The Most Notorious Villains in NHL History


Welcome back to Peculiar Side of Sports.  Every so often something in sports perplexes me, and I just hate not knowing something.  So, I do what any normal, sane sports fan does – I search ad nausea for the answer by any means necessary.  The good news is that I take all my hard work and relay the results to you.  If you are a fan of Sports History, check out the other articles I have written – “Sports History”.

I decided to take a look back at some of the most notorious players to ever have put on a pair of blades.  In each case they are known for having committed an atrocity so bad, they will forever be linked to the event and never forgiven.  I invite you to add other villains in the comment section below.

Without further ado, I present to you today’s Peculiar Side:

Claude Lemieux – The mere mention of the name will have every Red Wings fan literally ready to pounce.  Throughout his career as a villain he was not limited to the infamous series against Detroit where he completely destroyed Kris Draper’s face, though that is certainly the one that is longest-lasting.  As a member of Detroit’s “Grind Line” with Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty, Draper was an important part of the Red Wings teams of the mid-late 90s and early 2000s.  In 1996, the Red Wings set a new record for regular season points, but were up against a strong Avalanche team led by Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy, and Peter Forsberg in the Western Conference Finals.  While two of the most talented teams in recent memory should be enough to make for interesting hockey, no one was prepared for all the hell that broke loose.  In Game 6, after poking the puck forward near the teams’ benches, Draper was facing up-ice while slowly moving backwards when Claude Lemieux completely smashed him face first into the boards’ edge.  It took months to repair the broken jaw, nose, cheekbone, and to recover from nerve damage and a nasty concussion.  Again, Lemieux was a villain at times throughout his career, but the bitter hatred between the Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche and both teams’ fans was a direct result of his vicious hit on Draper.

Matt Cooke – Really, unless you’re a Habs fan (see: Zdeno Chara), can you argue that Matt Cooke ISN’T the most hated player in hockey today?  Nah, I thought not.  Everyone hates the guy outside of Pittsburgh.  Of all the atrocities he’s committed, none can compare to his hit on Marc Savard.  With one stupid decision, in a split second the star Bruins centre’s career came to a virtual end (sure he’d try a comeback, but it didn’t last long).  After receiving a pass just inside the blueline, Savard released a shot.  A few moments later, Cooke came across his front with a vicious shoulder to Savard’s head.  He was completely unconscious laying on the ice for some time, suffering a severe concussion.  When he did come-to, and was taken to hospital with a serious concussion – basically, a brain injury.  Though concussions in sports have been around forever, this incident was one of the worst and highest profile incidents on record.  To this day, a young man’s life was altered as a result of a disgusting hit.  Matt Cooke has had his fair share of other difficulties with NHL law, but the hit on Savard was the worst of the worst.

Todd Bertuzzi:  Todd Bertuzzi makes the list for a vicious attack on Steve Moore that left Moore with a broken neck and ended Moore’s career.  While skating behind Moore, Bertuzzi grabbed his jersey and sucker punched him in the back of the head.  Moore fell to the ice and a melee ensued with everyone from both teams jumping into the fray.  The move earned Bertuzzi a suspension for the rest of the regular season and the entire 2004 NHL Playoffs.  It was also set to be reviewed if the suspension would continue into the following season.  However, after the 2004-05 lockout wiped out the entire season, Bertuzzi was allowed back into the NHL when things started again.  The attack was due to the fact that Moore had injured Canucks captain Markus Naslund with a hit in the previous meeting between the Avalanche and the Canucks and Bertuzzi was out looking for revenge.  The premeditated nature of Bertuzzi’s actions makes this hit that much worse.  There have been allegations over the years that then Canucks coach Marc Crawford and then General Manager Brian Burke endorsed, condoned, or even ordered the revenge on Moore, however the courts are still dealing with those cases.

