Sure, we love the Stanley Cup playoffs for the thrilling games, the upset victories, the determined performances and the intense competition.  That stuff is great, but it all pales in comparison to the beards.  Yes, the beards.  Nothing says “I’m a real man who loves the game of hockey” like a good beard.

Since the 2011 playoffs around just around the corner, we thought we’d take a look at some of the best playoff beards in recent memory and compare them with one another based on a strict set of criteria.

Patrick Sharp & Adam Burish (pictured above) put on strong beard performances last year, but we’ll have to give the best beard on the 2010 Blackhawks award to Andrew Ladd.

Ladd’s beard manages to be simultaneously very thick while still managing to look relatively neat.  This is a difficult feat to accomplish.  If we were giving out scores (which we are) we would give Ladd a 9 for thickness, a 9 for shape and a 7.5 for colour.  There is a bit of colour variation in the beard that unfortunately lowers the total score.  Ladd receives an overall score of 25.5 for his effort.

Heading back to 2009, we have Max Talbot of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The game seven hero definitely deserves a perfect 10 for his beard’s thickness.  However, the beard is also rather unkempt and disheveled, which means Talbot only receives a 7.5 for shape.  The fact that there are no thin patches saves Max here.  Much like Ladd, colour variation means Talbot receives a 7.5 for colour.  We almost wanted to grade his brother’s beard (pictured behind Max) here as it’s quite spectacular, but the International Bearding Council wouldn’t be too fond of that blatant violation of the rules.  Talbot receives a total score of 25.

Daniel Cleary’s 2008 beard effort is up next.  This beard suffers from what looks to be some small sparse patches throughout the beard.  This results in him receiving a 7 for beard thickness.  However, the beard’s shape is very good, so Cleary is awarded a 9 in that category.  He will also be given an 9 for colour as the beard’s colour consistency is impressive.  Cleary’s total score is 25.

When the Niedermayer brothers won the Stanley Cup in 2007, they both put together an impressive collection of beards.  As we stated earlier, the beards of brothers must be graded separately in order to maintain the integrity of the contest.   Rob is given a 9 for thickness, but only a 6.5 for shape due to the beard’s roughness and unpredictable nature.  We’ll award him with an 8 for colour for a total of 23.5.

Scott on the other hand puts in a very strong performance.  He’ll be given a 10 for thickness, a 9.5 for shape and a 9 for colour.  You may be thinking that the colour score should be lower, but having grey in your beard actually raises your colour score, rather than lower it.  You may not agree, but don’t complain to us.  After all, we didn’t make the rules.

Scott Niedermayer receives an excellent 28.5 score.  This will be tough to beat.

Bret Hedican is our representative from the 2006 Stanley Cup Champion Carolina Hurricanes. Yes, Andrew Ladd was also on this team, but it doesn’t seem fair to grade his beard twice.  Hedican’s beard is a strong contender.  We will give him a 10 for thickness, a 9 for shape and a 9 for colour.  This gives him a total of 28, which just narrowly awards the coveted Beardy to Scott Niedermayer.  Congratulations Scott.  We’re sure that this award will be given as much respect as your Stanley Cups and Olympic medals.

Some may ask why older beards were not included in this competition, but that’s quite simple to explain.  It’s really not possible to compare pre-lockout and post-lockout facial hair.  The game has changed so much since 2005 that the two eras of the sport will always be considered separate.

With the 2011 playoffs around the corner, will a new contender step up?  Who will it be?