There are no hockey players listed among Forbes.com's "The most disliked people in sports" (gallery), but that may not necessarily be a good thing.
The usual suspects made the Top 10 in the survey conducted by E-Poll: Quarterback-in-exile Michael Vick, "The Anti-Jeter" Alex Rodriguez, reality television star Terrell Owens. The other three "major" professional sports leagues are represented, as are college football (No. 9 Nick Saban) and professional tennis (No. 10 John McEnroe); please note the latter two are the only Caucasians in the Top 10, which is a story in itself.
But nothing from the NHL. Perhaps that's to be expected when your sport is populated by humble, blue-collar, 'it's the logo on the front, not the name on the back' types. Outside of Sean Avery(notes) of the New York Rangers, there really isn't a player in hockey who has purposefully positioned himself as a divisive figure in the way that, say, T.O. has.
The most "hated" characters in hockey typically earn that reputation through behavior on the ice or within the context of trade demands/free-agent defections. Sorry, but that just can't compete with Allen Iverson.
Some may make it a point of pride to say that hockey players are well-liked and absent from a list of cheaters, criminals and malcontents. There is, however, a larger issue at play with this Forbes list that's a little less encouraging: The fact that general sports fans may still have a complete and total apathy towards hockey.
The criteria, from Forbes and E-Poll:
E-Poll surveys are based a representative sample of 1,100 people weekly, ages 13 and over. The most disliked people in sports were chosen from those celebrities in the athlete, coach or sports broadcaster category with a minimum awareness level of 10 percent.
So either hockey players were below the minimum for awareness, or they simply don't stoke the same levels of passion. Coming up, our candidates for hockey's "most hated." But who do you believe are the most disliked players in the NHL?
Sean Avery, New York Rangers: Even if this wasn't alphabetical, he's the top of the list. From his behavior on the ice as a preeminent pest to his legendary diss of his peers and former girlfriends, he craves the role and plays it better than anyone in hockey. He's also lobbied in the past that the NHL needs to market its villains; something we actually agree with.
Sidney Crosby(notes), Pittsburgh Penguins: Yes, we've been down this road before. Yet despite his heroic performance in the Penguins' run to the Stanley Cup, Crosby remains as polarizing as any superstar the NHL has ever seen. Whether it's born of jealously or ignorance or genuine scorn, he elicits a reaction.
Dany Heatley(notes), Ottawa Senators: His reasons for demanding a trade this summer remain completely murky has he dodges the media, but the levels of loathing certainly reached their high-water marks when he rejected a trade to the Edmonton Oilers that would have freed him from the city he sought to leave.
Marian Hossa(notes), Chicago Blackhawks: He burned his bridges with Penguins fans, and disappointed Detroit Red Wings fans before signing with their rivals in Chicago. Now, even his contract has become a point of controversy. Best of all is his perpetual foot-in-mouth disease.
Chris Pronger(notes), Philadelphia Flyers: His teammates love him. The fans? Not so much. From the trade demand to the Oilers to his storied suspension history, Pronger generates as much heat as any player in the League. If he has Avery's mouth, chances are he'd hit the Top 10 on that Forbes list.
In the end, it's probably more important that the NHL develop stars like Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin(notes) who attract casual fans to big games and playoff series. That isn't to say that casting heroes and villains, as Avery lobbied for, isn't important; in the ESPN-ization/talk radio influenced world of sports, that's still what sells best.
It's either a blessing or a curse that the NHL doesn't have the sorts of characters other sports have. On days when steroid scandals and other nonsense overshadow those sports, it's a blessing; on days when hockey is pushed to the back of the line in favor of every other morsel of sports news, it's a curse.