With nearly 700 active players on NHL rosters across the league at any given time, you tend to form opinions about the players. Some become your favorites, and others you grow to hate. It’s human nature to judge, ridicule, and criticize. We’re sort of a crappy species.
Anyway, with this in mind, one can surmise that NHL players form opinions about their individual opponents as well. Surely there aren’t too many opponents that guys especially “like,” but I’d imagine it gets pretty easy to hate a guy who’s constantly a bee in your bonnet.
Today in the NHL there are a handful of players that are pretty much hated by everyone who isn’t on their team. There are many reasons you might hate a player. Perhaps you have a personal vendetta against someone because of a past incident. However, to be hated by nearly everyone across the league, the player must to have a history of cheap shots, or a history of simply being a pest.
Now, if you’re a pest AND you’re good at hockey, well, that just tends to make your opponents even more frustrated with your existence. This list identifies the 15 most hated players across the league in recent years, and most of them have both of those qualities—they’re pests who are also good at hockey. Enjoy:
15 Corey Perry
We start off the list with former Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry. It’s frustrating enough to play against a player who has 50-goal capability (current season notwithstanding), but when you also run the risk of being on the receiving end of a cheap shot from said player, the disdain goes up even higher. Perry has been suspended by the league on multiple occasions in the past for cheap shots on opponents.
He doesn’t really care who you are, either. Even if you’re a budding superstar, Perry don’t care. Just ask Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux, who was on the brink of breaking out when Perry caught him with a heavy elbow to the head way back in 2009. In another incident in 2013, he caught Minnesota’s Jason Zucker with another nasty flying elbow. Perry got four games for both offenses.
14 Kevin Bieksa
Don’t worry, this whole list isn’t made up of Anaheim Ducks, but they’re certainly well-represented. Back when the Vancouver Canucks had all three of Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, and Alex Burrows, they were probably the most hated team in the league. Not only did they have three of the league’s most despised pests, but they were really freaking good as well.
Bieksa has gotten a little older and al little less effective, but he still plays guys tough in his own zone. He also chirps with the best of them, a skill that never really goes away with age. Although the rest of the league certainly hates him, the Ducks will take Bieksa and all those qualities when it comes time for the postseason, you can bet on that.
13 Scott Hartnell
If you’re an NHL player who doesn’t have at least a general disdain for Scott Hartnell, that means he either plays on your team or you rarely play against him. If you’ve ever faced the fiery winger in a playoff series before, you likely have a full-on hatred for the guy. Hartnell knows just what to do to get under a guy’s skin, as proven by the battles he had with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins when he was with the Flyers.
On top of his actual annoying play on the ice, Hartnell just has one of those faces that are easy to hate, and his attitude only adds to the fire. Hartnell has only been suspended by the league once, but this is a league that tends to be pretty lenient with player-on-player offenses. Hartnell’s put up nine 20 goal seasons in his career as well, so he can annoy you that way too.
12 Micheal Ferland
Although he’s flown under the RADAR ever since and has mostly kept to himself, Calgary’s Micheal Ferland established quite the reputation when he made his NHL debut in the 2014 postseason against the Vancouver Canucks. Without ever having played a game in the league, Ferland riled some feathers when he rolled into Vancouver for the playoffs that spring and started agitating the crap out of them.
I lived in Vancouver at the time of this, and the hate for this man was palpable from both the fans and the players on the Canucks. To give credit where it’s due, Ferland was effective in the pest role, which is what he was brought in to do, but that doesn’t mean that players don’t hate him.
11 Dustin Byfuglien
Being hated in the NHL is not necessarily a bad thing, as you’ll notice that this list is full of guys who are really good hockey players. Dustin Byfuglien is in his seventh season as a member of the Winnipeg Jets organization, but if we’re being honest he’s been hated by the players in the league for longer than that, dating back to his time with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Byfuglien has always been a thorn in the side of opposing forwards, and he’s been suspended by the league for questionable hits before. If you use penalty minutes as an indicator of how annoying a player can be to an opposing team, there’s no reason to think Big Buff is slowing down in that regard. He hit 100 PIM for the first time of his career in 2014-15, and now he’s done it three seasons in a row.
10 Chris Neil
There’s no denying that enforcer Chris Neil is in the twilight of his career, and perhaps he’s not as hated today as he once was, but the feelings are still present. The 37-year-old has been the bully in Canada’s capital city for 15 years now, as he’s spent his whole career with the team that drafted him 161st overall in the 6th round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft.
Neil has never backed down from a scrap in his career, and as a result he is top 20 all-time in NHL penalty minutes (he has over 2,500). A guy who’s laid that many beat-downs on guys across the league hasn’t had time to make too many friends, despite the fact that he actually played in his 1,000th career game earlier this season—quite an accomplishment for a 6th round selection.
9 Zack Kassian
While it seems that Zack Kassian has maybe cleaned up his act since hitting rock bottom as a member of the Montreal Canadiens a few years back (during the preseason), the big Oiler winger is still despised by most across the league. Heck, even members of the Oilers probably hated Kassian until he arrived, as some of them were around when he smashed Sam Gagner in the face with his stick in a preseason game, sidelining him for the first month of the 2013-14 regular season.
