Dustin Brown: King of the Jerks. via.
The best players in the National Hockey League strive and scrape for any edge they can get over their opponents. Some players stay more dedicated than others in the summer months, secure in the knowledge that late in the third period of February games, their fitness level might make all the difference. Other players watch endless game tape, and know precisely which slow defenceman to dump the puck in on, and which small defenceman to take the body on. But some of the cagiest rat bastards to play professional hockey know how to get it done with all out mental warfare. It’s those players we’re intent on honouring today.
Jerkpuck was defined by Cam Charron about 16 months ago as "a method of winning games by frustrating the opposition, trolling them, and baiting them into taking dumb penalties." It can include everything from snowing the opposition's goaltender, to diving, to playing on the edge and delivering timely borderline hits. But jerkpuck is a more than just a tactic; it’s a state of mind. Everyone on the jerkpuck all-star team has to be both tough to play against, and completely willing to humiliate himself by embellishing for the good of the team. Whether it’s running a hot opposition goaltender, or targeting the opposition’s stars with cheap garbage—the elite jerk puck player is unapologetic and physical.
The truly special jerkpuck player is also strong as an ox and impossible to knock off the puck, that is until this ideal jerkpucking asshole feels an errant stick near his skates, at which point he promptly face plants as the referee raises their arm.
In hockey media it’s cliché to talk about guys “playing on the edge.” But “playing on the edge” is actually like playing with a two edged blade, you have to be careful lest you impale yourself. Some players dive relentlessly while also playing hockey with a chip on their shoulder uninhibited by their own physical wellbeing, or the wellbeing of others—like Ryan Kesler, for example. Such players play that way consistently, but in doing so earn a reputation for diving and being an asshole that ultimately neuters the potency of their jerkpuck style.
So the ideal practitioner of the jerkpuck dark arts isn’t a guy who just dives a lot, or regularly goes headhunting—there’s lots of guys who do that. No, the real jerk puck all-stars are the guys who get away it. We’re talking about the habitual divers applauded in the media as “honest players” and “good locker room guys.” We want to single out and applaud the jerks who are consistently able to push the boundaries of sportsmanship in a way that help their clubs win and rarely, if ever, hurts their own team.
To be clear, in no way am I doing anything but applauding the following cast of characters for their gamesmanship and excellence in jerking (wait, that came out wrong). Every single one of them are motherfuckers. And coming from me, the Angry Hockey Nerd, that’s a sincere compliment.
What follows is your 2013 jerk puck all-stars:
Brad Marchand fighting a dude.
1st line – Brad Marchand
Until further notice, Brad Marchand has a spot in perpetuity on the jerkpuck all-star team. Superficially he’s toned it down this season, though he hasn’t really, but here’s the rule: if Barack Obama has made fun of you for being known as a “little ball of hate” you’re probably a fantastic jerkpuck player.
As previously mentioned, Marchand has superficially toned it down this season. Gone are the expansive pirouettes; in are the sneaky dives that you might miss if you blink. For a guy who once had the word “champion” misspelled on his body by a tattoo artist, Marchand does seem to be learning.
1st line – Claude Giroux
Claude Giroux, the pride of Hearst Ontario, is an emerging superstar in the NHL. He’s also a super capable jerkpuck aficionado with a penchant for occasional frustrated headhunting, and an uncanny ability to draw penalties.
He’s third in the league this season with 22 penalties drawn and only six taken, which on a team with a potent power-play like the Flyers have (they’re capitalizing on power-play opportunities at a 22.1% rate) is alone worth five goals.
1st line (and captain) – Dustin Brown
If there were a jerkpuck Hart Trophy, it would go to Dustin Brown nearly every season. A shameless pratfall artist, goalie runner and borderline hit specialist, Dustin Brown has never paid a price for his antics. He’s like the Keyzer Soze of diving.
Brown is one hell of a player, as strong as his skates as anyone in the league when he wants to be. Which is maybe why referees continue to call everyone who so much as breathes on him, so long as Brown goes down. Check out this excellent dive from a month ago, since it pretty much typifies what Brown is all about. Not only does he dive in an attempt to draw a penalty, but he also manages to “incidentally” high-stick his opponent in the process. This was mere moments after running Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen too. Even a disemboweled man would think Dustin Brown is gutless.
2nd line – Taylor Hall
Taylor Hall draws penalties at an elite rate thanks more to his speed and general slipperiness than any theatrics (from what I’ve seen, at least). But he’s earned a reputation this season as a bit of a cheap shot artists thanks to three separate incidents, the last of which was as vicious a bit of stick work as you’ll see in the NHL and didn’t even earn Hall a penalty.
Actually all it earned Hall was a whole whack of Messier comparisons from the Edmonton media (who predictably took like a minute of the time they usually spend blaming Chris Pronger’s wife for everything, to compare a Young Future Superstar to a great from the 80s).
