Grudge report: The one thing every NHL fan base won't give up

Hockey fans can be a passionate bunch — which means a lot of them hold grudges. Some are petty, some are major, but the one truth is that fans of each of the 31 NHL teams have one thing they’re hung up on and simply can’t get over.

Whether it’s a perceived cheap shot, a situation where they were allegedly wronged by the on-ice officials, a major mistake by their own team management — or in one case, an NHL arbitrator — these are deep wounds whose scars remain several years (or even decades) later.

Let’s delve into the leading grudge for every NHL fan base:

Jump ahead to a team:
ANA | ARI | BOS | BUF | CGY | CAR | CHI
COL | CBJ | DAL | DET | EDM | FLA

LA | MIN | MTL | NSH | NJ | NYI
NYR | OTT | PHI | PIT | STL | SJ
TB | TOR | VAN | VGS | WSH | WPG

Ducks fans weren’t too pleased when their last-place team traded Teemu Selanne to the Sharks in 2001, but it was largely forgotten when the Finnish Flash returned following the 2004-05 lockout. Selanne is widely considered a franchise legend. Losing in the Stanley Cup Final in 2003 — despite the best efforts of Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who still won the Conn Smythe — stings.

But as my colleague Greg Wyshynski points out, the answer here might be the team’s roots as “The Mighty Ducks” and, as he puts it, “the way they’ve treated that legacy through the years (for a while running away from it).”

In 2006, Anaheim dropped the “Mighty” in its name altogether, after months of consultation with a public relations firm and a survey of season-ticket holders. It came following an ownership change, from the Walt Disney Company to Henry and Susan Samueli. “I’m very happy they kept the ‘Ducks’ because it’s the original name,” Selanne said at the time. “Taking the ‘Mighty’ away makes it more of a business. I think it’s fine. With the new owners, I think they wanted a new identity.”

What irks Coyotes fans? The belief that Arizona doesn’t deserve an NHL team. Since the team debuted in Phoenix in 1996, it’s been a fight for legitimacy, with plenty of roadblocks that spurred cynicism. That includes bankruptcy, getting bailed out by the NHL, and countless rumors about relocating the team (as well as actual attempts). Portland, Oregon; Seattle; Houston; and seemingly 30 Canadian cities have been floated as potential landing spots for the Coyotes. The fact that they still don’t have a new arena doesn’t help, nor does the fact that commissioner Gary Bettman is constantly asked about the state of the franchise at media briefings.

Canadians are especially skeptical. Just consider this column from Sportsnet’s Mark Spector. He calls the Coyotes a “low event, low excitement, low value for the ticket buyer, and a perennial low finisher in the National Hockey League standings” and continues to critique the team for being too “boring.” Responded team president Ahron Cohen after it was published: “We’re not going to get in the business of responding to every negative story or tweet, but with this you have a misinformed story from a Canadian journalist that doesn’t bother to look at all the positivity we’ve built in this Arizona community.”

Three little words will haunt Bruins fans forever: too many men. The year was 1979, and the Bruins were in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals against the rival Montreal Canadiens. Boston led 4-3 late in the game when it was whistled for too many men on the ice. Guy Lafleur scored on the ensuing power play, Yvon Lambert notched the overtime winner, and the Canadiens went on to win their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup — a run that included three straight years in which they eliminated Boston.

Bruins coach Don Cherry later took the blame, telling reporters: “The guy couldn’t have heard me yell. I grabbed two other guys trying to go over the boards. That would have made eight on the ice. Might as well have let them go.” That, however, didn’t make anyone in Boston feel better about the whole ordeal.

It’s perhaps the most controversial goal in NHL playoff history, so naturally it’s still tormenting Buffalo fans, especially since the Sabres haven’t made it back to the Stanley Cup Final since. Of course we’re talking about the 1999 Stanley Cup Final and Brett Hull‘s infamous series-clinching goal with his skate in the crease.

