This is an old hatred, but since old and forgotten are two very different things, it has found its way onto this list. There is no surer way to guarantee the hatred of a fanbase that to eliminate its team in the playoffs, particularly in a game seven or in the Stanley Cup Final, or, if you want it to be really bad, in both. But that wasn’t enough for the Devils. They had to employ the services of one of the dirtiest players of the modern era, and they had to give him the captain’s C. Nobody disputes that Scott Stevens’ famous hit on Paul Kariya would be worthy of a suspension in today’s NHL. Very few disputed that it wasn’t worthy of one in 2003.
When all was said and done, the better team won the Cup and the best player won the Conn Smythe. It just so happened that the best player didn't play for the champs, so an entire arena full of Devils fans booed Jean-Sebastien Giguere as he accepted his hardware in tears. I guess New Jersey has a reputation to uphold.
4. Dallas Stars
Even after watching Brian Burke replace Andy McDonald and Dustin Penner with Doug Weight and Todd Bertuzzi, I still thought the Ducks had a pretty good shot to repeat in 2008. Had they taken about a dozen fewer penalties in their first two playoff games, maybe they would have stood a chance. Mike Modano and company tore the Ducks apart with the man advantage in that series, which, seven years later, seems like an appropriate punishment for a team willing to pay Bertuzzi. But that sure as hell wasn’t what I was thinking when Stephane Robidas ensured that his team didn’t have to fly back to Orange County for a game seven. I even became a Sharks fan for two weeks after that, hoping they’d pull off the 3-0 comeback in their second round series against Dallas. Alas, the final image of that matchup was Brendan Morrow screaming in triumph after he beat Evgeni Nabokov in the fourth overtime of game six.
And then the Stars got bad. They missed the playoffs year after year and eventually got rid of the players whom I had so loved to hate. Enter Ryan Garbutt and the 2014 Playoffs. Let the hate begin anew.
It feels a little weird putting them here, given how often I’ve rooted for them over the years. In 2009, I sang Chelsea Dagger every time they scored on the Red Wings in the conference final. In 2010, I picked them over the Flyers because I liked Toews and Keith and thought they were a fun team to watch. In 2013, I pulled for them against the Wings, Kings, and Bruins because I hated the first two of those teams and was surrounded by fans of the third (I was living in Vermont at the time). And in 2014, I obviously wanted them to beat the Kings again.
This year, things changed. Heading in to the conference final, most the Hawks’ internet fanbase made it clear that they did not expect the Ducks to pose much of a threat. Then came the marathon game, the one in which the plumbing saved Crawford four times, three of them after sixty minutes. Hawks fans were quick to point out that Getzlaf’s slapshot that hit the post was the result of a funny bounce off the official, so it shouldn’t really count. Fine. The Ducks rang the iron three times, and all of them were in overtime.
Now we, and the rest of the NHL, have to deal with the first dynasty (or at least quasi-dynasty) of the salary cap era coming from a city full of people who never went to a game before 2009. These are people who think that Toews is better than Crosby, that being an original six team is a bigger deal than going 49 years between Cups, and that having a bunch of Hawks fans at Honda Center means something other than Midwesterners with money tend to move to Southern California because they’re not stupid.
Oh, and their highest-scoring player is a cabbie-beating (alleged) rapist.
I didn’t always hate the Kings. I certainly never liked them, but back in the first years of the salary cap era, I used to root for them on a regular basis. Not because I liked them — haven’t I made it clear that this was never the case? — but because they were playing teams like San Jose and Dallas and Vancouver, teams who were jockeying for playoff position with the Ducks. And back in those days, the Kings were so bad, so egregiously ill-equipped to compete in the Pacific Division of the mid-to-late 2000s, that I was always pleased to see them take a couple of points from an actual rival.
Something strange happened in 2010. Something that wasn’t that difficult to see coming, but something that hadn’t happened in such a long time that it was nevertheless strange. The Kings made the playoffs. They were ousted in the first round, and again in 2011, and then in 2012 something happened for which I will never forgive the rest of the NHL. The one year Chicago, Vancouver, Boston, and Pittsburgh (who were at that time the league’s elite) all decided to bow out in the conference quarterfinals was the one year Jonathan Quick decided to play like a Vezina winner, and the rest is something like history.
2014, none of you need to be told, made things worse. Do not try to comfort me with memories of the Stadium Series, or of those three glorious games in the middle of that second round matchup, or of Teemu Selanne’s last two NHL goals. I know what I will remember from that year, and I will not write it here.
What I will write is that I am frustrated by Anze Kopitar. Every other good player on that team, and quite a few not-so-good ones, is easily hateable. Dustin Brown’s fondness for knee contact is well-documented, and he is rivaled only by his goaltender in the embellishment department. Newly acquired Lucic is even more detestable than recently departed Stoll, but neither of them have anything on never-proven-to-be-a-rapist Doughty and wife-beating Voynov. Kopitar, well, he has a cute dog. Damn him.
The Ducks have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs a total of ten times. Once by each of New Jersey, Edmonton, Dallas, Nashville, LA, and Chicago, and four times by Detroit. That right there is all the reason I need to put them atop this list, but since there is so much history between the Ducks and the Wings, I ought to say a little more.
Game three of the 2007 Western Conference Final would by itself be enough to land the Red Wings a spot on this list. The two Stanley Cup favorites had split games one and two, with the two best defensemen (and players?) in the world scoring the game-winning goals. When the series shifted to Anaheim, I watched from Section 219 as Detroit celebrated goal after goal. Final score: 5-0. (Oh by the way, that was the last game Detroit won that year, and the Ducks followed it up with a 7-1 run that ended with a Cup.)
If game three of the 2007 series was the worst game I’ve seen in person, game seven of the 2009 series was the worst one I’ve seen in any way. To this day, the only goal I absolutely refuse to watch is the one Daniel Cleary scored to take the lead with three minutes on the clock. When that puck slid behind Hiller, it was hard not to feel that an era was at its end. The Cup window of the Niedermayer-Pronger-Selanne Ducks was officially closed, by Dan effing Cleary of all people.
By 2013, another window was just beginning to open, which made this new game seven loss only the third most devastating in Ducks history at the time (but fifth as of this writing). This time, a new villain would rise to the occasion. In game three, Justin Abdelkader ended Toni Lydman’s career with a reckless hit to the head, earning himself a two game suspension, which wasn't long enough to keep him from scoring a monster goal in game seven.
I'm not sure how much longer the Red Wings will hold on to the top spot on my list. Barring a Stanley Cup Final meeting (please hockey gods lets this happen), this rivalry is likely over. But LA and Chicago sure have some catching up to do.
A Note on the Sharks, and Why They Are Not On This List
I do not hate them. I pity them.