Ranking the 10 Most Polarizing NHL Players in the Last Decade

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistDecember 12, 2013

Ranking the 10 Most Polarizing NHL Players in the Last Decade

0 of 10

    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    As hockey fans, we'll never reach consensus on which teams or players are "the best" or "play the game the right way."

    Teemu Selanne is now eerily close to being universally beloved, but for the most part, more than a few NHL players incite bitter arguments when it comes to assessing their true value.

    Our favourite teams, our favourite players, our preexisting beliefs—they all factor in as we process what's happening at lightning speed during a game.

    We try to pass judgement on talent, character, playing styles and maliciousness of intent—sometimes coming to very different conclusions.

    With an eye on recent events around the league, here's a look at 10 players from the last decade about whom fans feel passionate. They love 'em, they hate 'em—they talk about 'em.

    Which other NHL players polarize the NHL fanbase? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

10. Joe Thornton

1 of 10

    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    Why he's loved: Jumbo Joe has been the amiable face of the San Jose Sharks since a midseason trade in 2005-06, a year in which he captured the Hart and Art Ross Trophies. Thornton is No. 50 on the NHL's all-time points list, and the likeable captain has been a key part of the Sharks' strong start to the 2013-14 season, tied for second in assists in the NHL.


    Why he's loathed: Thornton's not "loathed" as much as maligned for his lack of success in the playoffs.

    The Sharks have been a solid regular-season team for years, even winning the Presidents' Trophy in 2008-09, but they consistently underperform in the playoffs. Thornton has gold medals from the Olympics, World Championships and World Juniors in his trophy case. But until he wins the Stanley Cup, he won't be able to shake the tag of "playoff choker."

    Thornton appears to have a stronger supporting cast than ever around him with the 2013-14 Sharks. This could be his best chance yet to prove the doubters wrong.

9. Corey Crawford

2 of 10

    Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images

    Why he's loved: Corey Crawford had played just eight games in the NHL when the Chicago Blackhawks' salary cap issues forced the team to ask him to step in as their new starter following their 2010 Stanley Cup win.

    Crawford was up for the challenge. It took just three years for him to backstop his team to another championship.


    Why he's loathed: His glove hand is suspect. Despite his success in the 2013 playoffs, Crawford took enormous heat for allowing a few bad goals, particularly in a 6-5 overtime win over the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. Experts were sure that Crawford had a core weakness that could be exploited by shooting high to his glove side.

    Crawford out-dueled the better-respected Tuukka Rask to win the Stanley Cup, which is probably all the validation he needs.

8. Eric Lindros

3 of 10

    Ian Tomlinson/Getty Images

    Why he's loved: Touted as "The Next One" after Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, Lindros was the total hockey package—big body, great speed, soft hands, will to win.

    He won the Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award, reached the Stanley Cup Final, and averaged more than a point a game in a career that was cut short by concussion issues and finally ended in 2007.


    Why he's loathed: Lindros made enemies when he refused to play for the Quebec Nordiques after they drafted him first overall in 1991. He ended his eight seasons in Philadelphia acrimoniously after suffering a series of concussions and getting into a dispute with management. His continued comebacks diminished his legacy to the point where his greatness is all but forgotten.

    For all his impressive hockey tools, fans were treated to only glimpses of what Eric Lindros might have been.

7. Ilya Bryzgalov

4 of 10

    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Why he's loved: If a goalie stops pucks in the desert, does anybody see him?

    Ilya Bryzgalov built his reputation during four seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes before being rewarded with a nine-year, $51 million free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. Thanks to HBO's 24/7 series, we learned that Bryz is a wonderfully quirky character in addition to being a top-level netminder.


    Why he's loathed: In addition to his fanciful talk of faraway galaxies, Bryz did not immediately lead the Flyers to great playoff success. During two seasons in Philadelphia, he posted winning regular-season records and so-so numbers.

    His wildly inconsistent play in his first playoff with Philadelphia raised big questions, and when the team failed to even qualify for the postseason in his second year, his fate in Philly was sealed.

    Bryzgalov has worked his way back to the NHL on a one-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers. He put up a .939 save percentage and a 2.12 goals-against average in four games before being injured in a collision with the Dallas Stars' Ryan Garbutt on December 1.

6. Phil Kessel

5 of 10

    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    Why he's loved: Since arriving in Toronto via trade in 2009, Phil Kessel has blossomed into the Maple Leafs' top offensive threat. He's the scoring engine that has fuelled Toronto's return to respectability and has delivered enough in five seasons to earn a $64 million contract extension that kicks in next year.


    Why he's loathed: Kessel had a rough ride in Boston with the team that originally drafted him. Memories of those early day get dredged up every time he returns for another booing at TD Garden.

