What makes an NHL player dirty? How about constant slew footing, elbowing, high sticking and slashing. We can also throw in illegal hits to the head, spearing, knee-on-knee hits, scratching, spitting, kicking, head butting, biting and throwing sucker punches. Most players stay away from these things, but there are some in the history of the league who have engaged in some or a combination of these cheap shots. Some players may just lose it once during their careers while others have earned a reputation for being dirty players due to numerous repeat offences.
It’s hard for dirty players to get away with anything these days due to all of the television camera replays that are made available to the NHL’s disciplinary office. Therefore, most players who engage in any of these acts or other types of dirty play, are usually caught and punished for it by being suspended without pay. There’s no denying that NHL hockey has had more than its fair share of infamous dirty incidents over the years with some of them even resulting in criminal charges. Below is a list of each of the current teams’ dirtiest player in their franchise’s history.
The list was a little difficult to compile since several notable dirty players suited up for more than one team during their careers. On the other hand, a few players spent their entire careers with just one club. Therefore, the players on the list represented the club listed during their NHL careers, but their most notorious acts may have occurred while they played for another team. Because each team was restricted to just one player, some well-known dirty players have been lucky to have been left off of the list. These include players such as Dan Carcillo, Bobby Clarke, Moose Dupont, Paul Baxter, Matthew Barnaby, Tie Domi, James Neal, Darcy Tucker, Denis Gauthier, Esa Tikkanen, Dave Schultz, Johnny McKenzie, Billy Smith and Dale Hunter.
Anaheim Ducks – Jason Marshall
Defenceman Jason Marshall was a ninth-overall draft pick by St. Louis back in 1989 and he ended up with the Ducks in 1994-95. He played for seven seasons in Anaheim and racked up 740 minutes in penalties with many of them being for cheap shots. It always appeared Marshall was trying to injure players when hitting them.
He ended up playing in Germany and racked up 432 penalty minutes in 90 games as well as suspensions after serving 1.004 minutes in 526 regular-season NHL contests. He did manage 16 goals during his NHL career when he wasn’t in the penalty box or looking for targets.
Arizona Coyotes – Dave Manson
Defenceman Dave Manson played just 66 games with the Coyotes back in the 1996-97 season and served 164 minutes in penalties after previously playing with Chicago, Edmonton and Winnipeg. He arrived in Arizona with a reputation of being somebody you didn’t want to mess with and once racked up 352 penalty minutes in a season in Chicago. He finished his career with 2,792 minutes in regular-season play and opponents always had to keep their heads up when ‘Charlie’ was on the ice. Manson was suspended three times, twice for pushing a game official and once for biting Scott Stevens’ hand.
Boston Bruins – Eddie Shore
There have been a lot of big bad Bruins over the years, but none were dirtier than defenceman Eddie Shore who played from 1926 to 1940. Shore believed in old time hockey and was a fierce competitor who would sometimes cross the line. He served 165 minutes in penalties in his second season, which was an NHL record back then. His most infamous play came back in 1933 when his hit ended the career of Ace Bailey of the Maple Leafs and nearly killed him. Legend has it that Shore once took on his teammates in a brawl at practice and nearly lost an ear. Shores’ career was filled with feuds and littered with bloodies faces and broken bones of opposing players. He was hated by many and a bounty was reportedly put on his head by his enemies.
Buffalo Sabres – Patrick Kaleta
Sabres’ forward Patrick Kaleta is repeat offender, meaning he’s been suspended by the NHL on more than one occasion for his dirty play. Kaleta was once thrown out for five games for a cheap shot on Brad Richards and was handed a 10-game ban for another one on Jack Johnson. He’s also been known to head butt opponents from time to time. Kaleta’s one of the most-despised players in the game due to the way he plays and he’s now causing havoc in the AHL with Rochester after serving 19 games worth of suspensions in the NHL.
Calgary Flames – Gary Suter
Gary Suter was a pretty skilful defenceman, but players could never turn their back on him. The former rookie of the year knew how to rack up the points, but had a vicious streak in him. Suter was suspended for six games for breaking his stick over a Russian opponent’s face in the 1987 Canada Cup and the play was so bad the NHL also handed him a four-game ban.
Suter hit Wayne Gretzky from behind in the 1991 Canada Cup and put the Great One out of the tournament. After Suter had joined Chicago he crosschecked Anaheim’s Paul Kariya in the head while the Duck was celebrating a goal. The incident happened just before the 1998 Olympics and Kariya was unable to play for Canada. Suter, an American, was suspended four games and received death threats from angry Canadian fans.
