Canada follows hockey with a rabid dedication on par with the United States’ obsession with football. One would think that playing for any of the seven Canadian teams would be a dream come true for any NHL player.
Apparently, that is not so. Back in 2015, ESPN.com insider Craig Custance conducted a pole of 10 “prominent” hockey agents to find out which cities players most often cite on their no-trade clauses. Surprisingly enough, Edmonton and Winnipeg landed in the top two spots for least desirable destinations for NHL players. Ottawa and Toronto tied for fourth and fifth.
A cold climate, incessant media scrutiny, and lack of city amenities were among the top reasons for Canada’s negative reputation among players. Also, teams like the Oilers, the Jets, and the Leafs were all struggling mightily to win on a consistent basis at the time the poll was conducted.
Detroit and Pittsburgh’s exemption from the list shows that, despite being cold weather cities, a winning culture attracts players.
Statistical success doesn’t always mean a player wants to remain on a team. Just look at guys like Marian Hossa or Dany Heatley. Other times, players clash with coaches and management over ice time, contract terms, or team philosophy. These tensions have caused many players to leave their Canadian teams with a sour taste in their mouths.
Here are 15 such cases.
15 Ray Emery
Ray Emery garnered a pugnacious reputation during his time in the NHL. He received a three-game suspension for whacking Max Lapierre with his stick in a February 2007 game. He also fought other goaltenders like Marty Biron and Braden Holtby, earning the nickname "Sugar Ray" for his penchant for fighting.
His hot fuse caught the ire of his Senators' teammates and coaches in 2007. Despite winning 33 games that year, Emery fought with teammates and consistently showed up late to practices. Despite the off-ice behavior, Emery remained strong in goal, carrying the Senators to their only Stanley Cup Final appearance that season.
However, an offseason wrist injury caused him to miss the 2007-08 preseason and the first few games of the regular season. Martin Gerber took over the starting job, and Emery was none too pleased. His tardiness continued, and by January 2008, several local media outlets speculated about a possible trade.
It became clear that Emery grew dissatisfied with his diminished role on the team. He struggled to a 12-13 record that year, and was waived in June.
He returned to the NHL the following year after signing with the Flyers in June 2009.
14 Alex Semin
Alex Semin emerged as a formidable forward on the Washington Capitals in the late 2000s, scoring at least 30 goals in three of seven seasons with the team. He and Alex Ovechkin formed an imposing duo that, along with Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman Mike Green, carried Washington’s offense
However, by the time Semin signed a one-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens in 2015, he had already been bought out of his contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. He was a cast-off looking for a fresh start in his career. Unfortunately, he continued to struggle in Montreal. He played just 15 games for the Habs, never able to stay in the lineup for an extended stretch. He scored just one goal and four points before being waived in December.
Then-head coach Michel Therrien had numerous conversations with Semin about the need to "adjust to the team's system" and improve his pace of play. Apparently the Russian forward was not interested in heeding his coach's advice. He spent last season in the KHL.
13 Olli Jokinen
Jokinen recently retired from the NHL. The Finnish forward signed a one-day contract with the Florida Panthers in March of 2017 so he could retire as a member of the team he captained for four seasons.
He spent time in Calgary and Toronto as well, but there are reasons he chose not to retire as a Flame or as a Leaf. He had a solid run with Calgary after a late-season trade from Phoenix in 2009. However, by the 2009-10 season, Jokinen found himself as a scapegoat for the struggling Flames. The Flames relegated him to fourth-line minutes by the time of the deal. He was dealt to the Rangers in another mid-season trade.
He re-signed with the Flames in 2010 on a two-year contract, which was met with swift disapproval by fans.
Jokinen joined the Maple Leafs for six games during the 2014-15 season. He was traded to the Blues at the deadline, but expressed appreciation for his time in Toronto.
"I liked the two weeks,” Jokinen said of joining the Leafs. “I don't know why the free agents don't want to sign here."
It's curious, then, why he admittedly asked for a trade in the first place.
12 Nikita Filatov
Nikita Filatov never performed up his status as a sixth-overall pick in 2008. Filatov scored four goals in his first eight games during the 2008-09 season, but spent the rest of the year in the AHL.
