It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of a good hockey team or a bad one, I can almost guarantee that there’s at least one player on your team who you love to hate. Whenever a goal is scored against your team, you immediately scan the ice to see if your favorite whipping boy was out for the goal against.
If he was out there, you’ll find a way to blame him for the goal. “That was player X’s guy. He should have been covering for him.” Or, “Player X sure was lazy on the back check there.”
If your team surrenders a goal and the player you love to hate isn’t on the ice, you’ll still manage to find a way to blame him. “Bad change by Player X led to that turnover in the neutral zone 90 seconds before the goal. His fault again!”
Whether or not these players deserve the hatred from the fans is another story, but they receive the vitriol nonetheless. Today I compiled a list specific to the Edmonton Oilers: the top 20 Oilers who were absolutely hated by the team's fans. Some of these guys are hated because of their lackluster play while in Oilers silks, while others are hated because they betrayed the Edmonton Oilers in one way or another.
Either way, if they’re on this list you can bet that any die-hard Oilers fan has ill will towards that person.
20 Patrick O’Sullivan
Patrick O’Sullivan was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes in 2009, and he brought a lot of hope to Edmonton. He had already had a few solid seasons in Los Angeles (he didn’t even play a game for Carolina, as it was more of a three-way deal involving L.A.), including a 22-goal campaign in 2001-08.
O’Sullivan’s offensive game took a hit when he came to Edmonton, but it was his defensive game (or lack thereof) that saw him fall out of favor with the fans. He was minus-35 in 2009-10, his only full season with the club before being chased out of town.
19 Marc-Antoine Pouliot
Marc-Antoine Pouliot was the Oilers first-round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft—you know, the one that is said to be perhaps the deepest in history. Pouliot’s failure to establish himself as an everyday NHL player while almost every other first round pick from his draft class managed to flourish is likely why he became a goat in Edmonton.
Pouliot played a lot with Sidney Crosby during his junior days in Rimouski, which likely inflated his stats and elevated his draft status. Pouliot was eventually booed out of town and he’s now playing out his days in the Swiss league.
18 Eric Belanger
When former Oilers GM Steve Tambellini signed Eric Belanger as a UFA in the 2011 offseason, Oilers fans were somewhat excited because Belanger had been an extremely consistent performer for the previous four seasons, registering anywhere between 36 to 41 points.
It turned out Edmonton was the city where Belanger’s offense went to die, and Oilers fans noticed that. After producing at about a 0.5 points-per-game clip for the previous four seasons, Belanger put up 19 points in 104 games with the Oilers before being bought out.
17 Denis Grebeshkov
The Oilers have had a lot of terrible defensemen on their team over the past decade, and Denis Grebeshkov can be considered one of them—especially during his second stint with the team in 2013-14.
Craig MacTavish had just taken over the GM duties of the team, and MacT used to have a shine for Grebeshkov back when he coached him from 2007-2009. That’s why he signed him to a contract in 2013, betting that the rearguard still had some NHL game left in him. Well, MacTavish was wrong and Grebeshkov was singled out as the Oilers’ “goat” every time he dressed for a game… which was infrequently. He also had that tinted visor, which didn’t help.
16 Teddy Purcell
I know he scored the overtime winner in Anaheim recently, but it would be tough to have a list of players Oilers fans hate without having a few current goats here on the list. At number 16 comes winger Teddy Purcell.
Purcell was flipped for Sam Gagner prior to start of the 2013-14 season (in a three-way deal), and most fans saw it as a lateral movement. “At least Purcell is bigger,” some fans were saying. What many Oilers fans didn’t realize is that yes, he is bigger than Gagner, but unfortunately he plays a smaller game. This man seems to be deathly allergic to physical contact. Purcell’s contract expires at the end of this season, which isn’t soon enough for most Oilers fans.
15 Tom Gilbert
The second defenseman to appear on this list is Tom Gilbert, currently of the Montreal Canadiens. Gilbert is playing a reduced role in Montreal these days, playing about 15 minutes a night. During his days in Edmonton, however, he was expected to be a leader on that back end and that is simply not a role that Gilbert is equipped to play.
Part of the reason Gilbert was vilified in Edmonton is because he had such a strong rookie season. Fans wanted more of that from Gilbert, but he never came close to matching his 13 goals from his freshman year, and he only eclipsed his rookie point total of 33 once.
