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NHL players weigh in on what makes a good trash-talker

Nazem Kadri has been involved in more than a few verbal sparring matches.

The Calgary Flames centre certainly knows how to dish it out during an on-ice war of words.

Kadri can also appreciate when he — or a teammate — is the recipient of a clever, cutting barb.

“I’ve had my fair share,” he said at the recent NHL/NHLPA player media tour in suburban Las Vegas. “You just gotta be on your toes. You just gotta be clever. Sometimes someone will say something and you’ll be like, ‘Oh, that was pretty good.’
“It definitely makes things interesting.”

But what makes a good trash-talker? Is it doing a deep dive into an opponent’s past in search of that stinging nugget of information? Or a heat-of-the-moment zinger?

“Guys who are just quick and witty,” Carolina Hurricanes centre Seth Jarvis said. “I trip over my words and nothing good comes out. It’s fun listening to guys that are almost like a smartass stuff that comes out naturally.”

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Winnipeg Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey said opponents with knowledge of a players’ career or an embarrassing moment are the ones that sting.

“They have got a book,” he said. “They’re ready to go.”

He added the confidence and skill to try to get someone off their game by talking trash — often referred to as “chirping” in the hockey world — isn’t in everyone’s arsenal.

“The best guys are willing to back it up,” he said. “I’m definitely not a chirper, but the guys that do there’s some pretty charismatic guys in our league.”

Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said it’s “scary” how some NHLers will go down an internet rabbit hole to gather dirt.

“Gotta respect it,” he said. “You hear things that are eye-opening. It brings the intensity up.”

Caufield added that as a younger player in the league, he’s heard plenty from veterans on the other side.

“It’s a good thing if they’re coming after you,” he said. “You’re probably the one they’re worried about.”

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New Jersey Devils centre Jack Hughes said the hockey world is a small one, which adds to potential material.

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“Everyone knows everyone,” he explained. “Sometimes it crosses the line, sometimes not. You gotta be quick. You gotta be snappy.”

“I’m not a big researcher,” said charismatic Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Ryan Reaves. “Like it off the cuff.”

NHLers also know they have to be careful in an era where microphones are positioned around the rink — and even on players themselves. High-definition television cameras also mean fans can become amateur lip readers.

There was an example last season when Anaheim Ducks forward Trevor Zegras and then-Arizona Coyotes defenceman Troy Stecher got into a war of words that morphed into rumours and innuendo on social media.

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“Things can always be misconstrued, it wasn’t accurate,” Ducks winger Troy Terry said. “It was a lesson where if you’re in the spotlight, those things can happen.”

Morrissey said that rule also applies out of the spotlight.

“At the rink or away from the rink, there’s always someone with a phone,” he said. “And sometimes disingenuously trying to put you in a tough position.”

Vegas Golden Knights centre Jack Eichel said that comes with the territory in a wider world that’s undergone significant social change in the last few years.

“You gotta be careful what you say not only on the ice, but anywhere,” he said. “A lot of guys are mic’d up and that’s a great thing that our game does.”

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Hughes was fascinated by on-ice banter growing up.

“I used to love the hot mics because you’re always like, ‘What’s going on down there?”’ he said. “Then you hear and you’re like, ‘Jesus Christ.”’

Boston Bruins captain Brad Marchand’s name, unsurprisingly, came up repeatedly as one of the best trash-talkers.

Terry said he had a memorable experience as a rookie in 2018-19 with Anaheim.

“He was all over me,” Terry recalled of Marchand. “He was like, ‘Seriously, you’re the call-up?’ He said that multiple times he knew it was my first game back.”

Florida Panthers winger Matthew Tkachuk said a chirp that comes from the real world can land dead centre.

“The worst is when you get chirped when you’re actually playing (crappy),” he said. “It just adds fuel to the fire. That’s when a chirp works.”

Others can absolutely fall flat.

“There’s always guys that tell you’re soft,” Arizona Coyotes winger Clayton Keller said. “You’re just like, ‘OK, I’ve heard this a million times.”’

He added there’s nothing wrong with two opponents trying to gain an advantage.

“Both want to win,” Keller said. “And they’re going at it. ”

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Chicago Blackhawks centre Connor Bedard, the top pick at June’s draft and the most-hyped prospect since Connor McDavid, has yet to hear a chirp at the professional level in a game that counts.

But it’s no doubt coming.

“If you hear a good one, you’ll know,” he said. “It’s funny when someone knows a little extra information.”

And there are times when a teammate gets eviscerated by an opponent.

“You try to not laugh,” he said. “It’s a great part of the game.”

Added Jarvis: “Just gotta tip your cap at that point.”

Kadri said watching two players go toe-to-toe with colourful dialogue never loses its appeal.

“It’s fun to be on the bench when someone’s getting into it,” Kadri said. “It’s the wittiness and it’s the material. You gotta do your homework, you gotta know everything about who you’re going after.
“Within reason, of course.”

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