Fast breaks, hard hits, and fist fights. They are all what make NHL hockey an emotional roller coaster of excitement for fans and players alike. The high-speed, hard-hitting nature of the game birthed some of the toughest athletes in sports history. Bobby Clarke, Nick Fotiu, Tie Domi, Bob Probert, Cam Neely, Jeff Beukeboom, and Georges Laraque are just some of them. You’d expect as much from a sport that allows its players to legally punch each other in the face, and yell at each other from the bench.
Yet, many praise hockey players for their humble nature and sportsmanlike conduct. What other sport has a handshake line after each playoff round? Yes, you just gave your blood, sweat, and tears competing against these guys for 60 minutes, now shake their hands. Forget golf, hockey is a true gentleman’s game.
NHL players display impressive candor in postgame interviews, and participate in numerous charitable events. Former New York Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard started the “Defending the Blue Line” project, allowing children of military families to play hockey in their local communities. Former Anaheim Ducks forward George Parros annually donates locks of his hair to Locks of Love.
Still, even the most disciplined of NHL players slip up every once in a while. Whether it’s a crude gesture during a pregame warm-up, a high hit after whistle,a drug bust, or even a brawl at local bars, many NHLers have displayed unprofessional behavior, both on and off the ice. Here are 15 well-known instances:
15 Sean Avery
There is certainly no love lost between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. Pit the cross-town rivals against each other in the playoffs, and you’ve got a powder keg waiting to ignite. Sean Avery may have lit the fuse with his antics against Devils netminder Martin Brodeur in a first-round playoff game on April 13, 2008.
The Rangers were cycling the puck on a 5-on-3 power play, and Avery went to screen Brodeur in front of the net. He used an unorthodox method, waving his stick in front of Brodeur’s face in an attempt to block his vision. Brodeur became noticeably agitated, as he struggled to see around Avery's screen. To add insult to injury, Avery scored on a deflection off Scott Gomez’s slap shot.
The NHL promptly passed the “Sean Avery Rule,” prohibiting a player from engaging in “actions such as waving his arms or stick in front of the goaltender's face, for the purpose of improperly interfering with and/or distracting the goaltender.”
Only a pest like Sean Avery could have a penalty named in his honor.
14 Andrew Ference
Everyone loves a good goal celebration. Yet, sometimes, a player’s excitement may get the best of him. That was the case with Boston’s Andrew Ference, who, after scoring a playoff goal against the Montreal Canadiens in 2011, raised the middle finger of his left glove to fans.
“I was pumping my fist,” he claimed. “I’m not giving anybody the bird or anything like that.”
We're not sure what was more unprofessional; raising the middle finger to the fans or trying to get the media to believe his lie afterwards. It's pretty hard to accidentally raise your middle finger when you have hockey gloves on. Ference could have at least just owned up to it and apologized for his actions.
Perhaps Ference should’ve just stuck to chirping. Boston coach Claude Julien stood by his defenseman, but the NHL wasn’t so kind. The league slapped him with a $5,000 fine.
13 Alex Burrows
Proper nutrition is crucial for on-ice performance. Apparently, Vancouver Canucks forward Alex Burrows must have skipped his pre-game meal before facing the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
During a team scrum at the end of the first period, Burrows appeared to bite the left index finger of Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron as he reached over the referee to put his glove in Burrows’ face.
Bergeron immediately skated over to the referee, holding up his injured finger for all to see. Although officials didn't see the initial incident, a video replay suggested Burrows did indeed chomp on Bergeron’s hand.
The Vancouver forward received a four-minute penalty for his antics, and never missed a pre-game meal again.
Burrows has garnered a horrible reputation around the league during his career and just about anybody who isn't a Canucks fan hates him. Biting a finger might have something to do with it.
12 Tim Thomas
A highlight for any championship sports team is the White House visit with the President, where the commander-in-chief honors and congratulates the team in a light-hearted, apolitical ceremony. Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas decided to politicize President Obama’s invitation in January 2012 when the team was invited to commemorate the previous season's Stanley Cup victory.
Thomas iced the President in a statement, which read in part, “I believe the Federal Government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution…I exercised my right as a Free Citizen and did not visit the White House.”
No matter Thomas’ individual political views, the respectful thing would’ve been to honor the President’s invitation as a member of the team. No one was asking Thomas to endorse Obama. Thomas's actions took the focus off his team's accomplishment and the story became all about him.
