Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The 10 players that no NHL fan can hate (except for all the ones that do)

We’re into holiday mode, where everything is supposed to be about peace and goodwill. Love thy neighbor and that sort of thing.

That’s nice and all, but it can be tough for hockey fans, who are preconditioned to be mad at just about everything. Pretty soon we’ll hit the Christmas trade freeze, meaning we can’t even sit around and imagine that bum who’s clogging up our team’s salary cap being traded for a ransom of picks and prospects. Now you want us to be nice to the jerks on the other teams too? It’s a rough time of year when you’re a diehard hockey fan who hates everyone.

Well, almost everyone. Because at any given time, there are always a few players who just about everyone seems to like. It’s been a rough few years for that crowd, as we’ve said goodbye to guys like Roberto Luongo, Pavel Datsyuk, Teemu Selanne and Jarome Iginla. But that just creates some extra room on the nice list.

Today, let’s get into the holiday spirit with a list of the ten players in the NHL that nobody can hate. (And then the reasons why maybe you can hate them just a little.)

Connor McDavid

Why almost everyone loves him: First of all, he’s the best player in the league, with maybe the most pure skill since Mario Lemieux. Even in a league with more dominant young talent than ever before, McDavid still occasionally does things that you’ve never seen, or ever thought possible. He’s one of the rare players who’d be worth paying full price just to watch on his own and brings back that pre-Dead Puck Era feeling of excitement you used to get whenever a star player had the puck on his stick.

Second of all, he’s signed long-term in Edmonton, so the sympathy factor is off the charts.

The one group that still kind of hates him: Flames fans get a pass, as they do for any Oiler. Beyond that, nobody really dislikes him, although you get the sense that there’s an undercurrent of aggravation from other fan bases who keep waiting for him to stomp out of Edmonton and demand a trade. Come on, they’re terrible, and he looked vaguely sad at his draft lottery. Surely he wants to play somewhere else. Specifically, for my favorite team. Come on Connor, blink twice if you want us to send in a chopper to airlift you out.

Patrick Marleau

Why almost everyone loves him: He’s been around forever, his speed means he’s been fun to watch over the years and he always seems disturbingly happy. He became the team father figure in Toronto – literally – and then headed home to San Jose to finish out his career. Plus he’s still chasing that elusive Stanley Cup, and everybody loves a good OGWAC story. Uh, please don’t check the standings to see how that quest is going for him.

The one group that still kind of hates him: Nobody right now, although we’ll save a spot for Leaf fans when they miss the playoffs and end up having to send the 11th overall pick to the Hurricanes for getting out of the last year of his contract. Also, it’s going to be kind of weird if he sticks around next year and ends up breaking Gordie Howe’s all-time games played record. See, you didn’t realize that was going to happen, and now you feel just a little conflicted, right?

Marc-Andre Fleury

Why almost everyone loves him: He’s a former first overall pick who’s smiled his way through a very good NHL career, without ever being so dominating that you resented him. He was part of three Cup winners in Pittsburgh, then handled what could have been a tricky Matt Murray situation and eventual exit with class and good humor. That was supposed to lead to him spending his last few years getting shelled for the expansion Knights, but instead, he’s played some of the best hockey of his career while leaning hard into his likable personality to sell the game in a new market.

The one group that still kind of hates him: Man, I’m not even sure. That Sharks/Knights rivalry is pretty solid, so maybe you allow San Jose fans to sneer at him just a bit. Beyond that, his only natural enemy at this point are Canadians who still aren’t over how the 2004 World Juniors ended and Hall of Fame sticklers who’ll be mad when he makes it in on the first ballot.

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