Last week during the third and last (well the last for now) Rangers-Bruins game, Milan Lucic took exception to the way the Ryan McDonagh plays hockey and decided he was going to try to prove that he’s tough. This wasn’t the first time the two had had sort of mixed it up since last March, Lucic didn’t like that McDonagh didn’t like that Lucic hit from behind. So Lucic, the owner of 30 penalty minutes in 2013 and 555 career penalty minutes (in 371 games) decided that McDonagh and his 66 career penalty minutes (in 136 games) was someone worth bullying.
But this is who Milan Lucic is. He’ll try to intimidate the guys that are in the league because they can play and every once in a while he will prove to those that are in the league even though they can’t play that he is in the league because he can. And it was this latest example of Lucic’s “toughness” that led me to create the first edition of the NHL All-Animosity Team the way I had for MLB.
Five years ago this list would have been a lot easier to make. Ten years ago, this list would have written itself. But in 2013, things are a little trickier. It actually took time to complete a defensive pair (and it’s not even a real defensive pair) for the team when in 2002-03 I would have had to make three separate weeks of cuts just to get it down to six or eight.
But to go along with the MLB All-Animosity Team, which will celebrate its fourth season this spring, here’s the first edition of the NHL All-Animosity Team. (Note: Brian Boyle wasn’t ineligible to make the team.)
I’m not sure there’s anything left to be said about Lucic that wasn’t captured in the opening of this column. But if I could add anything to justify his placement on this team it would be his unnecessary running of Ryan Miller and that Boston fans so badly want him to be Cam Neely 2.0 and some are even crazy enough to think that he is. (FYI: He’s not and it’s not even close.) And there’s nothing worse than a Boston sports fan overrating their player’s talent and ability. (Hey, it’s Trot Nixon!) Also, according to Jack Edwards, Lucic still hasn’t lost a fight.
Show me someone outside of Pittsburgh that likes Matt Cooke and doesn’t have the last name Cooke and I will show you a liar. Cooke has become the unanimous number 1 choice as the most hated player in the league (though Raffi Torres really wants that spot), and had I not cared about this column flowing, I would have listed him first instead of Lucic.
Cooke has supposedly changed his dangerous ways and knack for hits and cheap shots that make you wonder what goes through someone’s mind right before they decide to go through with a hit like this.
But it’s not the hit from behind on Fedor Tyutin that I will always think of when I think of Matt Cooke. When I hear Cooke’s name I will always think of him starting the end of Marc Savard’s career with an elbow to the head, which he wasn’t suspended for. And while Cooke continues to play, Savard is left tweeting things like this one from Nov. 8 or this one from Dec. 17. No big deal.
Cooke has been suspended five times and four of those have come while with the Penguins. (If Colin Campbell had never been the league disciplinarian, that number could be doubled.) After being suspended for the remainder of the 2010-11 regular season and the first round of playoffs the year for elbowing Ryan McDonagh in the head, Cooke said, “I don’t want to hurt anybody. That’s not my intention. I know that I can be better.” At the time, no one believed him. I’m not sure if anyone does yet.
You probably didn’t expect to see this name here. He’s the cleanest player of the group and a Top 3 talent in the world. But for me Ovechkin has been a problem as I have had to argue against him in what seemed like a never-ending Crosby vs. Ovechkin debate that has now ended with Crosby at the clearly better player.
Ovechkin has 15 goals and 14 assists in 29 regular season games against the Rangers and has been a key player in two first-round exits for the Rangers (2008-09 and 2010-11). On top of that, it seems like every time I get to see him in person he doesn’t do anything (which is both good and bad), including on Sunday night at the Garden and the first time I ever saw him play on Jan. 26, 2006 in Boston, he missed a shorthanded breakaway and then also failed to score on a penalty shot. Give me Crosby every day of the week.
Jack Edwards will likely tell you that Chara is the best defenseman in the league, but he’s the same guy who thinks fights are decided by whichever plays ends up on top of the other player on the ice. Is there anything worse than when broadcasters talk about Chara’s 108-mph slap shot in the Skills Competition in a real game? No, there’s not. Because there are a lot of times in real games when you get to sprint untouched from the blue into a still puck in the slot and rip a bomb into an open net. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg that is the lovefest for the 6-foot-9, one-time Norris Trophy winner.
