Phil Kessel vs. Ron Wilson and the 15 Biggest NHL Feuds
Feuds have become a part of sports in our era and for all the talk about hockey players in general being quiet figures, the NHL has seen its share of feuds over the years.
Whether it's a player and a coach, a player and another player, the battle of competition remains fierce on (and sometimes off) the ice. Some of these are well documented and have become legend in hockey circles. Some just made news before they quickly faded away.
But the latest feud involving Toronto Maple Leafs winger (and last All-Star picked) Phil Kessel and his current coach Ron Wilson is just the latest sign of dysfunction coming from inside the walls of the Air Canada Centre in what's become a disastrous season.
So with that in mind, it's time to take a look back at some of the biggest NHL feuds.
Honorable Mention: Jim Balsillie vs. Gary Bettman
The feud between Bettman and Balsille, who owns the Canadian company Research in Motion (created the Blackberry) goes back to the 2006-2007 season, when Balsillie made a bid to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins and also help towards building a new arena in Pittsburgh for the then-decrepid Igloo.
Eventually Balsillie backed out when Bettman wanted assurances he would keep the team in Pittsburgh rather than move the team to Southern Ontario, specifically Hamilton.
He has subsequently tried to purchase the Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes in the hopes of moving one of those teams to Hamilton, with Bettman basically blocking the deals.
15. Ken Hitchcock vs. Nikita Filatov
Filatov was a can't miss prospect that was going to become a star in Columbus, the sidekick for Rick Nash the organization has been searching for.
But there was one problem: Ken Hitchcock.
Hitchcock's defensive-minded system frustrated Filatov and after being a healthy scratch six times early last season, Filatov asked to be sent back to Russia and the KHL. Eventually he was and Hitchcock was fired as Blue Jackets coach. Filatov returned to Columbus, but has once again struggled, accruing only seven points in 23 games this season.
Which makes me think Filatov just might be a bust.
14. Alexei Kovalev vs. Cory Clouston
Perhaps one of the few teams more dysfunctional than Toronto has been the Ottawa Senators, and is it any surprise that it centers around mercurial winger Alex Kovalev?
Kovalev has always been one of the most frustrating players to watch or coach. He's got all the talent in the world, but he's never been able to stay dedicated or interested enough to be one of the greats. So when he felt all the problems with the Senators were being blamed on him (and after Cory Clouston had questioned his motivation and demoted him to the fourth line), Kovalev shot back.
“Well, I don’t know,” Kovalev told the media, according to the National Post. “That’s the way it looks right now. I’m not the only one not playing well, so nothing I can do about it. He decides to pick me. It has been happening all my career.”
If you've followed Kovalev's career, it shouldn't be surprising.
13. Jacques Martin vs. Sergei Kostitsyn
Kostitsyn and his brother Andrei were once young stars on a burgeoning Montreal team. But the situation deteriorated last season between Sergei and coach Jacques Martin. From the clashes in practice to missing the team charter to Quebec City for a preseason game, Martin and Kostitsyn didn't see eye-to-eye.
The feeling continued when he was sent down to the AHL to start the year and demanded a trade. Eventually he made it back, but was benched in April and spent most of the Canadiens' playoff run in the press box as a healthy scratch.
Montreal cut their losses and dealt him to Nashville in the offseason.
12. Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin
Crosby and Ovechkin have been labeled the Magic and Bird of the NHL since they entered the league together after the lockout in 2005. Since then, Crosby has dominated the rivalry, but it always seemed like a reluctant rivalry.
It wasn't until 2008-2009, when the teams started to enter the NHL's elite and battling for the Stanley Cup, that the hatred started to build up between the two franchises and especially between the two, as they had a heated exchange during a nationally televised game.
The epic seven-game series in 2009 just pushed the rivalry even more.
11. Alex Kovalev vs. Guy Carbonneau
What a surprise, another Kovalev sighting on this list.
This time it was a clash with his coach in Montreal, Guy Carbonneau. In 2007, Kovalev made comments to a Russian news outlet that Carbonneau was biased against Russian players and favored the French-Canadian players. Kovalev later denied it and Carbonneau supported him, according to the Montreal Gazette.
But it was part of a tumultuous career in La Belle Provence that eventually watched him leave in 2009.
10. Phil Kessel vs. Ron Wilson
Kessel has been frustrated this season, mostly because of his struggle to score goals, but also perhaps with him taking a lot of blame from the fanbase for all that's gone wrong in Toronto.
So when Wilson decided to try and spark the punch-less Leafs offense by demoting Kessel to the third line, Kessel apparently said this to the Toronto media:
“Me and (the coach) don’t really talk and that’s all I got to say about that," according to the Toronto Star.
Wilson then responded by making points about Kessel not getting his head down about not scoring and Brian Burke had to take Kessel aside and clear up what he said, after which Kessel had to state he wasn't implying he wanted out of Toronto or a coaching change.
9. Sean Avery vs. Martin Brodeur
At its height, Avery vs. Brodeur was one of the most contentious relationships in sports.
