An article in the Dallas News recently named Steve Ott of the Dallas Stars as the best agitator in the NHL, noting that the Stars recently made him their alternate captain. The Dallas newspaper said the title used to belong to Sean Avery, but he "went over the line".
The Dallas paper said Avery is persona non grata in the Stars locker room and reviled by Stars fans but Ott is viewed as a hero. The article on agitators said Phoenix Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky is constantly trying to keep young agitator Daniel Carcillo under wraps.
The article also made special mention of Claude Lemieux, now making a comeback with the Sa Jose Sharks. In the Dallas Stars blog, Richard Durrett called Ott the "Agitator Extraordinaire" and made a point of leaving Avery off his list.
Sean Avery is on just about everybody's list of top 10 agitators, apparently, usually in the No. 1 position.
Sean Avery is not alone when it comes to pests in the NHL. Players like Ken Linseman and Esa Tikkanen made an art of the role of agitator, goading their opponents into stupid retaliatory penalties with the sharpness of their tongue, or with a well-disguised slash or spear.
Avery is cast in the same mold as these pesky pioneers.
Agitators are all the rage in the new NHL, says Greg Cimilluca of CBSSports.com. He says most teams are searching for that "sandpaper" type player who is going to get under the skin of the opposition like Ryan Kesler in Vancouver, who has a respectable 36 points, including 20 goals, as well as Jarkko Ruutu and Jordin Tootoo, with 16 and 18 points for their team.
He says Maxim Lapierre has shown some skill to go with his grit in his time up with Montreal. So has Sean Avery since he first donned a Rangers jersey in New York. "I think most hated still goes to Avery," he says.
Hockey has always had agitators or enforcers, past and present, and they are some of the most annoying players on the ice when the team you cheer for plays against them, according to Mihai Cercel of CBSSports.com.
When they play for your team, you love an agitator who can spark things out of a fight or just draw a key penalty to get some of the other team's top players off the ice and in the process give your team the upper hand and perhaps get it out of a funk.
Sean Avery seems to have one of the nastiest reputations among today's agitators, Cercel says.
"Avery is quite a skilled player and makes important contributions to his team not only by fighting, protecting some of the star players, but by also skating hard, playing defense and most important having the ability to score—and score key goals at times."
A couple of years ago, Tom Layberger of Sports Illustrated made this top 10 list of hockey playing pests in the NHL.
1. Claude Lemieux: 1983-2003 (Montreal, New Jersey, Colorado, Phoenix, Dallas)
Lemieux is often referred to as the game's ultimate pest.
2. Esa Tikkanen: 1984-99 (Edmonton, NY Rangers, St. Louis, New Jersey, Vancouver, Florida, Washington)
Tikkanen often engaged the opposition to the point of open up the ice for the likes of the Great One and Jari Kurri.
3. Ken Linseman: 1978-92 (Philadelphia, Edmonton, Boston, Toronto)
The "Rat"'s antics often resulted in only the retaliatory infraction being called, further incensing his targets -- who often spent the rest of the game preoccupied with trying to get even.
4. Sean Avery: 2001-present (Detroit, Los Angeles, New York Rangers, Dallas)
The King Pest, Avery's always taking somebody off the ice with him.
5. Tie Domi: 1989-present (Toronto, NY Rangers, Winnipeg)
Domi was a legendary fighter but also liked to goad others into dropping the mitts, then opting to turtle.
6. Matthew Barnaby: 1992-present (Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, NY Rangers, Colorado, Chicago)
Even after pestering an opponent into a healthy bout, he continues to agitate on his way to the penalty box. He is one of the most hated players in the league.
7. Bobby Clarke: 1969-84 (Philadelphia)
After getting under the skin of an opposing player and drawing a penalty, Clarke usually assisted on the ensuing power-play goal.
8. Tyson Nash: 1998-present (St. Louis, Phoenix)
Nash makes opponents pay the price with constant badgering, face washes and finished checks.
9. Pat Verbeek: 1982-01 (New Jersey, Hartford, NY Rangers, Dallas, Detroit)
The Little Ball of Hate he topped 1,000 career points and an endless array of hooks, jabs, slashes and wise cracks.
10. Tony Leswick: 1945-58 (NY Rangers, Detroit, Chicago)
"Mighty Mouse" was the super pest of the Original Six had run-ins with Maurice Richard and Gordie Howe.
SI gives honourable mentions to Theoren Fleury (1988-03); Darius Kasparaitis (1992-present); Ian Laperriere (1993-present); Darcy Tucker (1995-present); and Tiger Williams (1974-88).
Pierre LeBrun, writing for espn.com, places Dale Hunter in the No. 1 spot of all-time agitators, saying, "He's the guy wearing a Quebec Nordiques jersey being chased all over the ice during the famous "Good Friday Brawl" with the Montreal Canadiens in April 1984."
He crosschecked Pierre Turgeon into the boards while he was celebrating a playoff-series-clinching goal in 1993 and Turgeon suffered a shoulder separation. Hunter was hit with a 21-game suspension.
Hunter had 1,020 points and 3,565 penalty minutes in 1,407 regular-season games.