Marty McSorley:  McSorley was always known as one of the biggest and toughest players in the NHL.  In fact when Wayne Gretzky was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings, he requested that his personal bodyguard, McSorely, also be included in the deal, so that he would have the same protection on the ice.  McSorley had a legendary fight with Bob Probert in 1994, an epic encounter that cemented the reputation of both men as feared pugilists.  However, it was his actions on February 21, 2000 that would lead to a one-year suspension from the NHL, and him being found guilty of assault in a criminal court, and given 18 months probation.  With time running out in a game between McSorley’s Boston Bruins and Brashear’s Vancouver Canucks, McSorley viciously slashed Brashear in the head.   The two had fought earlier in the game with Brashear clearly coming out on top.  Many thought the slash was as revenge for that fight, or that it was due to Brashear turning down McSorley’s request for a rematch.  Either way, the slash was uncalled for, and landed McSorley what is the longest suspension in NHL history.  He would never play another game in the NHL.

Bobby Clarke: The Captain of the Broad Street Bullies was at the centre of many incidents during his Hall of Fame NHL career. However his most infamous act came in international competition during game 6 of the 1972 Canada vs Russia Summit Series. Clarke laid a vicious slash to the ankle of Soviet star Valeri Kharmalov, breaking his ankle. The injury took the Soviet’s best player out for game 7, and even though he played game 8 he was largely ineffective. The slash remains controversial today with some calling it the type of play that needed to be done to win the series, and others calling it vicious, uncalled for, and a dirty and deliberate intent to injure. The late John Ferguson, an assistant coach on Team Canada 72 stated, “I called Clarke over to the bench, looked over at Kharlamov and said, ‘I think he needs a tap on the ankle.’ I didn’t think twice about it.  It was Us versus Them. And Kharlamov was killing us.  I mean, somebody had to do it.  And I sure wasn’t going to ask Henderson.” While Paul Henderson called the incident “The low point of the series”, however he would later retract said criticism.  Clarke for his part, stands behind his actions saying that Kharmalov had initiated the dirty stick work between the two that had gone on all series.

Dino Ciccarelli: Ciccarelli is the only NHL player to be sent to jail over his actions in an on-ice incident.  His 1988 attack on Luke Richardson was so vicious that he was charged and convicted of assault, and given one day in jail, in addition to a $1000 fine. The fact he was already on probation for an off-ice indecent exposure incident at the time of the on-ice incident certainly didn’t help him in court. In the incident Ciccarelli gave Richardson a vicious two-hand slash to the head. He then attempted two, two-handed tomahawk chops to Richardson’s head with his stick but grazed him on the first, and misses on the second.  In many ways, Ciccarelli and Richardson are both fortunate that more damage was not done. The NHL suspended Cicarelli for 10 games for the incident.

Dale Hunter: Dale Hunter is one of the few players in NHL History to have over 1000 career points, and 1000 career penalty minutes. He was known for being a tough, skilled agitator throughout his career, mostly spent with the Quebec Nordiques and Washington Capitals. While Hunter earned a reputation for being a player who opponents hated, there is one incident in particular that stands out for its villany. In the 1993 Playoffs, the Washington Capitals faced a 3-2 deficit in their first round series with the New York Islanders. The Islanders star scorer was Pierre Turgeon, and when his late goal gave the Islanders a two-goal lead in game 6 and wrapped-up the series, Hunter snapped. Turgeon was celebrating the goal with his arms raised, when Hunter checked him into the boards from behind, leading to a serious shoulder injury and limiting Turgeon for the rest of the Islanders playoffs. The play occurred well after the whistle on a play that essentially ended the Capitals season. For his role in the assault, Hunter was given what was then one of the longest suspensions in NHL history, at 21 games the following season (or 1/4 of what was then an 84 game schedule).

Zdeno Chara:  We’ll put this one down as “controversial”.  When Zdeno Chara checked Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty into the stanchion at the benches in the Bell Centre in 2011, there is no doubt that Pacioretty suffered horrific injuries.  After being stretchered off the ice, a broken neck and a severe concussion were the diagnoses.  The controversy comes surrounding whether Chara intended to push Pacioretty into the stanchion or not.  Chara and the Bruins contended that it was a hockey play, while Montreal players were aghast at the incident, and remembered previous confrontations between the two players including a Bruins announcer calling for revenge on Pacioretty just over a month earlier.

