Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jared's 25 biggest NHL creeps

The subject of the largest jerks to ever haunt NHL rinks recently arose; while most lists named a few offenders, my quickie brainstorming session exposed a whopping thirty-five or so roaches to the light. I've managed to boil them down to a tidy, round group of twenty-five. Before starting, bear in mind that this group only includes players, so any off-ice culprits get a temporary reprieve, though their day of reckoning will surely come. This means that the roll-call won't include figures such as Marcel Aubut, Harry Neale, Leafs fans, lame mascots, Mike Keenan, local Benedict Arnolds who jumped on the Flames bandwagon during the 2004 playoffs, PJ Stock, Peter Karmanos, the intermission blimp at GM Place that never drops prize envelopes in my direction, Brian Murray, any Canucks owner since the Griffiths family sold the team, Ron Wilson, or Gary 'The Count' Bettman.

'Ten, ten failed franchises, AH AH AH AH AH!'

25) Frank Caprice - Let me explain: I don't actually dislike the 1980s Canuck backup netminder, even if his numbers were pretty wretched ( year he had a 4.81 GAA and .851 save percentage in 28 games), as he seemed like an affable enough sort. However, for part of his Canucks career, I recall him sporting an oily attempt at some sort of quasi jheri-curl, which is unspeakably tragic once you bear in mind that he's caucasian. I tried sleuthing out a picture of this tonsorial quarterlife-crisis on the interweb, but all I could find was a stock photo where the hair is cut straight across his forehead like a six-year-old boy.

24) Craig Janney - This dead-eye passer, who would be incapable of locating the defensive zone with the most expensive GPS device on the market, would have snared a much higher spot if only his fuckfacingly stubborn refusal to accept a trade to the Canucks didn't end up abetting Vancouver reaching that season's Stanley Cup finals. After Janney refused to report to the west coast, GM Pat Quinn dealt his rights back to the Blues for Jeff Brown, Bret Hedican, and Nathan Lafayette, all of whom were stellar contributors during the 'Nucks Cup drive. Janney's repeated, infamous answer to media inquiries during his pout-a-thon when pressed on why he wouldn't report was 'I just need some time.' Huh? First of all, you were traded, not dumped: man up, Jennifer. Second, you were dealt to Vancouver, a beautiful city merely two time zones over, not sent to a remote outpost like Abu Dhabi, Kandahar, Antarctica, Neptune, or Cleveland.

23) Vladimir Krutov - Canucks fans rejoiced (well, excepting local reds-under-the-bed types, I assume) when the team announced during the summer of 1989 that they were involved in the offseason's initial Russian NHL influx (which also brought over the likes of Slava Fetisov and Sergei Makarov), and that Red Army standouts Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov would bolster the forward corps in the upcoming season. Well, one out of two ain't bad: while Larionov proceeded to win Stanley Cups and justifiably landed in the Hall Of Fame, Krutov ate his way out of the league after one season. He also bore a striking physical similarity to that Soviet cable guy who wanted to hook Jerry up illegally in an early Seinfeld episode.

22) Keith Tkachuk - A textbook version of the bristle-haired, prototypically villainish fratboy type, Tkachuk openly gushed about his team leaving Winnipeg for Phoenix right in the midst of their final Manitoban homestand. Moreover, he was seen at a 2004 Busch Stadium World Series game wearing Red Sox apparel. Annoyingly, his mouth is consistently agape, as if he proceeded to close it for a nanosecond the earth would go flying off it's axis and careening towards the Horsehead Nebula.

21) Derian Hatcher - Possessing all the cunning and quickness of a retarded snail, Hatcher was the poster boy for defensive success throughout the NHL's interminable dead-puck era. Which means he was really big, and, uh...what else? When not looking for the smallest opponent to latch onto during post-whistle scrums, Hatcher was often seen grinding forwards to a halt by the most boring means possible. When the league re-convened following the lockout committed to a more free-wheeling style of play, Derian was exposed pretty quickly.

20) Martin Rucinsky, Keith Carney, and Eric Weinrich - I actually liked these three on other teams, but all were acquired by Vancouver with much fanfare at the trade deadline over the past few years, and each failed spectacularly. Given Mats Sundin's slow start, I'm wondering if this bunch have founded some curse on Canuck midseason acquisitions.

19) Jordin Tootoo - Remember those heartwarming stories a few years back when Tootoo managed to emerge from isolated Nunavut to win a spot with the Nashville Predators? Those tales seem oh-so-long ago now, as the plucky Inuk has established himself as one of the dirtiest players of this or any other decade. I was really rooting for this kid at first, but he's going to end up seriously hurting a fellow player; the nadir of his misdeeds thusfar is probably the surprise, turnaround gloved-punch against Stephane Robidas of Dallas that left the defenseman unconscious and concussed.