14 Nail Yakupov
It was tough to pinpoint just where Nail Yakupov belonged on this list, because there’s no current Oiler who is more polarizing with the fan base. Some folks think Nail would be better off shipped out of town for a bag of pucks, while others believe he should be a leader of this team moving forward.
Yakupov had a strong rookie season under head coach Ralph Krueger, registering 17 goals in the lockout-shortened 2013 season. He regressed horribly under the guidance of Dallas Eakins over the following 18 months or so, which was the height of the doghouse-dwelling for the Russian. He’s showed positive signs of progression so far this season, so maybe—just maybe—Yak won’t be on this list the next time it’s made.
13 Marc-Andre Bergeron
Marc-Andre Bergeron was a decent offensive d-man during his days with the Oilers, but his frequent defensive gaffes were enough to earn him the goat horns in many Edmonton fans’ eyes.
There was also that one incident back in the spring of 2006 (see the above video) when he drove Hurricanes forward Andrew Ladd into Dwayne Roloson during Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Roloson left with an injury and did not return for the remainder of the series. Most fans blamed Bergeron for the play, and some even blamed him for costing the Oilers the 2006 Cup in the end.
12 Cory Cross
The Edmonton Oilers teams of the early 2000s were a tough bunch to figure out, but one thing remained constant: if a mistake was made in the defensive zone, it was Cory Cross’ fault.
Cross was so mistake-prone during his days in Edmonton that fans would turn blue holding their breath during his shifts. He was luckily shed from the roster during the 2005-06 season, so he wasn’t around to ruin the Oilers’ fairy tale run to the 2006 final.
11 Justin Schultz
Justin Schultz arrived in Edmonton as a rock star, with 30 NHL teams vying for his services out of college. The Oilers landed the stud blueliner and just like that their problems on defense were a thing of the past. Or so they thought.
Schultz started his career with the organization playing in Oklahoma City, and he absolutely lit up the AHL, recording 48 points in 34 games. This got fans even more excited, setting them up for an even greater disappointment. Since joining the NHL, Schultz has left much to be desired from an offensive standpoint, and he’s been an absolute disaster on defense. So much so that there is now a term associated with him: “Jultzing.” It basically means to screw up royally in your own zone, resulting in a goal against.
10 Ty Conklin
Ah, yes, Ty Conklin. Conklin provided the bulk of the sub-mediocre goaltending the 2005-06 Oilers got before GM Kevin Lowe was able to acquire Dwayne Roloson in a trade. From a shots for/shots against standpoint, the Oilers had the third-best differential that year, and no other team allowed fewer shots per game. Yes, it’s true, and certainly hard to believe given today’s hockey climate in Edmonton.
Conklin was assigned much of the blame for the fact that the Oilers were forced to squeeze into the playoffs at the eighth seed. His status as team goat was solidified when he almost single-handedly lost Game 1 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final (coming in to relieve Roloson, thanks to no.13 on this list) by gifting Rod Brind’Amour the game-winning goal.
9 Ryan Whitney
In 2010, the Oilers swapped Lubomir Visnovsky for Ryan Whitney and a sixth round pick. Whitney started off well in Edmonton, registering 38 points in his first 54 games with the franchise. Then he went down with an ankle injury and never recovered, thus forever wearing the goat horns as far as Edmontonians are concerned.
Whitney’s wonky ankle was an ongoing issue, and it seriously affected his skating and movement in a bad way. So bad, in fact, that he was basically booed out of town. Whitney played one more year in the NHL with Florida before being spit out the bottom of the league.
8 Boris Mironov
Boris Mironov is on this list, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I dislike the guy. It’s quite the opposite, actually. Former Oilers beat writer Robin Brownlee once told a story over at Oilers Nation of Mironov’s insatiable thirst for vodka getting him into trouble while on the road in some of America’s more happening cities.
Mironov put up solid offensive numbers as an Oiler; he has the eighth-most points of all Oilers defensemen in history. He was, however, minus-36 over his career as an Oiler. He was on a handful of competent Oilers teams that were always competing for the playoffs, so this suggests what we all saw on a nightly basis back in the mid-to-late ‘90s: Mironov was a disaster in his own end.
