Since it is the only major sport in North America that allows fighting to settle disputes, one could argue that hockey is made for villains.
As with any team, the Pittsburgh Penguins have had their share of villains, and given the frustrating ends to their playoff runs the past couple of years, the list may continue to grow.
Because of the NHL's realignment this offseason, the Pens will now be part of the new Metropolitan Division next season. Although they will be joined by old division foes like the Flyers, the Pens will also now be division rivals with the hated Washington Capitals and conference rivals with the Detroit Red Wings, so the opportunity exists for more grudges and villains to emerge.
With less than a month until the start of another NHL training camp, let's take a look at, in no particular order, the five biggest villains in Pittsburgh Penguins history.
While Mario Lemieux will always be the greatest hero in Pittsburgh Penguins history, another Lemieux is remembered as a villain.
Long before Claude Lemieux’s hit on Kris Draper made him public enemy #1 in Detroit and most NHL cities, he had already become a hated man among Pens fans.
As a member of the divisional rival New Jersey Devils during the early '90s, Lemieux would face the Pens in the playoffs three times in five years, and he always seemed to score the big goals.
Lemieux also had a reputation as one of the league's dirtiest players; in fact, an ESPN special, "The Top 10 Most Hated NHL Players of All Time," ranked him second, behind only Sean Avery.
Since entering the league as the first-overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Alex Ovechkin seems to have a personal grudge against the 2005 NHL first-overall pick, Sidney Crosby, the Penguins and their fans.
While the dislike had always been mutual, Ovechkin’s intentional knee-to-knee hit against fan-favorite Sergei Gonchar in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinal suddenly and officially made him a villain in the eyes of Pens fans.
To add insult to injury, Ovechkin had trained with Gonchar in Russia during the offseason, and the two were teammates on Russia’s Olympic team.
Fortunately, the Pens were able to win the series in seven games and go on to win the Stanley Cup. Ovechkin, on the other hand, has failed to lead the Capitals past the second round of the playoffs; a fact the brings Pens fans a lot of enjoyment.
While it may take some players years to be perceived as villains, others have been able to earn that distinction in an instant.
For Adam Graves, that instant occurred roughly five minutes into Game 2 of the 1992 Patrick Division Final between the Penguins and the New York Rangers.
Having taken the first game of the series in New York against the heavily-favored Rangers and already leading 1-0, the Pens were looking to take a stranglehold on the game and the series with a power-play opportunity.
With Pens captain Mario Lemieux handling the puck on the left point, Graves skated toward him and, with a two-handed chop, hit Lemieux’s left hand above the glove, breaking his wrist.
While Graves was suspended for three games, Lemieux was sidelined for the next five. Despite the injury, the Pens would win the series in six games and go on to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions despite the best efforts of Adam Graves.
For Penguins fans, not every villain wears an opposing jersey. Sometimes, as in the case of legendary Penguin-hater Mike Milbury, they may be wearing a suit either behind the opposing bench or in a television studio.
Whether he’s accusing venerated Pens coach Bob Johnson of being “professor of goonism,” calling Sidney Crosby “a punk” or complaining that Pens coach Dan Bylsma should have “taken off his skirt” to confront Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette, Milbury seems to have an unhealthy obsession with and a deep-seated hatred for the Pens.
Unfortunately for Pens fans, NBC Sports has chosen to retain Milbury who, along with co-host and fellow Pens-critic Jeremy Roenick, seems to revel in antagonizing the Pens and their fans.
Few players have ever earned the level of adoration from a city as Jaromir Jagr did during his time with Pittsburgh Penguins.
Even fewer have ever managed to turn that love into resentment and sabotage their own career and legacy the way that Jagr did when he forced his way out of Pittsburgh after 11 years with the team.
Always an enigmatic player, Jagr had become the face of the post-Mario Lemieux Pens following his retirement in 1997 and was given everything he asked for by a franchise desperate to keep their superstar happy.
Even though the Pens made him one of the highest paid players in the league—and despite the best efforts of general manager Craig Patrick to turn the Pens into the Czech National team to make him more comfortable—Jagr still wasn't happy.
After Lemieux returned from retirement in 2001 and helped the Pens advance to the Eastern Conference Final, Jagr decided that he needed to move on and demanded a trade.
Forced with moving a massive contract and a divisive player who had earned a reputation as a "coach killer," Patrick was only able to find get three prospects in return from the Washington Capitals in exchange for Jagr, none of whom made any real impact with the Pens.
If that wasn't bad enough, Jagr decided to return to the NHL in 2011 and, despite reportedly promising Mario Lemieux that he would return to the Pens, signed with the hated Philadelphia Flyers instead.