    As the Bruins built their way back to contention, Kessel was perceived to be looking out more for himself and his bottom line, which ultimately led to his trade.

    Jilted Bruins fans won't let Kessel forget his slight anytime soon.

    Kessel may have great individual stats and a big contract, but the Bruins have a Stanley Cup and put the Leafs to shame with their Game 7 comeback in the 2013 playoffs.

5. Corey Perry

6 of 10

    Bill Smith/Getty Images

    Why he's loved: Corey Perry is a 50-goal scorer with a Rocket Richard Trophy, a Hart Trophy and a Stanley Cup on his list of achievements. He's big, he's physical and he can score. His 21 goals so far this season tie him for second in the NHL. Perry and partner-in-crime Ryan Getzlaf are the glue that holds together the resurgent Anaheim Ducks.


    Why he's loathed: Perry plays with an edge that can sometimes border on dangerous. He gets a lot of leeway because he's a star player.

    As one example, he was suspended for four games last March for an elbow on Minnesota's Jason Zucker that was labelled "sneaky-dirty" by the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson, who compared Perry's "modus operandi" to Mark Messier's.

    Perry and Getzlaf currently sit among the NHL's top 10 scorers, and the Ducks are in first place in the ultra-competitive Pacific Division.

4. Raffi Torres

7 of 10

    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    Why he's loved: Torres is the guy you can't stand on the other team, but you learn to love when he wears your colours. He plays a feisty game that can create energy and make room on the ice for his skilled teammates. He chips in with the occasional goal himself, and it's hard for the opposition to play against him.


    Why he's loathed: Can you say "repeat offender"? Torres can be a careless hitter and has served several NHL suspensions. The worst was the 21-game ban for taking out Marian Hossa during the 2012 playoffs, but his list of crimes is long and rich.

    The troubling part about Torres is that he still hasn't learned his lesson—his last play of the 2013 playoffs was a head-hit on the Los Angeles Kings' Jarret Stoll that got him suspended again to end his season.

    Torres has been sidelined in 2013-14 after undergoing knee surgery. It probably won't take long for him to get up to his old tricks when he returns to the San Jose Sharks' lineup in February.

3. Alex Burrows

8 of 10

    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Why he's loved: An undrafted player who came up from ball hockey via the East Coast League, Burrows has climbed all the way up the NHL ladder to top-line duty with Daniel and Henrik Sedin on the Vancouver Canucks.

    Burrows is a tenacious worker who plays in all situations and has scored some of the biggest goals in Canucks franchise history, most notably the overtime tally to beat Chicago in Round 1 of the 2011 playoffs.


    Why he's loathed: Burrows is one of the NHL's top agitators. He's constantly jabbing at his opponents with both his words and his actions, but sometimes he takes things too far. Burrows has had a reputation for embellishment, which led to a public war of words with an NHL referee. His other indiscretions range from hair-pulling to finger-biting.

    Burrows' trash talk has been silenced for the moment while he's sidelined with a broken jaw.

2. P.K. Subban

9 of 10

    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Why he's loved: Subban's a 24-year-old Norris Trophy winner who has anchored the Montreal Canadiens' back end for the past four years. He's a dynamic offensive defenseman who leads his team in scoring and quarterbacks the effective Montreal power play.

    Subban plays big minutes, his defensive game is steadily improving, and he's not afraid to use his body when necessary.


    Why he's loathed: Hockey traditionalists think P.K.'s personality might be too big for the game. Early in his career, he took heat for being too much of a showboat after scoring big goals. He has also been accused of selfishness. Questions about his personality and commitment to defense have him sitting on the bubble to make Team Canada for the 2014 Olympics.

    Since the Olympic rumours started, Subban has kept a low profile while playing some of the best hockey of his career.

1. Shawn Thornton

10 of 10

    Steve Babineau/Getty Images

    Why he's loved: Thornton gained folk-hero status in Boston as a member of the "Merlot Line" during the team's 2011 run to the Stanley Cup. He's beloved for his strong work ethic, scrappy physicality and support of his teammates.

    Thornton has always been an advocate for "The Code" among NHL tough guys and, for the most part, has practiced what he preaches.


    Why he's loathed: On December 7, Thornton took a sharp turn away from the rules of "The Code" when he slew-footed Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik, then punched him in the head while he was down on the ice. Orpik was knocked unconscious, taken off the ice on a stretcher and is now on injured reserve with a concussion.

    Thornton is remorseful and will receive a big suspension for his actions. Is an apology and an on-ice punishment enough for such a grievous lapse in judgement?


    Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter for more NHL news: