Let’s all take a second and talk about hockey. A sport played on sharp blades that allow you to go incredibly fast across a surface of ice, with 11 other potentially enormous men, five of whom are against you. And it’s full contact. If you were to explain hockey to someone who had never heard of such a thing, hey may not have wanted to give it a shot right away. Let’s face it, hockey is a game where devastating injuries are waiting to happen.
Although hard hitting is essential to the game of hockey, it’s the reckless plays, the ones that can lead to the end of someone’s career, that need to leave the game. Of course hockey is a game of intense emotions, and there’s no saying when someone can lose control for just a second.
Most players are good at controlling their emotions. They’re able to shut them down before they reach breaking point. Some players, however, aren’t so good at remaining focused. These are the dirty hitters, cheap shot artists of the NHL. Although all of these players are excellent hockey players that contribute to their team’s successes at times, their reckless behaviour and lack of respect gives them a bad reputation in the hockey world. Here are the top 15 dirtiest players in the NHL today.
15 Antoine Roussel - Dallas Stars
Let’s open the list with Antoine Roussel of the Dallas Stars. The French Canadian in just a few years has built himself a bit of a sticky reputation in the NHL, earning himself the title of one of the most loathed in the NHL. His low moments came when he punched Ryan Getzlaf on his injured chin, or his bad cross check on the Bruins' Adam McQuaid, earning him a two game suspension.
When asked about the assertion around the league that he was a dirty player, his answer was plain and simple; “I don’t care,” he said simply. Roussel plays his game and frankly couldn’t care if he’s earned that reputation. He’s still a regular point producer and helps his team in any way he can.
14 Chris Neil - Ottawa Senators
Chris Neil is one of those players I’m always on the fence about. Although I’ve seen the long-time Senator play many times, and I respect him for being a fierce competitor, I’ve also seen him be downright dirty, annoying, and hit a little high at times. I must say that if I were to have an enforcer on my team, it would be Chris Neil, solely based on the fact that he’s a warrior and a team player, and although he isn’t squeaky clean, he’s still a great NHL player.
One of his worst moments in my opinion was his sucker punch to Penguins Kris Letang (who seems to get on the receiving end quite a lot). While they were both sliding against the boards, Neil punched Kris Letang when he was completely unaware of what was even happening.
13 Dustin Byfuglien - Winnipeg Jets
I personally love Dustin Byfuglien. He’s a versatile player, having played both forward and defence throughout his career. He’s physical, fast, and a goal scorer. I mean what’s not to like? But it was that cross check last year on J.T. Miller’s neck that made me question whether or not Byfuglien truly was a dirty player. With his team hanging onto a playoff spot for dear life, why would Byfuglien go and viciously cross check someone’s neck from a vulnerable position? The check earned him a four game suspension that probably should have been longer.
Byfuglien still has my respect as a tough competitor, but I will now always see him as someone with dirty tendencies on the ice. That was his first suspension, although the league had fined him several times.
12 Alexander Ovechkin - Washington Capitals
Alexander Ovechkin, arguably the most electric player on the ice in the NHL, has been a player with dirty tendencies in the past. Despite his goal scoring heroics, he’s also an extremely hard hitter and incredible competitor. However, incidents throughout his NHL career have forced some to dub him a cheap shot artist.
These incidents are quite similar in many ways. Ovechkin would serve a monster hit – which is okay – but not when it’s a few seconds after the puck was played. The regularity of these hits in Ovechkin’s career, such as the one on Briere and Campbell, have been a dark cloud over his career; that and his inability to go far in the playoffs of course.
11 Milan Lucic - Los Angeles Kings
Milan Lucic will soon be taking his dirty play to Hollywood, but throughout his career, he has garnered the reputation of being a dirty player. Between spearing Pavel Datsyuk in his crotch, running Ryan Miller and only picking fights with guys smaller than him, Lucic is one of the most hated players around the league.
Lucic has the capability of contributing on the scoresheet and he'll be surrounded by a ton of talent in L.A. Now Lucic will be in a tougher, more physical Western Conference and we'll see if his effectiveness holds up.
10 Cody McLeod - Colorado Avalanche
Although the long time Av does have some skill, he’s mostly known for being gritty on the ice. The Manitoba native has become somewhat of an enforcer for the Avalanche, although he definitely doesn’t fit the enforcer description. He’s been described as an “energizer”, meaning someone who will sometimes get into a fight for the sake of his team’s moral, and of course their safety.
An emotional player like McLeod, who would do anything for his teammates, has received the reputation of being somewhat of a dirty player at times, receiving fighting majors and game misconducts at the end of games because of sheer frustration. He is, however, an important part of his team and is unanimously respected by his teammates for standing up for them no matter what.
9 Maxim Lapierre - Pittsburgh Penguins
Maxim Lapierre has been bouncing around the NHL ever since he made his debut with the Montreal Canadiens a few years ago. Lapierre is a third liner at best with a tendency of serving cheap shots quite often throughout his career. However, the reason some people have a hard time respecting him is that the so called “enforcer” rarely stands up to other teams after serving a cheap shot, and shies away from fights altogether.
Also, Lapierre has a tendency of diving to get the call, a bit of a faux pas if you’re looking to gain respect in the NHL. He’s always been the type of player to be a little edgy, and has lashed out in dirty and cheap ways in the past.
