The 50 Most Entertaining Characters in NHL History
Based on the skill, speed, precision, endurance and mental sturdiness required to achieve success at the NHL's highest level, I like to put the hockey elite among the greatest athletes in the world. My greatest argument for this is that in order to perform their job, hockey players have to master their craft on one-eighth inch of stainless steel blade.
Sidney Crosby can hit a baseball almost 400 feet, but can Albert Pujols skate without a traffic cone? Probably not as well as his nemesis on the Brewers, Nyjer Morgan. In fairness to Big Albert, the Milwaukee outfielder grew up aspiring to be a San Jose Shark agitator instead of a baseball's most famous dual personality.
Hockey players are also famously humble in spite of the incredible talents they possess. There are certainly some personalities that dispel that generalization, but the narcissistic-to-humble ratio is far greater in the other three major sports.
That being said, someone's entertainment value was rated by their ability to steal the spotlight. I won't include NHL owners on this list because, for the most part, they are all eccentric, rich folk; closets with skeletons 10 deep that would make Bruce Wayne jealous.
For the most part, I'll eliminate the media as well. For every NHL player who is grounded from a small town with a funny name, there is an ostentatious announcer who wants to be the star. For Pete's sake, Jack Edwards, settle down: It's mid-November and it's the first period. He's hardly the only culprit, as most fans will agree. If you happen to catch a regional broadcast in any NHL city, close your eyes and you wonder if there is even another team on the ice.
I didn't want to include Don Cherry in here, but I have to, simply based on the goofy outfits he wears. He doesn't get a slide, but I'll give him props for a funny move he pulled against his former team, the Boston Bruins. While leading the Bruins with less than a minute left in the game, Cherry called a timeout. He then promptly turned around to the Boston crowd and started signing autographs for the Boston fans. As much as I am not a fan of "Grapes," that's a pretty funny way to stick it to your old boss.
This is not necessarily a list of the greatest players ever, but let's be honest: If you're a fan of the NHL and the game of hockey, there is no denying the talent that must be included. They are, after all, here to entertain us as the brilliant gladiators of the frozen arena. Are you not entertained?
There's sure to be an omission or two, so feel free to add your own and tell me why. I don't want to read "Steve Konowalchuk" without an explanation.
Drew Stafford has had a relatively short and undistinguished career. However, his commitment to fitness, preparation and mustache-growing earn him a spot on the list.
Lanny McDonald played almost as many seasons in Toronto (7) as he did Calgary (8), but is most remembered for helping the Flames establish themselves as a legitimate franchise in Calgary. Though his trademark mustache was honed and developed in Toronto due to their "anti-beard" stance, McDonald's personality and leadership helped make him one of the most beloved Flames ever.
He is the first Calgary player to have his number retired by the team, and the first Flame to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
One of the "newbies" I decided to include on my list was Tyler Seguin. Though he is only 20 years old, Seguin is one of the most impressive up-and-coming players on a talented Boston Bruins team. He is already a fan-favorite because of his very open personality, and he seems to play to the crowd, both home and away.
He is far from established as an elite player in the league, but a breakout season last year showed that Seguin is ready to be a star in the new NHL.
Max Talbot is one of the most loved players in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Even Penguins fans, disappointed that Talbot left for Philly last summer, can't bring themselves to hate their newest rival.
There are countless stories all over message boards of what a good guy Talbot is. I felt that his personality could best be reflected in his dancing routine with a fan at a Flyers charity event earlier this year.
Another of my young additions to the list, Jordan Eberle's star is on the rise. A huge breakout year for the Edmonton winger is a sign of things to come, as the Oilers' assembly of first-round picks looks to get them back to the playoffs.
This happened to be Eberle's first career goal and sparked a funny set of interviews by TSN.
One of the first Russian mega-stars to play in the NHL, Fedorov won three Stanley Cups and a Hart and Ross trophy, conceivably on his own terms. Never without a beautiful blond or an exotic sports car, Fedorov lived the American dream during his 18-year NHL career.