The NHL eventually sided with Chara’s version of events deciding that no supplemental discipline was necessary. With the then head of the NHL’s discipline department, Colin Campbell, being the father of the Bruins Gregory Campbell, many felt that something was amiss, while other fans believed it to be an unfortunate action, but not worthy of suspension. The biggest outcry was of course in Montreal, leading to protests, campaigns boycotting NHL sponsors, an open letter from Montreal owner Geoff Molson to the NHL, and even a police investigation. Still booed every time he touches the puck in Montreal, this one feels somewhat unresolved.


Ulf Samuelsson- The Bruins and Penguins met in the 1991 Wales Conference Final, leading to Pittsburgh matching their top defensive defenceman Ulf Samuelsson against Boston’s top scorer Cam Neely, while the Penguins high-powered offensive stars were freed by coach Bob Johnson to do offensive damage.  Samuelsson would spend the series in Neely’s face, and a vicious knee shot in game 3 would injure the Bruins power forward.  A further hit in game 6 would do more damage and lead to a downward spiral in Neely’s career as he was plagued by bad knees and forced to retire early as a result.  The Bruins forward continues to blame Samuelsson for the cheap shots, and the premature end to his career, making Samuelsson enemy #1 in Boston.

Dis-honorable Mentions (other incidents that earned long suspensions): Jesse Boulerice, Stevie Downie, Tom Lysiak, Brad May, Eddie Shore, Maurice Richard, Wilf Paiement, Dave Brown, Wayne Maki, Ted Green, Tony Granato, Gord Dwyer, Chris Simon, Ron Hextall, Tie Domi, Alexei Perezhogin (AHL),

Dis-Honorable Mentions (career): Most of these guys are hated throughout hockey, but it is difficult to find one incident or attrocity that raises ire like those listed above. Their career work though, stands on its own and makes them hated in hockey circles.

Sean Avery, Chris Pronger, Jarkko Ruutu, Darius Kasparitis, Bryan Marchment, Ken Linseman, Raffi Torres,

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  1. Good list Rory.

    I’d probably consider Eric Lindros on that list as well. Everyone in the league hated how he played which was by no means clean even in those days. He was as dirty as they came.

    John Ferguson Sr. (the first enforcer), Dirty Dave Schultz, Tiger Williams, Gordie Howe and Chris Simon should all be considered as well.

  2. I think with everything known about Chara the “controversial” and “unproven” tags should be removed from describing his hit on Pacioretty but then I am a Habs fan. The punch he landed on Crosby isn’t the act of a consummate competitor but a craven cheat. And speaking of Boston and being a Habs fan, you can add Mclaren’s hit on Zednik to the list.

  3. In the entire history of the NHL, you pick Zdeno Chara??? Really? Not Raffi Torres, who has nearly ended several careers. Not Maurice Richard, who was such a spaz that he once punched out a linesman. Hell you could have even put Chris Simon up there, the guy that tried to decapitate Ryan Hollweg and cut a dude’s foot off with his skate. Nope, Zdeno Chara is clearly one of the worst villains in ALL of hockey history — all 100+ years — because of ONE PLAY (that apparently deserved two videos instead of one like everyone else got). Oh, but it happened against the Canadiens, your site’s favorite team, the WORST of crimes. I’m surprised there isn’t a French version of this article for your target audience.

    • The author of the article is a Red Wings fan.

      However can you really deny that Chara is hated in Montreal, and that it was one of the most debated and scrutinized incidents in recent memory? As the article says there are many who feel he’s done nothing wrong, and many who feel that he did… Enough fans hate him to make him a villain, I don’t think that is deniable.

