VANCOUVER - Henrik Sedin could only shake his head and smile when asked about the notoriety his team has achieved during the past year.
The Vancouver Canucks captain gets it, though.
In a league full of drama, great storylines and heroes, someone has to play the antagonist and, apparently, the Canucks are perfect for the role.
Since their run to the Stanley Cup final last spring, falling one game short of the championship, the Canucks have been cast as the league's most-hated team. Their rise to the upper echelons of NHL scorn was swift. From players to fans, from educated criticism to immature trolling, Vancouver has been loathed.
As the playoffs begin Wednesday with eyes turned to Canada's best hope for an NHL title--to many skeptics' chagrin-- the collective hatred for Vancouver again is growing. It doesn't sit well with Sedin.
"It has gotten too far, but that's my personal opinion," the Canucks leader said, choosing his words carefully.
"When you're the team that won the Presidents' Trophy (for most points) last year, people don't tend to like you for that. It doesn't matter if we win the Stanley Cup or lose in the first round this year, we know it's not going to change. That's the way it is."
Several months after the heated clash with Boston in the Cup final, newly retired Bruins forward Mark Recchi branded the Canucks the "most arrogant" and "most hated" team he has ever played against. That's a 22-year career of rivalries, battles and hostility, yet this Vancouver squad managed to top the three-time Cup winner's list of disdain.
His comments last summer had the Canucks up in arms, with defenceman Kevin Bieksa saying the 44-year-old Recchi should go "take a nap" instead of running his mouth. Henrik, too, called the comments unfair.
But the "peer persecution" continued--fair or not.
In two separate Sports Illustrated player polls, Roberto Luongo and Ryan Kesler were voted the fourth-and ninth-most overrated players in the NHL, while the Sedins were runners-up to Toronto's Phil Kessel as easiest to intimidate.
Then, in a February survey by Hockey Night in Canada/NHLPA, the Canucks were ranked the most overrated team at 24%.
Anonymous voting aside, players around the league haven't been afraid to speak their minds about the Canucks. Even media have chimed in -- notably those from Boston and Chicago. (A Chicago Tribune reporter wrote that Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith's illegal elbow March 21 on Daniel Sedin was him sinking to "Vancouver's gutless, cheap-shot levels.")
But is all the hate justified? Take it from a neutral party, Los Angeles Kings defenceman Willie Mitchell, a former Canuck.
"I'm on both sides," the veteran said. "I can see how guys feel that way a bit about (the Canucks).They work hard and battle hard and compete. When you do that, people don't like you. They're good people, but they play that way."
Mitchell's teammate, Drew Doughty, wasn't as conservative with his critique, showing no hesitation in throwing the Canucks under the bus.
"Almost every single team will say that they are (the most hated)," the Kings defenceman said. "They have those guys who do things that tick you off on the ice to get under your skin, and some of them are good at it. If they're losing, you can blow them off. But because they're good, it definitely makes it more annoying."
Adam Burish agreed, even if he, too, was ultimately paying Vancouver a compliment.
"They're at the top, so you're going to hate them naturally," the Dallas Stars winger and former Blackhawks agitator said. "Most guys will say, 'I can't stand them.' There wasn't one bit of sadness when I saw them crying after they lost the Stanley Cup last year. I hate those guys, but I can give them a little bit of respect because they're doing something right."
Among the Canucks' regular troublemakers are Alex Burrows and Maxim Lapierre, who play obnoxious roles while contributing offensively. Kesler, the current Selke Trophy holder as a forward with the most defensive skill, isn't far behind in terms of on-ice antics.
"There's a certain, I'll say, confidence that they have that probably bugs guys," said Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd, also a former Blackhawk. "It's good for the league when you have kind of the good and bad, and good and evil, playing out."
A couple of weeks ago, in another SI player poll, Lapierre was voted the player most NHLers wanted to fight -- ahead of Sean Avery and Matt Cooke. The renowned pest laughed at the results.
"That means I do my role," Lapierre said. "I want to get under the opponent's skin and if I'm on top of the list, it's good news. If people in society don't like me, then there would be a problem, but if it's the other team, it's perfect for me."
But it's not just the Canucks players -- Lapierre calls them "the classiest group" he has played with--who are accused of diving, whining and dirty shenanigans.
Canucks fans--including the conspiracy theorists, overly sensitive homers and disgraceful rioters (still a touchy subject) -- have done their part in pushing more passengers on to the hate-wagon.
Most of the Canucks, though, will tell you they don't care, at least not any more. But it doesn't mean they don't have some insight as to why they've earned the "most hated" tag.
"Maybe sometimes for us, it gets a little bit overboard," Sedin said, not naming names. "We're beating teams easily sometimes and we're still chirping at some guys.
"A lot of our guys have been here for a long time and they did things early on that they needed to do to stay in this league. It stuck with us and stuck with this team. But I don't think we're any different than a lot of teams."
Except maybe the winning part, which obviously hasn't helped their cause, and it won't again this postseason. They've clinched the Northwest Division title for the fourth consecutive season and are a favourite to contend for the Cup.
But this time around, fans of "Not Canada's Team" are welcoming the backlash, with some on social media sticking to the slogan: "Embrace the hate."
Whether that's a good way of approaching it or not, Sedin, who has been in Vancouver for 12 years, maintains it doesn't matter.
"We're proud of what we have here," he said.
"We have guys who want to play here and we do everything we can to represent this city. As long as the people in B.C. and Vancouver like us, then that's good enough for us."
Not that it will, in any way, silence the haters.
If you're planning to hate the Canucks, you may as well start learning the team's main characters. Here's Hosea Cheung's quick guideline:
His devilish grin alone should make your blood boil. Lapierre, who has been filling in on the first line for concussed left winger Daniel Sedin, can deliver bone-crushing hits, be aggravating on the forecheck and trash talk in two languages! Even worse, Lapierre saves his best performances for the playoffs. It's as if he's purposely trying not to be liked.
Goalies hate him for his pinpoint wrist shots. You'll hate him for his hard-nose style of play. When he's not being accused of diving or caught complaining to the refs, the second-line centre is frustrating the heck out of your team with his effective shutdown game. Then he'll rub it in by scoring a critical goal.
This burly defenceman can be found in many post-whistle scrums -- he's the one with the most distasteful scowl on his face. Ignore his "spot-picking" though, he just wants more ice time in hopes of the puck taking another "Bieksa-bounce" off a stanchion and on to his stick for that timely goal.
When he's not chirping at opponents, he's pulling hair, kneeing groins and biting fingers. But that's not even what makes the Montreal native unbearable. Rather, the right winger's knack for playing hero and scoring big goals is increasingly annoying -- that includes his two overtime winners during the playoffs last year. So are you a scorer or pest, Alex? Make up your mind.
Overrated. scapegoat. Tire-pumper. Call goalie Roberto Luongo whatever you want. At least he's consistent -- at being inconsistent ... don't let their $1.5-million donation to a local children's hospital fool you, those greedy Sedin brothers, Henrik and Daniel, refuse to share the puck with opponents as they stick to constant cycling and highlight-reel, no-look passes. No one likes a puck hog.