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  • THE HPT 10: Best Agitators Print
    Written by Blake Benzel   
    Monday, 09 August 2010 00:00


    1. a person who stirs up others in order to upset the status quo and further a political, social or other cause
    2. a machine or device for agitating and mixing

    Of all of the players in the NHL, few are as polarizing of figures as the agitators. Fan favorites to their hometown fans and hated villains to their rivals, agitators play an important role in the NHL: to throw the opposing team off their game or, as the definition above puts it, to upset the status quo.

    Every team has at least one player good at doing just that, but who are the best of the best in the NHL today? HPT takes a look at the top 10:

    10. Cody McLeod, Colorado Avalanche

    While he might never be the most offensively skilled player on the ice, or on this list for that matter, McLeod has his role on the Avs and performs that role admirably. As skilled at laying the body as he is at getting under opponents' skins, McLeod really came into his own as an agitator during the Avs' 2006-07 playoff series with the Minnesota Wild, in which his crowning moment led to this penalty box exchange between he and Stephane Veilleux (the exchange begins at about the 1:51 mark). Let's be honest here. If you get that sort of response for your actions on the ice, you're doing your job well.

    9. Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta Thrashers

    Roberto Luongo would likely disagree with this assessment and have Byfuglien at the top of his list. "Big Buff" does exactly what an agitator is designed to do — he throws players off of their game. His presence in front of the net and his willingness to seemingly sit in the goaltender's lap gets under opponents' skins and makes him a very good player to have on your team. Throw in the fact that he actually has some offensive upside and you've got one heck of a pot stirrer on your hands. Whether it's starting a brawl or taunting fans after a goal Byfuglien is certainly good at what he does, as evidenced during the 'Hawks run to the 2010 Cup.

    8. Jarkko Ruutu, Ottawa Senators

    While you don't have to do much to elicit a response from Chris Simon, anyone who has followed Ruutu's career knows that he is a master of goading people on the ice. He's physical, he's mouthy and worst of all, he can actually play hockey when he puts his mind to it. Ruutu is among the worst of the worst when it comes to the most-hated agitators. While he honed his craft in Vancouver, he really came into his own in Pittsburgh where he had his wonderful exchange with Sean Avery. Just ask Dion Phaneuf what happens when Ruutu gets under your skin.

    7. Steve Downie, Tampa Bay Lightning

    If people are questioning your sanity your rookie year in the league, there's a good chance you'll make this list at some point or another. Steve Downie is no different. From juniors up to the NHL he's made an impression with both his reckless play and his scoring touch. I mean, let's be honest. Getting into a fight in practice alone goes a long way towards saying just how annoying of a player you truly are.

    6. Alexandre Burrows, Vancouver Canucks

    One of the things that makes Burrows so absolutely infuriating to watch, apart from the fact that he is unbelievably annoying to play against, is the fact that he's so darn good. He tallied 35 goals this season and also had over 120 penalty minutes. Burrows is the total agitator package, scoring goals, starting and finishing fights and getting under the skin of opponents. When you can get both Brian Rolston and Pierre-Marc Bouchard to drop the gloves with you, you're pretty annoying.

    5. Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers

    Oh, Chris Pronger. How everyone that isn't a fan of your team hates thee. It takes some dedication to the cause to continue pissing off your opponents, even after the game is over, but Pronger did just that with his antics in the Stanley Cup Finals this season, throwing away the game pucks after the games. Throw in the fact that he's a physical presence (whether dirty or otherwise) on the ice and, more often than not, picks his spots and gets away with a lot of the underhanded stuff and you've got one aggravating player to play against. Just ask Adam Burish.

    4. Matt Cooke, Pittsburgh Penguins

    When the entire league is rejoicing at the outcome of a fight, you know you've moved into "sport hate" territory. Cooke has been responsible for many a questionable hit and irritating moment on the ice and is Public Enemy Number One in many of the buildings he plays in. But the thing that makes him even more effective is his ability to avoid fights in the wrong situation and his ability to score clutch goals. The thing that Cooke is best at, however, is aggravating his opponents and doing whatever it takes to get under their skin.

    3. Cal Clutterbuck, Minnesota Wild

    The competition is tough when someone nicknamed "Buttercup" by Don Cherry barely cracks the top three, but that's right where the mouth of the Wild falls on this list. Clutterbuck is the prototype of an NHL agitator. He's skilled, he's physical and he never, ever shuts up. The single-season record holder for the ever subjective statistic of hits, Clutterbuck hits everything that moves and elicits poorly thought-out responses from even the most even-tempered of players.

    2. Sean Avery, New York Rangers

    I know what you're thinking. How can the King of Pissing People Off fall to second on this list? From his verbal barbs to his epic battles with Martin Brodeur to his on-ice antics, Avery is one of those players that you just love to hate even if he's on your team. He's found a home on Broadway with his physical play, his skill and his sense of humor, and continues to be a thorn in 29 other teams' sides. Besides, let's be honest. When you've got a SportsCentre Top 10 devoted to your top moments, you've really made it as an agitator.

    1. Steve Ott, Dallas Stars

    There isn't a single player in the NHL more aggravating than Steve Ott. He's gone at it with goalies, he plays physical and he's not afraid to mix it up if the situation calls for it. Heck, the fact that I feel nothing but loathing towards him every time I hear his name mentioned is more than enough reason for me to put him at the top of this list. That Ott seems to play better the more he mixes it up is the biggest reason he tops this list.

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    Last Updated on Saturday, 07 August 2010 01:11