Ranking the Biggest Agitators in the 2014 NHL Playoffs

Steve MacfarlaneFeatured ColumnistApril 17, 2014

Ranking the Biggest Agitators in the 2014 NHL Playoffs

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    Charles Krupa

    Just like the now endangered species of NHL heavyweight, the hockey agitator has to be able to do more than just get under the skin of his opponents.

    Whether it's contributions on the scoresheet or on the defensive end, a tendency to drop the gloves for a boost in morale, or the ability to throw a big hit or suck someone into taking a whack at him with a stick for a power-play opportunity at a critical time of the game, the NHL pest is much more than the annoying buzz of an insect.

    These guys have bite.

    Click ahead to see the best agitators in the 2014 NHL playoffs based on their ability to rattle the opposition with their actions.

Brendan Gallagher (Montreal Canadiens)

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    Ross D. Franklin

    Brendan Gallagher isn't big physically. At 5'9" and 180 pounds, he doesn't fit the prototypical model of a banger and crasher in the NHL.

    However, he plays with the physical presence of a man twice his size. As CBC's Don Cherry would say, Gallagher is built for the playoffs.

    At the risk of repeating what Cherry said in his Coach's Corner segment, Gallagher is the kind of guy who will take on a giant like Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara in the corners without hesitation. He'll take a puck in the throat, shake it off and come back into a playoff game. He fights. He takes a licking but refuses to give up space in front of the net and in the corners.

    His relentlessness frustrates opponents. He's the kind of guy every team wants to add but hates to play against.

    Oh, and he can score pretty, too.

    The sophomore didn't produce as much per game over his first full season this year as he did during the lockout-shortened campaign, but with 19 goals and 41 points through 81 games, he was effective with the kind of energy he adds.

Steve Ott (St. Louis Blues)

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    Steve Ott was the somewhat forgotten part of the trade between the St. Louis Blues and Buffalo Sabres. He was more than just a throw-in.

    The veteran is a versatile player who can suit up on the wing or at centre, on the fourth line or on the first line, to open up space for skill players—as he did Thursday night in the Blues' first playoff game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

    But he's also a royal pain in the backside to play against. His methods aren't limited to the standard trash talk or physical play, either. Ott gets creative. To win a faceoff, a helmet lick might do the trick. He is often on the edge of legality and takes too many penalties—which bumps him down this list a little—but he's so frustrating that he can even get under a coach's skin.

Boone Jenner (Columbus Blue Jackets)

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Boone Jenner is a Columbus Blue Jackets rookie, but you would think he's been practising the art of hockey war for decades.

    He's that good at causing people pain.

    For example, take his destructive hit on Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi in Game 1 of the playoff series Wednesday night. He exploded into him like a wrecking ball into an old casino.

    He also harassed Kris Letang, who took a retaliatory penalty in the second period while being pestered by the 6'2" center.

    In fact, Jenner—who contributed 16 goals and 29 points in 72 games as a freshman—was right near the top of the heap when it came to drawing penalties this season.

    You get the feeling his future as a pest is bright.

Matt Cooke (Minnesota Wild)

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images

    The only player on this list with a worse reputation than Raffi Torres might be Matt Cooke. 

    But the former bad boy has reformed his game. Some of the edge is gone as a result, but enough remains to make Mike Chambers of The Denver Post wonder if the Minnesota Wild leader in hits might rile up Colorado Avalanche fans at some point in their first-round NHL playoff series.

    Cooke is unpredictable, and opponents know when he's on the ice if only just to make sure to avoid him or hit him before he hits them.

    When it comes to trash talking, he's always a willing participant.

Andrew Shaw (Chicago Blackhawks)

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    Bill Smith/Getty Images

    Andrew Shaw is quickly becoming one of the league's best pests.

    He still has some experience to gain in the world of driving people wacky, but he has all the traits necessary to become a household name for his penchant for pushing buttons.

    His skating ability and versatility, combined with his aggressive physical play on the forecheck, have made him dangerous offensively. He is a willing pugilist as well.

