Guy Lafleur, the dynamic, free-wheeled right-winger who helped lead the dynastic Montreal Canadiens to five Stanley Cup championships in the 1970s, including four in a row, died Friday in a suburb of Montreal. He was 70.
The National Hockey League said the cause was cancer and that Lafleur had died at a palliative care center. He was a long-time cigarette smoker, he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and had a quadruple bypass operation in 2019.
Lafleur, known by fans as “The Flower,” was a magician on the ice, a creative force who could deftly split defenses, and whose offensive rush made Montreal fans sing, “Guy! Guy! Guy!”
He was the first player in NHL history to score at least 50 goals and 100 points in six consecutive seasons – a series that was topped by the 136 points (56 goals and 80 assists) he collected in the 1976-77 season.
“He loved shooting high on the glove side, and it was a dangerous shot, downright scary,” John Davidson, a former New York Rangers goalkeeper, said in a phone interview Friday. “When he got the puck on the blue line at the old Montreal Forum and walked up the ice, you could feel the rush. You would feel people making noise, and that noise would get louder and louder, and people would stand, whether he scored or not. “
Lafleur totaled 560 goals and 793 assists over 17 seasons, 14 of them with the Canadiens, one with the Rangers and two with the Quebec Nordiques. In the playoffs, he had 58 more goals and 76 assists.
He won the Art Ross Trophy for leading the league by scoring three times, and the Hart Memorial Trophy twice as the NHL’s most valuable player. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote on Twitter that Lafleur “was unlike any other on the ice,” adding: “His speed, skill and scoring were hard to believe.”
Lafleur’s death comes a week after the death of another top scorer, Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders.
Guy Damien Lafleur was born on September 20, 1951 in Thurso, Quebec, to Rejean and Pierette Lafleur. He was so passionate about hockey as a boy that he snuck into a local arena on weekday mornings and early Sundays to get ice time when no one else was around, according to his Hockey Hall of Fame biography.
“When I was a kid, the only thing we saw on TV was the Canadiens, and all I wanted to be was Béliveau,” he told Hall, referring to longtime Canadiens star Jean Béliveau. He dreamed that the Canadiens would appoint him.
He was spectacular in top-level junior hockey, scoring 103 and 130 goals for the Quebec Ramparts in the 1969-70 and 1970-71 seasons, and the Canadiens selected him with the overall No. 1 spot in the NHL amateur draft. Lafleur said that if they had not chosen him, he would have signed with Nordiques, which was then in the rival World Hockey Association.
Lafleur joined a Montreal team that had won the Stanley Cup the season before, but which had lost Béliveau to retirement and had hired a new coach, Scotty Bowman. Lafleur started relatively slowly, scoring 29, 28 and 21 goals in his first three seasons before breaking out with 53 in the 1974-75 season.
With his blonde hair flowing in the days before players routinely wore helmets, Lafleur became a star of a magnificent Montreal franchise, an innovator with a stick in his hands.
“He’s not the easiest player to play with because he’s all over the ice,” his teammate Steve Shutt once said. “He does not know what to do, so how can I know?”
Lafleur’s most electric seasons as a goal scorer, from 1974-75 to 1979-80, were almost parallel to the four consecutive years in which the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup, from 1976 to 1979. During the playoffs in 1976, he was the subject of an alleged kidnapping threat and protected by security.
In the 1978 Stanley Cup final, Boston Bruins head coach Don Cherry ordered his players to lift their sticks up against Lafleur in an attempt to deter him. They stabbed him and made him play with his head covered in bandages, according to an article on The Hockey Writers website. Lafleur nonetheless scored three goals and two assists, and the Canadiens won in six games.
After Lafleur scored 125 points in the 1979-80 season, his output began to decline. Nineteen games inside the 1984-85 season, he abruptly withdrew after scoring only two goals and three assists. He did not get along with the coach, Jacques Lemaire, who regularly put him on the bench, or the general manager, Serge Savard.
Lafleur remained retired for the remainder of that season and for three more, but only a few weeks after being inducted into the Hall of Fame in September 1988, he signed to play for Rangers. At the time, he told The New York Times that his last days with the Canadiens had been “the worst time of my life.”
“I had a choice between stomach ulcers as a 33-year-old or retiring,” he said.
After a season in New York, he signed with Nordiques, who had joined the NHL in 1979.
“It was a pleasant year in exile in New York,” Lafleur told reporters as he announced his move to Nordiques. “But now I want to end my career in Quebec, where it began.”
He played two years with Nordiques, with modest results, before retiring forever. He later returned to the Canadiens as team ambassador.
He leaves behind his wife, Lise; his mother; his sons, Martin and Mark; four sisters; and a grandson.
In 2008, four bronze statues of great Canadiens – Lafleur, Béliveau, Howie Morenz and Maurice (Rocket) Richard – were unveiled in the Bell Center, the team’s home.
“I’d rather still play,” Lafleur said with a laugh, “than have a statue.”