NHL super-pests

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:15 PM ET

It goes both ways for the men who make a living making others mad.

Ott has been suspended for questionable hits and an accidental eye gouge, but he's also been the target of others because of his aggressive nature.

Regehr would have loved to line Ott up for a big hit during an especially frustrating game against the Stars last season after being bumped from behind by the agitator. The Flames defenceman instead tried to take his frustration out on winger Fabian Brunnstrom in the corner but missed and hurt his own knee when he hit the boards.

Words weren't the reason Ott had the Flames riled.

As effective as their lips have been over the years, it's only part of the package.

Few outside an over-the-top Avery are able to annoy simply with insults.

Ott says it starts with a willingness to battle physically.

"I think the first thing you've got to have is compete. To be able to outcompete someone on the ice probably is better than any words," Ott says. "If you can go out there and challenge the other team's best players to work hard and beat you, that's probably what draws other guys into the battle.

"The chirping, the rest of it all comes out there. The scrums. But first for me is trying to outbattle them."

Battling hard to move up the ranks as an agitator is Minnesota Wild pest Cal Clutterbuck. He lets his physical play speak for itself more often than not.

"He doesn't talk as much as some of those other guys do," says Regehr, trying to sum up what it is that makes a good instigator. "The guys that really agitate, they're not only abrasive in their style of play, but they can also hurt you on the scoresheet."

Clutterbuck, Ott and Pittsburgh Penguins pest Matt Cooke each have 11 goals this season. Ruutu has nine to his credit. None of those totals compare to unique Vancouver Canucks thorn Alexandre Burrows, who remains one of the league's most frustrating opponents but has become an elite scorer.

He's potted 26 goals so far this year on a line with the Sedin twins but still plays with an edge that rattles his competition.

"Probably the guy that does it the best now is Burrows," says Flames forward Craig Conroy. "I hate to say that. He gets under your skin. He makes you crazy. He's an effective player. You probably love having him on your team and don't like playing against him. He still finishes checks and chirps."

Because of his aggressive nature, Burrows found himself in the middle of a boiling controversy this season when he suggested referee Stephane Auger targeted him for infractions and ultimately cost his team a game.

Even without a personal grudge being a potential factor, agitators have to watch their steps. Part of the burden that comes with being one of the league's most noted instigators is the watchful eye of the officials.

"You have to be in control," Ruutu says. "You have to understand the time of the game and the score. Sometimes you don't want to do anything -- you just want to stay out of that stuff. And sometimes we have no spark, and you try to create havoc -- make the other team think about me instead of the puck and scoring goals.

"It's one of those things that as long as you're composed and know what you're doing -- obviously, you go over the edge at times -- you're effective. Otherwise, you're going to sit in the penalty box all night."

Or they'll sit on the bench.

Coaches love it when their players are drawing penalties. They hate it when they're forced to play shorthanded.

"There's a fine line that you have to ride," Ott says. "An agitator taking penalties too much -- that's when it becomes a problem or a hesitation for a coach to play you.

"That edge ... if you don't use it properly, it can backfire in a hurry and light a team up as well."

Despite appearances these guys are willing to help their teams win at all costs, Ott says there are limits to what he'll say or do in an effort to get guys off their games.

"There's a line I don't cross personally," Ott says of subjects for his trash talking. "Death or disease or stuff like that, I don't mess with. But any common knowledge, that's pretty easy.

"Guys out there read the stat pack. If a guy is struggling for the last month or something like that, you can ride him a little hard.

"Hopefully, you can draw him into a penalty."

More often than not, Ott manages to do just that. And it's usually one of the stars that bites.

"For whatever reason, it seems he's able to draw our best player into a fight when we don't want to do that," Conroy says with a grin. "That's a big win for their team."

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA

NHL MOST WANTED

STEVE OTT

6-foot, 194 lb.

Shoots: Left

Born: Aug. 19, 1982 (27)

Country: Canada

Drafted: 1st round, 25th overall, by the Dallas Stars in 2000

Speciality: Able to goad another team's star shooter into a fight almost at will.

2009-10 STATS

GP G A PT PIM

52 11 12 23 100

ALEX BURROWS

6-foot-1, 188 lb.

Shoots: Left

Born: April 11, 1981 (28)

Country: Canada

Undrafted: Signed with Canucks as free agent Nov. 9, 2005

Speciality: Adding insult to injury as a sniper on the top line, complementing his timely trash talk.

2009-10 STATS

GP G A PT PIM

60 26 25 51 84

51 84

SEAN AVERY

5-foot-10, 195 lb.

Shoots: Left

Born: April 10, 1980 (29)

Country: Canada

Undrafted: Signed by Detroit Red Wings as free agent Sept. 21, 1999

Speciality: Notorious for stepping over boundaries and getting creative with insults and tactics. There are no lines he won't cross.

2009-10 STATS

GP G A PT PIM

56 6 15 21 117

JARKKO RUUTU

6-foot-1, 204 lb.

Shoots: Left

Born: Aug. 23, 1975 (34)

Country: Finland

Drafted: 3rd round, 68th overall, by the Vancouver Canucks in 1998

Speciality: Getting away with an extra slash, jab, kick or poke and forcing opponents to take retaliation penalties.

2009-10 STATS

GP G A PT PIM

61 9 10 19 91

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IRRITATING UP-AND-COMERS

Adam Burish, Blackhawks

David Clarkson, Devils

Steve Downie, Lightning

Cam Janssen, Blues

Cody McLeod, Avalanche

Wayne Simmonds, Kings

Top pests of the past

Matthew Barnaby, 1992-2007

Bobby Clarke, 1969-84

Dale Hunter, 1980-99

Darius Kasparaitis, 1992-2007

Claude Lemieux, 1983-2003

Ken Linseman, 1978-92

Tyson Nash, 1998-2006

Esa Tikkanen, 1984-99

Pat Verbeek, 1982-2001

Tiger Williams, 1974-88

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STEVE'S TOP 10 AGITATORS

1. Steve Ott, Stars

2. Alexandre Burrows, Canucks

3. Sean Avery, Rangers

4. Jarkko Ruutu, Senators

5. Matt Cooke, Penguins

6. Cal Clutterbuck, Wild

7. Jordin Tootoo, Predators

8. Daniel Carcillo, Flyers

9. Jared Boll, Blue Jackets

10. Ryan Kesler, Canucks


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