Everyone has players they love to hate, but even the most ardent fan of any team has to admit there are players on opposing teams they like. In an environment like professional sports, built on rivalry, opposition and competition, it's very difficult to earn such crossover appeal, but some players can somehow get cheers from any arena in which they play. Those who do are a rare and special breed, and can become cult icons or ambassadors for the sport, as they can capture the attention of anyone. Following in the footsteps of well-loved players before them, there are at least twenty players who can make a claim for such a status.
The players who made this list did so for a variety of reasons. Some simply win over fans across the league through their incredible skill, scoring so many dazzling highlight-reel goals or making so many unbelievable passes that it's hard not to cheer when they make another, regardless of their opponent. Talent alone, however, is not always enough, as both Crosby and Ovechkin have enough detractors to prevent either from making the list. Others win fan support through their conduct on or off the ice, either by partnering their skill with a clean game or by performing charitable work in their communities. Some display physical toughness on the ice to overcome an injury, while others overcome an illness or other obstacle in their efforts to return to the game they love. Whatever the reason, it's enough to make these players league-wide favourites, now and for years to come.
20 Patrice Bergeron
It takes a rare player to make this list despite playing for the widely hated Bruins, but Bergeron excels at all aspects of the game. He's not going to win a scoring title, but he stands as a consistent offensive threat capable of putting up somewhere between 50-70 points. He can backcheck as well as any forward in the league and has frequently been one of the NHL's best at faceoffs, earning him the trust of every coach for whom he's played. A poster boy for the analytics community, Bergeron simply does everything too well to draw ire from even Toronto or Montreal fans.
19 John Tavares
As a supremely talented player on a struggling team, even fans of the crosstown Rangers should admire Tavares' dedication to his team, his quiet leadership, his scoring ability and his relentless desire to win. It is often said that the mark of a great player is that he improves those around him, and Tavares has done so in the past with Moulson, Grabner and Okposo. With good health, Tavares should be in the top 5 in the NHL in both goals and points, and prove himself to be a true NHL superstar.
18 Shane Doan
Doan has been with the Coyotes organization for so long that he was actually a Winnipeg Jet for one season before the team moved to Arizona. The long-time captain has endured struggling attendance numbers, ownership questions, an inability to spend to the cap and some difficult years on the ice with the team, remaining its one stable element throughout years of chaos. Players of his loyalty are few and far between in contemporary sports, so Doan deserves the respect and admiration of fans all across the league.
17 Paul Bissonnette
Few will remember Bissonnette for his on-ice play, but his @BizNasty2point0 Twitter account currently has 569,000 followers, drawing attention for his often hilarious comments. Never afraid to say what he thinks, he represents a rare breed of NHL player. He may alienate a few fans because of his style, but the popularity of his account demonstrates there is plenty of room for players as outspoken as him.
16 T.J. Oshie
After his now-legendary shootout performance in Sochi, even President Obama congratulated him via Twitter. The shootout became his breakout moment and, while Oshie has not yet reached the heights of superstardom, he has become one of the league's most liked players for it. He has proven his Olympic shootout performance was no fluke by scoring several highlight reel goals in NHL shootouts for the Blues.
15 Ilya Bryzgalov
Bryzgalov's on-ice play is streaky at best, but his interview skills separate him from the pack. Never afraid to share his thoughts or hold back his feelings, Bryzgalov's comments have made him a favourite to many. Whether you prefer his classic “Why you have to be mad?” comment, his candour about his level of play, his bear stories or his thoughts on the universe, there's no question that Bryzgalov is a refreshing and welcome presence in NHL locker rooms.
14 Henrik Lundqvist
Lundqvist is one of the league's best goalies, leading the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals last year. He is also the league's most stylish player, making the cover of GQ and the number three spot in their rankings of the most stylish athletes in 2013, the only NHL player on the list. Being the face of New York's more relevant franchise hasn't hurt his popularity either.
13 Shea Weber
With one of the hardest shots this side of Al MacInnis, and a defensive game to go with it, Weber has excelled on the ice for his entire NHL career. He also committed long-term to Nashville (though it was through an offer sheet with Philly, but still, he shows up to play every night), displaying his loyalty to a franchise that has failed to win anything but has won the respect of fans across the league. His public profile may not be as high as other players on this list, but watching Weber is undoubtedly a gift for fans across the NHL.
12 Jonathan Toews
Two Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, two World Junior gold medals, third youngest captain in NHL history, second youngest player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy and a Selke Trophy – a cockier player could use Aloe Blacc's “I'm the Man” as his theme song. But not Toews, who has earned the nickname “Captain Serious” for his single-minded focus and relentless desire to win. A classy player on the ice and a kind person off of it, Toews is arguably the most complete player in the game and is a worthy successor to the likes of Jean Beliveau and Mark Messier.