Nazem throwin' bows.
2nd line – Nazem Kadri
Kadri may not be Gretzky, but damn it can he draw a penalty. He leads the league in penalties drawn by a wide margin and does it with the league’s most subtle embellishment; a shoulder shimmy alerts the referee that Kadri has been hooked. For the most part, when Kadri does the shimmy he has been hooked, but Toronto’s wonderkid always gives it the hard sell.
There’s some rat in his game too. Earlier this season I saw a game between the Marlies and the Grand Rapids Griffins in which Kadri’s teammate Matt Frattin completely laid out a Griffins forward. The Griffins forward was visibly injured on the play, but the puck bounced back to his feet. He bravely made a play on it, only to have Kadri take a four strider and hit a clearly hurting player for a second time.
Kadri was promptly jumped by a Griffins face puncher, and was wise not to respond. The facepuncher took a minor penalty for roughing and Kadri scored on the ensuing power play. It’s possible that Nazem Kadri is jerkpuck concentrate.
2nd line – Shane Doan
If every head Shane Doan has ever hunted were put in a glass jar, Doan’s living room would look like the Governor’s. The team he captains had the most petulant reaction to a series loss that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime of watching professional hockey, but Doan continues to be widely praised for his leadership.
3rd line – Matt Cooke
Matt Cooke was once a bonafide piece of shit, but then he hired a P.R. team who convinced the world that Matt Cooke has cleaned up his game. This past weekend he was compared by the hilariously over the top Boston Bruins broadcast team to Sirhan Sirhan, an actual murderer. He also threw a legal hit on Bruins defender Adam McQuaid that, because of Cooke’s reputation, drew a response from Zdeno Chara (only the Bruins captain was penalized on the play). Oh, also, an owner of an NHL team is investigating an obvious accident with forensic experts in an attempt to prove that Matt Cooke intentionally wounded his star player with his skate. If that’s not jerkpuck, what is?
3rd line – Justin Abdelkader
Abdelkader isn’t exactly a sexy name, unless you find consonants erotic that is. But he’s pretty much the entire jerk puck package: he’s petulant, he drills opponents, he lives in the opposition’s crease, and he draws penalties in bunches.
3rd line – Brendan Gallagher
The west coast’s answer to Brad Marchand.
4th line – Leo Komarov
4th line – Stephen Gionta
Draws penalties, isn’t a face-puncher, can play twelve minutes a game without hurting his team. So, the perfect fourth liner, pretty much.
You just don’t get treated like this by the opposition if you’re not a jerkpuckist:
4th line - Derek Dorsett
Drew penalties at the eleventh highest rate among regular players this season. Can fight, often jumps into hits, widely disliked by opposing players around the league, probably bit a guy this season.
1st pairing defenseman – Nicklas Kronwall
Draws penalties like crazy for a defenseman and, for some unknown reason, is the only player in the league allowed to leave his feet for hits.
1st pairing defenceman – PK Subban
Only one defenseman in the league has drawn more penalties this season, and that defenseman is Oliver Ekman-Larsson who is as smooth as Subban is aggravating.
2nd pairing defenceman – Alexei Yemelin
Massive hitter and a massive diver. His nickname is Russia translates to the Ballerina because of his grace when falling to the ice. Earlier this season he goaded Zdeno Chara into 17 minutes of retaliatory penalties. The Habs scored two goals to win the game while Chara sat in the dressing room.
Hooking: just another name for jerkpuckery. via.
2nd pairing defenceman – Kevin Bieksa
Kevin Bieksa draws a lot of penalties to inflict as much hurt as possible. It’s also safe to say that his opponents don’t like him all that much.
3rd pairing defenceman – Brad Stuart
For a defenseman who can’t skate all that well, Brad Stuart consistently draws penalties at a suspiciously high rate. It’s probably the diving. Stuart’s also one of the league’s best penalty-killers, and this season delivered the league’s most legal headshot, which counts for something.
3rd pairing defenceman – Mark Fistric
Mark Fistric isn’t all that good, this play in particular was hilarious, and he’s generally been described as a slow defenseman best suited for the penalty-kill. But somehow he’s drawn ten penalties in twenty-one games this season…
You just don’t draw penalties at the third highest rate among all regular players in a season, as an immobile defenseman, without being a jerk puck player. It’s just not possible.
Goalie - Mike Smith
Mike Smith plays the puck behind his net so as to intentionally cut off defenders from forechecking his blueliners. He’s also a notorious diver, and regularly freaks out and breaks his sticks.
In fact his coach asked him to stop breaking his sticks in games this season, but when he got a hold of an opponent’s stick, he figured it didn’t qualify under that rule and broke it against his net because Mike Smith is a crazy person and also a jerk. In the best way possible.
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