Carolina Hurricanes – Stu Grimson
Some would argue that Stu Grimson shouldn’t have played in the NHL. He was nothing more than an enforcer who served 204 minutes in penalties during his one season in Carolina. He also played with Chicago, Anaheim, Detroit, Hartford, Los Angeles and Nashville and scored a grand total of 39 points in 729 career regular-season outings. He also racked up 2,113 penalty minutes. Known as the ‘Grim Reaper’, Grimson went nuts one night while playing with Chicago while the referee and his own coach tried to restrain him. Grimson skated all over the ice looking for Maple Leafs players to pound on and ended up with a 10-game suspension. It wasn’t the only time he was suspended either.
Chicago Blackhawks – Behn Wilson
Defenceman Behn Wilson had earned a reputation as a mean and dirty player with the Flyers from 1978 to 1983 and nothing changed when he became a Blackhawk for the next five years. It was reported that his own teammates considered him to be a less-than-clean player. Wilson once high-sticked-Steve Yzerman in the face for a four-game suspension in his first season in the Windy City and two years later started an all-out brawl after cross checking Rich Sutter in the back with just 22 seconds to go in a game against his old Flyer teammates. He retired with 1,480 minutes in penalties in 601 career games. Wilson was also suspended four games in 1981 for slashing the Rangers’ Reijo Ruotsalainen in the face.
Colorado Avalanche – Claude Lemieux
Claude Lemieux was a good hockey player who would occasionally lose it during games. He was a fierce competitor with Montreal and a supreme antagonist. He was a supreme pest who often crossed the line. Lemieux was well known for his feud with the Red Wings while he was a member of the Avalanche and it all started when he smashed Kris Draper into the boards face-first from behind during the 1995-96 playoffs. Draper’s face was rearranged by one of the dirtiest hits in NHL history and Lemieux was handed just a two-game suspension. Lemieux also reportedly bit the finger of the Flames’ Jim Peplinski during another playoff encounter.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Jody Shelley
Enforcer Jody Shelley played 380 games with the Jackets and served 1,025 minutes in penalties. He also played with San Jose, the Rangers and Philadelphia with 1,538 penalty minutes to go along with 54 points in 627 contests. Shelley was suspended for 10 games in September of 2011 as he was booted out of five preseason and five regular-season matches after boarding Darryl Boyce. He was also banned for two games a year earlier for hitting Adam McQuaid of the Bruins from behind. Shelley could fight, but was also known for his dirty hits.
Dallas Stars – Steve Ott
Back in 2009 Sports Illustrated polled 300 NHL players on who was the dirtiest opponent in the league and forward Steve Ott tied for first place with Chris Pronger. That may have surprised many fans since Ott is generally known as a good leader. However, there are those, including numerous NHL players, who don’t appreciate the way he plays. Ott has been suspended more than once by the NHL for incidents such as eye-gouging and delivering illegal hits to the head.
Detroit Red Wings – Gordie Howe
Gordie Howe will go down in history as arguably the greatest hockey player who ever lived. He could do it all, skate, pass, shoot, hit and fight. But to be honest, he was also one dirty SOB at times and could be quite vicious. Howe wasn’t shy about delivering elbows to opponents’ heads and using his stick. He would do whatever he had to when he was fighting for space on the ice. Several players challenged him to fisticuffs during his career, but soon regretted as he may be the only NHL player to never lose a fight.
Edmonton Oilers – Ken Linesman
If your nickname is ‘The Rat’, there must be a good reason for it. Forward Ken Linesman had plenty of skill and proved it with Boston, Philadelphia , Edmonton and a couple of games with the Maple Leafs. Linesman rarely fought, but still served 1,727 minutes in penalties during his career, mainly for being a pest. He was charged and convicted of assault as a junior player after he kicked an opponent in the head with his skate on. Linesman has also been accused of biting during his career and was a nasty player who was hit with a pair-of four-game suspensions in the 1982-83 campaign. He certainly lived up to his nickname.