The refs didn’t see it that way, of course, and Hull’s goal stood as the winner in overtime of Game 6. The Sabres stayed in their uniforms long after the last whistle blew, hoping the NHL might reverse course. But it didn’t. The Dallas Stars were crowned Stanley Cup champions, and Buffalo fans still chant, “No goal!” whenever they get the chance.

Even in retirement, Hull finds himself defending the goal. “We all knew that they had changed the rule,” Hull said in 2009. “But obviously the NHL decided they weren’t going to tell anybody but the teams. … They changed the rule to say if you have control in the crease, you can score the goal, and that’s exactly what it was. But nobody knows that. You can tell people that a million times and they just will not listen.”

Flames fans still haven’t gotten over their 3-2 double-overtime loss to Tampa Bay in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2004 — especially one play late in the third period. Martin Gelinas appeared to beat Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to give the Flames a 3-2 lead. It could have been Gelinas’ fourth consecutive series clincher. (Holy cow, what a run he was on; he is aptly now known as “The Eliminator.”) But a goal was not called, and play continued. At the time, the NHL didn’t have the authority to whistle the play dead for review. Calgary had the chance to clinch on home ice. Instead, the Flames lost the series in seven games.

Gelinas and the Flames are still salty. “If I had to do it all over again, I would put my arms up and I would track back and I would chase back the puck,” Gelinas told Sportsnet 690 in 2018. “At least I would show that’s what I saw. To this day, Gary Bettman — and he should — he’s saying it didn’t go in. But I’m going to keep saying that puck was in.”

The greatest fight song in hockey no longer exists. OK, so this is technically an issue with the Hartford Whalers, but if we’re talking about a franchise’s biggest gripe, “Brass Bonanza” has to be it.

Fans threw a fit when general manager Brian Burke tried banning it in 1992. As Burke recalled on the ESPN On Ice podcast recently, he did it because the players asked him to. “They said it was embarrassing to have a fight song,” Burke said. But the fans? “As soon as I left, they put it back in,” Burke said. “People were outraged. People really love the song. I could care less. Like, I care about game presentation; if fans like the song generally, then I like it, too. OK, so some of the arena music that we have, I don’t like, but if fans like it, it’s about what they like.”

When Peter Karmanos relocated the team to North Carolina, “Brass Bonanza” petered out. However, there is a glimmer of hope, as new owner Tom Dundon has embraced the Hartford roots, and “Brass Bonanza” can occasionally be heard during stops in play in Raleigh.

Longtime Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz had a reputation for being both frugal and stubborn. Fans called him “Dollar Bill,” and he was often booed when he showed up at games. In 1992, Wirtz decided the team’s home games shouldn’t be televised; he believed it was a privilege to be a season-ticket holder, and televising games would somehow hurt attendance. The decision, however, shut out an entire generation of fans, and the late ’90s and early 2000s for the Blackhawks are often referred to as “the Dark Ages.”

Wirtz died in 2007, and his son, Rocky, inherited the franchise. Rocky Wirtz acted quickly. He lured team president John McDonough away from the Cubs, and together, they brokered deals to get the team back on TV. While winning three Stanley Cups in a five-year span certainly earned goodwill, this fan base will never forget how it and the team were mishandled for too long.

A friend connected me with Mike Dadlani, a current Avalanche season-ticket holder, who says the team getting the short end of things in the draft lottery lately is his biggest grievance. While it happened in 2017 (after finishing dead last) and 2019 (the final consideration of the Matt Duchene trade), there has been a silver lining. Although Colorado slipped to fourth in 2017, it did select Cale Makar, who seems to be a sure thing as the future face of the blue line.

Longtime Avs reporter Adrian Dater believes the fan base is still haunted by Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals at Dallas. It was the second year in a row the Avs lost to the Stars, again in a Game 7. “Of course, the Avs won the Cup the next year,” Dater said. “But that loss is still bemoaned by Avs fans (and the players who were on the team). It’s the ‘one that got away,’ the third Cup they should have won.” Dater notes that Stars fans began chanting, “Eddie’s better” (as in Eddie Belfour is better than Patrick Roy) at the end of the game, which Avs fans found particularly aggravating.

