For the past 40 years or so, the NHL has built a rather unique Stanley Cup playoffs tradition that feels quite hairy at times. Well, all the time, because during the postseason, the once fresh faces of hockey players turn into scraggly or bushy masses of whiskers that make it hard to tell who is who.

That’s right, we’re talking about the annual surge in playoff beards, a rite of spring dating back to the New York Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s. The Islanders won four straight Cups while several of their players chose not to shave, and ever since then, playoff beards have become a leaguewide superstition.

When the playoffs start, a large percentage of NHL players lose their razors until their team is eliminated. The longer the playoff run, the longer the resulting beards. However, this is also a time when we learn which players have the DNA to grow a full beard and which ones end up with patches of unsightly stubble. There is nothing sadder than a pathetic playoff beard, but at least those guys are trying. Let’s focus on the best playoff beards, since the worst playoff beards are not particularly appetizing.

In recent years, about two-thirds of players on the Cup-winning team have sprouted some form of facial hair by the time the playoffs end. Unlike in past years, when very few players even groomed their beards during the playoffs, most of the beards show some signs of lawncare, and several of the best ones were started long before the playoffs even began.

Not all men can grow a good, full beard, particularly in the limited window of an NHL postseason. It takes a special set of genes. So, let’s take a moment to honor the greatest playoff beards of all time – beards that only began growing at the start of the playoffs and were long gone by the time the next regular season got under way.

When did NHL Playoff Beards started?

If you look at photos of the late-1970s Canadiens dynasty celebrating their Stanley Cup victories, you don’t see beards on players who didn’t normally have them. Sure, Larry Robinson had facial hair, but that was often his thing. Stars like Guy Lafleur, Yvan Cournoyer, Bob Gainey, Serge Savard, and Guy Lapointe weren’t feeling that it was dangerous to shave.

By 1980, however, a new mindset had taken hold. The New York Islanders, who had failed to win the Stanley Cup after three strong regular seasons, had a few players who wore beards during the regular season, including defenseman Ken Morrow, who was coming off a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic “Miracle on Ice” hockey team.

Perhaps inspired by Morrow and teammate Clark Gillies, who also had a bushy beard, Islanders captain Denis Potvin stopped shaving once the 1980 postseason began. He wasn’t trying to bring himself luck – he just wanted to have a beard. In his earliest NHL years, Potvin had facial hair in the form of a Fu Manchu mustache, but he had been shaving regularly for many years prior to 1980. Nevertheless, when Potvin first lifted the Cup, there he was with full facial hair.

The beard turned out to be a one-time thing for Potvin, who went ahead and shaved during every other year of the Islanders’ dynasty.  Other Isles players took Potvin’s lead, however, and more and more beards appeared during the team’s championships in 1981, 1982, and 1983 as well as the run to a fifth straight Stanley Cup Finals in 1984.

History of Hockey Playoff Beards

By the time the Edmonton Oilers started their dynasty in the 1980s, facial hair was more common, although Wayne Gretzky never chose to go there. The tradition took a more permanent hold in the 1990s and early 2000s, when many of the all-time greatest beards were on display.

Players still grow beards during the playoffs, although the tradition is not the truly big deal it was during its heyday, when beards were both a good-luck symbol and a fashion statement. Every playoff year still manages to produce at least one unexpectedly good beard, although many of the best beards in the NHL belong to players who sport them year-round and wouldn’t know a razor if it hit them in the face.

Brent Burns, Radko Gudas, Joe Thornton, and others have displayed some incredible beards over the years, but these were hardly specific to the playoffs, and therefore can’t be considered “playoff beards.”

NHL Playoff Beards Rules A true playoff beard should only begin to show itself once the playoffs actually start. For the purpose of ranking the all-time best playoff beards, we will only consider those that fully emerged during the course of a postseason. The general NHL superstition is that shaving during a playoff run is bad luck. Many players heed this unwritten rule and keep the beards growing while their teams remain alive in the postseason. In the past, various teams have encouraged fans to grow beards as well. This has helped raise money for charities in situations where fans were able to get friends to pledge donations in honor of their playoff beard commitment.

