October 30, 2014
Hockey's Greatest Villains
This is a Stan Fischler article from a 1983 "Hockey Scene" magazine that questions just who is the dirtiest player of all time.
Clarke thrived in the villain role but he should never be denied his status as one of the NHL's all time greats. Failure to do so is the result of subjective blindness by hockey fans, as is often the case when it comes to these matters. In reality not a whole lot separates Clarke from Stan Mikita, another brilliant hockey player. The only real difference is Mikita went from notorious stick man and thug to a Lady Byng trophy winner when he did a complete 180 and cleaned up his game.
Face it - every good story has a good villain who you love to hate. The NHL story lines are no different. So which NHL villains contend for the most hated man in hockey history title? The contenders have to have a certain league-wide villain status, not just a rivalry-related dislike of each other.
(We will limit this look to strictly the men on the ice. Sorry, all you Gary Bettman haters.)
Sprague Cleghorn - One of hockey's all time greats was a winner time and time again. But he was also a monster with a short fuse who was once suspended for the remainder of the season by his own team (Ottawa) for a vindictive attack on another player. When the Sens let him go he vowed retribution in his first game against his old club, and injured 4 star players. He was a nearly unbelievable character from a long ago time in hockey history, but he's though to beat as hockey's greatest villain.
Eddie Shore - When he played he was the baddest man on the ice, a mean and ruthless aggressor. But he was also the greatest player of his era, a showstopper with some sideshow antics. He went on to become the longtime and infamous coach/manager of the AHL's Springfield Indians. So many alumni there, including Don Cherry, will tell you stories of how much they hated him. But he did make them all winners.
Claude Lemieux - Infamous for his cowardly hit-from-behind on Kris Draper, Claude Lemieux's rap sheet is far longer. I'm not even sure Lemieux's own teammates really liked him that much. Except at the end of the season when he passed you the Stanley Cup. Let's give credit where it is due - come playoff time he was a stud.
Todd Bertuzzi - Everyone knows how he ended the career of Steve Moore, and that's how he will always make these lists. I hated him for years before that. He was just a brooding, negative ogre who played a selfish, almost dumb brand of hockey. In his prime he flirted with unstoppable status every now and again, but more often than not he hurt his team with such undisciplined play - both in terms of penalties and poor tactics. His constant jawing at officials and opponents also made him an easy target to boo.
Chris Pronger - Pronger will go down as one of the greatest defensemen in the history of the game. He played the game with real snarl and more than a few times crossed the dirty line. But let's face it, he, like Clarke and Mikita, was hated because he was so good.
Matt Cooke - A multiple repeat offender for dangerous hits that seriously injured opponents, Cooke is the poster boy for most hated players of his era. It's too bad, because he was actually an effective player who did a lot of good charity work off the ice, too.
Ken Linseman - His nickname says it all - "The Rat." Linseman was actually a very good player who perhaps could have been better if toned down the act some. Perhaps he was too slight to every truly assume a Bobby Clarke role on a team, but he relished the superpest role a little too much. His constant yapping but infrequent fighting of his own battles earned him a lot of disrespect as much as hated villain status. That's not a good thing.
Dale Hunter - The second most penalized player in hockey history (behind the very likeable Tiger Williams), Hunter wins it for me. His bizarre attack on Pierre Turgeon still disturbs me. Hunter greatly disrespected the game that time, and he, unlike most of hockey's villains, gets no respect in return. He was a very good player but he crossed the line on too many other occasion, too. It's tough to imagine how he got away with it for so long nowadays.
Eric Lindros - Lindros is by all accounts a very unlikeable chap. Throw in his refusal to play for Quebec, his star status as the leader of the often hated Broad Street Bullies, and his physical presence, and it's easy to hate Eric Lindros. I really enjoyed him as a player, and I think he deserves better status in history's eyes. Had he played in the current era he would never be dismissed as soft because of all the concussions and other injuries. It's really bizarre, actually.
Sean Avery - What more needs to be said? His biggest (only?) weapon was his mouth, and he embarrassed himself and hockey several times too many by crossing the line. The best villains in hockey do not disrespect the game. Avery did.