11 Sean Avery II
Sean Avery makes his second appearance in the countdown, this time for fiery comments made during a pregame interview in December 2008 before the Dallas Stars faced the Calgary Flames. Avery’s former girlfriend, actress Elisha Cuthbert, was dating Flames’ defenseman Dion Phaneuf, and Avery made it known how he felt.
"I just want to comment on how it's become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds,” Avery told reporters after the morning skate.“I don't know what that's about. Enjoy the game tonight."
Avery was handed a six-game suspension from the NHL, and never played another game in a Stars sweater. The team waived him the following February. Avery's career seemed to take a downfall following that comment. The simple thing to do would have simply been to offer no comment on the relationship. There was no need whatsoever for Avery to stoop to this level.
10 Rick Tocchet
Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet wasn’t an active player at the time he pled guilty to participating in widespread gambling ring in 2007. Yet, the ex-NHLer, who played for six teams in a 22-year career, received a two-year probation sentence for involvement in the $1.7 million operation.
He was able to avoid jail time, but his reputation was irreparably damaged. Strangely, the ring, labeled “Operation Slapshot” didn’t bet on hockey games, but managed almost $2 million in wagers on college football games and the 2006 Super Bowl. Janet Jones Gretzky, wife of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, was accused of placing bets, but was never charged.
It's bad enough when you're busted for something like this as a player, but it's even worse for a coach. A coach is supposed to set the ultimate example for his team and clearly, Tocchet's actions were inexcusable for someone holding his post.
9 Mike Milbury
We all remember 2004’s infamous “Malice at the Palace,” where Ron Artest fought with fans in the stands during a heated NBA game against the Detroit Pistons. The Boston Bruins were veterans in player vs. fan fighting as far back as the 1970s.
In the rough-and-tumble violence of the 1970s NHL, emotions ran high, and sometimes these emotions spilled over the end boards, literally. During a 1979 matchup against the rival Rangers, Bruins players climbed over the glass, and started throwing punches at fans. Mike Milbury even took to hitting a fan with his own shoe. It was an incredibly embarrassing moment for the NHL, as something like this should never happen in a professional sports league.
It's always laughable whenever you hear Milbury chastising players over their unprofessional actions when Milbury and his teammates committed arguably the worst display by players ever.
8 Martin Brodeur
Martin Brodeur’s unfaithful behavior led to his 2003 divorce from wife Melanie Dubois. The couple married in August 1995, just months after the Devils’ first Stanley Cup victory. However, Dubois filed for divorce eight years later after Brodeur admitted to having an affair with his sister-in-law while she was living with the family and helping care for their four children.
Not quite incestuous, but unprofessional to say the least. A court ordered Brodeur to pay $500,000 annually in alimony payments until 2020, $132,000 in annual child support, and $9 million in other assets.
While this matter had to do with Brodeur's personal life, the story became huge news and must have caused a distraction for the Devils organization. It was also incredibly disappointing to learn that arguably the league's greatest goaltender at the time would engage in such a despicable act of betrayal to his wife and their family.
7 Patrick Kane
None of us like being ripped off by cab drivers, but Patrick Kane took his anger a bit too far during the early morning hours of August 9, 2009. Kane handed a Buffalo cabbie $15 for a $13.80 fare, but the driver was unable to make change. Angered, Kane allegedly grabbed the driver by the throat, punched him in the face, and took back the money. Kane faced misdemeanor assault, theft and harassment charges, but had those charges dropped after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct.
It's hard to tell what's more ridiculous about this story; the fact that Kane would engage in assault or the fact that it was over $1.20 worth in change. Should a young millionaire really get that upset over such a small amount? Kane was probably throwing his money away all night anyway.
Someone tell Kane fighting belongs on the ice only.
6 Evander Kane
Another young forward named “Kane,” Evander Kane, has struggled to live up to the hype that thrust him to the fourth overall pick in 2009. The disappointment followed him off the ice.
In March, investigators cleared the embattled forward of sexual assault allegations stemming from a December 2015 incident at a Buffalo hotel. However, the plaintiff, Rachel Keuchle, sued Kane in July, alleging "serious emotional trauma" and "serious, permanent and painful personal injuries."
This new lawsuit comes amid Kane’s not-guilty plea for disorderly conduct in a separate June incident where he allegedly grabbed three women inside a Buffalo nightclub.