Blue Jackets fans weren’t happy when Adam Foote and Rick Nash left town. They also haven’t gotten over the 2017 playoffs series versus Pittsburgh, when Zach Werenski took a puck to the eye and the referee didn’t stop play. (The Penguins, essentially playing with an extra man, scored to even it up, and rallied to take a 3-0 series lead.)

But Columbus’ biggest grievance is Jeff Carter‘s brief tenure in 2011. Carter was traded from Philadelphia for Jake Voracek over the summer, and he made it known he was not happy about the move. He wouldn’t pick up the phone, for anyone. It got to the point where the team flew a private plane to Carter’s summer home in Sea Isle, New Jersey, so captain Nash and members of the Blue Jackets’ front office could assure Carter that life as a Blue Jacket wouldn’t be so bad.

Carter skated in 39 games for the Blue Jackets, and was thrilled to be dealt to Los Angeles at the trade deadline. Fans in Columbus still boo Carter enthusiastically.

I have a friend, Stephen Grantham, who is a huge Stars fan. So I asked for his take here. “[Jean-Sebastian] Giguere’s pads in 2003 are what tick me off the most,” he said. “Dude was cheating, and we were sick that year.”

Now, teams complaining about the Ducks goalie’s pads had become a recurring issue, but several Stars players were irked during the teams’ second-round playoff matchup in 2003. The Stars were eliminated, and Giguere went on to win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP.

But the most universal grudge, Grantham thinks, is for Bryan Marchment, whose hits injured both Mike Modano and Joe Nieuwendyk. The hit on Nieuwendyk occurred in the 1998 playoffs. Nieuwendyk tore an ACL, and the Stars were eliminated without their leading scorer. “I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not,” Modano said in 1998. “But everybody seems to get hurt by that guy.”

Stars coach Ken Hitchcock would later call the Nieuwendyk hit “legitimate,” but Dallas fans almost universally agree it was dirty.

Claude Lemieux‘s hit from behind on Kris Draper in Game 6 of the 1996 Western Conference finals — yeah, that will get Red Wings fans fired up. The incident sparked an all-out brawl, only adding fuel to one of the NHL’s fiercest rivalries in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

The Red Wings were eliminated in that game, and Draper needed reconstructive facial surgery. “My teammates didn’t actually know how bad my injuries were until they got on the plane and saw me,” Draper wrote in a Players Tribune article in 2017. “So they had gone through the whole handshake line not knowing my face was caved in. That’s the backstory for Dino Ciccarelli‘s famous quote about Lemieux: ‘I can’t believe I shook this guy’s friggin’ hand after the game. That pisses me right off.'”

So how much do Oilers fans hate Peter Pocklington? Just watch the 30 for 30 “Kings Ransom.” It’s an entire movie about how the former Oilers owner traded Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings, and there are scenes where fans are literally burning sacrificial items to express their contempt.

Of course, Pocklington didn’t make it any easier for himself. In fact, he leaned into villainhood when he told local sports writer Jim Matheson that he believed Gretzky was faking the tears at his goodbye news conference. (Pocklington, of course, claims he was misquoted by Matheson.) The Oilers would go on to win another Cup without Gretzky, but that didn’t seem to matter. This is still the man who traded away the greatest player in NHL history essentially for cash. That will forever be lame.

In 1996, only their third NHL season, the Panthers made it to the Stanley Cup Final. It was a huge moment for the franchise, and momentum was building for hockey in South Florida. GM Bryan Murray was named the NHL’s executive of the year. The Panthers picked up right where they left off in 1996-97, beginning the season 11-2-6. Then, inexplicably, Murray traded center Stu Barnes.

“Fans never got over it,” said Steve Goldstein, who does TV play-by-play for the Panthers.

Barnes was a fan favorite in the prime of his career. The deal sent him to Pittsburgh, along with defenseman Jason Welley, in exchange for Chris Wells, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound center who was playing for Cleveland of the International League. Wells was 21, and someone Murray called “a bit of a project.” But the GM justified the move at the time, saying his team needed to get bigger and tougher in order to compete in the Eastern Conference. Wells would play only 141 career games for the Panthers, scoring a whopping 25 points. Though the Panthers made another playoff run that summer (albeit shorter), many fans pinpoint this trade as the beginning of the end for a promising young team.

