NHL's 15 Biggest Agitators (and the Video to Prove It)
Agitators are a fact of life in the NHL.
If you want to win the Stanley Cup, you are much better off having one or two players who can get under the skin of their opponents while they are competing.
Last year, Mike Richards played a key role in the Los Angeles Kings' run to the Stanley Cup. In addition to the 15 points he scored in 20 playoff games, Richards knows how to get under the skin of everyone he plays against.
He perfected that tendency during the six years he played in Philadelphia prior to getting traded to Los Angeles, and it paid off for the Kings.
Agitators are all-around players who can fight, annoy, poke and prod. They will do anything they can to get under the skins of their opponents and help their team win games.
Note: Don't look for Sean Avery here. He is retired and gone on to an unlikely career of advertising (source: New York Post).
Dan Carcillo, Chicago Blackhawks
When it comes to full-scale agitating, Dan Carcillo can do it all.
He's got the errant elbow to throw, the hard body check into the boards, the sneaky trip with his stick and he is not afraid to drop his gloves and throw punches.
However, while Carcillo excels at all of the above, his most effective bit of agitation may be his non-stop trash talking. In the video above, Carcillo is shown yapping (:28 second mark) on the bench and pointing his finger.
Such obnoxious behavior is part of Carcillo's on-ice signature.
Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks
Ryan Kesler is a talented player and one of the most valuable members of the Vancouver Canucks.
He is probably their most talented offensive player outside of the Sedin twins. Kesler scored 41 goals in 2010-11 and he has an array of moves in the offensive zone.
However, Kesler will do anything he can to get an edge. He is a trash talker, diver and cheap-shot artist. When you see Kesler play, you start off admiring his talent and skill, but his tendency to agitate takes over and he can be very annoying to play against.
Mike Ribeiro, Washington Capitals
Mike Ribeiro made key contributions to the Montreal Canadiens and the Dallas Stars with his quick shot and slick passing.
Last year, Ribeiro played well, scoring 18 goals and 45 assists for the Stars as they fell just short of their playoff aspirations. After the season, the Stars traded him to the Washington Capitals.
The Capitals want Ribeiro's scoring and playmaking, but they also want his agitating. Ribeiro is a sneaky player who will elbow, slash and jab opponents. He will also trash talk and fake injuries (see video above) to get the edge from the referees.
Todd Bertuzzi, Detroit Red Wings
Todd Bertuzzi is a skilled power forward who has a slew of moves that he can use to fake defenders and goaltenders and get them badly out of position.
However, his reputation was changed forever when he attacked Steven Moore of the Colorado Avalanche (source: CBC.ca) in 2004 while he was playing for the Vancouver Canucks. Bertuzzi sucker-punched Moore from behind and the result was three broken vertebrae in his neck and a concussion.
Bertuzzi subsequent suspension lasted 17 months (source: ESPN.com), in large part because it preceded the 2004-05 lockout.
That event made Bertuzzi much worse than an agitator.
However, his agitating tendencies led to that sneak attack, and he remains a trash talker and a hard player to compete against.
Cody McCormick, Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres have been a team that has lacked muscle. Many opponents take liberties with the Sabres because they feel they can be intimidated and pushed around.
Cody McCormick has been the Sabres' response to opponents' muscle. When he is on the ice, he makes it known that he will do anything to prevent the intimidation of his teammates. McCormick is a fighter, but he will also slash, elbow and use his stick to send a message to his opponents.
In the video above, he pounds Gregory Campbell of the Bruins. But he didn't just engage Campbell, he started the confrontation with a well-placed elbow to Campbell's chin.
Anything to get an edge.
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins
Brad Marchand is the Bruins' No. 1 agitator.
He's a valuable member of the Bruins who has scored artistic and memorable goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs, including the Stanley Cup Finals against the Vancouver Canucks.
He also jabbed at the face of Vancouver's Daniel Sedin in those same 2011 Stanley Cup Finals (above).
Marchand will fight, slash, hip check, dive and do anything to give the Bruins an edge. He is also a non-stop trash talker who can get under the skin of nearly any opponent.
Bruins fans and teammates love Marchand; opponents simply despise him.
Matt Cooke, Pittsburgh Penguins
Matt Cooke has been a nasty and agitating force in the NHL since his rookie year with the Vancouver Canucks in 1998-99.