Filatov was disappointed with his demotion and became frustrated by his lack of ice time once he was re-called. He clashed with Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock, and remained non-committal on the defensive side of the puck.
The Blue Jackets grew tired of Filatov’s lackluster effort, They eventually dealt him to the Ottawa Senators in 2011, where he continued to ride the bench.
Filatov played just nine games for the Senators before being sent down to the AHL. GM Bryan Murray and head coach Paul MacLean became equally frustrated with Filatov’s subpar efforts as Hitchcock had.
Filatov bounced between the KHL and the Senators AHL affiliate in Binghamton, New York. He left the NHL after the 2011-12 season. In 2016, Filatov recounted his time in Ottawa in a conversation with Russian sports journalist Alexei Shevchenko. He said that Murray “treated me very well” and insisted financial woes ultimately derailed his time in Ottawa.
However, that doesn’t explain his unwillingness to commit on defense or listen to his coaches. Clearly, Filatov was not cut out to be an NHL player, much less in the pressure cooker of Ottawa.
11 Sergei Kostitsyn
Perhaps no city lives and breathes hockey like Montreal does. The pressure of playing for the Canadiens has crushed many players, as this list attests to. Look no further than the Sergei Kostitsyn.
Kostitsyn struggled in Montreal, mostly due to his stubborn nature and confrontational attitude with team coaches. He scored nine goals during his sophomore campaign in 2008-09, so his spot on the roster for the following season was anything but secure.
Sure enough, he didn't make the team for the 2009-10 season. However, he refused to report to the AHL that September. He went so far as to ask for a trade. The Canadiens had no tolerance for Kostitsyn's tantrum, and promptly suspended him.
He returned to the AHL the following month, but left the team after a few games. The team suspended him once again. Kostitsyn's agent, Don Meehan, distanced himself from the situation, saying "It was his decision, not mine."
In May 2010, head coach Jacques Martin told the disgruntled forward not to participate in a team practice. The writing was on the wall for Kostitsyn, and he was traded to Nashville the following month.
10 *John Tortorella
Players are not the only ones susceptible to the pressures of representing a Canadian NHL team. Coaches feel the heat as well. Look no further than John Tortorella during his brief tenure behind the bench for the Vancouver Canucks. Torts’ fiery, candid demeanor with players and reporters has made him a polarizing figure in the hockey world.
He coached the Canucks for one season in 2013-14, a season in which the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008. According to Harrison Mooney of Yahoo’s Puck Daddy Blog, Tortorella never even lived in Vancouver. He instead resided in Point Roberts, Washington, apparently due to the lower income tax rate.
In other cases, he notably lambasted forward David Booth for being late to practice, even though he arrived on time. There were also reports that Tortorella didn’t speak to Travis Green, head coach of Vancouver’s AHL team in Utica.
Tortorella remained honest about the state of the Canucks after that 2013-14 ended. "I felt from Day 1 that it’s stale,” Tortorella told Kevin Woodley at NHL.com. “That’s not their fault. This is a group that has been together for a long time.”
9 Marian Hossa
Approaching contract negotiations with a restricted free agent is often tough. RFA’s have almost no leverage, resulting in arbitration hearings and inevitable conflict.
The situation between the Ottawa Senators and Marian Hossa did not even get to that point. Hossa returned from the lockout in 2005 looking for a new deal. He had emerged as a top forward for the Senators, and wanted to be paid as such.
According to Bruce Garrioch at the Ottawa Sun, Hossa asked for $7 million per year, an amount GM John Muckler scoffed at. He offered Hossa a five-year, $25 million deal, but Hossa turned it down. Eventually, the two sides agreed on a three-year, $18 million deal. However, Hossa was abruptly traded to the Atlanta Thrashers in a deal for Dany Heatley.
The Slovak forward took some parting shots at the Senators after the sudden trade.
"I understand that this is a business and…the Senators have to do what they feel is best for their team,” Hossa said. "I'm going to go to a place where they have a team that wants to improve.”