Florida Panthers – Dino Ciccarelli
Right-winger Dino Ciccarelli was another agitator who could play great hockey, but was also a loose cannon. The hall of famer didn’t play too long with Florida as he spent most of his years with the former Minnesota North Stars and the Red Wings. Ciccarelli was another guy who would rather settle things with his stick than his fists. He rarely fought, but racked up 1,200 minutes in penalties. His most infamous incident came as a North Star back in 1988 at Maple Leaf Gardens when he attacked Toronto’s rookie defenceman Luke Richardson in a vicious stick attack. He was charged, fined $1,000, and sentenced to a day in jail after being convicted. The NHL also suspended him for 10 games for his actions and was also banned for three games in 1987 for pushing a linesman.
Los Angeles Kings – Marty McSorley
Kings’ defenseman/forward Marty McSorley will always be remembered for his brutal stick attack to the head of Donald Brashear of Vancouver back in 2000 when McSorley was playing with the Boston Bruins. Brashear was carried off the ice unconscious, bloodied on a stretcher. McSorley was suspended for a year and it was more or less the end of his career. He’s actually lucky he didn’t end up in jail for the assault after being convicted and charged for it. Instead, he was given a conditional discharge, which meant he didn’t have a criminal record.
Minnesota Wild – Matt Cooke
The Wild has been a pretty calm bunch since entering the league with Matt Cooke being their most notorious player. However, most of Cooke’s dirtiest plays came while playing for other teams. Cooke is known for cheap shots to the head and also cut Ottawa defenceman Erik Karlsson’s Achilles tendon with his skate blade, in what may or may not have been an accident. Cooke has been suspended several times for illegal hits on players and basically ended the career of the Bruins’ Marc Savard with an unnecessary cheap shot to the head even though he wasn’t suspended for it.
Montreal Canadiens – Maurice Richard
Chris Nilan and Chris Chelios may come to mind for the Habs, but like Gordie Howe and the Red Wings we’re going back to one of the best players ever with Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard, who was known for his fiery temper. Richard took care of himself and didn’t hesitate to do so by using his stick. He served 1,285 penalty minutes, which is the fourth-highest in Canadiens history. The infamous Richard riot of 1955 resulted after Richard was suspended for the season for losing it on the ice against the Bruins. He laid a beating on Hal Laycoe with his stick and then punched a linesman a couple of times. Enforcers weren’t needed in Richard’s era as everybody stood up for themselves.
Nashville Predators – Jordin Tootoo
Former Predators’ forward Jordin Tootoo was considered a predator by some literally as he would prey on opponents by flying in at top speed, leaving his feet and delivering late hits. When he connected, it would often leave his opponent dazed and confused at best and concussed at worst. Tootoo was suspended for five games in 2007 for knocking out Dallas defenceman Stephane Robidas with a punch to the head. He also nailed the Coyotes’ Daniel Winnik in the head with a shoulder check the same year, but wasn’t disciplined, but was banned again for two games in 2011 for charging Sabres’ goalie Ryan Miller.
New Jersey Devils – Cam Janssen
Forward Cam Janssen was known for his late hits and served a couple of suspensions for them. He was nailed for three games in 2007 for knocking out Toronto defenseman Tomas Kaberle with an illegal check to the head. Then in 2010, as a member of the Blues, he served five games for hitting Matt Bradley of the Capitals. Janssen was also banned five games earlier this year while playing for Albany of the AHL after delivering another illegal hit to the head. He scored a grand total of 14 points in 338 NHL games to go along with 774 minutes in penalties. Janssen’s now terrorizing players in England as he’s a member of the Nottingham Panthers in the British Elite League.
New York Islanders – Raffi Torres
Raffi Torres is now delivering hits to the head as a member of the San Jose Sharks, but he also did the same while playing with the Islanders, Oilers, Blue Jackets, Sabres, Canucks and Coyotes. Torres doesn’t serve a lot of penalties, but he does serve a lot of suspensions. He’s now been banned five times by the NHL with his latest suspension coming early this season when he was nailed for 41 games after checking Anaheim Duck Jakob Silfverberg in the head during a preseason outing. Torres was suspended for 25 games in the 2011-12 playoffs for a high hit on Chicago’s Marian Hossa, but it was later reduced to 21 contests. He was again suspended in the postseason the next year season for six games when he hit Jared Stoll of the Kings in the head. He was also banned for two regular-season games in 2011 and 2012 for illegal hits.
New York Rangers – Sean Avery
Former Rangers forward Sean Avery had a habit of getting under everybody’s skin, even his own teammates. Avery was an unsavory character both on and off the ice. He was known for trash talking, diving, spearing, sucker punches, late hits, hacking and turtling. In general, he made a supreme pest of himself on the ice. He was actually suspended for six games in 2008 as a member of the Dallas Stars for off-ice comments he made about former girlfriends. He was also fined by the league for diving as well as suspended by the Los Angeles Kings. Avery led the league a couple of times in penalty minutes, but was perhaps even more controversial for his comments than he was for his play.
