Impe, he had two game-winning goals in the four-game sweep in the 1976 Final.
“They had all of those bullies, (Dave) Schultz, (Don) Saleski … and then they had Bobby Clarke,” Lafleur told USA TODAY. “We weren’t scared to play them, but we knew there would be fights.”
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Lafleur won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP the following year with 26 points in 14 playoff games and he was the leading playoff scorer in 1978 and 1979, too.
That was part of a remarkable run when he scored at least 50 goals and 100 points in six consecutive seasons from 1974-75 to 1979-80, the first player in NHL history to do so.
He led the league in scoring from 1975-76 to 1977-78 and won the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 1977 and 1978.
But his favorite moment came earlier in his career after he was drafted No. 1 overall in 1971.
“It is the first day I was taken into the Montreal Canadiens’ locker room and invited to pick out my sweater,” Lafleur said. “My sweater was the ultimate symbol of that team.”
Lafleur was still a productive player when he surprised the league by retiring in November 1984, during his 14th season in Montreal.
“His retirement was a lot premature,” said Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson, his Montreal teammate. “It was a lot of things. The team was changing, the game was changing and people were still expecting him to do miraculous things when one guy couldn’t dominate that way anymore.”
Lafleur was a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame and was elected in his first year of eligibility in 1988. Then he surprised the league again by coming out of retirement, going to the New York Rangers training camp as a tryout. Given no promises and no special treatment, he made the team.
“We (management) had a meeting and we all agreed, Guy was one of our best forwards during training camp,” then-coach Michel Bergeron told The (Westchester County, New York) Journal News.
Lafleur said he noticed changes in the NHL during his three-year absence: Players “are a lot bigger,” there was “more grabbing and hooking” and “there are no nights when you can say, ‘We’re going to beat that team.'”
Lafleur, then 37, showed some flashes of old as he finished his return season with 45 points in 67 games.
He joined the Nordiques in his native Quebec for his final two seasons, totaling 24 goals and 62 points.
Lafleur announced that 1990-91 would be his final season, and he received a proper retirement tour this time.
“Anytime a great player like Lafleur retires, a new guy comes along, but you never replace a guy like him,” NHL star Wayne Gretzky said at the 1991 All-Star Game.
The NHL made Lafleur a late addition to that game and he was cheered during his final visit to NHL arenas.
That included a six-minute standing ovation at Montreal in his second to last game of the season. He scored his final NHL goal in that game to give him 560 for his career to go with 793 assists and 1,353 points in 1,126 games.
The next day, the Nordiques gave him a longer ovation and an hour-long ceremony.
“Today, 20 years later, I feel I can leave in peace,” Lafleur said, according to the Associated Press. “I wore the uniforms of three great organizations, but it is the fleur-de-lis (Quebec’s jersey) that I wear in my heart.”