We Broke Down Each Second-Round Series By Quality of Playoff Beard
When it comes to the NHL playoffs, nothing is more important than the battle of the beards.
Illustration by Ben Ruby/VICE
Like horoscopes and Chinese zodiacs, playoff beards are one of those superstitions so clearly illogical that few people even bother to question its actual efficacy. The sight of facial hair sprouting at varying levels of speed, thickness, and aesthetic appeal is simply part of hockey culture, a proud testament to the barbaric roughness the sport is known for.
Beards are for some reason a source of pride for many males—some people put oil on it like they would grease up trumpet valves, and some look like they could be concealing a collection of woodland creatures in them. As evident through the annual playoff woes of beard enthusiasts Brent Burns and Joe Thornton, who were disposed of recently by an Oilers team with a few players whose ability to grow armpit hair is still in question, the playoff beard will not win you a Stanley Cup. Almost every player on every team is doing it and, as we know, only one club comes away as the victor at the end of the playoffs.
What it can win you, however, is a victory of questionable prestige here in VICE Sports' Playoff Battle of the Beards. Thornton, who gutted out the six-game series against Edmonton with torn knee ligaments, can take solace in the fact that while he may not have advanced past the first round of the playoffs in real life, he surely would have moved on in this much more hospitable tournament.
Without further ado, let's get to our matchups.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals
Penguins: Right off the bat, let's acknowledge a strong force in this battle that cannot be ignored—Sidney Crosby's translucent beard. It's a feat of nature—it exists, but like a fine lace curtain, you can pretty much almost perfectly see his face beneath. Every year, you wonder if there will be improvement, but much like his ageless consistency in the playoffs, those randomly sprouting whiskers show no signs of changing their errant ways.
The highs come from a couple of great ginger beards, with Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist carrying the team. Kris LeTang and Justin Schultz show potential, while Nick Bonino's is dense but resembles hairy solar flares, and it goes mostly downhill from there with a few terrible beards. Evgeni Malkin is so lucky the notoriety of Crosby's beard gives his some anonymity, because his resembles a patch of farmland during a severe famine.
Capitals: This team is stacked. The Caps have some of the most beautiful beards in the whole league with Justin Williams, Braden "Beard Idol" Holtby, Karl Alzner and Daniel Winnik. The weak points are not terrible—Marcus Johansson's creation has some design flaws with a bit too much white space, and Andre Burakovsky makes do with random streaks and tufts of hair here and there, but the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses on this team.
Winner: Capitals. Sidney Crosby on his own lost this for his team.
Rangers vs. Senators
Senators: Having Erik Karlsson on your team gives you a significant advantage in any ranking, and I really mean any ranking. Frustratingly perfect, he does a lot of things that other men simply can't get away with—his goatee-and-long-hair-combo-thing would not work on, say, Connor McDavid (just try picturing it), but somehow looks stunning on him because it just does. Outside of brunette Legolas, Viktor Stalberg and Fredrik Claesson continue the strong Swede beard game on the team, while Tom Pyatt, Marc Methot and Zack Smith represent a surprisingly solid middle of the pack.
Weak points include Dion Phaneuf (of course), Jyrki Jokipakka (404 beard not found) and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. I also pity Mark Stone for having to look like a 40-year-old without the benefit of the beard that should come with it. It's like buying a Happy Meal without getting the toy. And I suppose Bobby Ryan's beard is not bad for someone with the face of a cherub British prep school boy.
Rangers: Having Henrik Lundqvist on your team gives you a significant advantage in any ranking, and I really mean any ranking. Frustratingly perfect, he... wait. This is going to be very difficult.
You see, in life, when one perfect Swedish man meets another, they obviously cancel each other out (this is not scientific), so it's now up to the rest of the Rangers to match up against a formidable Senators team.
But hold on, the Rangers have another Swedish goalie, five inches taller and nine years younger than Lundqvist, by the name of Magnus Hellberg. He's blindingly blonde and grows a good beard, too. Additionally, Marc Staal, Rick Nash, Dan Girardi, and Kevin Hayes have all decided to opt for goatees this year, but all have a history of solid growth. Mats Zuccarello has a surprisingly patchy beard for a hobbit, but this weakness is offset by Chris Kreider's unique volcano eruption stencil look.
Winner: Rangers. We have two very strong teams here with few glaring weaknesses, both led by an infallibly suave Swedish man. There's no true clear winner, but the Rangers get the decision here mostly because Phaneuf is a member of the Senators.
Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks
Oilers: So far, despite their relative youth as the fifth-youngest team in the NHL, the beards in Edmonton have shown considerable promise. While they're nowhere near the homeless-guy-hanging-near-the-gas-station-bathroom level of the San Jose Sharks, the team is headlined by lumbersexual poster boy Patrick Maroon, reliable dad Cam Talbot, and Kris Russell, already relishing the opportunity and starting to look like a guy who runs a mildly successful microbrewery in northern Alberta.
The youngsters are really holding their own, starting with the Swedes. Adam Larsson is a pleasant surprise, whose beard nicely matches the Oilers jersey (side note: Taylor Hall still hasn't grown a playoff beard in his entire career) and it's inherently impossible for Oscar Klefbom to fail at anything aesthetically. Darnell Nurse, 22, has a beard better than most 30-year-olds and Leon Draisaitl, who's literally had a solid beard since he was 19, continues to defy genetic norms. Zack Kassian's mutton chops have been as polarizing as Zack Kassian the player, but it's not really his fault the missing piece was stolen by Logan Couture. Jujhar Khaira is lurking as the hidden card, and the world may not even be ready for the greatness of his beard when he gets into the lineup.
And lastly, a shoutout to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for even trying.
Ducks: On a team known for its veteran core, the old dudes surprisingly don't do much to make up for the extreme deficiencies displayed by the younger players. Patrick Eaves, who wandered over from Middle Earth, is hands down the standout here, while Ryan Kesler grows an admittedly decent beard. Ryan Getzlaf and Jonathan Bernier are solid, but Corey Perry's beard, to put it nicely, is horrific.
Where the Ducks really lose momentum is their youth—unlike the Oilers, these guys are not even remotely holding it down. Hampus Lindholm, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, and Sami Vatanen's beard games are as lifeless as the Scandinavian arctic.
And then there's Nick Ritchie. This makes my eyes bleed. It vaguely looks like someone pressed the spacebar in the middle of typing out his frowning mustache.
Winner: Oilers. This one was tight, but with the veterans being relatively equal, the Edmonton youngsters' unexpectedly good performance over Anaheim's youth put them just over the edge.
Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues
Predators: Hoooooooooboy, it's going to be hard to compete with Ryan Ellis. It's not often you get a beard with max density, somehow barbaric and neat at the same time, and a fiery orange hue that perfectly complements the Preds jerseys. It brings a tear to my eye. Add in Mattias Ekholm's regal blonde beard and Vernon Fiddler's versatility and you've got a solid core to work around.
Dragging the team down is Filip Forsberg, whose beard has so many missed connections it resembles a bad Etch-A-Sketch drawing. Forsberg's game may be slick, but his beard is more than mildly embarrassing. Ryan Johansen and Roman Josi are also young studs who fall short on the beard game, along with P.K. Subban, whose chinstrap has evolved to become a thick chinstrap, but a chinstrap, nonetheless.
Blues: David Backes' beard is the classic playoff beard—unabashedly unkempt, it proliferates with daring abandon on his face and neck, and has fearless growth and density. Unfortunately, he doesn't play on the team anymore, so the Blues don't really have much going for them. Kyle Brodziak has a dandy ginger thing going on, but no one else really stands out.
Robby Fabbri is young and his beard has potential, but according to an informal survey, the lack of connection from beard to mustache is disappointing, a problem shared by teammates Jake Allen (above) and Joel Edmundson. Perhaps time will fill in that struggle patch, but with the persisting inability of even veterans Alex Steen and Jay Bouwmeester to produce any signs of respectable growth on their face, maybe time isn't always going to help those folically-challenged.
Winner: Predators. After Ellis' ginger masterpiece took down Brodziak's slightly inferior ginger thing, there was no one really left to put up a fight on the Blues.
Many of these beards hold meaning beyond what a simple glance can capture, on a team and player level—the Oilers' victory over the Sharks, with their wizened grey beards, can be seen as a changing of the guard to a new generation of beards still heavily under construction, while Nugent-Hopkins' inability to progress beyond the facial hair growth of his rookie year can be seen as a representation of the offensive stagnation his career has taken on since then. The Capitals are that team whose beards and stats look primed for a Cup on paper each year, but perhaps there's some hidden hipster mystique in Crosby's see-through beard that allows him to prevail over Washington's manicured hedges year after year.
It's a physical marker of endurance and success in one of the world's most grueling sports—a sight for sore playoff-deprived eyes like Oilers fans this year while stunned Blackhawks fans are probably craving a glimpse of that familiar Jonathan Toews chinstrap right now. It's a moment of rare vulnerability for young phenoms like McDavid and Tarasenko, an equalizer of sorts in the locker room and more fodder for nonsensical chirping. Most of all, it's just a part of a wonderfully bizarre and unpolished sport, the only one in which not shaving for a few months is the ultimate status symbol.