The Most Hated NHL Player from Each Decade
My personal hockey memory bank doesn't go too far past the 1980s when it comes to talking about the most hated players from each decade in the NHL. The era of hockey that I have seen made it very difficult to select individuals as there were plenty of qualified candidates that could just as easily topped the list.
Qualities that a hated player must have include cowardice, speaking boldly behind the safety of a microphone (or larger teammate), and a relentless desire to put themselves before the team. Star players find their way on these lists from time to time.
With the success enjoyed by some of these players listed, it's easy to hate them without ever acknowledging the value they have to their own team and ultimately the game of hockey.
Here is my list of the most hated NHL players. I've thrown in some "honorable mention" participation ribbons with the modern decades to give mention to some players who brought irritation but not quite the "hate" required to make the list.
In the Beginning to 1950—Eddie Shore
The term "Old time hockey" is synonymous with Eddie Shore because of the movie Slapshot, but Shore is more than just a line from a funny movie. Eddie Shore is the Original Villain in hockey because of his legendary temper and vicious play.
Lost somewhere in the infamy of the former Boston Bruins' defenseman was the legend of an incredible talent. Shore won four league MVP awards and was named an All-Star seven times. Long before the New Orleans Saints were being scolded for their "bounties" there was said to be a price on Shore's head.
The hatred wasn't limited to opponents either. Shore once took on a teammate in practice, nearly losing his ear in a scuffle with Billy Coutu. Shore's most famous incident was when he ended the career of Toronto Maple Leaf star forward Irvine "Ace" Bailey.
Shore was just as miserable when his playing career ended. As an owner of the Springfield Indians, his treatment of his own players was deplorable. So miserly and cheap was the Indians owner, he actually had his own players doing maintenance work in their home arena.
Arguably the best player of his era which took up the better part of the late 1940's to the early 1960's, Gordie Howe was known as much for his goal scoring as he was for his mean streak. As the prototype for power forwards in the NHL, Howe had strength and skill like no other for his time, and had no problem using his fists and elbows as a reminder.
Even though he only had two of the feats during the course of his 26-year career, the "Gordie Howe" hat trick refers to a goal, an assist and a fight. The novelty of this particular accomplishment is that it showcases a players' skill to play the game at a high level and also the physical challenges of the game.
Howe was certainly respected by his peers, but was hardly adored by them. In the 1950s Howe won five scoring titles, five league MVP awards and four Stanley Cups. Everyone hates you when you are on top of the mountain.
In an effort to prove that he belonged in the NHL in spite of his smaller stature, Stan Mikita took on all comers, hitting everyone and everything during his first six seasons. Mikita was the NHL's leading scorer four times in the 1960s, twice named as the MVP of the league. He was also named to the NHL's First All-Star team six times, making the Second team twice.
His feisty, aggressive style made him a menace to opponents and he spent a good bit of time in the penalty box as a result. It wasn't until Mikita's 4-year-old daughter addressed his penalty time that Mikita modified his game. He went from 154 penalty minutes in 1965 to a Lady Byng Trophy winning 12 and 14 in 1967 and 1968, respectively.
As the proud owner of an almost unbreakable record (472 penalty minutes in one season) Dave Schultz' most offensive act came when he put out this record titled "The Penalty Box". His career lasted only as long as the 1970s did, but "The Hammer" made his legend by beating the crap out of people.
A charter member of the "Broad Street Bullies" that won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975, Schultz registered an astounding 820 minutes in penalties while contributing 29 goals to the cause. In addition to Schultz' dubious penalty minute record, his other major contribution to the NHL was the outlawing of hand wraps used by boxers to fight.
Honorable Mention: Ken Linseman, Dale Hunter, Dino Ciccarelli, Chris Chelios, Billy Smith, and Mark Messier
During the Edmonton Oilers' Stanley Cup run in the mid-80s, they were led by the "Great One" Wayne Gretzky. Just as important to the Oilers' success during that period was the presence of the "Grate One", Esa Tikkanen. A defensive specialist, Tikkanen was adept at shutting down the top player on the opposition.
The Finnish winger also helped spawn a type of Finnish-English dialect known as "Tikkanese" or "Tiki-talk". It was mostly gibberish designed to annoy and unnerve, and Tikkanen did exactly that. His ability to get under everyone's skin is legendary and he was a sought after commodity once the Oilers' dynasty was disbanded.
Honorable Mention: Darius Kasparaitis, Ulf Samuelsson, Scott Stevens, Darcy Tucker, Tie Domi, Marty McSorley, Bryan Marchment, and Matthew Barnaby
Claude Lemieux agitated people long before the incident that would mark his place in history. The annoying winger specialized in being bothersome and scoring playoff goals up until his time with the Colorado Avalanche.
Though he continued to be a force in the playoffs with the Avalanche, Lemieux is really remembered for crushing of Kris Draper of Detroit into the side boards. His actions in the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs ignited one of the greatest rivalries in hockey over the course of the next six years.
Honorable Mention: Todd Bertuzzi, Matt Cooke, Chris Simon, Chris Pronger, and Derian Hatcher
Quite possibly one of the most unlikable people on the face of the planet, Sean Avery was a thorn in your side on and off the ice. Avery has never been shy about getting in front of a camera and shooting his mouth off. His public service efforts are commendable, but they are the only time any camera is on him these days.
Avery is just as famous for his "sloppy seconds" comment as he is for the NHL rule modification that he forced league officials to make. Avery basically talked himself out of the league after his final two stops in New York and Dallas. The headache outweighed whatever it was Avery brought to the table, and he is now in NHL exile.
Honorable Mention: Steve Ott, Patrick Kaleta, Milan Lucic, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Marchand, Alex Burrows, Max Lapierre, Jordin Tootoo, and Zac Rinaldo
Chris Neil is the guy that you wish you had on your team, and you hate playing against. His ghoulish, gap-toothed grin are a staple on game night as he takes run after run at everyone on the ice. To his credit Neil will drop the mitts and go with any challenger, but more often than not, he prefers his contact to be when the opponent is looking the other way.
He does have some semi-credible hockey skills and can skate marginally well backwards and forwards. Just be warned, if Chris Neil is on the same ice surface as you, you better keep your head up.