Blessed with great speed, hands and hockey sense, the Russian superstar soared to the top of the NHL with his MVP season in 1994 before drinking coach Scotty Bowman's Kool-Aid and becoming a more complete defensive player.
As one of the up-and-coming fighters in the NHL, Tie Domi would challenge Bob Probert for his mantle as the league's best brawler. A showman and fan favorite, Domi loved to mix it up on the ice, drawing the ire of his opponents on a nightly basis.
Described by his nemesis Probert as a fire hydrant with a giant head, Domi was always a fan favorite wherever he played (Winnipeg, Toronto and New York).
The best player in the league may be in Pittsburgh and his name just might be Evgeni Malkin. The "other" guy in Pittsburgh has carried the Pens in their captain's absence. Last season, less than a full year removed from having reconstructive knee surgery, Malkin won the scoring title and the MVP award.
Night after night, Malkin seems to pull new moves off, keeping the rest of the NHL honest, waiting to see what he'll do next. Malkin is like a controlled freight train when he strides up the ice with some of the best hands in the NHL.
Another slick Russian with more moves than Jagger could ever muster, Pavel Datsyuk makes goalies look bad regularly. He is recognized as the best two-way player in the league, equally adept on defense as he is in the scoring zone.
His unapologetic, dry sense of humor keeps Red Wings fans laughing during interviews, and goalies crying during shootouts.
There may not be a more self-deprecating player in the league than Scott Hartnell. He named his charity "Hartnell Down" because of his inability to stay upright during the course of a game. He has developed a line of clothing out of the name and is a huge fan favorite in Philadelphia.
The first player to score 50 goals in 50 games, Maurice "Rocket" Richard has the goal-scoring trophy named after his famed exploits in a Canadiens jersey. Also added to the Richard legacy was a penchant for being outspoken on what he perceived to be a bias against his team, punching a linesman and anyone else who dared to cross him.
He won the Stanley Cup eight times and retired in 1960 as the all-time scoring leader in the NHL.
Paul Bissonnette has no business being on a list with any of these other players, except that he is a social-media powerhouse. His exploits and adventures can be followed on Twitter, as Bissonnette offers updates regularly to the masses.
He's not all blockhead and fisticuffs, though. Biz Nasty has a line of clothes, too, just in case his career as a fourth liner doesn't work out.
Pardon the Creed
Joe Sakic was a classic example of someone who let their actions on the ice do all the talking for him. As the lone bright spot for the awful Quebec Nordiques in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Sakic had his leadership questioned for not taking his team to the playoffs. When the franchise moved to Colorado and then won the Stanley Cup in 1996, all doubts about Joe Cool's quality were erased.
A career-high 120 points and playoff-high 18 goals led the franchise to the first of two cups under his watch. One of the most underrated and under-appreciated players of his generation, Sakic was no doubt one of the most exciting to watch.
Hailed by many hockey purists as the best goalie ever, Terry Sawchuk overcame a great deal to leave his mark on the NHL. Countless injuries, depression and alcoholism were masked by the overwhelming success of the supremely talented backstop.
His success in Detroit was never equaled in Boston, Toronto, Los Angeles or New York, where Sawchuk finished his playing days. He retired with four Stanley Cups and four Vezina trophies, and was the career leader in shutouts (later broken by Marty Brodeur).
Let's be honest, it isn't the 49 career NHL goals that has Mike Milbury on this list. A certain incident that will never, ever be forgotten has Milbury included.
He totaled 1,552 penalty minutes in his career, but Mike Milbury's legacy will forever be the guy who went into the stands and beat a Rangers fan with his own shoe.
Widely recognized as the face of the "Broad Street Bullies" of the 1970s, Bobby Clarke played a style that made him a hero in the city of Philadelphia. Never one to shy away from the edge of legal play in the NHL or internationally, Clarke was notorious for pushing the limits.
