'Remember When...' - Guy Lafleur's Return to the NHL
/ New York Rangers
The odds of Guy Lafleur making a comeback in the NHL were not very good. Nevertheless, in the fall of 1988, the great Montreal Canadien was determined to give it a shot. The Rangers’ General Manager at the time, Phil Esposito, also didn’t think the chances were very strong of Lafleur making the transition back onto the ice after three years or retirement but felt he owed it to the hockey legend. So, in August of 1988, Esposito gave the 37-year legend and former 60-goal scorer a chance with the Blueshirts.
Only three days after Lafleur had been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the winger reported to Rangers Camp for a tryout. Players 15 years his junior treated Lafleur with the utmost respect and admiration. Some couldn’t resist asking for autographs, while all were awed by his presence and past accomplishments.
Lafleur played 14 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens from 1971-72 to 1984-85, collecting 518 goals along with a pair of Hart Trophies as the NHL most valuable player, three Art Ross Trophies as the league’s scoring leader, one Conn Smyth Trophy as playoff MVP and five Stanley Cup rings.
At camp, Lafleur impressed Rangers coach Michel Bergeron with his skating, skills and upbeat attitude despite not competing at the NHL level since the 1984-85 campaign. The Rangers didn’t hesitate to ink Lafleur to a two-year contract.
The highlight of Lafleur’s comeback season took place on the night of February 4, 1989 as the Rangers visited the Montreal Forum. A broken bone in his foot kept him out of the lineup for an October visit to his old home, where Habs fans paid scalpers a reported $500 per ticket to see Lafleur come out and wave to the crowd in street clothes.
On February 4, he did much more than wave. Midway through the second period, Lafleur rocketed a puck past Patrick Roy to the delight of the frenzied Forum crowd. A few minutes later, he stripped the puck from a Montreal defenseman and once again whipped the puck past Roy to bring the sold out crowd to their feet. Despite a 7-5 Rangers loss on the night, Lafleur collected three points and was the talk of the town.
Lafleur appeared in 67 games with the Blueshirts in 1988-89, collecting 18 goals and 27 assists. “The Flower” concluded his storied NHL career as a member of the Quebec Nordiques from 1989 to 1991. His 560 goals and 1,353 total points rank in the top 20 on the NHL’s all-time scoring lists.
'Remember When ...' will be featured regularly on newyorkrangers.com on the first Monday of every month during the off-season.