Larry Playfair

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Buffalo Sabres Defenseman

Buffalo Sabres’ General Manager Punch Imlach wasn’t looking for a Lady Byng Trophy candidate in the 1978 National Hockey League entry draft, and he definitely did not acquire one by drafting Larry Playfair with his first selection (thirteenth overall). Imlach, cognizant of the consensus in hockey circles that he possessed a team long on talent but short on grit and toughness, desired a physical presence in his lineup, an intimidating player whose presence would keep other teams honest. Punch got his man in Playfair, a 6-4 defenseman from the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western League, who arrived in Buffalo with 402 penalty minutes (his last season in Juniors) and a reputation as a no-nonsense enforcer.

One of the most respected “big men” ever to play in Buffalo, or elsewhere, Larry patrolled the ice for twelve seasons as a “policeman” for the Sabres and the Los Angeles Kings (1986-88). While Playfair detested the bench-clearing brawls and stick-swinging violence so prevalent in the NHL in his early days, he clearly understood his role as enforcer on the team, and that the role demanded he drop the gloves and come to the aid of teammates being abused. Playfair seldom lost a fight, and in time the need to fight occurred less and less often, as his reputation spread and most opponents wisely backed off. In time, Playfair became one of those rare players whose mere presence opened up the ice for his more skilled teammates.

Although drafted to intimidate, Playfair proudly developed the defensive skills that enabled him to stay in the lineup under any circumstance. His size obviously enabled him to excel in clearly opponents from the front of his net; however, Larry also mastered the art of defensive zone-clearing passes and other subtleties not often seen in “big men.” When Larry paired with Mike Ramsey early in his career, they formed one of the league’s youngest, but steadiest, defense tandems, a duo a coach could send out to protect a one-goal lead in the last minute.

Larry once held most significant Sabre records involving penalties; although these have all been eclipsed, Larry’s legacy as an inspirational team leader lives on. In 1982, he was honored with the Buffalo News Seventh Player Award, given annually to the Sabres’ most inspirational player. Larry carried that mantel throughout his career, and into retirement as well. Playfair serves as president of the Sabres Alumni Association, Director of Alumni Relations, and team representative to the NHL Alumni Association. Not coincidentally, the Sabres alumni, under Playfair’s tenure, have been heavily involved in charities in Western New York and Southern Ontario.

Playfair and Sabres fans mourned his 1986 trade to the Kings and cheered his return to Buffalo in 1989. Larry has taken up permanent residence, and, in 2002, heard the cheers of Sabres fans once again as he joined former teammates in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.