18) Joe Murphy - One-dimensional, whiny, and, by all accounts, a wretched teammate, Murphy made a career of hitching his wagon to talented linemates. He also bore an uncanny resemblance to Carl Spackler of Caddyshack fame (alright, I promise I won't compare physical appearances of pucksters to pop cultural figures going forward - two is enough).

17) Glenn Anderson - I never much cared for him as a player, as he was undercover-dirty (a fun memory is a shirtless, batshit-nuts Gino Odjick chasing him around the rink after the play during 1995's Canucks-Blues series), but my antipathy stems mostly from encountering him directly when I was a child. We were fortunate enough to attend an Oilers morning skate at Pacific Coliseum during the 1990-91 season, and nearly all of the players were exceedingly generous afterwards in granting autographs. Not only did Anderson refuse to sign, but he was clad in a ludicrous fur coat. And here you all thought that Wilt Chamberlain was the number one pelt aficionado in pro sports.

16) Tom Barrasso - One of the most intemperate jerks to ever lace up the skates, his aloofness and outright harshness with media members and fans is the stuff of legend. I was in attendance at GM Place for his first game with the Senators after being dealt to Ottawa earlier that week, and it was enjoyable to watch him get torched in Andre Racicot-esque fashion.

15) Standup goalies from the 1970s and 1980s (read: pretty much all of them) - When tuning into old games on ESPN Classic or the NHL Network, watching the goalies from thirty or so years ago is downright maddening. They never, ever, ever go down. Someone can be doing a wrap-around and they'll be bolt-upright, hugging the post, and swatting impotently at the puckhandler with their stick. The most comical is when there's a shot between the face-off circle and blue line in the attacking zone - when the puck comes towards them, they'll kind of half fall-backwards as the disc inevitably whizzes by. My younger brother is a goalie, and he thinks it's hilarious. On behalf of puck fans everywhere, I just want to give a heartfelt thanks to the province of Québec for illustrating how to play goal properly and rationally, starting around the mid-to-late 1980s.

14) Gary Roberts - After courageously battling his way back from early retirement following a chronic back condition, Roberts gained a sort of amnesty standing with me, despite the fact that he was a prime mover with the hated Flames during the first phase of his career. It didn't take long for the goodwill to dissipate, however, as he resumed an identical, chippy style of play, and even worse, eventually turned up with the loathsome Maple Leafs. Consistently overrated by the Don Cherry set (I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that this 'winner' won a single Cup, and that was during his third year with Calgary when he was only a minor contributor), Roberts never carried himself like a bona fide grown-up in his late thirties like real leaders such as Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic did.

13) Joel Otto - I never really had a serious gripe with this guy other than the fact that he was lumbering, boring, and played for the Flames, but that all changed in round one of the 1989 playoffs. The gutsy, underdog Canucks had pushed Smythe Division champ Calgary to overtime in game seven; with the first extra session nearly over, Jim Peplinski threw a pass toward the Vancouver net, which was directed into the cage by Otto's skate. Remember, this was pre-instant-replay, thus the goal stood. I was just a little kid and found the whole thing unspeakably traumatizing; it felt like a pet dying. In all honesty, I'm getting worked-up just typing this: Google 'Joel Otto kicked in,' and it returns 43,000 hits.

12) Marty McSorley - The frightening incident where he struck Donald Brashear on the side of the head with his stick leaves me sickened to this day. Making it worse, he hid behind the ref afterwards when Brashear's teammates came to exact revenge (the team's furious on-ice reaction illustrates in itself what an egregious act this was, as that forgettable edition of the Canucks had no jam or grit, plus I'm pretty sure they all hated each other) Granted, McSorley was widely condemned afterwards in media circles, but there naturally remained a small coterie of apologists who wrote it off as justice meted by a 'good Canadian kid.' If a Euro had committed the offense, the same bunch would have ordered him crucified.

11) Dan Woodley, Jason Herter, Libor Polasek, Alek Stojanov, Josh Holden, Nathan Smith, Michael Grabner (potentially), etc - Few teams have as grim a record as Vancouver when it comes to first round busts. Well, at least Stojanov fetched Markus Naslund in return; many thanks, Craig Patrick. Grabner is putting up nice numbers in Manitoba this season, but I just have an overriding bad feeling about him adjusting to the pro game.

10) Ed Jovanovski - There are creeps, and then there are creeps so repellant that one can't help disliking them even when they suit up for the home team. Jovo falls into this category for me: his arrogance, carelessness in his own end, and penchant for stupid penalties ensured that I'd never take to him. Expanding on the latter complaint, Jovanovski managed to take an undisciplined penalty during the last minute of the third in game seven against Calgary back in 2004. Naturally, the Flames scored at the beginning of overtime while he was still in the box to end the series. To borrow a quote from Bill Maher, that's powerful stupid. What's especially annoying is that the rock-solid Mattias Ohlund toiled in relative obscurity while bombastic Jovo grabbed the headlines. Good riddance.

