Sunday, February 19, 2012

Guy Lafleur: 5 Autographed Cards (Part 1)

Few players can claim to have been the best in a season, let alone in a decade or a generation. Guy Lafleur, however, sure can. His tenure with the Montréal Canadiens alone got him elected into the Hall Of Fame in his first year of eligibility (1988), and you'd figure he was a shoe-in, what with 1346 points (the team's all-time leading scorer), on the strength of 518 goals and 728 assists in 14 seasons.

He is tied for the team record of goals in a season (60) with his former linemate Steve Shutt, while the center of that line, Jacques Lemaire, is now widely regarded as one of the three best coaches in NHL history (with Scotty Bowman and Toe Blake) - and the reason why Lafleur retired in the first place, putting an unusual amount of pressure on the superstar to play a defensively-minded game rather than being the offensive catalyst.

He holds the team's points in a season record (136) and was the first player in NHL history to have six consecutive 50-goal and 100-point seasons. He has 3 Art Ross trophies (1976, 1977, 1978), 2 Hart trophies (league MVP in 1977 and 1978), 3 Lester B. Pearson Awards (now the Ted Lindsay trophy for the best player as voted by the players, 1976, 1977, 1978) and a Conn Smythe Trophy (1977) to go with his 5 Stanley Cups and 1976 Canada Cup.

One of the most beloved players in Habs history, the Forum crowd would enter chants of ''Guy! Guy! Guy!'' every time he touched the puck, scored, or was named one of the game's three stars.

Feeling he had been forced into retirement unjustly, and with the lingering feeling that he had a few more goals left in him, Lafleur trained like a boxer to get back in shape and attempted a comeback in time for the 1988-89 season, with the New York Rangers, becoming the second (after Gordie Howe, before Mario Lemieux) of three players to come back to the NHL after being named to the Hall Of Fame. In his first game back to the Forum, Lafleur netted a hat trick (3 goals!) against the best goalie of all time - Patrick Roy - in a 7-5 Rangers loss; he was named the first star, to the usual chants of ''Guy! Guy! Guy!'' that rang through the Forum for the whole game.

He was sent to the Québec Nordiques with head coach Michel Bergeron in the off-season and, despite diminished ice time, was among the best players on the team, even earning an invitation to the 1991 All-Star Game, an invitation he declined, stating ''Joe Sakic has been by far our best and most deserving player, I withdraw myself so he can attend as our team's representative''. Sakic was named, and Lafleur was subsequently invited as ''the commisionner's choice'', an honor for a soon-to-be-retiring player of high caliber he shared with Bobby Smith that year.

Now onto the cards!

First, the oldest Guy Lafleur card in my collection, from Topps' 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee set (card #187, the In Action sub-set):
Hair in the wind, about to take off at full speed, a complete view of his whole body position and uniform, and even the stick's curved blade. I like this card so much I even have two more of them (unsigned).

And now for some 2008-09 cards by Upper Deck:
The card above is from the special-edition 2008-09 Montreal Canadiens Centennial set, the Trophy Winners sub-set (card #256). I thought it'd be cool to have an off-ice card signed. He is pictured with all the trophies he won in the 1977-78 season.

But UD went all out for these cards:
Believe it or not, these two are variants of the same card, from the 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee set (card #579, the Legends sub-set). The card on the left is the regular version, while the one on the right is the ''retro'' variant. Even the backs were different:

(continued on the next post)

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