Beards have become as synonymous with playoff hockey as lengthy overtimes and the Stanley Cup, but Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur thinks San Jose Sharks stars Brent Burns and Joe Thornton are going a bit too far with their facial hair.
While at the Bell Centre for the Guy Lafleur Awards of Excellence, ‘The Flower’ broached a number of topics from the Canadiens having a coach who can’t speak French to the heart-and-soul type player Brendan Gallagher has become in Montreal. And when talking about long playoff beards, like the grizzly look Burns and Thornton have taken on, Lafleur didn’t hold back.
“To me, to see the Sharks with the long beards, I think it’s a disgrace for hockey,” Lafleur said, via the Montreal Gazette. “I hate it. It’s not a good image for the NHL. I don’t mind a guy wearing a beard, but to his belly…enough is enough. The team’s managers should put their foot down.”
Lafleur added, laughing, that the reason the Sharks weren’t playing well was because they couldn’t see the puck through their beards.
Lafleur didn’t ever sport a thick beard during the post-season, but the playoff beard tradition didn’t really take hold until the New York Islanders’ dynasty in the 1980s. Those teams are often credited with starting the superstition, and by the time that dynasty took hold, Lafleur was in the back-nine of his career.
Somewhat hilariously, Lafleur’s quip about facial hair hurting the play of the Sharks’ bushy-bearded stars came the day after ESPN’s Sport Science released a video talking about the negligible impact Thornton’s beard actually has on his play. Yes, ESPN did a scientific piece on Thornton’s beard. And yes, they do compare his beard to grey squirrels and hamsters, so it’s worth watching for that alone.
It’s not as if Lafleur is the first person to speak out against playoff beards, though. During the 2014-15 post-season, NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus said he wished players would shave their beards come playoff time. Lazarus told the Chicago Tribune he wanted people to see the faces of the star players, to “talk about how young and attractive they are. What model citizens they are. (Hockey players) truly are one of a kind among professional athletes.”
That said, Lazarus did acknowledge the players wouldn’t like his suggestion and said he knew it was part of tradition and superstition, both of which are a big reason playoff beards likely aren’t going away anytime soon. And facing elimination in the Stanley Cup final Thursday night, Burns and Thornton are hoping they can say the same of their whiskers, regardless of how a legend like Lafleur may feel about the beards.