Kassian, a former first round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, may not be the cheap shot artist he once was, but he still has a knack for getting under the skin of his opponents. Kassian leads the Oilers with 95 PIM and seems like a sure bet to hit the century mark for the third time in his career.
8 Antoine Roussel
One surefire way to make players across the league hate you is to fight all the time and score points on a somewhat frequent basis. That’s frustrating to play against, and that’s exactly what Dallas’ Antoine Roussel has been doing for years. The noted pugilist has recorded at least 100 PIM in every full season he’s played (plus 85 PIM in 39 GP as a rookie), and he’s also scored at least 13 goals in every full season he’s played.
He sits at 12 goals for 2016-17 in an off year for Dallas, so all he needs is one more in the final 10 games of the year. It’s important to note that Roussel has missed some time this season, so his goals per game rate is actually up from previous seasons.
7 Alex Burrows
Alex Burrows is another player who is perhaps over the hill and on his way out, but he’s put enough miles on the pest-ometer by now for the hatred to still exist. Whether he’s biting someone’s finger, or simply being accused of making a racist or homophobic slur towards an opponent, there is no shortage of reasons to dislike Alex Burrows (see: Jordan Tootoo).
Burrows spent his whole career tormenting opponents in Vancouver before recently being dealt to Ottawa at the trade deadline. He’ll be annoying opponents for at least two more seasons beyond this one, as he’s already signed an extension with the Sens. It'll be interesting to see how much longer Burrows is effective in Ottawa, as he's been well on the decline for years now.
6 Sidney Crosby
When you’re the best player in the world, your opponents automatically dislike you. They may respect you, but they also have a seething hate for you that’s likely borne of envy. Sidney Crosby is not the most liked player not only because he is the best in the game, but he’s been known to throw out a nasty slash or sack-shot—most recently Marc Methot and Ryan O’Reilly have been on the receiving ends—which isn’t making him any friends.
No one can blame Crosby for this behavior, really. He’s been labeled a whiner pretty much throughout his whole NHL career, and it’s fair to say that label’s been blown out of proportion simply because of how good he is. Don’t expect things to change anytime soon, but if Sid keeps piling up the major career accomplishments I’m sure he won’t mind.
5 Steve Ott
Steve Ott has been one of the league’s toughest SOBs for over a decade now, and over the years he’s collected his fair share of enemies. Ott now plies his trade in Montreal, where he’s fostering a whole new set of enemies as the Habs jockey for position in the tight Atlantic Division.
Ott has been suspended by the league numerous times, and one of them was for “eye-gouging,” which is pretty twisted if you ask me. That offense was back in 2009 against Anaheim’s Travis Moen, who I’m sure is not a huge Ott fan along with much of the rest of the league. He’s also been fined by the league for numerous offenses, most recently for spearing Bruins captain Zdeno Chara back in April last year.
4 Cal Clutterbuck
Cal Clutterbuck is another ultimate pest who appears to have cleaned up his act as of late. He’s currently a member of the New York Islanders, but he truly established his shady reputation back when he was a member of the Minnesota Wild. He wasn’t a stranger to cheap shots back in those days, but to be fair to him he’s riled up the opponent enough to draw some suspensions as well.
Clutterbuck is also able to put the puck in the net sometimes, which obviously is frustrating to opponents who already hate him for other reasons. His yearly PIM count has gone way down since departing Minnesota and joining the Islanders, but people have long memories and that’s why Clutterbuck remains one of the public enemies of the league.
3 Ryan Kesler
Ryan Kesler has always been a tough player to play against, and ever since his days in Vancouver he has constantly been matched up against the other teams’ best players and has enjoyed great success in that role. One way to piss off the rest of the league is to effectively shut down their star player and be a dick about it in the process.
Rumors of Kesler’s character within his own locker room have been questioned before as well. Back in his Canucks playing days, rumor had it that the American center used to make moves on some of his own teammates' wives, which is pretty pathetic and sad. His behavior around town was always the subject of gossip in Vancouver. I don’t like Kesler, if you couldn’t tell already, and I’m pretty sure most of the league is in my corner on this.
2 Matthew Tkachuk
In the interest of being current, we'll throw in a newbie on this list. He’s only just a rookie, but Matthew Tkachuk has rocketed up the most-hated-player rankings. In the very first game of his NHL career, he slew-footed Edmonton’s Brandon Davidson, resulting in the young defenseman having to spend most of the first two months on the IR.
Then of course he was caught on camera slew-footing Toronto’s Martin Marincin in January. And just a few weeks ago, Tkachuk was seen throwing an egregious elbow to the head of all-star Drew Doughty, and he was finally suspended by the league for this infraction. The son of former NHLer Keith Tkachuk is just 19 years old and already despised by his peers. Well done, kid.
1 Brad Marchand
For years Brad Marchand was the biggest pest in the NHL. He perhaps is no longer the BIGGEST pest in the league, but that has a lot to do with the fact that he’s too busy putting up points at an incredible rate. However, he’s still a cheap player. As recently as January he was caught slew-footing Anton Stralman of the Lightning.
A player who slew-foots, takes cheap shots, AND scores points at a rate that’s comparable to Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid? Yeah, I would probably hate him if he was my opponent too. Marchand will almost surely finish in the top-10 in scoring this season, and he could hit 40 goals after notching 37 last season. Love him or hate him (most of you hate him), he’s had an incredible year.