Perhaps no sport’s success relies more on teamwork more than hockey. Baseball has pitchers who control the pace of play. Football has quarterbacks, and basketball has point guards. In hockey, there is one factor controlling play: the players. With the hard-hitting, fast-paced nature of the game, teammates need to stick up for one another and maintain chemistry and cohesion on a line. Teamwork is essential to pushing through a grueling 82-game regular season and (potential) four-round postseason.
For these reasons, hockey players develop very strong bonds. Hockey players are a different breed from most professional athletes, and have an almost-freakish devotion to the game. They lace up the skates from an extremely early age. The teammates these players start their careers with are often friends they keep for a lifetime.
Unfortunately, not all teammates remain friendly once the final horn sounds. It is oftentimes very difficult to shut down the aggression that it takes to play hockey. Sometimes, this emotion comes out in the locker room and causes fights between teammates. Other times, players just don’t get along, simply because they have different personalities, playing styles, beliefs, or philosophies about team direction.
For better or worse, there are plenty of teammate rivalries in the NHL to go along with friendships. This list looks at some players who were close friends and some players who were, well, not so close.
15 Hated - Ryan Kesler vs. R.J. Umberger
Kesler and Umberger were never truly teammates at the NHL level. Although they were both Vancouver Canucks draft picks, they never played a shift together as teammates.
Although Kesler and Umberger go way back to their tenure at Ohio State University, they could not find the same cordiality with the Canucks.
The reason? A contract dispute. Umberger entered the draft in 2001, two years before Kesler entered. However, the Canucks signed Kesler soon after the 2003 draft. Umberger had been with the Canucks for a few years, but had failed to sign a deal like his former college teammate had.
Umberger figured his higher draft status (16th overall) over Kesler (23rd overall) offered him a chance for a better deal. He reportedly used Kesler’s contract as leverage in his own negotiations.
Kesler took exception to, in his mind, being used as a negotiating piece for Umberger, and expressed displeasure to the media. Umberger was then traded to the New York Rangers in March of 2004.
Anyone who thought that conflict ended with that trade was in for a surprise. The two renewed their rivalry in January of 2009, when Kesler and Umberger dropped the gloves during a game. Umberger played in Columbus at the time. When Kesler was subjected to trade rumors in 2014, he excluded the Blue Jackets from his list of acceptable teams for trade.
14 Friends - Tuukka Rask and Shawn Thornton
An enforcer is oftentimes a goalie's best friend. If anyone dares to run the goalie in his crease, that player should expect payback from the other team's enforcer. Tuukka Rask and Shawn Thornton not only had that on-ice relationship, but carried it off the ice as well.
Thornton and Rask spent six seasons together in Boston, and developed a close friendship during their time in Beantown. They attended charity events together, attended a Zac Brown Band concert together in 2015, and even purchased their own boat.
Thornton even joked about the boat upon his departure from Boston in 2014.
“Tuukka didn’t buy me out of my half of the boat, so I think we’re still friends,” he joked to NESN. “I think we’ll still hang out.”
Rask was apparently so eager to hang out with his former teammate, that he accidently broke news of Thornton's impending retirement in an August 2015 radio appearance with Boston's WEEI. Of course, Thornton continues to play in the NHL today, and hopefully, he doesn't hold Rask’s too-early prediction against him.
13 Hated - Brian McGrattan and Chris Neil
Enforcers are not exactly known for affability. Their hard-nosed, physical style of play does not suggest the nicest of demeanors. Yet, many find enforcers to be amongst the nicest guys on their respective teams. Their willingness to stick up for teammates garners them respect in the locker room.
So when a team has two enforcers, it’s understandable how they can butt heads off the ice. Brian McGrattan and Chris Neil experienced this first-hand during their time together with the Ottawa Senators in the 2000s.
Despite having to protect stars like Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, McGrattan felt Neil was not pulling his weight as an enforcer.
"I had to protect that guy for three years when I was there," McGrattan said of Neil. "He'll do something where he knows he'll get kicked out of the game and won't have to come back and fight anybody.”
By that point, McGrattan was on a try-out contract with the Boston Bruins, and was addressing a fight between Neil and Briuns’ defenseman Denis Seidenberg. McGrattan insisted he had to “fight (Neil’s) battles for him,” during their time in Ottawa, to which Neil shot back “He’s just trying to get into the lineup.”
12 Friends - Roberto Luongo and Eddie Lack
Roberto Luongo and Eddie Lack had a tight friendship during their time together with the Vancouver Canucks from 2013-2014. Lack may have declared "Bromance Over" after Luongo’s 2014 trade to the Florida Panthers, but the two remained close.
Lack has spent the past two seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, but still heaped praise on Luongo in an interview with Josh Cooper of Yahoo! Sports.
"I’m always going to be grateful for him," Lack said of Luongo. My first training camp, we were roommates...He took me to breakfast and made me feel welcome with the team and that means a lot. Obviously we had a special relationship off the ice too. Just loved playing with him."
Lack made his love known by having Luongo's face emblazoned on his goalie helmet in 2015.