      • “However can you really deny that Chara is hated in Montreal…”

        Nope, I would never deny that. You guys (Habs fan) hate Chara, which is fine. But you guys are pretty much the only ones. Whereas a guy like Raffi Torres is hated league-wide, Chara is hated really only in the city of Montreal and nobody else even really remembers that hit until it’s brought up. When you hear the name “Zdeno Chara,” do you really believe the common reaction to be “wow he almost killed Pacioretty!” When you hear the name “Raffi Torres,” do you think the common reaction is anything OTHER than “That was one dirty player!” Chara is a villain only in Montreal, and to put him on a list of the worst villains in league HISTORY is absurd.

        • It seems to me that it is about the most notorious incidents.

          I’d argue that the Chara hit is far, far more notorious, and received far, far more coverage than any single Torres incident.

          You’ll notice Torres is in the list for career accomplishments.

          However the list is title as “villains”.

          Being a villain is all about the intensity of the hatred. People might think Torres is dirty, but do they really hate him the same way, do they villainize him the same way as Chara was villainized. Do things get taken to the same extreme? I don’t see it. The fact is the Chara incident lingers in one city and is still part of a crowd’s hatred of that player.

          You say every fan thinks Torres is dirty. Does he have the entire crowd booing in every building he plays in? Is he that level of hated villain.

          • “It seems to me that it is about the most notorious incidents.”

            Nope. From the second paragraph: “I decided to take a look back at some of the most notorious players to ever have put on a pair of blades.”

            “I’d argue that the Chara hit is far, far more notorious, and received far, far more coverage than any single Torres incident.”

            Not only did Torres’s crazy 21-game suspension receive more attention than the Chara play, not only does Torres have several more “incidents” than Chara, but the discussion about the Chara play was more about both the lack of a suspension and the ridiculous saga of the fans calling the police asking for punishment than it was the hit itself.

            It’s not even about Torres, it’s the fact that Chara made the list.

    • I think you have anger issues, wow! I am a Red Wings fan, actually don’t like the Habs at all. Hence I qualified the Chara part by acknowledging that it isn’t as clear cut. These are from recent memory. I would have thought the part at the end where I asked for anyone to give their own villains that would be enough to explain that this was not meant to be exhaustive, but just the ones that stick out to me. Sorry you are so disappointed, but relax.

      • “These are from recent memory.”

        What? You have a couple guys that retired decades ago (Bobby Clarke, Dale Hunter, etc.) What’s the standard for your choices?

        “…but just the ones that stick out to me”

        Glad you guys hold yourself to such a high journalistic standard, instead of basing your article on actual analysis and complete thoughts. Can’t wait for your next article on the 10 best NHL players based on that one time you played NHL13.

        Your article is titled “The Most Notorious Villains in NHL History,” not “Hey guys here are some dudes I think are bad people in a list I just thought of while in the shower.”

        • Again, I ask, do you deny that Many NHL fans hate Chara for the incident?

          Yes there is homerism involved… but there is homerism in all the choices.

          Bruins fans will hate Cooke and Samuelsson more than others.
          Isles fans will hate Hunter more than others.
          Red Wings fans will hate Lemieux.
          So yes, Habs fans hate Chara,

          You probably need to accept that others opinions on who they hate based on a notorious incident are likely colored by the team they cheer for. It happens.

          Considering it is one of, if not the biggest fanbase, the number of people who hate him is pretty high.

          • “Again, I ask, do you deny that Many NHL fans hate Chara for the incident?”

            I deny that the majority of NHL fans hate Chara for the incident, or at least a smaller number than the amount that hate some, if not all, of the other honorable mentions that didn’t make the top list, especially when considering all of hockey history.

            “Yes there is homerism involved… but there is homerism in all the choices.”

            Again, glad you guys hold yourself to a high journalistic standard. You guys are supposed to be writers for a sports website, not people talking on a Canadiens or Red Wings message board. That means all bias is supposed to be kept to a minimum. Of course you’re allowed to have an opinion, but you’re going to get chewed out by your readers and look foolish if that homerism is too strong. Just some advice.

            Also, what does the fact that Habs fans hate Chara have to do with my response to the article? You (and the author himself) have already stated the the author is a Wings fan. Bias should not be an issue, the list should be based on fact and logical thought.