7 Nikolai Khabibulin
It really isn’t Nikolai Khabibulin’s fault that the Oilers signed a 36-year-old goalie to a four-year contract, but nonetheless the “Bulin Wall” turned into a whipping boy for fans during his tenure in Edmonton. His arrival also happened to coincide with the beginning of the worst five-year period in team history, so that didn’t help Khabibulin either.
Nor did the fact that he was charged with a DUI in the summer of 2010—his first offseason as a member of the Oilers—so circumstance isn’t all to blame. In the end, though, it was his inability to consistently stop the puck that earned him a spot in the Oilers fans’ doghouse.
6 Cam Barker
Oh, Cam Barker. Selected by the Chicago Blackhawks third overall in 2004, immediately after Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, expectations were high for this young rearguard. After a strong rookie campaign, Barker’s performance fell off a cliff. That didn’t stop Oilers GM Steve Tambellini from taking a chance on him.
Barker, not surprisingly, struggled mightily during his brief tenure in Edmonton. He was prone to mistakes on the rare event that he was dressed (often times he sat out because of injury, other times because Barker watching from the press box gave the team the best chance to win).
5 Nikita Nikitin
Number five brings us to the current Oilers fans’ goat of choice, Nikita Nikitin. Nikitin was a MacTavish signing that went so poorly it’s actually incomprehensible how it all went down. The Oilers traded a pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets just for the right to speak with Nikitin, and then signed him to a ludicrous two-year, $9 million contract. (For the record, I would have signed on the dotted line too, Nikita).
This was all while the team refused to give Jeff Petry a contract of equal value, suggesting he still had to prove himself. Today, about 16 months after the Nikitin signing, he is making $4.5 million to skate with the Bakersfield Condors and Petry is playing over 20 minutes a night on one of the NHL's elite teams.
4 Mike Comrie
Mike Comrie arrived in Edmonton as an uber-talented local boy, already beloved by the Oiler faithful. His family owns Canadian furniture retail giant The Brick, which has its headquarters in Edmonton. In short, the stage was set for Comrie to be a fan favorite for a long time.
After Comrie’s three year entry-level contract expired, he decided to hold out on the team -an entitled move for a 23-year-old. He ended up sitting out the first 30 games of the 2003-04 season, and was eventually dealt to Philadelphia for what turned out to be a whole lot of nothing. Despite a brief second stint with the club in 2009-10, Comrie is still viewed as a goat in Edmonton.
3 Shayne Corson
Shayne Corson holds the distinction of being the only Oilers captain to be stripped of the “C,” which is what earns him such a high ranking on this list. Corson started the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season as captain and the rest was pretty much a tire fire of epic proportion.
That Oilers team lacked meaningful leadership in all parts of the organization, especially on the bench (George Burnett) and on the ice (Corson). Corson was eventually stripped of the captaincy by Burnett after Corson fought with 20-year-old Jason Arnott over who got the second assist on a goal. Blue-collar Oilers fans didn’t like this, and they let Corson know it for the rest of his career.
2 Kevin Lowe
Kevin Lowe has played more games for the Edmonton Oilers than any other player, skating in 1,037 games with the blue and orange. It’s his time as general manager and, more specifically, president of hockey operations, which earned him the number two ranking on this list.
Lowe was public enemy number one from 2008 until spring 2015, when he was finally relieved of his hockey operations duties. Fans seriously hated this man for what he had done to their beloved Oilers. There was a Facebook page called “Kevin Lowe Must Go” that had tens of thousands of likes; a handful of fans actually pitched in and bought billboard space that said “As Lowe As We Go.” It was very ugly for K-Lowe in Edmonton for many years.
1 Chris Pronger
Chris Pronger was nothing less than a savior when he arrived in Edmonton prior to the 2005-06 season. He proceeded to lead the Oilers to a playoff berth, and then he carried them on his back to the Stanley Cup Final. He was dominant. Pronger also signed a five-year deal with the Oilers once he arrived, so Oilers fans had half a decade to look forward to with one of the league’s best defenseman on their roster.
Then, Pronger absolutely crushed the hearts of all Oilers fans in the summer of 2006 when he asked for a trade out of town. How could it be? He JUST lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final with this team—why does he want to be traded? Rumors swirled that he maybe had an affair with some chick from A-Channel, or maybe his wife Lauren was nagging him about the cold Edmonton winters. Whatever the case, Edmonton, as a franchise, still hasn’t recovered from this loss. Adding insult to injury, Pronger won the Cup the very next season with the Anaheim Ducks.