While Hossa formed a formidable duo with left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, the Thrashers only made the playoffs once during his tenure in Atlanta. The Senators, meanwhile, reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2007.
Hossa may not have truly hated playing in Ottawa, but he did not seem too fond of the way management treated him.
8 Mikhail Grabovski
The Toronto Maple Leafs are enjoying a bounce-back season this year, thanks in part to the talented rookie trio of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander.
Mikhail Grabovski had similar success early in his Maple Leafs career, scoring 20 goals and 48 points during his first season in Toronto. He registered at least 20 goals in two of his next four seasons. However, Grabovski struggled through the 2012-13 season, potting just nine goals and 16 points through 48 games. The Leafs bought out Grabovski in July of 2013. Upon hearing the news, he lashed out in an angry tirade at then-Leafs’ coach Randy Carlyle.
“I play in the (expletive) Russian KHL,” he said. “I make lots of (expletive) points and what’s going to happen? He makes me (expletive) play on the fourth line….
He certainly did not mince words on how he felt about his former coach. “I don’t feel any support from this (expletive) idiot.”
Grabovski spent one year with the Washington Capitals before signing a four-year deal with the New York Islanders in 2014.
7 Nail Yakupov
The Edmonton Oilers made the playoffs this season for the first time since 2006. Led by a young core including Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Jordan Eberle, the Oilers enjoyed their best season in a decade.
Nail Yakupov could have been part of that group if he hadn’t asked for a trade out of Edmonton in 2016. The former number-one overall pick mired through a disappointing tenure with the team.
He notched just 50 goals and 111 points in four seasons in Edmonton, and could never establish himself as a consistent top-six forward. He clashed with coaches and battled injuries for most of his Oilers career. Russian news outlet Sport-Express reported that Yakupov requested a trade out of Edmonton ahead of the 2016 trade deadline.
The Oilers finally found a suitor for Yakupov on October 7, 2016, when they dealt the embattled forward to the St. Louis Blues. Yakupov’s struggles have continued in St. Louis. He has just three goals and nine points in 40 games in 2016-17.
6 Phil Kessel
Phil Kessel had been subjected to trade rumors well before his July 2015 trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 2015-16 season proved to be a dream for Kessel, who registered 22 points in 24 playoff games as the Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup.
When Kessel spoke with the media in the midst of the team's Cup run in June 2016, he seemed glad to be out of Toronto. "Most of the time I've had really long summers, but this will be a short one," he told reporters. "I'm OK with it. It's a lot of fun."
Of course, the Toronto media is notoriously tough. Kessel experienced this first-hand after the firing of head coach Randy Carlyle. He called one reporter an "idiot" after he asked Kessel whether he was a "difficult guy to coach."
Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun was especially critical of Kessel. "The Leafs were sick and tired of Kessel," Simmonds wrote in July 2015. "Sick of his act. Tired of his lack of responsibility. Unwilling to begin any reset or rebuild with their highest-paid, most talented, least-dedicated player."
It’s safe to say there is no love lost between Kessel and the media.
5 Alexei Kovalev
Alexei Kovalev burst on to the NHL scene with the New York Rangers in the early 90s, winning a Stanley Cup with the team in 1994. He played five successful seasons in Pittsburgh before a brief return to New York in the early 2000s. He joined the Montreal Canadiens in March 2004 and played there through the 2008-09 season. He enjoyed his time in Montreal, but signed with the Ottawa Senators during the 2009 offseason.
Kovalev had a decent 49-point first season in Ottawa, but struggled during his second season. Team GM Bryan Murray was not afraid to call out players. He notably did it with Dany Heatley before trading him to San Jose in 2009.
In 2010, he singled out Kovalev for his lackadaisical skating, and called his performance "not very good."
The Russian responded to the criticism in an interview with Russian outlet Sovetsky Sport in 2011. He claimed the press in Ottawa "don't watch hockey at all" and "channel their anger at hockey players."
He also accused former coach Cory Clouston of benching players without reason. He was traded back to the Pittsburgh Penguins in February of 2011.