Kane's unprofessional acts didn't start in Buffalo though. Back when he was a Winnipeg Jet, Kane was constantly a distraction for his teammates. Back in February 2015, Kane was reportedly scratched from a game after violating the team's dress code. After a bizarre series of events Kane was traded to Buffalo, where his off-ice problems have continued.
5 Ed Belfour
Hockey players are emotional, but Dallas Stars’ netminder Ed Belfour forgot to leave his emotion on the ice. After a night of drinking, he checked into a hotel with an unidentified woman, who reportedly became unnerved by his drunken conduct.
After calling hotel security, she left in a cab. Belfour tried to follow her. Security guards subdued him, and Belfour took matters into his own hands.
He slammed one guard against the wall and put him a headlock, only releasing his grip after police pepper sprayed him. Belfour was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest, and spent six hours in jail before being released on bond.
Needless to say, the incident was terribly embarrassing for Belfour, the Dallas Stars (his team at the time) and the NHL as a whole, given Belfour was one of their biggest stars at the time. Belfour would again be arrested in the 2006-07 season, this time due to disorderly intoxication and resisting an officer without violence while in Florida.
4 Bob Probert
Bob Probert: Tough skater, feared enforcer, drug smuggler? On March 2, 1989, an intoxicated Probert drove towards the US-Canada border with his girlfriend, where he was pulled over by U.S. Customs agents. The kicker? Probert had 14 grams of cocaine stuffed in his underwear, along with open bottles of alcohol. The Red Wings forward pled guilty to a felony charage of drug importation that October, and served a 90-day jail sentence. The NHL reinstated Probert on March 9, 1990. He was again suspended after a 1994 arrest for operating his motorcycle while high on cocaine.
Sadly for Probert, he led a very troubled life off the ice and seemingly could never stay out of trouble. Following his retirement, Probert was arrested several more times, including an incident on July 1, 2005 when he was arrested for disturbing the peace, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.
3 Chris Simon
It’s rare for an NHL player to receive a 25-game suspension, unless of course that player is Chris Simon. The league slapped the New York Islanders winger with his SEVENTH (!!!) suspension in March 2007 after he used his stick as a baseball bat in a vicious two-handed attack to the face of New York Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg.
Simon’s 25-game suspension was the longest in league history at the time. Simon missed the rest of the 2006-07 season, but didn’t learn his lesson. The following season, he received a 30-game suspension for stomping on the leg of Penguins’ forward Jarkko Ruutu. I guess a leopard can’t change his spots.
It's unfortunate Simon was never able to keep his emotions in check, as he was actually a useful player in his peak years. Unfortunately, Simon never seemed to be able to grasp what it meant to be a professional hockey player.
2 Marty McSorely
Chris Simon’s career didn’t end after his baseball bat swipe at Hollweg. Bruins forward Marty McSorely wasn’t so lucky.
During the closing seconds of the Bruins’ February 21, 2000 matchup against the Vancouver Canucks, McSorely swung his stick at Donald Brashear’s head, knocking him unconscious as he hit the ice and suffered a Grade III concussion. Not only was McSorely suspended for the rest of the season, but he was also charged with assault with a deadly weapon, the first NHL player since 1988 to face criminal charges for in-game actions. McSorely expressed remorse, but was nonetheless convicted of assault, and sentenced to 18 months probation.
He would never play another NHL game. McSorely had made his living in the NHL by being somewhat of an enforcer, but his attack on Brashear was cowardly and shouldn't even happen in beer leagues, much less the greatest hockey league in the world.
1 Todd Bertuzzi
The single most infamous display of unprofessionalism in NHL history occurred during a 2004 game between the Canucks and Avalanche.
Veteran Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi was sent out late in the third period to instigate Avalanche tough guy Steve Moore into a fight. Earlier in the game, Moore received a five-minute major for fighting Matt Cooke, and Bertuzzi sought retribution.
After failing to goad Moore into fisticuffs, Bertuzzi grabbed Moore’s jersey, sucker punched him from behind, and slammed his face into the ice. Moore was knocked unconscious, and suffered three fractured neck vertebrae and a concussion.
Bertuzzi’s attack resulted in criminal assault charges and a season-long suspension. He was also sentenced to 80 hours of community service. Bertuzzi was later re-instated after the 2004-05 lockout, but Moore would never played in the NHL again. Moore later filed a $68 million civil lawsuit against Bertuzzi. The two parties settled out of court in 2014 for an undisclosed amount.