He would go on to be an outspoken general manager for his Flyers for another 19 years after hanging up his skates.
His off-ice persona might grab as many headlines as his feats in the rink—especially lately. Alex Ovechkin's enthusiasm and full-out style of play is a joy to watch, though. His commitment to the game and conditioning have come under fire lately, but the Capitals All-Star winger still produces at a high level, including the best goal I've ever seen.
Three coaches in two years isn't the best recipe to get the most out of your players, but Ovechkin's talent is undeniable.
What Joe Sakic was to Colorado, Steve Yzerman was to Detroit. Their careers basically paralleled one another, and it could be said if there were no Gretzky and Lemieux, that Sakic and Yzerman would be recognized as two of the best ever.
Before adopting a more complete style of play, per Scotty Bowman's request, Yzerman was an elite scorer. Knee and back injuries slowed him later in his career, but Yzerman has a ton of highlight-reel goals like the one above.
Once the drama was settled as to where Pavel Bure would play, the Russian Rocket left jaws open with his style of play. Lightning-fast speed with filthy, sick hands and a Howitzer of a shot, Bure electrified the Vancouver faithful that were hungry for a true superstar.
Just in case you hadn't heard of Sean Avery, his contribution to the NHL lives on with the "Avery rule."
Taro Tsujimoto is a fictional hockey player drafted by former Buffalo Sabres general manager Punch Imlach.
Disgusted by the lengthy draft, he fabricated a player and a team for his 11th round (183rd overall) pick from the Tokyo Katanas (literally translating to the Tokyo Sabres). Imlach carried on the hoax from the draft up until training camp, claiming the fictional Japanese star would be "coming soon" before finally conceding the hoax.
Link Gaetz was selected by the Minnesota North Stars in the second round in the 1988 NHL entry draft, ahead of players like Mark Recchi, Tony Amonte and Rob Blake. Gaetz allegedly showed up at the draft with two black eyes and a case of beer. Lou Nanne, the North Stars GM at the time, had this to say about the draft pick:
In the first round we drafted Mike Modano to protect the franchise. In the second round we drafted Link to protect Mike, and in the third round we should've drafted a lawyer to protect Link.
Glen Sather had this to say after the North Stars selected Gaetz: "I'd love to draft the guy that gave him the black eyes."
Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla is in possession of the longest name in hockey. The Calgary Flames captain, the first black captain in NHL history, is also the franchise's leading scorer. Not blessed with the most God-given talent, Iginla's work ethic and drive have made him a fan and locker room favorite.
As one of the best power forwards in league history, Iginla is also active in the community and with charitable organizations. One of the classiest guys in the league.
Patrick Roy has never been short in the confidence department. In fact, if you aren't wearing the same jersey as his, it would be fair to say that he is one of the cockiest players in history. Fortunately for Roy and his teams, he backed up his big mouth with incredible play.
Roy was so enamored with his skill set that he went one-on-one with the Great One.
Harry How/Getty Images
The NHL's current leader in rants per game, Tortorella has a Stanley Cup to lend some credibility to his antagonistic behavior to the press. Were he not in possession of the ring, "Torts" would probably be slapped with the label of "Biggest Whiner in the NHL."
I find Tortorella to be refreshingly honest, pretty much saying all the things that everyone else is afraid to. His track record as a coach shows that he knows what he's doing, and he seems to have a good time doing it.
For all the style, Jeremy Roenick had the substance to back it up as well. As one of the first four American players to 500 goals, Roenick played with skill and toughness with a mouth to boot. He famously exchanged barbs with Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy during the Western Conference finals.
Now a member of the NHL broadcast team for NBC Sports, Roenick can put his mouth to better use, with no risk of taking another slapshot to the dome.
Dave "The Hammer" Schultz was part of the muscle behind the Broad Street Bullies Stanley Cup teams of the 1974 and 1975 seasons.