Ranking the 10 Greatest NHL Playoff beards of all time   

  1. Alex Ovechkin -- 2018 Washington Capitals Instagram: 1.6 million followers
    Twitter: 2.5 million Followers

When Alex Ovechkin finally broke through to win his first Stanley Cup in 2018, he did it with a lush brown beard that had very little gray in it despite Ovechkin already having reached age 32. Ovechkin still has his beard, which has become grayer in the chin area over the past five years. He began sporting facial hair back in the 2015-16 NHL season, but he had always kept it trim outside of playoff runs. Technically, he was a year-round beard guy, which would normally disqualify him from this list, but because he did away with all that trimming for the postseason, he deserves at least the final spot on this list.

  1. Alex Pietrangelo – 2019 St. Louis Blues Instagram: 40,500 followers

Look out, NHL, Alex Pietrangelo’s beard is once again in full playoff mode as the Vegas Golden Knights are closing on another trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Pietrangelo maintained facial hair throughout the 2022-23 regular season, but he kept it well-groomed. He really lets the bushes grow in the playoffs, as he did when his former team, the St. Louis Blues, won the Stanley Cup in 2019. By the time he lifted the Cup as Blues captain, his epic beard was bursting at the sides, giving him the look of a grizzly bear. In fairness, Pietrangelo had a rather full beard throughout the 2018-19 season, but it was nothing like what it became during the playoffs. With the foundation in place, he took it to another level. He would have ranked much higher on this list had he not had a head start in growing it.

  1. Patrick Kane – 2013 Chicago Blackhawks Twitter: 738,100 followers

Patrick Kane won the Stanley Cup three times between 2010 and 2015, so he had plenty of opportunities to grow out his beard. For the purpose of this ranking, we’ll go straight up the middle with the 2013 version, which was fuller than the 2010 beard, but a little less furry than the 2015 one. Kane definitely groomed his playoff beard a bit in 2013, but what makes it special is the heavy attention to the sides, with very little emphasis on the mustache. It’s also a pleasing reddish-brown color. Credit Kane for playing by the rules, since he did not stop shaving until the playoffs began. His beard was a great achievement in a limited time span.

  1. Brendan Shanahan – 2002 Detroit Red Wings

Perhaps Toronto Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan can best help his team overcome its ongoing postseason woes by growing a beard. During his Hall of Fame playing career, Shanahan won three Stanley Cup championships with the Detroit Red Wings, and he sported a very stylish beard each time. Shanahan had a very specific goatee style. Few people could master the goatee like Shanny, who always brought it out for the postseason. One of the joys of spring was watching Shanahan’s goatee reach its full potential by June, and the last one he grew in 2002 deserves extra credit for its darkness and fullness.

  1. Scott Niedermayer – 2007 Anaheim Ducks

It’s hard to believe that Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Niedermayer has already been retired for 13 years, but maybe we shouldn’t be surprised given how much gray was in the beard he grew during Anaheim’s run to the 2007 Stanley Cup championship. Niedermayer, who had spent the bulk of his career in New Jersey, joined his brother Rob in Anaheim after the 2004-05 NHL lockout and was a Cup champ within two seasons. He had earlier won championships with the Devils in 1995, 2000, and 2003, but his best playoff beard was his last one. Approaching age 34 at the time, he really had the full salt-and-pepper look going. Rob Niedermayer also grew a beard, but it lacked the distinguished flair of his older brother’s. All colors aside, the fullness of Scott’s beard was absolutely stunning.

  1. Denis Potvin – 1980 New York Islanders Instagram: 913 followers

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Potvin is the man who pioneered the playoff beard, even though he only grew it during the first of his five straight trips to the Stanley Cup Final from 1980 to 1984. When he hoisted that Cup over his head for the first time, he had a lush brown beard that made him look like someone other than the Hall of Famer hockey fans were used to seeing. Who knows why Potvin grew his beard that year?  Whatever the reason, it got the job done. Also, on a side note, it’s rather sad that the affable Potvin likely doesn’t have a Twitter account because he would otherwise be harassed by Rangers fans tweeting “Potvin Sucks!” at him for the rest of his life. Get this straight, Blueshirts fanatics: Potvin definitely does not suck when it comes to growing a playoff beard.

