Earlier today, the NHL announced Patrick Marleau, Ryan O’Reilly, and Martin St. Louis as its candidates for the Lady Byng Trophy, the award celebrating "the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability."
However, the NHL isn't really in the business of handing out demerits at its annual award ceremony, so there are still many unanswered questions about who holds down the other end of the spectrum. Which slimy cheap-short artists stand as the foils to these pillars of sportsmanship? Judging on the same criteria, we took it upon ourselves to make the nominations for the league's dirtiest players.
Though many are frothing at the mouth to see playoff offenders like Milan Lucic, Brent Seabrook, and Matt Cooke put on blast, our candidates are selected on their play during the 2013-14 regular season alone. Suspension, fines, penalty minutes, and undisciplined incidents of goonery are all taken into account, with the relative skill of the player serving as the tie-breaker.
Dishonorable Mention - Shawn Thornton, Zach Kassian, and John Scott
After securing the league's longest suspension (15 games) of 2013-14 for an indefensible attack on Brooks Orpik, Boston's own Thornton was nearly a lock for a nomination. As was Kassian, the only player to receive two suspensions this past season. However, intangibles are weighed heavily here, and Thornton and Kassian (along with the league's tallest asshat, John Scott) were bumped in favor of some guys who truly predicate nastiness and unsportsmanlike play in all facets of the game.
If you're playing this game by the numbers, Sestito is your runaway Anti-Lady Byng winner. He led the league in PIM (213), majors (19), misconducts (7), and instigator penalties (2) while only playing 145 minutes total. That's a Hall of Fame goon year, with nearly unprecedented goon efficiency.
What makes Kaleta the easy pick over the field of Thornton, Kassian, and Scott is that the headhunting Buffalo forward was nearly run out of the league for his dangerous play. After being handed a 10-game suspension for beheading Columbus's Jack Johnson, then-Sabres GM Darcy Regier tried shopping Kaleta before outright waiving him. After Regier was ousted, rising GM Tim Murray brought Kaleta back, giving him an AHL stint to "work on his game." However, the reckless winger suffered a season-ending knee injury before he could make his return, reaffirming countless players' belief in karma.
There is no one in the NHL who has less respect for his opponents than James Neal of the Pittsburgh Penguins. As a highly-skilled player, there's no need for Neal to play with such wanton abandon. Bruins fans will remember fondly how he kneed Brad Marchand in the head back in December, but Neal also reprised his 2012-13 playoff performance in March by crosschecking Detroit forward Luke Glendening in the face - leading to one of the best team PR misfires in recent memory.
The talented winger put up 61 points in 2013-14, all while maintaining a reputation as a rat and a diver, leading former NHL referee Paul Stewart to call him "the poster child for what is wrong with the NHL discipline system." Given the "high standard of playing ability" clause of the actual Byng trophy, Neal is the antithesis of everything that Marleau, O'Reilly, and St. Louis represent.