It’s the equipment snafu that’s most etched into Stanley Cup lore: Marty McSorley‘s illegally curved stick in Game 2 of the 1993 Stanley Cup Final, in which Gretzky’s Kings led the Canadiens and were minutes away from taking a 2-0 series lead.

The Habs, following the advice of captain Guy Carbonneau, asked referee Kerry Fraser to measure McSorley’s stick; the curve was illegal. McSorley was sent to the box, the Habs tied the game to send it to overtime and eventually won, en route to yet another Cup title.

“They knew who was using an illegal stick before they made the call because they’d measured our sticks,” McSorley said in 2012. “There must have been five of us who had them because it was never called by anybody. They just picked me because I killed all the penalties. Was I using an illegal stick? Yes, I was, but it’s not as if I took a torch to it. They came from the factory that way. I used the same stick in the next game and tied Game 4 with what might have been the same stick.”

Thank goodness the NHL has returned to Minnesota, the state of hockey. Though this should really be about the Minnesota Wild, the people of Minnesota have a grudge against Norm Green that will never go away.

The owner of the Minnesota North Stars relocated his team to Dallas in 1993 for several reasons. Attendance was poor, and the team could not lure corporate sponsors or reach a deal for a new arena in the Twin Cities. Green was also hit with a sexual harassment suit by a Minnesota employee around the same time as he moved the team; it was settled out of court. It felt especially cruel that Minnesota had to watch the Dallas Stars win the Stanley Cup six years later. Though Minnesota was quickly awarded an expansion franchise, the Wild have yet to win a Cup.

The Canadiens and Bruins have plenty of shared history, which is one of the reasons Zdeno Chara‘s hit on Max Pacioretty in March 2011 became a pretty big deal.

“It marked the height of the rivalry in its most recent iteration,” said Conor McKenna, host of The Morning Show on TSN 690 in Montreal.

Chara, of course, is the Bruins’ captain and hulking 6-foot-9 defenseman. In a late regular-season game at the Bell Centre, he checked Pacioretty into a stanchion. Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion and broken vertebrae and faced a long road to recovery. These teams met again in that playoffs, so it was particularly brutal when the Bruins knocked the Habs out in OT of Game 7. The Bruins hoisted the Stanley Cup later that summer.

Montreal police would launch an investigation into the incident, but prosecutors ultimately decided not to press criminal charges against Chara, believing they wouldn’t hold up in court. But Montreal still holds a grudge. “They remind Chara of how they feel about him every time he touches the puck on Bell Centre ice,” McKenna said.

To get a sense of the Predators’ fan base, I asked my buddy Jacob Deveral, whom most people know as Catfish Jake. Deveral is personally quite affected by P.K. Subban‘s opening goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, which was called back due to an offside call on Filip Forsberg. Deveral’s take: “He wasn’t offside.”

But for Predators fans as a whole, Deveral surmises that it’s Ryan Suter jilting Nashville by signing a 13-year deal with the Minnesota Wild in 2012 free agency. It was a sweet homecoming story for Minnesota boys Suter and Zach Parise, who signed identical contracts. But what stung was that it was so … stunning. Fans felt Suter had strung them along, but that he had actually made up his mind already that he was leaving. He didn’t give GM David Poile a chance to match Minnesota’s offer.

Suter said there was “no agenda” to signing with Minnesota and offered an apology early in the backlash: “I have never tried to hide anything from anybody,” Suter said. “I wanted it to work in Nashville, but the decision I made was to move on, and I’m sorry for the hurt that it has brought to David Poile and to the Predators.”

But, as Deveral reported, “He’s still booed ferociously in Nashville.”

