Locker room cancers. Every team in every sport either has, or has had them in their midst. Sometimes, organizations are fantastic about quickly rooting out the cancers, excising them, and tossing them out with the garbage – though, if they have talent and can score, defend, or what have you, other teams are apt to scoop them up again, cancers be damned!
Other teams though, aren't quick to identify those locker room cancers. They allow them to boil and fester until the infection is so horrible, that the locker room is divided, players are at each other's throats, and the team is consigned to the hell of a long, miserable – and all too often, losing – season because the team just can't come together.
There seems to be a misconception about locker room cancers. A lot of folks believe that it's the one guy in the room who is such a jerk, that everybody hates him. And while that is a variety of cancer, there is another, perhaps more insidious one. It's the guy who commands the loyalty of part of the locker room, who uses that loyalty to drive a wedge right through the heart of the team.
While at least with the former type of cancer, the team can rally together in unity in their hatred for the guy, it's the latter that is the most corrosive and destructive to a team. We've seen it time and time again in all different levels of sports. Look at Manny Ramirez in the Major Leagues, Percy Harvin in the NFL, and Gilbert Arenas in the NBA – all locker room cancers who damaged their respective teams.
In this article, we'll recount 15 of the biggest locker room cancers ever to grac – errrr – disgrace an NHL dressing room. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts, or name a player who should be on this list in the comments section below...
15 Brendan Shanahan
Sure, now he's the big shot NHL executive with a sterling reputation around the league. And in many ways, he earned and deserves it. But there was a time when Shanahan wasn't quite the altar boy he seems to be now. In the early 90s, there was a very public feud between Shanahan and then-St. Louis Blues coach Mike Keenan. Things got ugly in the locker room with Shanahan demanding a trade and Keenan saying Shanahan was “half the player he thought he was.”
But it wasn't just Shanahan's rift with Keenan that was destroying the Blues' locker room, it was also his affair with teammate Craig Janney's wife. Yeah, that can put a crimp in a team's locker room atmosphere. Shanahan eventually married Janney's wife – after Janney divorced her, of course – they've been together for more than a decade, and have three children together.
Though he's respected around the league for his hockey prowess, teammates from various teams he played with have said that he was never a popular guy in the locker room, and was always more about Brendan Shanahan than he was about the team.
14 Evander Kane
It's safe to say that Evander Kane's time with Winnipeg was rocky and that both sides desperately needed to get away from each other. Kane was finally moved before the 2015 trade deadline and Winnipeg actually got a good deal for the troubled winger (along with Zach Bodosian and a prospect) in Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford, a first round pick and a couple of prospects.
Let's break down his time in Winnipeg. Within a month there, there were rumors of him requesting a trade. He did ridiculous things on social media, like posting pictures with exorbitant amounts of money and making homophobic jokes. He frequently clashed with his first coach in Winnipeg, Claude Noel, who benched and scratched him a few times. He was then accused of assaulted and sued. He then was benched and scratched by his second coach in Winnipeg, Paul Maurice. Model teammate.
Then, just before his trade, he was scratched for violating team policies by wearing a track suit to a team meeting. Allegedly, Dustin Byfuglien threw that track suit in the shower to send a message to the player. The reason he doesn't rank higher is that he has a chance to revitalize his career in Buffalo next season and become a team player.
13 Mike Richards/Jeff Carter
Richards and Carter are together on this list because – well – they've been pretty inseparable throughout their career. Both were key pieces for some dominant Philadelphia Flyers teams. So it came as a shock to the hockey world when the Flyers dealt them both.
You don't give up players as talented as those two without a reason, and it didn't take long for inquiring minds to figure it out. It was long and widely known that the Flyers had a hard partying culture within their locker room. But back in 2009, new Philly head coach Peter Laviolette wanted to change that image, and get the team focused on nothing more than hockey again. To that end, he instituted what he called the “Dry Island” – which meant that he was asking his players to abstain from drinking and partying for a month at a time. Laviolette asked players who were putting themselves on the “Dry Island” to write their jersey numbers on the board in the locker room.
Richards and Carter never once joined the program, leading a mini-revolt against Laviolette's anti-partying policy. It wasn't long before both were dealt. They were reunited in Los Angeles and have helped the Kings to two Stanley Cup wins. Though Richards' issues with coach Darryl Sutter this season have got shipped off to the AHL – though we don't believe it had anything to do with a “Dry Island.”
12 Dominik Hasek
Hasek was without a doubt, one of the greatest goaltenders to ever put on pads in the NHL. With his unorthodox style, he frustrated many of hockey's best goal scorers. Unfortunately, Hasek was also known as a bit of a diva in the locker room. According to some stories, Hasek didn't appreciate former coach Ted Nolan treating him like just one of the guys, requiring his attendance at practices, meetings, and the like.
There was plenty of friction between Hasek and Nolan, that after the Buffalo Sabres declined to bring their coach back after the 1997 season, plenty of fingers pointed at Hasek as the reason why. Hasek's act wore thin with his subsequent teams as well, resulting in the Ottawa Senators being so frustrated with injuries some believed were overly-exaggerated – leading some believe Hasek had quit on his team – that they chose to get rid of him rather than bring him back after the 2005-06 season.
His attitude, and the belief by some that he thought he was better than his teammates, helped taint a Hall of Fame career.
11 Eric Lindros
When even your team's own fans take to wearing pacifiers to mock you, it's pretty clear that you've got a reputation as a whiny, baby. To be fair, it was fans in Quebec that started the tradition after he snubbed the Nordiques – who drafted Lindros despite his warning that he would never play for them – and forcing an arbitrator to send him to Philadelphia.
Lindros' time in the City of Brotherly Love wasn't exactly all sunshine and roses. Concussions played a role in his rocky time, but also the persistent rumor that he was sleeping with the wives of his teammates – the wives of Rod Brind'Amour and Eric Desjardins specifically. The rumors go on to state that things got physical when the players found out and a schism developed within the locker room.
Whether any or all of that actually happened or not, we'll never know. But what we do know, is that the Flyers' locker room was clearly dysfunctional – and that dysfunction only grew while Lindros remained in Philly.
10 Dion Phaneuf
Maybe it's not the players, maybe it's coach Mike Keenan.
After his public spat with former player Brendan Shanahan when both were with the St. Louis Blues, Keenan found himself faced with another locker room cancer. This time, as the coach of the Calgary Flames, Keenan was having to deal with a locker room divided. And the leading cause of the divide was apparently, Dion Phaneuf.
According to reports at the time, Phaneuf had some serious off the ice issues with fellow defenseman Robyn Regehr. That hostility off the ice became a lack of communication on the ice – thus, a lot of blown assignments and poor play in general. The reports – as well as an interview with Keenan himself – revealed that there was actual fighting in the locker room between Phaneuf and Regehr, which would obviously lead to some issues within the team.
Following the season, the Flames organization decided to blow the whole thing up and start over, dealing a lot of the players involved with the locker room schism.
9 Doug Gilmour
Allegedly. According to reports from various former teammates, Gilmour was a bit of a prima donna in the locker room. And oh yeah, he was once accused of having sex with his 13-year old babysitter, according to the LA Times. It's a sordid story, and ultimately, the grand jury chose to not indict, so in the eyes of the law he's innocent. In the eyes of other people? Well – not so much.
The allegation though, was enough to get him shipped out of St. Louis immediately. The Blues sent him to the Flames for – we think – a box of Twinkies, a carton of cigarettes, and a cold six pack. Gilmour eventually went on to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs and continued building his solid reputation as a prima donna.
8 Alexei Yashin
It's not often that when you have a player that can add some serious offensive punch to a team that the team's fanbase rises up and unanimously screams “NO!” That was what happened when the New York Islanders were looking at bringing Alexei Yashin back to the team during the 2011 season.
It could be the fact that many viewed Yashin as a serious underachiever, somebody who got a big, fat paycheck, and then stopped putting in the effort. And Islanders' fans would know. Yashin was a member of the team since a trade brought him to New York for the 2001-02 season, and he played for the Islanders until the 2006-07 season, never once showing the scoring punch that he'd had while a member of the Ottawa Senators. He was widely viewed as a locker room cancer who alienated his teammates and put in zero effort.
Islanders' fans are thankful that the deal never materialized and Yashin wasn't brought back to destroy their locker room for another season.
7 Derek Sanderson
Derek Sanderson was one of the NHL's brightest young stars during the late 1960s/early 1970s. During the Boston Bruins' memorable Stanley Cup win in the 1969-70 – their first in nearly 30 years – Bobby Orr scored what has become one of the NHL's most famous goals, but it was Sanderson who set him up for it. He was famous, a celebrity, and when he signed a $2.6 million dollar deal with the Philadelphia Blazers of the NHL's rival league, the World Hockey Association, he was the highest paid athlete in the world.
Sanderson's time with the Blazers was a disaster as his attitude and injuries limited him to a handful of games. The team had finally had enough and bought him out of his contract and sent him packing. This seemed to touch off a downward spiral as, back in the NHL, Sanderson had stops in Boston, New York, St. Louis, Vancouver, and Pittsburgh, and in each city, he divided the locker room with his attitude and his ever worsening drug and alcohol problem.
He retired during the 1977-78 season, winding up completely broke and homeless. Thanks to former teammate Bobby Orr though, who paid for his rehab, Sanderson was able to beat his demons and turn his life around.