    And as any agitator in the making is prone to do, he's had his lumps from the league for questionable tactics.

    Like Brendan Gallagher, Shaw is undersized but willing, and that frustrates folks as much as anything. His enthusiasm for dishing out a hit at every opportunity might be unmatched.

    Going head-to-head with Brad Marchand in last year's Stanley Cup Final had people drawing comparisons between the two of them.

Dustin Brown (Los Angeles Kings)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Los Angeles Kings captain has been one of the league's top hitters for years. His 246 hits in the regular season this year were good enough for eighth, and he put up the most shots (195) of any of those by a wide margin.

    Like Brandon Dubinsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets, his combination of gritty offensive play and the willingness to go out of his way to land a check earns him a reputation for being a difficult opponent and also gets him into trouble once in a while.

    Because of his tireless motor, Brown is among the best at drawing penalties. According to BehindTheNet.ca, he drew the second most per 60 minutes in the league this season.

Raffi Torres (San Jose Sharks)

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    Tom Mihalek

    Raffi Torres is as polarizing a player as they come in the NHL. He's been suspended numerous times but hasn't toned down his aggressive play over the years.

    According to Curtis Pashelka of the San Jose Mercury News, the San Jose Sharks were excited to welcome Torres back for the playoffs, knowing that the series is going to be a physical one with the Los Angeles Kings.

    What make him attractive to a team despite his discipline problems are the respect that his presence demands on the ice and the tendency for opposing players to be looking over their shoulders in the tougher areas of the rink to play. The corners seem especially dark when Torres is around.

Wayne Simmonds (Philadelphia Flyers)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The 25-year-old isn't the biggest guy, but put Wayne Simmonds in front of the net, and he's hard to remove.

    Nearly impossible, really.

    The Philadelphia Flyers winger relishes those battles, telling ESPN.com's Katie Strang that he studied up on Ryan Smyth's style to get better in that aspect of his game: "It’s obviously a tough position to play; not a lot of guys want to go to the front of the net and get hacked and whacked and stepped on and all that other stuff. That’s just the player I am. I’ve got to be in the thick of it."

    Simmonds is another guy who welcomes a scrap. People want to fight him because of how difficult he is to play against—especially in front of the goaltender.

Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks)

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    Alex Gallardo

    Corey Perry is a 40-goal scorer whose fiery nature gets him plenty of time in the penalty box.

    He can fight you one minute and steal your stick the next. There's no limit to his arsenal of tactics to annoy.

    According to linemate Ryan Getzlaf and head coach Bruce Boudreau, Perry's determination makes him frustrating to play against. Getzlaf gave Los Angeles Times writer Lance Pugmire one word for what fuels Perry to score and agitate simultaneously:

    "Losing," Getzlaf said. "Perrs likes to win. Everything is about winning. The ultimate goal is getting that Stanley Cup again."

    The Ducks have a good shot at winning for the first time since 2007, and Perry will be a big part of that plan. It's tough to keep him away from the net, and when he's there, he often finds a way to score.

Brad Marchand

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Considering how valuable Brad Marchand is to the Bruins offensively, you have to wonder whether his antics are even necessary for him to be successful as an NHL player. The 25-year-old pest has scored at least 20 goals in every full campaign he's played in the league and had 18 in the lockout-shortened season a year ago.

    And even though he occasionally draws the ire of his head coach, Marchand will always play with an edge that makes his opponents crazy. It's part of his personality, and to take that away would likely also result in a less impressive player overall.

    He may be most famous for his mistreatment of Daniel Sedin in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final or for rubbing in that Cup victory by kissing his ring finger in Vancouver last fall while taunting Ryan Kesler.

    Marchand takes as much pleasure in talking as he does scoring, and when he can do both, he's practically giddy.

    He doesn't fight often, but he will drop the gloves with another pest when necessary.

    Given his goal-scoring prowess and agitating nature, he is the best at what he does.


    Stats courtesy of NHL.com and BehindTheNet.ca.