One reason for their presence is that hockey is the only team sport to allow fighting. Another is that the sport is ridiculously tolerant of cheap shots and unsportsmanlike acts—more than even football before the '80s.
Sean Avery made a living pushing the envelope and crossing the line. His insolence extended beyond the rink when he had to make distasteful remarks about Dion Phaneuf's then-girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert.
He was such a villain that a few within the marriage equality movement were not happy when he joined the cause.
The NHL has to bear responsibility for the environment that allows villains to thrive. Their presence is something that gives the game a further dimension, but also keeps it from mainstream acceptance.
The next time the Sharks complain about ESPN's lack of hockey coverage, they may want to think about their own contribution. These five players are among many in the game that have kept its status in the United States behind not only the NFL, NBA and MLB, but perhaps even the PGA, MMA, UFC and NASCAR.