11 Hated - Todd Fedoruk and Joni Pitkanen
The Philadelphia Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2010, where the Chicago Blackhawks defeated them in a hard-fought six-game series. However, just three years earlier, the Flyers were cellar dwellers in the Eastern Conference. It resulted it some “hard fighting” of their own.
For example, in January 2007, the Flyers were mired in an eight-game losing streak and enforcer Todd Fedoruk let his emotions get the best of him at a team practice. He punched defenseman Joni Pitkanen in the face, and Pitkanen refused to hit back.
Fedoruk stood by his actions after the fight, saying the team needed to “create an identity.” Maybe throwing a punch was a way to inject some emotion in the team. Yet, while Pitkanen played well, the fix was in for him after that fight. The Flyers traded Pitkanen to the Edmonton Oilers in July of 2007.
10 Friends - Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner
The Leafs have been a feel-good story this season. The stellar play of rookies like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander carried the Leafs through one of the team’s most exciting seasons in over a decade.
It’s no surprise, then, that the players are getting along well. Many NHL fans might know some aspects of Matthews’ friendship with Marner, such as the time the two forwards sang Bon Jovi on the bench during a game, or arrived at the arena wearing matching outfits.
The two exhibited their newfound “bromance” in other ways this season. For example, they were spotted together riding a Ferris wheel in Toronto’s Distillery District.
Marner divulged a bit on the nature of the duo’s off-ice relationship to the Toronto Star’s Mark Zwolinski. “We try to stay off hockey talk a lot and just have fun off the ice,” he said.
It sounds like they’ve had no issues with maintaining that balance.
9 Hated - Troy Brouwer and Alex Semin
Alexander Semin has not played an NHL game in nearly two years. Still, he was a three-time 30+ goal scorer with the Washington Capitals. Before the arrival of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Semin might have very well been the second-best Russian player on the Capitals’ roster.
However, teammate Troy Brouwer did not seem to feel that way. He felt Semin fell into the stereotype of the “enigmatic” Russian.
“It was tough to lose his scoring ability, when he wanted to play," Brouwer told the Associated Press in February 2013. "But all in all I think we've been doing well without him."
By then, Semin was with the Carolina Hurricanes, who signed him in 2012.
"Some nights you didn't even know if he was going to come to the rink, Brouwer added. “It's tough to play alongside guys like those because you don't know what you're going to get out of them."
Perhaps Brouwer was right, as Semin’s 13-goal, 44-point season that year was his worst since 2003-2004.
The Hurricanes waived Semin in 2015.
8 Friends - Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle
Hall and Eberle had a close friendship in Edmonton. While they may no longer be teammates, their friendship endures. The two started their careers at the 2008 World U-18 Championships, winning gold for Team Canada. They won a silver medal at the 2010 World Junior Championships, and began their professional careers in Edmonton soon after.
Hall and Eberle roomed together during their rookie seasons. “We felt it was a good idea to…kind of go through that first year together,” Hall told Canada’s Postmedia News in 2013. “We have a really good young group of guys in Edmonton and we’re all good friends.”
Unfortunately, the run together would not last. Hall was dealt to New Jersey in 2016 in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson. Eberle was devastated by the news. “It’s tough to see a friend go,” Eberle told Sportsnet 590 The Fan. “Me and Taylor grew up playing with the Oilers, came in together, lived together, and obviously are very good friends.”
Hall spoke with Eberle shortly after the trade. The gesture showed the value Hall placed in his friend, who helped talk him through a tough moment in his career.
7 Hated - Brendan Shanahan and Craig Janney
The professional sports world is no stranger to extramarital affairs. Think of Michael Jordan in the NBA or John Terry in the Premier League. The NHL is no exception to this violation.
One well-known affair occurred between St. Louis Blues forward Brendan Shanahan and Catherine Janney in the mid-1990s. How does this relate to a teammate? Well, Catherine was married to Craig Janney at the time. Janney was Shanahan’s teammate and (supposed) best friend.
The affair rocked the Blues’ locker room during the 1994-95 season. Craig Janney discovered the affair and was so shaken that he had to be traded mid-season. Shanahan was eventually traded to the Hartford Whalers at season’s end.
Shanahan married Catherine in 1998. The couple have since had three children together.
6 Friends - Jeff Carter and Mike Richards
The friendship between these two centers goes back several years. They faced off against one another in the OHL, and were both drafted in the first round of the 2003 NHL draft. Both were teammates on the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms before earning call-ups to the Flyers before the 2005-06 season.
Carter and Richards thrived in the City of Brotherly Love. They carried the Flyers to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, and had established themselves as elite NHL talents.
The Flyers traded both Richards and Carter in separate deals before the 2011-12 season. Fortunately, they reunited in Los Angeles, and won two Stanley Cup over the next four seasons together.
“Reunited and it feels so good,” Richards tweeted in February 2012, after Carter arrived in L.A. “Excited to be back playing with Carts.”
“I think we compliment each other really well,” Carter said following the trade. “Mike is Mr. Everything.”