11 Andrew Ference
Few players do as much in their communities or for charity as Ference. During the 2013-2014 season alone, for which he won the King Clancy Trophy for his leadership and humanitarian efforts, he worked with Edmonton's mayor to promote green initiatives, gave away toys at an Edmonton children's hospital, led hundreds of people in his November Project fitness class, promoted an anti-bullying campaign and donated over $16,000 to a homeless shelter. Ference was also designated captain of the Oilers before he'd even played a regular season game with the team, demonstrating the respect he has from his teammates and his leadership qualities in the dressing room.
10 Martin St. Louis
While his acrimonious departure from Tampa Bay may have earned him a few detractors, it was not enough to erode many years worth of admirable play. Originally undrafted because of his small stature, St. Louis rose up through the NHL to become a scoring champion, Stanley Cup champion and league-wide favorite.
9 Jaromir Jagr
While Jagr would not have made this list a decade ago, any grievances with fans of his former teams have dimmed to the point where his accomplishments outshine any negatives in his career. The mullet may be gone, but he's still one of the better players in the league, even into his 40s. After playing professional hockey for over 20 years, Jagr is also unafraid to say what he thinks, making him one of the funniest players in recent memory.
8 Steven Stamkos
If your team was down by a goal, is there anyone else you'd rather have than Stamkos? Seemingly capable of scoring at any time, anywhere on the ice, he's carving out a spot as one of the NHL's all time pure goal scorers, alongside the likes of Rocket Richard, Mike Bossy and Pavel Bure. In interviews, he also fails to give any indication that his fame is going to his head, instead displaying an incredibly humble demeanor and a dedication to constantly improving his game.
7 Drew Doughty
Even when he makes a play against your team, it's hard to be mad at a player so excellent at his position. Fans of the other 29 teams would do anything to add him to their team, as he has repeatedly proven himself in Olympic and Stanley Cup competition. Arguably the best defenseman in the league right now, I think it's only a matter of time before he wins a Norris Trophy to prove it.
6 Pavel Datsyuk
While often soft-spoken on camera, Datsyuk is more than capable of letting his play speak for itself. With a reputation as one of the most skilled players in the NHL and a meteoric rise from late round draft pick to NHL superstardom, finding a person with anything against the career Red Wing would be difficult. The term “Datsyukian deke” has even entered the NHL vocabulary to describe certain breakaway and shootout moves.
5 David Backes
Backes is an integral part of a rising Blues team, a respected captain in his locker room and one of the best two-way centres in the game right now. If that wasn't enough to get him on the list, however, adopting puppies definitely would. Backes and his wife Kelly launched a program called Athletes for Animals in 2013 to help spread awareness about pet adoption and help animals find new owners. He has also volunteered with and made donations to shelters across St. Louis, and even rescued two dogs from Sochi while he was there for the Olympics.
4 Jarome Iginla
Does anyone have anything bad to say about him? He's a consistent, physical scorer capable of putting in a goal when his team needs it most, or making a big check. His Stanley Cup Finals fight against Vincent Lecavalier in 2004 is widely considered one of the best of all time. He's won multiple gold medals for Canada, proved himself to be loyal during his tenure in Calgary, and frequently charms fans with his big smile and easygoing manner.
3 Teemu Selanne
The “Finnish Flash” scored 76 goals as a rookie in 1992-1993 with Winnipeg, endearing him to fans all across the league. Since then, NHL fans have adored him for his goals, his gentlemanly nature on and off the ice, and the graciousness and joy he so often shows in interviews just for his continuing ability to play hockey. He may not play again, but fans are so glad he did for as long as he did.
2 Josh Harding
In November 2012, Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease which, among other things, affects vision, balance and hand-eye co-ordination. While many others may have chosen to end their careers, Harding has continued on in net for Minnesota. In 2013, he won the Bill Masterton Trophy for his continued desire to play, and in 2013-2014 he finished with an 18-7 record, 1.65 GAA and .933 save percentage (both first in the NHL). While fans may not see his continued battle with multiple sclerosis on a daily basis, his play alone proves his bravery and determination to all fans.
1 Dominic Moore
A bottom-six forward who's played on nine different teams is not the first candidate you'd think of for a list like this, but Moore's presence on this list goes beyond the heart and soul contributions he gives to every team on the ice. In 2004, his brother Steve was the victim of Todd Bertuzzi's vicious on-ice attack, leaving him with a concussion and three fractured neck vertebrae, as well as years of court battles to settle the case. In January 2013, just before the shortened season was about to begin, Moore's wife Katie passed away after a lengthy battle with liver cancer, and Moore elected to sit out the season. After much deliberation, Moore chose to return to the NHL for the 2013-2014 season with the Rangers, and was awarded the Bill Masterton Trophy for his perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
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