  1. Paul Mara – 2007 and 2008 New York Rangers

In five trips to the Stanley Cup playoffs during his 11-year NHL career, defenseman Paul Mara never made it out of the second round. In other words, he had only a maximum of four weeks to grow his beard before he was ready to shave again. That would not have been enough time for most players to raise the foliage on their face, but it was all the time Mara needed. Mara went into the 2007 playoffs on April 12 with no facial hair but had a full beard 24 days later when the Rangers exited the playoffs on May 6. The following year, he entered the 2008 playoffs on April 9 and had an even fuller beard 25 days later when the Rangers went out on May 4. Mara wisely stuck with the beard for the remainder of his NHL career, which was good, because he only got into one more playoff game after leaving the Rangers. Mara stopped playing a decade ago, but few players since have been able to match his speed when it comes to postseason beard growth. He now coaches women’s hockey and was an assistant on the 2018 U.S. Olympic team that won gold in South Korea. Tragically, any sage advice he might offer on beard cultivation would be lost on his current players.

  1. Scott Hartnell – 2010 Philadelphia Flyers Instagram: 38,900 Followers
    Twitter: 300,200 Followers

Scott Hartnell’s Philadelphia Flyers did not win the Stanley Cup in 2010 – going all the way to the Final before falling to Chicago in six games. However, Hartnell would have been the clear winner of any “Best Playoff Beard” award that year. His unique shade of red hair was God-given, of course, but he took full advantage of his two-month playoff run in growing his impressive beard. Few players have achieved the thickness of Hartnell’s 2010 playoff beard in as limited a time. Yes, he did go through the 2009-10 regular season with facial hair, but it was very closely-cropped. Once he put the clippers away for the playoffs, the beard got a chance to display its full potential. Hartnell, who retired five years ago, had the personality to match his beard and still enjoys a big following on social media.

  1. Zdeno Chara – 2011 Boston Bruins Instagram: 273,000 Followers
    Twitter: 16,200 Followers

    Everything about recently-retired NHL defenseman and longtime Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara was big. He was 6-foot-9 with a hockey stick that stretched for miles. He was also a tremendous player who will be a first-ballot Hall of Fame choice two years from now. Chara was clean-shaven during most of his NHL career, but certainly not when he raised the Stanley Cup above his head in 2011. His beard was long and full, making him look like the kind of gentle giant people imagine while reading their children old-time fairy tales. It was also a rich, chocolate brown color, absent of gray, even though Chara was 34 at the time. Most impressive was the fact that Chara grew the entire thing during the playoffs and shaved it off as soon as the postseason ended. That all-business level of commitment shows why he was such a great leader.
  2. Mike Commodore – 2004 Calgary Flames and 2006 Carolina Hurricanes
    Instagram: 27,500 Followers
    Twitter: 154,400 Followers

Former NHL defenseman Mike Commodore made two trips to the Stanley Cup Final during his 12-year NHL career. He lost the first time around with Calgary, but prevailed two years later in his return with Carolina. Each time he got there, Commodore came armed with both a thick red beard and long red hair that could best be described as an auburn Afro. The sight of Commodore during those playoff runs was something to behold, and he was probably the inspiration for Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty.

During the 2003-04 regular season, Commodore had short hair with no beard. He began growing out his hair during that season and had the beginnings of his playoff beard by the end of the year. In 2005-06, he already had the long hair, and he often had some facial growth, too. However, Commodore followed the rules and shaved right before the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs began -- enabling him to develop a new beard during the postseason. The final product did not disappoint.

Parameters of Rankings This ranking is essentially subjective, and everyone might have a different list of great playoff beards. The most important factors were a relative lack of facial hair before the playoffs began and the amount of growth that occurred over a limited time period.

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