In June 2015, the Kings cut ties with Richards after he was arrested on charges of unlawful possession of oxycodone. He joined the Capitals for part of the 2015-16 season, but found himself without a team this year.
At least Richards can look back fondly on all the special moments he and Carter shared as long-time time teammates and friends.
5 Hated - Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr
Dion Phaneuf builds his game as a hard-shooting defenseman who is not afraid to mix it up with his opponents. Apparently, he also fought with teammates in Calgary as well. His alleged attitude issues may have been behind his 2009 trade to Toronto.
Shortly after the trade, rumors surfaced as to why Phaneuf was dealt. Apparently, Phaneuf and fellow defenseman Robin Regehr feuded quite a bit in Calgary.
Former Flames coach Mike Keenan echoed similar sentiments, telling Sportsnet in 2012, "There has been fighting in the locker room between Regehr and Phaneuf…”
Sportsnet's Dan Murphy seemed to verify Keenan’s comments. "Everyone knows that Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr did not get along very well off the ice,” Murphy wrote. "From what we’re hearing Phaneuf and Regehr hardly spoke at all.”
4 Friends - Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane arrived in the NHL together, much like Richards and Carter had. Although they hadn’t been taken in the same draft year, they both enjoyed standout rookie seasons in 2007-08 where they both finished among the team leaders in scoring.
Kane and Toews signed identical eight-year contract extensions in 2014.
It was then that the world got a truer sense of their friendship, and how their chemistry was not just limited to the ice.
‘I’m humbled to be up here alongside one of the greatest players in the league today,” Kane said at the press conference (via Chicago’s Daily Herald). “Being 18, to kind of have him there with me, we could lean on each other at certain times….”
“It has been amazing so far,” the Blackhawks captain said. “It would be kind of weird to be on a team without Kaner.”
The two always have a friendly competitive streak in order to push each other to greater heights, but it only helped elevate the team’s success. The pair won another Cup in 2015, and (when paired) still remains among the elite scoring duos in the NHL.
3 Hated- Sean Avery and Brenden Morrow
Sean Avery proved to be an effective pest for the New York Rangers during his tenure with the team in the late 2000s. His ability to agitate opponents like Martin Brodeur and Sidney Crosby made him a valuable asset to his team. However, it also garnered Avery a reputation as one of the most hated players in the league.
One of Avery’s early critics was Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow. Morrow had stated on repeatedly mentioned how he “hated” Avery. Even once Avery joined the Stars on a four-year deal, Morrow didn’t exactly back off his comments.
"I imagine if we wouldn't have signed him, I would have said I still hate him," Morrow said at the time.
Morrow then acquiesced and said he would “need to get to know” Avery and try to work with his new teammate. As many NHL fans know, Avery’s run in Dallas was short-lived, thanks to some insensitive comments about his ex-girlfriend dating Dion Phaneuf.
When he reflected on his time in Dallas, Avery admitted he struggled to adjust to the new environment. He also seemed to take a veiled shot at Morrow.
“I didn’t adjust to the team,” Avery told The New York Post in 2011. “And when I say the ‘team,’ I don't mean the organization, I mean some of the guys in the room.”
2 Friends - Wayne Simmonds and Chris Stewart
From playing midnight shinny hockey in Toronto as teenagers, to spending NHL offseasons together with their families, Chris Stewart and Wayne Simmonds have quite a special bond.
The two grew up playing hockey together, and moved out to California to train together shortly before Simmonds was drafted. In fact, Stewart and Simmonds were driving to the gym when Simmonds got the call that the L.A. Kings had drafted him.
Simmonds remembers being so shocked and excited that he missed two exits. Even years later, Stewart stays in touch with Simmonds. They routinely see each other in the offseason when they return to Toronto.
"You know, we’ve lived together, lived and trained together probably every day since we were 15 years old," Stewart told NBC Sports. "He is the godfather of my first-born son, and you know, he is my best friend.”
Simmonds echoed the same sentiment, calling Stewart "a brother" who is "like family."
1 Hated - Jeremy Roenick and Patrick Marleau
Jeremy Roenick remained consistent about two things throughout his NHL career: his penchant for scoring goals, and his tendency to speak his mind. For instance, his verbal sparring with Patrick Roy during the 1996 Western Conference Semi-finals became the stuff of legend.
His hot takes were not limited to opponents. Even in retirement, Roenick kept expressing himself.
Roenick saved some especially blunt criticism for former teammate Patrick Marleau. He and Marleau played together in San Jose from 2007-2009.
Last season, Roenick injected himself into the trade rumors swirling around Marleau.
“He is still very, very good...but I don’t see him being one of the locker room favorites," Roenick said of Marleau on KNBR.com in 2016. "As good of a player as he is, Joe Thornton is the most popular player in the locker room, by far."
That instance was just the latest in a barrage of criticism Roenick leveled on the long-time Sharks captain. Marleau had previously shrugged off criticism from Roenick back in 2012, when Roenick took shots at Marleau in his autobiography.
He claimed Marleau couldn’t “realize his potential” and didn’t bring “a superstar effort” on a nightly basis.