He has often crossed the line, most notably with his vicious check to the head of Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins in 2010. Savard has never fully recovered, and while he had a brief comeback with the Bruins, his career is likely over.
Cooke likes to throw elbows, slash and trash talk. He went through a renaissance last year where he appeared to change his ways, but one season does not a clean player make.
Cooke will likely revert to type and become the nasty cheap-shotter that he has been through the majority of his career.
P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
P.K. Subban is clearly a talented player for the Montreal Canadiens. He is a blazing skater who can carry the puck up the ice and make plays in the offensive zone. He also has a blazing slap shot.
However, he is one of the most annoying players in the league. Despite his size and strength, Subban would rather deliver a sneaky elbow and then slink off to the bench rather than stand up and fight.
In the video above, Subban delivered a nasty check to David Krejci of the Boston Bruins.
When Andrew Ference of the Bruins stepped to Subban in an attempt to stand up for his teammate, Subban dove to the ice and covered the back of his head in a completely submissive position. This is known as turtling in the NHL, and behavior like this makes it difficult to respect Subban despite his talent.
Steve Ott, Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres offered no response last year when Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins ran over goalie Ryan Miller.
There were all kinds of excuses, but the point was made. The Sabres weren't tough enough to compete with the elite teams in the league.
The Sabres attempted to remedy this problem by acquiring Steve Ott from the Dallas Stars at the end of the 2011-12 season. Once the lockout ends, the Sabres will see a snarling, tough, trash-talking player who can back up his threats with a willingness to engage that should breathe new life into this close-but-no-cigar franchise.
David Clarkson, New Jersey Devils
David Clarkson has exceeded the 100-minute mark in penalty minutes in four of the last five years.
He is almost always willing to engage and stand up for his teammates. That makes him a valuable NHL commodity, but he upped the ante in 2011-12 when he also scored 30 goals for the Devils.
Clarkson does not just fight and score goals. He often tries to get in that small edge by throwing an elbow before throwing punches as he did in this fight last season with Brandon Dubinsky of the New York Rangers (above).
Alexandre Burrows, Vancouver Canucks
Nobody would say that Alexandre Burrows of the Vancouver Canucks is not a talented player. He scored a career-high 35 goals in 2009-10 and then followed up with 54 goals the past two years.
However, Burrows will always be known for his dirty persona. This came to the fore in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals when he bit the finger of the Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (above).
No matter what Burrows does throughout the rest of his career, he will have a difficult time living down this bite.
Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers
Wayne Simmonds is as much of an agitator for the Philadelphia Flyers as he was for the Los Angeles Kings prior to the 2011-12 season.
Simmonds is a good goal scorer, will stand up for his teammates and go into the corners and do what he can to emerge with the puck.
If that includes using an elbow to improve his positioning and gain possession, he will do just that. Simmonds is the kind of player his teammates love having, but opponents hate playing against because he is so competitive.
Shawn Thornton, Boston Bruins
Shawn Thornton is one of the toughest players in the league and is an old-school policeman for the Boston Bruins.
His willingness to engage allows him to be ranked with the likes of former Bruins Terry O'Reilly, Stan Jonathan, John Wensink and P.J. Stock as some of the most willing fighters to ever wear the Black and Gold.
However, being a stand-up guy who is willing to throw punches doesn't make a player an agitator. It's his goal-scoring and offensive play that really gets under the skin of Boston opponents.
They expect to have to fight Thornton. However, when he drops a goal on them—as he did against Winnipeg on this penalty shot—that's too much for most opponents to take.
Steve Downie, Colorado Avalanche
Steve Downie is a grinding, annoying and nasty player who took his act from Tampa Bay to Colorado last season.
Downie will go to the net and take advantage of scoring opportunities, but he will jam opponents' faces into the glass and hammer their bodies into the boards.
He will drop his gloves and fight and trash talk every opponent he can.
Ben Eager, Edmonton Oilers
Ben Eager is one of the most aptly named agitators in the NHL.
He's more than happy to drop his gloves and fight anytime he steps on the ice.
He wears a nasty half-smile that gives his face a "just punch me" look. However, if you try to take Eager up on that challenge, you are likely to end up flat on your back on the ice, looking up at the fans in the cheap seats.
Eager is a hard-hitting, elbow-throwing, trash-talking player who may lack offensive skills, but he serves a purpose on any roster.
He will stand up for and eagerly protect his skilled teammates. The Oilers are hoping he will continue to fill that role once the lockout ends.