9) Rick Tocchet - I'll bet you that I can go this entire paragraph without making a gambling-related pun. Oh, never mind. A dirty player turned dirty coach, and I can't believe he actually landed a head coaching job (albeit in the circus that is Tampa - I give it six months before both Len Barrie and Oren Koules are residents of the crowbar motel). I was going to ladle on more gratuitious smartassery and further indictments on his playing days, but there's a guy lurking outside of the window with a violin case.

8) Eric Lindros - Formerly among my top-three least favourite players of all time, but he seems to have morphed into a sincerely good guy upon retiring, so I'll cut him some slack. Still, the fact remains that he was a first-class creep during his heyday. Who can forget his shunning of Les Nordiques de Québec on draft day? Shame! To play devil's advocate, however, he was saddled with perhaps the most demanding, horrific hockey parents of all time, which is a tough environment to emerge from. In hindsight, maybe I should have placed Bonnie and Carl on this list instead.

7) Alexei Yashin - Alright, three contract holdouts in five years is bad enough, but he's also the first person I've ever heard of who donated to charity and then later took it back. This happened back in 1999, when Yashin donated $1,000,000 to the National Arts Centre, only to insist upon it's return when the museum refused to pay his parents $425,000 in 'consulting fees.' Amazingly, this sordid arrangement even makes the aforelampooned Rick Tocchet seem squeaky clean by comparison. On the ice, Yashin was the epitome of a me-first player, and has never been highly regarded by teammates. He's currently toiling in Russia, but there are occasional NHL comeback rumblings. Don't hold your breath.

6) Brad May - Along with Jovo, another rare Canuck whom I couldn't stand. May's purportedly a 'tough guy,' yet has never met a bout he couldn't lose. Fittingly, he was recently dealt to the Leafs, and scored his first goal with the Buds the other night when a puck careened off his ass into the net, which is pretty much a microcosm for his career.

5) Chris Simon - Simon's insanely reckless cheap shots are without peer. Here are a few 'Greatest Hits': Imagine the following scrolling down a screen K-Tel commercial style.

- Stomping on the back of Jarkko Ruutu's leg with his skate blade.

- Cross-checking Peter Popovic across the throat.

- Baseball-swinging his stick into the face of Ryan Hollweg.

- Hurling racial epithets at Edmonton's Mike Grier.

Thankfully Simon's finally out of the NHL, but it's pathetic that it took so many incidents before the league finally turned it's collective back on him.

4) Tie Domi - Jeff Blair of the Globe & Mail put it perfectly the other day when noting that Leaf Nation, punch-drunk from years of failure, have 'turned mediocrities such as Tie Domi and Darcy Tucker into folk heroes.' I recognize that enforcers are often amongst the most popular players on a club, but the Domi-adoration took it to a ridiculous new extreme. What's rarely noted is that Domi was never even a that great of a fighter; I remember storied pugilist Jiri Slegr bloodying Tie's nose and handily defeating him back when he still played with the Jets (the camera caught him smashing furniture back in the tunnel, which made for nifty television). Following his playing days, Domi was briefly hired as an NHL studio analyst with TSN, but the network relieved him of his duties a few weeks later upon realizing that he can't actually string a sentence together. It's hardly a coincidence that the letters in the man's name can be rearranged to spell 'me idiot.'

3) Gary Suter - Strike one: playing for the strong Flames club that frequently steamrolled the hapless Canucks. Strike two: injuring Wayne Gretzky during the 1991 Canada Cup after smashing him into the boards from behind. Strike three: inflicting a serious ACL injury on Pavel Bure during another dirty play, starting the Rocket's slow decline to early retirement, and robbing the hockey world of one of it's most exciting talents right at the cusp of a period when his brand of play was sorely needed.

2) Dale Hunter - I remember watching the 2005 Memorial Cup, which featured as the host club coach Hunter's London Knights. They eventually beat Kid Crosby's Rimouski squad in the final, but what made me throw up in my mouth was that Hunter had clearly bequeathed his unsportsmanlike ethos on a bunch of impressionable kids. The Knights were the dirtiest team I'd yet seen at the junior level. Hunter's lionized in hockey annals as a blood-and-guts tough guy, which conveniently ignores the fact that he was at least as likely to swing his stick as drop his gloves (especially during the latter half of his career). His most egregious and infamous moment, laying out a prone Pierre Turgeon via the cheap-shot to end cheap-shots, is only the most visible lowlight.

1) Mark Messier - What can be said, really? I wouldn't know where to start, and time is short, so I'll hold my fire (lest it lead to a 10,000-word, splenetic denouncement). The only remotely positive contribution Messier made to the game, in my opinion, is this inarguably hilarious picture.

Yeah, that is Gary Coleman, if you're wondering.

This was negative, so I'll do up a list of my all-time favourite players in the near future.

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