Guy Lafleur’s one shining season in New York

Guy Lafleur #10 of the New York Rangers skates (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Guy Lafleur #10 of the New York Rangers skates (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

Guy Lafleur, one of the greatest scorers in NHL history, has passed away at age 70.   Lafleur made his name as a Montreal Canadien, but played one season for the New York Rangers in an incredible comeback that was one of the best hockey stories of the 1980s.

The cause of death was not revealed though Lafleur had suffered many health issues including lung cancer and a quadruple heart bypass.

Lafleur was the original “Flower” and played 14 glorious seasons with the Montreal Canadiens.  He had scored 50 goals or more for six straight seasons, winning two Hart Trophies, three Art Ross scoring trophies and was a First Team All-Star for six straight years.  He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1977.  He had been the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals and 100 points in six consecutive season and was a five-time Stanley Cup champion.

Guy Lafleur had been retired for three years after quitting in 1984 when he couldn’t get along with Canadiens coach Jacques Lemaire and the team had refused his request to be traded. He retired only 19 games into the season when he had seen his playing time reduced and he scored only two goals.

A comeback with the Rangers

On August 19, 1980,  the Rangers shook up the hockey world by announcing that the newly elected Hall of Famer would be attempting a comeback with the Blueshirts.  It wasn’t a sure thing as the team as General Manager Phil Esposito called it a “tryout” and said that they had agreed on a one-year contract contingent on him making the team.

Lafleur had decided to try to mount a comeback and first approached the Los Angeles Kings.  Unable to come to an agreement, he then tried Rangers coach Michel Bergeron.   They quickly agreed on a one-year contract with no money up front.  Lafleur would report to training camp on September 10 and would sign the deal if he made the team.

Ironically, Lafleur announced his comeback just weeks after his election to the Hall of Fame and he would be reporting to the Rangers three days after his induction ceremony.

Lafleur ended up making the team, but it wasn’t a sure thing until he signed the contract on September 28.  He played one season in New York, scoring 18 goals and 45 points in 67 games.  There were numerous highlights including his return to Montreal in February 1989 when he scored two goals in a losing effort.   Here’s a video of that amazing night.

He also tied a career high with four assists in one game and he scored the final hat trick of his career against the Kings in February.  It was his last blaze of glory in that one magical season.

The Rangers issued a statement mourning his passing.

Lafleur decided to continue his career in his native Quebec as he then signed and played  two seasons with the Nordiques before retiring for good.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman issued a statement following Lafleur’s passing that including this description.

"“You didn’t need to see Guy Lafleur’s name and number on his sweater when ‘The Flower’ had the puck on his stick. 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.”  – Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner"

It’s a sad week for the NHL and fans as Lafleur’s passing comes on the heels of the death of Mike Bossy.  Two of the greatest goal scorers in NHL history have gone to hockey heaven in the same week.  We extend all of our sympathies to the Lafleur family and look back on that season with great memories.