Top 10: Most polarizing players in the NHL

Rory Boylen
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Some players have a knack for dividing public opinion. So do some top 10 lists – as I’m sure this one will.

In coming up with this list of the 10 most polarizing players in the NHL, we decided not to include some hated players for a few reasons.

Number 1: Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin do not appear since the only reason they are despised is because they are so dang good. They haven’t done anything off the ice or with their play to really earn the hate, but it comes with the territory of being (among) the best players in the world and the faces of the NHL.

Number 2: We did not include the controversial Raffi Torres or Matt Cooke because those guys are much closer to having the world of hockey hating them than dividing opinion.

We wanted guys who really split outlooks of their value and what they bring to the table. For instance, Dion Phaneuf nearly made the list because some see him a s a top line defender capable of competing for a spot on Team Canada and some think he’s useless and on the down slope of his career already.

So here’s who we came up with as the 10 most polarizing players in the NHL.

10. Dustin Brown
Ask Phoenix Coyotes fans and they’ll tell you Dustin Brown is the dirtiest player to come along since the 1970s. But the funny thing is, Brown has only ever had 80 penalty minutes in a season once. He’s a hard-nosed forward who brings every ounce of his power into the corner or along the boards. A fierce competitor, the LA Kings captain is a shining light of leadership for one fan base, and the worst of all evil-doers to another.

9. Mike Green
For some of the same reasons P.K. Subban appears on this list, Green is here too. Even when he scored 73 and 76 points in back-to-back seasons he still had a lot of detractors for not having a rounded game fit for an elite NHLer. Team Canada didn’t even come knocking. But there are those who believe he is in this upper echelon of defenders who should be included on any Team Canada list and that he’s been robbed of a Norris, or maybe two. I’m not sure about that, but for a defenseman who once scored 31(!) goals in a season, Green sure does have a lot of haters.

8. P.K. Subban
Is too much swagger a bad thing? Some people think so, including Habs coach Michel Therrien, who outlawed the low-five last year. The 2013 Norris Trophy winner has supporters of his wild talent and a lot of detractors who say he takes too many risks. Even his Norris win churned up debate over his credentials. Subban has all the flash and dazzle, but isn’t yet a complete player at 24 years of age. He’s been rewarded as one though, which divides opinion. Playing on a prime time team such as the Habs doesn’t help either.

7. Marc-Andre Fleury
Because of Fleury’s struggles in the post-season for the past four years, his pool of detractors is growing. But Penguins GM Ray Shero is not giving up on him yet and believes Fleury can get out of his rut, since he’s still only 28 – and Shero is not alone. There are those who believe Fleury is still the guy who can back stop the powerful Pens core to another Cup championship or two (or a few) and others who think he’s a write-off the Pens should cast off. Even from the day he was drafted Fleury’s composure was questioned – a lot of Canadians probably still have this blunder from the 2004 WJC etched in their minds.

6. Phil Kessel
Even though Kessel is Toronto’s best natural goal scorer and producer, there were plenty of people within his own market who thought the Leafs should have gotten rid of him before paying him UFA dollars. Kessel was once supposed to be the Sidney Crosby of his draft, but ended up falling to No. 5 and was traded out of Boston three years after that. He’s reached the 30-goal plateau four times, but is derided for being too soft and a peripheral player. But he’s been better than a point-per-game player over the past two seasons and has improved himself defensively, so his crowd of supporters is slowly growing.

5. Brad Marchand
He’s a pest, but he’s one heckuva productive pest – good enough to be considered for Team Canada. Some think a player of his ilk should be run out of the NHL, but then you forget he scored 28 goals in 2011-12 and 18 more in the lockout shortened season. He’s a playoff beast, too. He’ll always toe the line, which will put him on lists like this throughout his career, but the kid has skills and hockey smarts. He makes you angry because he knows how to make you angry.

4. Alex Semin
Just suggest on Twitter that Semin’s excellent lockout shortened season won’t be duplicated in 2013-14 and you’ll see how many supporters he has. It’s crazy. Ya he scored 40 goals for Washington in 2009-10…but he followed it up with totals of 28 and 21. Is it that unreasonable to think he’ll dip from a point-per-game pace he had in his first season in Carolina? Semin has all the natural ability to be an explosive scorer, but a lack of consistency seems to hold him back. He could be great and he could be way overpaid at $7 million for five years. This is what divides opinion about him.

3. Tim Thomas
The guy who didn’t go to The White House to celebrate a Stanley Cup championship with his teammates and Barack Obama received tons of flak for standing behind his personal political beliefs. He went from a wonderful late-bloomer story to a pariah in a snap and after taking a year away from the NHL, he returned with Florida. Will he be a good teammate to young Jacob Markstrom? Will he be a distraction for a team in search of an identity? Will he even be any good anymore? The start to the season has been awful, but given what the 39-year-old has been through to get here, it’s still hard to count him out. But that depends on how you look at him in the first place.

2. Joe Thornton
For years, Thornton was labeled as soft and not the type of player you could count on in the playoffs and he’s never been able to shake that reputation. But you know what? He’s scored 32 points in 34 playoff games over the past three years with San Jose and in many cases, was their best player in a series. Alas, the Sharks franchise has been unable to get over that hump, which has kept Thornton from rewriting his legacy. Some people are coming around, but it’s hard to shake a long-standing, negative reputation.

1. Roberto Luongo
Is he an elite goalie, or isn’t he? Once considered a lock to take over for Martin Brodeur as Team Canada’s main goalie, lots of people now don’t believe he should even be in the conversation. Talk about polarizing – it was a little more than two years ago he was one win away from the Stanley Cup and he’s only one season removed from a .919 save percentage. You’d think a goalie with that recent history would be on every Canadian’s list as a top three candidate for a Sochi job, but Luongo has lots of haters. Though his jokey Twitter account has started the needle in the other direction. Slightly.