8 Raffi Torres - San Jose Sharks
Like most players on this list, Raffi Torres sometimes likes to live life on the edge. He never shies away from a fight, can sometimes be a game changer, but more often that not his hits are analyzed as cheapish, even if there is no call on the ice. Torres has consistently, throughout his career, been the subject of controversy. It’s not just one really bad hit that have made Torres notorious, but many incidents in his long career.
The truth of the matter is that Torres has a history of targeting other players, and other NHL players have realized that. With Torres, it isn’t ever just an accidental hit to the head. It’s always a target, an intention to take that player down, and that makes him one of the dirtiest players today.
7 Steve Ott - St. Louis Blues
Steve Ott is another player who is widely known to not have respect among his fellow NHLers. In an old poll conducted by Sports Illustrated asking 300 NHL players asking whom they thought was the dirtiest player in the NHL, Steve Ott was tied in 1st place with Chris Pronger. However, it must be said that Ott is a hard worker that despite being dirty at times, has earned himself a little respect around the league. He is a proactive enforcer that plays the game hard everytime he hits the ice.
Maybe his worst moment was when he eye gouged Travis Moen, at the time a Ducks player. Although he claimed it was accidental, let’s just say it didn’t quite seem that way.
6 Steve Downie - Arizona Coyotes
Steve Downie is notorious (and a little hated) for his dirty play on the ice throughout his career. There are a few incidents that have given him this reputation. For one, everyone will remember his sucker punch on Jason Blake. He deliberately took down Sidney Crosby, forcing his knee to bend backwards in what could’ve been a very dangerous play. Also, after his first 61 games in the NHL, he had already earned himself a 20-game suspension for his hit on Dean McAmmond. He absolutely knocked him out, leaving both his feet to lurch at his head.
Although he’s a player with offensive upside, he keeps showing that he loses control of his emotions easily and has a lack of respect for other players at times.
5 Brad Marchand - Boston Bruins
As a Habs fan, this player particularly irks me, and I’m sure you don’t have to be a Habs fan to agree with me. Brad “the rat” Marchand is notorious for being one of the dirtiest hitters in the NHL, prompting someone who was very bored to start the “I hate Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins” Facebook page. Despite a history of illegal and downright cheap hits throughout his career, Marchand has managed to become an important part of the Bruins roster, become a regular scorer for the team and being an importance piece in the Stanley Cup Championship.
Marchand has been suspended quite a few times in his career. A particularly vicious clip against Sami Salo of the Canucks prompted Brendan Shanahan to call the clip “predatory.”
4 Patrick Kaleta, Buffalo Sabres
Only the notorious Matt Cooke is ahead of Patrick Kaleta on The Hockey News’ list of most hated NHL players. This in itself shows that Kaleta has made many enemies on the ice since his arrival in the NHL in 2006. A Kaleta trademark over his time in NHL has been hitting a player dramatically hard when there was barely any time on the clock. He was the one who served a cheap elbow to the head of Paul Kariya, leading to a concussion that would eventually finish his career.
Kaleta is reckless in every sense of the word. Lindy Ruff even benched the New York native at times because of it.
3 Zac Rinaldo - Boston Bruins
Can we all pause for a second and realize how funny it is that Rinaldo is now a Bruin? Moving on. Where to start with Zac Rinaldo. Since his days in Junior, Rinaldo has been an instigator, slowly building his reputation as one of hockey’s dirtiest players. He’s earned three suspensions in the NHL, one of them for boarding Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang hard into the boards and injuring him. In 2010-11 playing in the NHL, Rinaldo had three goals and four suspensions. Before that, in the Ontario Hockey League, he was suspended six times in three years.
As you can see, Rinaldo has never really hidden what his role is as a player and how he goes about things. That’s why he’s earned a top spot on this list.
2 Daniel Carcillo - Unrestricted Free Agent
Carcillo represents all the attributes of cheap players in the NHL. He’s a loud mouth with no particular skill or talent, and his sole purpose in games is to stir up the pot. You’ll probably see him in the penalty box more often than on the ice contributing. He’s also known for being an avid diver, adding to his resume of things you shouldn’t do in the NHL. His most recent suspension came last year, after serving an illegal cross-check on Matthew Perreault of the Winnipeg Jets that saw the forward miss some time.
Despite his explanations that most of his hits are hockey hits, unfortunately for him hockey fans know better, and his long list of fines and suspensions prove otherwise. He’s now been fined a total of eight times by the NHL, four of those because of dirty hits.
1 Matt Cooke, Unrestricted Free Agent
Matt Cooke is, hands down in my opinion, the dirtiest player in the NHL. Whether it's knee on knee, elbows to the head or nasty hits from behind, Matt Cooke has earned his fair share of suspensions throughout the years. He is deliberately dangerous and a cheap shot artist, so much so that the Minnesota Wild bought out the last year of his contract, and so far no one is jumping to sign him.
There are so many incidents throughout his career that we can perhaps make a top 15 one day of Matt Cooke cheap shots. His worst elbow, and there were quite a few, came against Marc Savard. That hit would see Savard miss the rest of the season and change him as a player forever. Despite all these hits, some people thought he had changed his ways when he had gone over three years without a suspension, only to come back and serve one of the most disgusting knee on knee hits I’ve ever seen against Tyson Barrie, who would consequently be out for six weeks. In other words, good riddance Matt Cooke.