There’s no lack of Devils fans on the ESPN hockey staff, including editor Tim Kavanagh, who believes New Jersey’s lack of proper respect, hype and just plain credit for its dominant stretch in the mid 1990s to early 2000s is the fan base’s biggest gripe. As Kavanagh mentioned, the Devils were always seemingly “seventh fiddle” to other New York metro area teams, and often got lost as the No. 3 team on MSG Network.

If we’re looking for something more specific, the answer is Ilya Kovalchuk. His tenure in New Jersey leaves an unsavory taste. In 2010, the Devils signed Kovalchuk to a 15-year, $100 million deal (after the sides’ initial agreement, for 17 years, was nixed by the NHL for circumventing the salary cap). Kovalchuk played 222 games for the Devils over three seasons, and helped lead them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. Then a year later, he left $77 million on the table and bolted back home to Russia. New Jersey could have blocked the move, citing the International Ice Hockey Federation transfer agreement, but the truth was the Devils got some much-needed cap relief. New Jersey retained Kovalchuk’s NHL rights until he turned 35.

And then? He returned to the NHL with the Kings — the team that defeated New Jersey for the 2012 Stanley Cup.

The mild-mannered John Tavares went from face of the franchise to Public Enemy No. 1 — pretty much overnight — when he opened up his free agency in 2018 and signed with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs.

It’s not just that Tavares chose to leave; Isles fans felt jilted because they felt their captain misled them with his intentions. If Tavares knew he was going to leave, he didn’t have to wait until free agency, when the team couldn’t recoup any value for him via a trade.

As such, Tavares’ first game back on Long Island in 2019 was a spectacle. Fans threw plastic snakes on the ice during warm-ups. Some burned his Islanders jerseys in the parking lot. He was showered with boos and chants of “traitor.” And somehow even listing all of that out doesn’t feel like it did the night justice. Isles fans won’t forget this perceived snub for a long, long time.

Attend a game at Madison Square Garden and you’ll inevitably hear the whistle from somewhere in the stands, followed by a loud, emphatic chant: “Potvin sucks!” It’s fun and irreverent, but the relevancy can be questioned since we’re talking about something that happened in 1979, before any player on the current Rangers roster was born.

Here’s the story: The Rangers had a really good team, and would go on to make the Stanley Cup Final. But in a February game against the upstart Islanders, star defenseman Denis Potvin laid a big hit on Ulf Nilsson, one of the Rangers’ best forwards whom they had just signed from the World Hockey Association. Though a penalty wasn’t called on the play, Nilsson suffered a broken ankle and was sidelined until the Final. Nilsson never categorized the hit as dirty — in fact, he later called it a “freak thing” due to the bad ice — but small details like that won’t get in the way of this grudge.

The greatest player in the modern incarnation of the franchise is Daniel Alfredsson. The Swede, one of the best two-way players of his time, was synonymous with the Senators for nearly two decades and served as captain from 1999 until 2013. Alfredsson, who won the Calder Trophy, holds the franchise record for goals (444), assists (713) and points (1,157). He won Olympic gold and silver. He is the first player in modern Senators history to have his jersey retired.

But Alfredsson has now been passed over for the Hockey Hall of Fame for three straight years, which upsets the fan base greatly. It was surprising that he got passed over in 2019, and the longer this extends, the more frustrated this fan base is going to get.

Goaltending. It’s always goaltending for Philadelphia. It’s the one thing fans gripe about the most, and for good reason. It’s been a decades-long carousel in net, akin to the Cleveland Browns‘ quarterback struggles. Not since Hall of Famer Bernie Parent in the 1970s has the franchise had a dependable star goaltender; Ron Hextall came close, but that’s about it.

The Flyers have suffered through a lot. There are the goalies who imploded in the playoffs (see: John Vanbiesbrouck, Michael Leighton) and those who got away (the team gave up on Sergei Bobrovsky, only to see him win two Vezina Trophies, playing for a division rival, no less). There was also the ill-advised decision to sign Ilya Bryzgalov to a pricey nine-year contract in 2011.

All of this explains why the fan base is so excited about Carter Hart — but, you know, simultaneously cautious.



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