Coached by Fred Shero, those teams played with Shero's philosophy that "if you keep the opposition on their asses, they can't score goals." Schultz scored enough for the Flyers to make him a serviceable player, but his 472 penalty minutes in the Flyers Stanley Cup season of 1974-75 may never be broken.
Al Bello/Getty Images
With his glam-rock mullet and incredible hands, Jaromir Jagr was tailor-made to be Mario Lemieux's wingman. With the injuries that would hit Lemieux, Jagr would end up taking center stage in Pittsburgh as a stat machine before bolting to Washington for a giant free-agent payday.
Jagr would rack up one more big year statistically for the New York Rangers, before his skill set and numbers took a nose-dive.
Mike Keenan is respected around the league as one of the greatest coaches in the NHL. He is also hated around the league for being one of the most stubborn blockheads in the NHL.
The optimist says Keenan won a Stanley Cup, so there must be a method to his madness. The pessimist says he only won one cup with teams that were loaded with talent, alienating star players and management in the process.
A funny story about Keenan that I read was about when Keenan was coaching the Rangers with young Alexei Kovalev. Apparently, Kovalev had a bad habit of staying on the ice too long at the end of his shifts. When he came to change up, Keenan waved him back on to the ice, subbing out the other two forwards. He did this for about seven or eight minutes until Kovalev actually scored and came off the ice. Apparently, Kovalev had misconstrued the message from his boss and thought he was being rewarded with more ice time for good play.
A supremely talented Russian winger who was gifted with speed, skill and arrogance, Kovalev is a prime example of unfulfilled potential. It's hard to find a player in NHL history who can turn the talent on and off so frequently.
Kevin Bieska is one of the funniest guys in the NHL when he isn't trying to punch you or hit you. Ryan Kesler and Bieksa seem to be trying to one up each other with goofy YouTube videos.
The man who revolutionized the game before Gretzky, Bobby Orr changed the position of defenseman and was the preeminent talent in the NHL in the 1970s. Knee injuries slowed Orr from re-writing the record books. Experts have Gretzky and Orr as the first and second best ever, often in differing order.
Posing nude in a magazine is typically associated with attention-seeking behavior. Ryan Kesler's look-at-me spread speaks to his entertainment value in the Canucks locker room, and to NHL fans as well. Kesler is also known for popping up in interviews with other players, which has been come to be called "Kesler bombing."
Dave "Tiger" Williams is almost as famous for his goal-scoring celebrations as his fisticuffs. Fan favorite Williams is the NHL's penalty-minute king, with 3,966.
Possibly the goofiest of the goalies ever, is Bryzgalov crazy like a fox, or just crazy? He'll need to get the Flyers deeper into the playoffs if he wants to have any kind of legacy with Philadelphia. What comes off as eccentric and cute for now, can quickly be considered insane and distracting if the team isn't winning. For Bryz's sake, let's hope they win.
Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, was one of the first big stars to transcend the sport and just be a famous athlete. Howe was the ultimate power forward on one of the best teams in history. Though he probably hung around a little too long, he got to play with his sons and the Hartford/New England Whalers.
The coach of the Detroit Red Wings is a pretty no nonsense guy, even when it comes to pre-arranged interviews with Pierre McGuire. Babcock's intensity is legendary, and his stare can be downright frightening.
It's not beyond the realm of possibility that McGuire could have either soiled himself, wept or done both when the camera cut away.
Chris Pronger is one of the most hated players in hockey, and few will be sorry to see him leave the game. He loves to play games with the press and has no problem treating people like jerks.
Granted, there are plenty of questions that could be construed as "dumb," but Pronger is happy to let people know when they have reached that point. His aggressive defensive play has certainly been missed by Philadelphia over the past two years.
The heir apparent to his boss as the prodigal son of the NHL, Sidney Crosby is possibly the most talented player in the league when he is upright and healthy. There is no greater measure of one's greatness than by the ability to move the ratings meter, and Crosby is watched by those who love him and those who hate him. There is no denying the electricity his presence brings to the game.