4 Evander Kane
Kane has shown flashes of the talent that made him a Top-10 draft pick back in 2009. Yet, he has also shown a knack for inconsistent two-way play on the ice and a troublesome reputation off the ice.
Kane caused headaches going back to his first year in Winnipeg. He was traded from Winnipeg to Buffalo at the 2015 trade deadline, mostly due to his clashes with then-Jets head coach Claude Noel. As far back as 2011-12, Noel had benched Kane on numerous occasions for his lack of effort. Kane’s Instagram posts flaunting his wealth also put off many Winnipeg fans. In 2014, new coach Paul Maurice scratched a healthy Kane from the lineup, saying if he wanted back in, all he had to do was “come to the rink.”
Then came allegations of sexual assault in 2014, which Kane strongly denied.
In February 2015, he got into a scuffle with teammate Dustin Byfuglien. Byfuglien tossed Kane’s clothes into the shower to express his displeasure with his teammate.
Kane was eventually traded on February 11, 2015, just five days after electing to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery. His time in Winnipeg was tumultuous to say the least.
3 Alexei Yashin
Marian Hossa had his own contract disputes with the Senators, but Alexei Yashin remains the most notable holdout in team history. Yashin established himself as a star in Ottawa in the 1990s, scoring at least 30 goals in four of his first six NHL seasons. However, Yashin always felt he was underpaid. He sat out the entire 1999-00 season while in the midst of a contract dispute. It was not even his first such holdout, as he sat out part of the 1995-96 season for the same reason.
Relations hit a new low in 1999, however, when Yashin asked to be paid at least $6 million. He demanded a trade, but the Senators denied his request. They stripped the captaincy from Yashin and handed it to Swedish forward Daniel Alfredsson.
Yashin returned to the team in 2000-01, scoring 40 goals and 88 points. However, he never showed up at the final team meeting at season’s end, and was traded to the New York Islanders at the 2001 draft.
The Senators came out on the winning end of that deal, netting Zdeno Chara and the second overall pick (Jason Spezza). Yashin seemed glad to move on.
"I guess it was my destiny,” Yashin told Newsday in 2003. “I'm very happy and I'm with a team I want to play for."
2 Chris Pronger
Pronger originally landed in Edmonton via trade from St. Louis in 2005. The Blues needed to shed salary, and offloaded Pronger’s contract to the Oilers. In piece for Edmonton Journal back in 2008, David Staples detailed the reasoning behind Pronger’s ambivalent relationship with the team.
According to Staples, Pronger accepted the Oiler’s five-year, $31.25 million contract offer after a 10-minute talk with his wife, Lauren.
Staples wrote about Lauren’s growing dissatisfaction with life in Edmonton, and how she spent most that 2005-06 season back in St. Louis with her children.
The discontent must have spread to Pronger himself, as he requested a trade in June of 2006. The request came fresh off the Oilers’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. GM Kevin Lowe learned that Pronger wanted out. Fans vilified the star defenseman as a result.
On July 3, 2006, the Oilers traded Pronger to the Anaheim Ducks in a blockbuster deal. It seemed Pronger’s relationship with the Oilers gave credence to the phrase “happy wife, happy life.”
1 Dany Heatley
When Dany Heatley asked out of Ottawa in 2009, NHL fans should not have been surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time he had demanded a trade. He originally wanted out of Atlanta in 2005, which landed him with the Senators in the first place.
Heatley enjoyed the most prolific production of his career while playing with Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza. He notched 50-goal, 100-point seasons in back-to-back years from 2005-2007. By 2009, however, Heatley had grown disgruntled, and felt his role on the team had been diminished.
“I'm not going to get into specifics,” Heatley said at the time of the trade to the San Jose Sharks. “There's some personal things and I just felt the change was the best thing for everybody involved.”
Ottawa GM Bryan Murray seemed relieved as well.
"I don't know whether I'm pleased to announce (the trade), but I'm okay to announce that we've traded Dany Heatley," he said. "I talked to Dany yesterday and he was adamant that he wanted to be moved…”
The move might not have been great for Heatley’s career, though. He spent a few seasons in San Jose before a trade to Minnesota in 2011. He spent the 2015-16 season in Europe.