6 Eddie Shack
It doesn't speak well to your reputation when your own teammate says that he doesn't know if you aggravate the other team or your coaches more. But that was the case with Eddie “The Entertainer” Shack. That former teammate, Dennis Hextall, said that Shack was “different,” and said, “I think if Eddie would have stuck to hockey, and less showboating, he would have been a better player. He liked the limelight. But he was talented.”
That could explain why, in a career that spanned 20 years, Shack played for six different teams. The Entertainer, well known for hitting his teammates as hard as his opponents, following a seven year stint in Toronto, bounced around the league for a decade. He could never stick in one spot too long as his attitude wore thin real quick for a lot of people. With each town he departed, Shack left a trail of divided locker rooms and bitter feelings before finally hanging up his skates in 1975.
5 Keith Tkachuk
Tkachuk enjoyed a reputation as a prime goal scorer in the NHL. And with two seasons in the mid-90's when he potted 50+ goals, it would be easy to see why. However, aside from those two seasons, Tkachuk never came close to showing off that sort of scoring prowess again, and proved to be more of a headache than anything.
Tkachuk was well known for his big ego, his pouting fits, and for his lack of effort when things weren't going his way or he wasn't happy with one thing or another. Once the former Winnipeg Jets moved to Arizona to become the Phoenix Coyotes, many believe he had a big hand in helping run fan favorite Kris King out of town.
Tkachuk enjoyed a vastly overrated reputation – and that reputation is what swelled his ego to the point of bursting. That ego and attitude is what made him so insufferable to many in the Jets/Coyotes locker room.
4 Ilya Bryzgalov
For a little while, Ilya Bruzgalov was known as one of the better goalies in the NHL. As a member of the Phoenix Coyotes, Bryzgalov averaged more than 30 wins a season, and maintained a sub-3.0 GAA. While those Phoenix teams as a whole weren't great, certainly not great enough to win a Cup, they certainly weren't terrible, either.
Following the 2010-11 season, the Philadelphia Flyers threw a ton of cash at him and lured the netminder to the City of Brotherly Love. And the sigh of relief emanating from the desert could probably be heard from there. In the wake of his departure, the stories about Bryzgalov's diva attitude and divisive presence began to trickle out. It came to a head the first time the Coyotes were getting set to face their former goaltender for the first time and was summed up nicely by Derek Morris who said, “We're actually glad -- first of all, I'm glad he's gone because the guy we brought in has done a great job and fitted in real well, made our team even closer. There was some animosity there with Bryz sometimes. We don't have that with Mike Smith so we have a good group and we're winning games because of it."
3 Shayne Corson
For a little while there in the early 2000s, the Toronto Maple Leafs – one of the NHL's longest suffering franchises – had something cooking. They had one of the NHL's best players in Alexander Mogilny, and a supporting cast of players who, under coach Pat Quinn, were making deep runs in the playoffs annually.
Unfortunately for the Leafs, they also had a guy named Shayne Corson who was apparently quite taken with Mogilny's wife. So much so that the two supposedly got together quite regularly so Corson could apparently teach her how to put the puck in the net. When word got out about the affair, it predictably destroyed that locker room as most of the team sided with Mogilny while Corson's brother in law, Darcy Tucker – likely out of obligation – stood up for Corson.
The whole affair resulted in Mogilny taking a short leave of absence until Corson was traded – which he was – but it started the decent back into obscurity for the Leafs once again.
2 Mike Ribeiro
Ribeiro had developed quite the reputation as a locker room cancer during his time with the Phoenix Coyotes. Some people point to his divorce from his wife, and being separated from his kids as the reason for his demeanor, while others say he's just an egotistical, whiny, crybaby who thinks he's better than everybody else. It's a reputation he – according to many – built during his time with Montreal and Dallas, and only reinforced with his year in Phoenix.
Whatever the case may be though, where ever the truth may lie, Ribeiro's reputation was enough to prompt Nashville Predators' GM David Poile – upon signing him to a 1-year deal – to say, “There is no tolerance for off-ice issues. This clearly is really his last chance.”
It's pretty harsh to put a guy on blast before he ever walks through your door. But that's what having the reputation for divisiveness and having that knack for splitting a locker room like Ribeiro is currently laboring beneath, will get you.
To this point in the season, Ribeiro seemed to be keeping his nose clean, until allegations of sexual assault emerged from an incident in 2012.
1 Sean Avery
Sean Avery is a guy that just about every hockey fan – and player – can rally around in our mutual hatred. There has likely never been somebody so skilled at getting under people's skin and annoying everybody. And it all seemed to come so naturally to him.
While Avery undoubtedly believes that he was just doing his job in mixing things up and trying to knock other people off their game, the fact that people on his own team hated his guts sort of shoots that argument down. He had an ego that didn't match his actual skill set, and walked around with an air of completely smug arrogance.
The only thing more surprising than the fact that Avery lasted for 10 years in the NHL is the fact that nobody tried to stab him with a skate. When Avery retired following the 2011-12 season, nobody was sorry to see him go.