Inherited directly from his boisterous father was Brett Hull's ego and mouth. He also may have picked up a nice snapshot from his old man. The premier sniper in the NHL, Brett Hull certainly made his own place in hockey with his goal-scoring talents. Never shy about letting people how good he was, "The Golden Brett" was as quick with the quip as he was with the stick.
The elder Hull can take some credit for revolutionizing hockey with his huge shot and speed. He inherited the mantle of NHL superstar from Gordie Howe, elevating it to rock-star heights with his more outspoken nature.
Had Bobby Hull stayed in the NHL instead of jumping to the WHA for more money, his stats could have been exponentially better. Even if Hull hadn't scored at the rate he had in the WHA, he could have challenged for the all-time mark.
Though he didn't invent the spin-0-rama, he seemed to perfect it. Fan favorite Denis Savard wasn't shy about using it or any of his other moves on the ice. In the clip above, Jeremy Roenick calls Savard's play the greatest goal he's ever seen. While it's a pretty sweet goal, that's lofty praise coming from a goal scorer in Roenick.
Phil Esposito originally played for the Chicago Blackhawks before being traded to the Bruins. He polished his scoring prowess in Boston, topping the 55-goal mark five times. An immovable force in front of the net, Esposito would go on to play for the Rangers in New York and shoot some bad jeans commercials.
As a Red Wings fan, I am wired to hate Claude Lemieux with every fiber of my being. That being said, I have to acknowledge him as being relevant to the discussion. He was one of the most clutch playoff performers and single-handedly started the Red Wing-Avalanche blood-feud that would last for almost six years.
One of the most feared men in hockey during his playing career, Probert was known as well for his rock-star lifestyle and legal troubles off the ice. Big Bob split his time between Detroit and Chicago as the "un-official heavyweight champion" brawler in the NHL from 1985-2002.
Billy Smith was the cantankerous netminder for the New York Islander dynasty of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Affectionately called "Hatchet Man" for his liberal stick work, Smith notably excused himself from postgame handshake lines because of his emotional nature.
Smith was also noted for exaggerating incidents with players to draw penalties. He is the first goalie to be credited with scoring a goal after a stray pass found an empty net.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I don't know if "they" had seen this picture.
Mark Messier was second fiddle to Gretzky in Edmonton until Gretzky got traded to Los Angeles. Messier would win another Stanley Cup in Edmonton before taking his talents to Broadway to help the Rangers end their Stanley Cup drought.
The Great One is hockey royalty and commands attention everywhere he goes, even long after he stopped skating. In his prime, Gretzky was a player who always had to be accounted for. He was probably the smartest player to ever play the game, living the philosophy of being where the puck was going and not where it had been.
I felt very lucky to have watched him play live, and was amazed that a guy that small could impact such a fast and violent game so much. He was quite literally the smartest player on the ice, knowing what would happen next about five seconds before everyone else did.
Quite possibly the craziest man to ever put on the goalie gear, Ron Hextall's apparent imbalance was equaled only by his tenacity in net. One of only five players to win the Conn Smythe trophy on the losing team, Hextall was never able to duplicate his Stanley Cup final appearances over the course of his career.
His meltdowns were frequent, and his attack on Chris Chelios was legendary. Hextall was the first goalie to score a goal by shooting a puck, and he holds the single-season record for penalty minutes by a goalie.
Translated literally, "Lemieux" means "the greatest," and he very well could have been had his career not been shortened by injury and cancer. Possessing the intelligence of Gretzky, the hands of Hull and the size of a Canadian freight train, "Super Mario" was almost unstoppable on the ice.
With his combination of size and skill, Lemieux literally forced teams to change their tactics to defend him. Clutching and grabbing became par for the course, with a side dish of slashing as well.
Having had the pleasure of seeing Lemieux play live several times, I chose to sit high up in the stands so I could follow the game and see everything that he saw. Short of Gretzky, there was no one who had better ice awareness.