Avery started getting under Brodeur's skin as soon as he arrived in New York, doing what he does best and making the Rangers a better team. But the feud hit its apex during the 2008 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
That was when Avery put himself into NHL lore (or at least the rulebook) with his alternative interpretation of screening Brodeur, hence the Avery rule. It worked to perfection, as the Rangers eliminated the Devils in five games. Brodeur then showed his appreciation by snubbing Avery at the handshake line, after which Avery called him "fatboy."
8. Mike Richards vs. P.K. Subban
For a guy who's only been in the league a little more than a calendar year, P.K. Subban has gotten a lot controversy thrown his way.
Don Cherry has said someone's going get him for the way he plays (but in the next breath says he loves the kid), and apparently his confidence has not garnered him any fans around the league. That includes Mike Richards.
The Flyers captain called out Subban to a Montreal radio station after what he felt was the rookie not being respectful of veteran players (it should also be noted that this happened after a 3-0 Flyers loss in Montreal).
The full quote, from ESPN's Pierre LeBrun:
"He's a guy that's come in the league and hasn't earned respect. It's just frustrating to see a young guy like that come in here and so much as think that he's better than a lot of people. You have to earn respect in this league. It takes a lot. You can't just come in here as a rookie and play like that. It's not the way to get respect from other players around the league. Hopefully someone on their team addresses it, because, uh, I'm not saying I'm going to do it, but something might happen to him if he continues to be that cocky."
7. Darcy Tucker vs. Sean Avery
Tucker and Avery are two players who have never had their share of fans, but for a brief time a couple of years ago, had a couple of heated battles when Avery was a Ranger and Tucker was ending his run as a Maple Leaf.
The most public and heated of the feud came during the pregame warm-ups one night in Toronto, when Avery made a comment to Toronto's Jason Blake about his bout with leukemia. Tucker appropriately didn't like it and an exchange was made at center ice.
6. Cal Gardner vs. Ken Reardon
Ken Reardon was a pest for the Montreal Canadiens during the 1940s, but it was a feud with Cal Gardner that he became known for.
According to the blog GreatestHockeyLegends.com, Gardner got Reardon with his stick, bloodying him. Gardner was playing for the Rangers at the time. Reardon ended up in a tussle with Ranger fans, starting a full-out brawl between players and fans.
Reardon got Gardner back two years later, when he shattered Gardner's jaw while he was a member of the Maple Leafs.
5. Alex Ovechkin vs. Evgeni Malkin
It might be one of the strangest feuds in NHL history, in that no one really knows how it began and it ended almost as mysteriously as it started.
For about a year and a half, it was supposedly a bad situation between two of the biggest Russian hockey stars on the planet, although Pierre LeBrun of ESPN presumed it was from Ovechkin taking some runs at Malkin in a game.
Either way, it was a bitter feud. But apparently at the 2009 All-Star Game in Montreal, it was over.
4. Lyle Odelein vs. Matthew Barnaby
Barnaby and Odelein had a nasty feud going during the late 1990s, starting before the 1999 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, when Barnaby (then of the Penguins) made a crack about Odelein looking like Cornelius from Planet of the Apes.
"I don't know what he's yapping about," Odelein said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He should take a look at his wife. She's god-awful to look at."
The rivalry has heated up since then, with Barnaby telling Hockeyfights.com that he hates Odelein. Both players are now out of the league.
3. Todd Bertuzzi vs. Steve Moore
We all remember how this story ended.
But before Bertuzzi sucker-punched Moore and drove his head into the ice like a stake, Moore had made himself a marked man in the eyes of the Canucks by taking a run at star and team captain Markus Naslund, giving him a concussion.
So when the teams met again and with Colorado firmly in the lead, Bertuzzi exacted his revenge on Moore. Neither man has been the same since.
2. Dino Ciccarelli vs. Claude Lemieux
To be honest, try finding a player Claude Lemieux didn't have a feud with during his career. But Ciccarelli's dislike of Lemieux summed up the pure hatred of the Detroit-Colorado rivalry.
It stemmed from Lemieux's dangerous hit on Kris Draper in Game 6 of the 1996 Western Conference Final, the game that sealed the series for Colorado and ignited the rivalry. As Lemieux celebrated the championship through the handshake line, Ciccarelli uttered the words forever echoing through Michigan and Colorado.
“I can’t believe I shook that guy’s friggin' hand after the game. That pisses me right off.”
1. Patrick Roy vs. Mario Tremblay
Very few people across Quebec and across Canada will forget the night, December 2, 1995.
Roy starts against Detroit and allows nine goals in the first two periods of an 11-1 loss, the worst home loss in franchise history. He's mercifully booed during the game and gets a mock cheer every time he stops a puck, leading him to throw his hands up.
Eventually he's pulled. And he walks down the bench and tells team president Ronald Corey he's played his last game in Montreal. After the game, Roy tells reporters Tremblay kept him in the game to humiliate him.
A few days later, he's traded to Colorado and the Canadiens haven't won a Stanley Cup since.