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THN.com Blog: Comeback ‘kid’ Lemieux most hated ever

Right wing Claude Lemieux of the Colorado Avalanche stands on the ice during a game against the New Jersey Devils. (Al Bello /Allsport)

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Right wing Claude Lemieux of the Colorado Avalanche stands on the ice during a game against the New Jersey Devils. (Al Bello /Allsport)

Claude Lemieux is No. 1, so why try harder?

The quintessential shift disturber ranks atop the register of most hated players of all-time in our recently released publication, The Ultimate Book of Hockey Lists.

Now, as he attempts an improbable comeback with the San Jose Sharks at age 43, the question becomes: can he do anything to alter that status if he indeed makes it all the way back to the NHL?

Not likely, but stay tuned. In the meantime, you can digest this excerpt from the book…or even purchase a copy to get our take on the order of the universe in 100 other areas.

MOST HATED PLAYERS
1. Claude Lemieux – Mtl, NJ, Col, Phx, Dal (1984-2003)
2. Sprague Cleghorn – Ott, Tor, Mtl, Bos (1918-1928)
3. Ken Linseman – Phi, Edm, Bos, Tor (1978-91)
4. Kenny Reardon – Mtl (1940-50)
5. Ulf Samuelsson – Hfd, Pit, NYR, Det, Phi (1984-2000)
6. Sean Avery – Det, LA, NYR, Dal (2001-present)
7. Eddie Shore – Bos, NY Americans (1926-1940)
8. Billy Smith – LA, NYI (1971-1989)
9. Dale Hunter – Que, Wsh, Col (1980-99)
10. Bryan Marchment – Wpg, Chi, Hfd, Edm, TB, SJ, Col, Tor, Cgy (1989-2006)
 
The Terrible 10 share two common traits: they were universally despised and highly successful.

Exhibit A: Claude Lemieux. He was the ultimate do-whatever-it-takes-to-win player; using his stick to score big goals and whack opponents, while using his mouth to annoy foes and on at least one occasion, bite. He won four Stanley Cups with three different teams, garnering the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP with New Jersey in 1995.

His legacy was cemented when, as a member of the Colorado Avalanche in the 1996 Western Conference final against Detroit, he dangerously crushed Kris Draper from behind into the boards. Draper sustained a broken jaw, nose and cheekbone and required reconstructive surgery on his face. Lemieux was suspended two playoff games and incited one of the most heated rivalries hockey has ever seen.

Sprague Cleghorn was hockey’s original instigator, a rock-steady defenseman known as the master of the butt-end who wouldn’t think twice about taking the law into his own hands.

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In one notable game against Ottawa, he forced three opponents off the ice due to injury: two via stick infractions and one with a vicious hit. The law caught up with him in 1923, when, after bopping Ottawa’s Lionel Hitchman in the head with his stick, Cleghorn was charged with aggravated assault, found guilty and fined $50.

Ken Linseman was dubbed ‘The Rat’ by Flyers teammate Bob Clarke for his on-ice demeanor and appearance. He was the ultimate agitator and stickman who inherently knew how to get under the skin of his rivals, both figuratively and literally. He was also a highly effective player who had a knack for scoring big goals in the playoffs.

Kenny Reardon was consumed with winning and played the game on the Habs blueline as if his feet were on fire. He was reckless and fearless, a style that made him much-loved in Montreal and much-despised around the rest of the league.

In New York, fans went as far as to form a Hate Kenny Reardon Club. Buffs of the Original Six might best remember Reardon for his long-running feud with Cal Gardner, one that featured fights with spectators and police at Madison Square Garden in one contest and subsequently climaxed when Reardon broke his rival’s jaw when Gardner was a Maple Leaf.

Of the other bad boys on our list:

• Ulf Samuelsson and Bryan Marchment were notorious for borderline dangerous hits that sometimes resulted in injury. Samuelsson, also a supreme agitator, will forever be linked to a knee-on-thigh check that hastened the retirement of beloved Bruin Cam Neely. Marchment had a string of victims and earned the nickname ‘Mid-Ice Madman’ for his submarine-style hip checks.

• Superstar Eddie Shore, a four-time Hart Trophy winner, was a tough-as-nails defenseman whose darkest moment came when he nearly killed Toronto’s Ace Bailey during a collision.

• Billy Smith wielded his substantial goal stick in the Islanders crease as if it were a machete.

• Scrappy Dale Hunter makes the list not for his plethora of penalty minutes, but primarily for his cheap shot on an unsuspecting Pierre Turgeon as the Islanders center was celebrating a game-winning playoff goal. Hunter was suspended a then-record 21 games.

• Trash-talkin’ Sean Avery might eventually work his way to No. 1 on the list. He was selected as the most hated player in the league by his peers in a survey conducted by The Hockey News in 2007 – and that was a year before his stick-waving antics in front of New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur.

Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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