It’s tough to say that Chara won’t fight or fight frequently since there aren’t many willing opponents to go against his reach, but unlike Lucic, when Chara picks his spots, he picks them correctly, except when he intentionally tries to injure someone like Max Pacioretty (listen to Jack Edwards blame it on the geometry of the rink), which I wrote about after it happened. But it’s not tough to say that outside of being a massive body on the ice with the longest stick in the league, Chara’s game is overrated by everyone and anyone willing to form an opinion based on his name alone (except for maybe Mike Milbury who thought that Chara, Bill Muckalt and the pick that turned into Jason Spezza was worth Alexei Yashin). But Chara has always been good at standing in front of the net on the power play, which has always been good for a good laugh when rebounds appear at his feet.
I know Maxim Lapierre isn’t a defenseman, but here’s the thing: there are a lot more forwards in the league to hate than defensemen (probably because there are a lot more forwards in the league than defensemen), so for the sole purpose of not trying to fake hate someone for the sake of this team, I’m going to make a forward play defense for the sake of this team. And when you’re talking about Maxim Lapierre, it’s easy to bend the rules and make exceptions and change things to make sure he’s part of something that includes “Animosity” in the title.
It was hard to pick a Western Conference player since the Rangers play the Canucks once a year and won’t play them at all this year, but Lapierre’s antics go back to his time when he was in the Eastern Conference with the Canadiens. And any Bruins fan taking exception for Lucic and Chara making the team should forgive me for including the 2010-11 Final agitator.
I’m not sure which of the dozens of Lapierre cheap shot moments or examples to break down here, but I think this attempt to draw a penalty against fellow Animosity teammate Zdeno Chara proves his worth to this team. And on top of me breaking the rules and putting a forward on defense just to get him in the lineup, Lapierre is part of the first tier of the “Athletes I Hate To Look At” List, which is led by Josh Beckett. And I’m not the only one who thinks so since someone made a video of his many punchable faces from one game.
The problem with Lapierre is that even though he plays the game in a way that no one should play the game, he does it within the rules because the rules allow for players like him to run around without the fear of paying the price for their actions. But in order to fix that, the NHL would have to care about the game, its integrity and the fans, and there’s a better chance of me giving Nick Swisher a welcome applause when the Indians arrive in the Bronx this season than there is of the NHL caring about any of those things ever.
Was there any other choice?
It’s simple: If you’re a Rangers fan, you don’t like Martin Brodeur. If you’re any other fan, you (most likely) like Martin Brodeur. (Unless you’re a fan of the Ten Commandments.)
Brodeur has been a part of the Rangers-Devils rivalry for 20 years now. Twenty! And when I watch highlights from the ’94 season (since those are all the memorable moments the Rangers have provided in the last 19 years) I can’t believe that he’s still the Devils goalie.
I have friends that try to discredit most of (and sometimes all of) Brodeur’s career by citing the depth and system Lou Lamoriello built around him, and I will agree that there is some truth to the situation he was put in in 1993-94 and the one he has played in since. But that’s sports and there’s no way of knowing if Brodeur would be the NHL’s all-time winningest goalie as part of another franchise or if the Devils would have three Cups if someone other than Brodeur had been their goalie.
In 2008-09 this theory looked real when career backup Scott Clemmensen went 25-13-1 for the Devils with a 2.39 goals against average and .917 save percentage. The theory looked even more real in 2010-11 when injuries to the core of the Devils forced Brodeur to be outstanding and he posted a career-low .903 save percentage and posted a sub-.500 record for the first time in his career (though age could obviously be cited as a factor). But then Brodeur had to go and record 31 wins in 59 games in 2011-12 and beat the Rangers along the way to his fifth Stanley Cup Final appearance at the age of 40 even if he didn’t look like the three-time Cup winner in the process.
Brodeur isn’t the same goalie in 2012-13 at 40 that he was in 2002-03 at 30 when he won his first of four Vezinas. But my animosity for him remains the same.