            “Considering it is one of, if not the biggest fanbase, the number of people who hate him is pretty high.”

            I didn’t realize that one team’s fans comprised of more than half the league’s fans.

          • You are insufferable.

            Again…. the article is about Villains. Perhaps you should familiarize yourself with the definition of VILLAIN.

            A villain isn’t a player who a bunch of fans think, wow that guy is kinda dirty.

            A villain is a guy who inspires true hate from opposing fans.

            Lemieux is a true villain in Detroit, Chara is a true villain in Montreal, Hunter on Long Island, Samuelsson in Boston, Cooke in Boston, etc…. etc…

            Being truly hated, even if it is in one city, is enough to be a villain. Just being dirty is not near enough to be a true villain.

            If you are too thick to understand what this means… I literally can’t help you. You talk about logic, but are unable to think logically or critically.

  4. Good God, how do you not put Bryan Marchment on this list? The guy was at least as bad as Ulf. The king of cheap hits. He deserves more than an honourable mention!

  5. Marchment and Scott Stevens should be at the top of the list; no modern players have injured more stars than those two.

  6. I think there are a lots of Ranger fans out there that would include Denis Potvin on their list. After 30 years they’re still chanting about his hit on Ulf Nilsson

    • But he didn’t do anything bad to Montreal, and the city of Montreal didn’t threaten to boycott the league because of anything he did, therefore he isn’t a villain

  7. I can’t respond to the comment, so I’m posting here: defines a villain as: “a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; scoundrel”

    So you guys made up your own definition of a villain, which is fine.

    “A villain is a guy who inspires true hate from opposing fans”

    Oh, really? So why isn’t Sidney Crosby on that list? He’s undoubtedly the most hated player in the entire league right now. I’m a Rangers fan, where’s Marty Brodeur? We’ve hated him for more than a decade, now, and probably hate him more than Habs fans hate Chara. How about Patrick Kaleta? He’s pretty universally hated. Chara is hated by ONE fanbase, ONE. It might be big, but it’s ONE, UNO, SINGULAR. That’s why it’s absurd! I’m not denying that Habs fans hate him, and I’m sure there are people scattered across the continent who hate him, but there are dozens, if not hundreds, of players who have inspired more league-wide hate than Zdeno freakin’ Chara. This list is a compilation of the dirtiest players in the history of the league, plus Zdeno Chara. Todd Bertuzzi is a literal villain, because there were criminal charges filed against him.

    “I literally can’t help you.”

    Perhaps you should familiarize yourself with the definition of “literally,” because you can help me by admitting that Chara should not be on this list. It’s an honest mistake. It’s fine. I screw up all the time, but I have the humility to admit when a mistake has been made.

    • So we are clear.

      You think that Bertuzzi qualifies as a villian because he was charged criminally, (even though those charges were thrown out of court before even reaching the trial stage).

      But Chara who had

      – A police investigation on the incident.
      – 2 Major NHL Sponsors (Air Canada and Via Rail) threaten to boycott if the NHL didn’t clean up head shots and release open letters to the league on the issue.
      – A protest outside the arena.
      – An NHL Owner take the league to task over the issue in an open letter.

      That doesn’t qualify.


      Whats the difference between a police investigation, and criminal charges that are ultimately dropped and not pursued? Legally speaking, there is no difference between the two.

      Add to that the outcry from sponsors, fans, and owners, and yes you have a villian.

      Ever see a sponsor threaten to boycott because of Crosby or Brodeur? No, its absurd.

      Your whole argument makes no sense.

      You see one side of the story, the Chara did nothing wrong side, which was acknowledged in the article. Yet you refuse to see the fact that this was a controversial incident, which had a big impact and a large, large number of people disagreeing with you.

  8. Chara may not be a villain, but he his a cheap shot artist. I can’t believe the punch to Crosby’s jaw, right after he removes his face guard, was not grounds for a suspension. Not even a penalty was called. Punching a guy in the face recovering from a broken jaw is a cheap shot. I’m surprised no one from the Pens did not go all Bertuzzi on him.