Saturday, 8 September 2012

Guy Lafleur's retirement, Take 2


On the 67th birthday of Jacques Lemaire, the old trope that he 'forced' Guy Lafleur to retire is trotted out again.  This chestnut has been canon in the Démon Blond hagiography, propagated at times by the subject himself.

Guy Lafleur was magnificent in many areas.  One of these is his ability to deflect self-responsibility.

I always say this: if Guy Lafleur had still been the player he was in the late seventies, wouldn't Serge Savard as GM, Ronald Corey as President, and Jacques Lemaire as coach have been only too happy to keep coddling him and looking the other way at the off-ice excursions of their star player?  Guy wasn't quite Pierre Larouche or Derek Sanderson, he kept it together enough to be the dominant player of the last half of the seventies, but when his skills began to erode he didn't adapt, start paying more attention to his health or conditioning.  He certainly wasn't ready to accept a less prominent role with the team.

An anecdote is telling in his case.  When he made his comeback with the Rangers and the huge news of his intentions broke, I read all the Montréal papers that day.  The most jarring detail was his defiant attitude that he had a lot of hockey left, and that he wanted to come back to prove that and leave on his own terms.  He swore that he was going to undertake a 'boxer's training regimen' to get back into shape for training camp, and that he was "going to quit smoking (wait for it....) tomorrow."

Exclamation point!  Not today.  Not last week, or last month when he started thinking of the comeback.  Tomorrow?  This was a couple of weeks from training camp!

If Guy Lafleur has to make out others as the culprits for his 'forced' retirement, he can delude himself all he wants, but we don't have to swallow that lie.  Jacques Lemaire has shown to be a good and effective coach, he knows how to win.  He needed Guy Lafleur to play within his system, and Guy was incapable or unwilling to do so.  That the situation came to an impasse and Guy impulsively decided to retire, and that Ronald Corey accepted his resignation, says more about Guy at that point in time than it does about Messrs. Lemaire, Savard and Corey.

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