Ottawa Senators – Jarkko Ruutu
Former Senators forward Jarkko Ruutu was suspended for two games for elbowing in 2008, two games for biting in 2009 and one game for a late hit in 2011. Perhaps the worst of these was for taking a bite out of former Sabres enforcer Andrew Peters. Ruutu was an agitator who carried around a dirty reputation with him no matter who he played for. He was also known for knee-on-knee hits and was also the recipient of many retaliatory hits during his career.
Philadelphia Flyers – Chris Pronger
Former defenceman Chris Pronger has a lot of competition when it comes to dirty Flyers players over the years. However, all you need to know about Pronger is that he was suspended by the NHL on nine different occasions for a variety of dirty plays. The worst was stomping on the ankle of Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler with his skate. Pronger was another player who was known for cheap shots regardless of which team he suited up for.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Ulf Samuelsson
Former defender Ulf Samuelsson was well known around the league for hitting low and targeting opponents’ knees. One of his most famous victims was former Canuck and Bruin power forward Cam Neely. Samuelsson annoyed Tie Domi so much during the course of a 1995 game to the point where Domi sucker punched the big defenseman, knocked him outcold and gladly served an eight game suspension for it. Samuelsson served 2,453 minutes in penalties and served a couple of short suspensions for stick-related offenses.
San Jose Sharks – Bryan Marchment
Bryan Marchment was a hard-hitting defenseman who played with several teams. However, the problem with Marchment’s hits was that most of them were low and he earned the reputation as somebody who wanted to make contact with the knees. Marchment often targeted the other team’s top layers and injured several of them with his hits, including partially collapsing one of Mike Gartner’s lungs. Marchment was reportedly suspended 13 times in his first 12 years in the NHL and was a notorious repeat offender for offenses including elbowing and spearing.
St. Louis Blues – Scott Nichol
Many fans may have never heard of Scott Nichol, but he was a three-time offender after the 2006 season. Nichol, a small centre man at 5-feet-9-inches tall and 180 lbs, was suspended for elbowing, crosschecking, and sucker punching an opponent. The three suspensions were for four, five and nine games. Nichol also served 915 minutes in penalties in 662 career regular-season games and was quite good at stirring things up on the ice despite his size.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Steve Downie
Forward Steve Downie arrived in the NHL with a reputation of being a dirty player from his junior days. He didn’t let anybody down as he was suspended for 20 games even before his first season in the league after he nailed Ottawa’s Dean McAmmond in the head with an illegal hit during the 2007/08 preseason. He’s also been fined for jumping over the bench during a fight and has been suspended for 20 games while playing in the AHL for slashing a linesman. Downie has a well-earned reputation as a dirty player and has been lucky to escape punishment on several cheap hits during his career.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Tiger Williams
Forward Tiger Williams was no angel and that’s why he’s the all-time NHL leader in penalty minutes with 3,966 or 4.12 minutes per outing over a 962-game career. Granted, Williams earned a lot of his minutes for fighting, but he often picked scraps with guys who weren’t known for dropping their gloves. Williams didn’t really care if you were a pacifist or not, he wanted to solve issues with fisticuffs. Williams was suspended more than once, but he never made the headlines for anything really vicious.
Vancouver Canucks – Todd Bertuzzi
Todd Bertuzzi makes this list for one of the league’s most vicious attacks when he assaulted fellow forward Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche in 2004 in what looked to be a premeditated ambush. Moore’s career was over and the incident was finally settled out of court about 10 years later. Bertuzzi was charged with assault for the attack and was suspended for 13 regular season and seven playoff games in all. He was also suspended from international hockey for 17 months. Bertuzzi also served a 10-game suspension early in the 2001-02 campaign for leaving the bench to join a fight. However, the Moore incident was one of the worst in NHL history.
Washington Capitals – Chris Simon
Chris Simon was a nasty piece of work and was involved in numerous dirty on-ice incidents. He was suspended eight times by the NHL during his career including a 30-game ban in 2007 which was the longest in history at the time. The suspension was for stomping on fellow agitator Jarkko Ruutu and he was also booted out for 25 games after slashing Ryan Hollweg in the head. Simon had a habit of aiming his stick at players’ heads, but was also suspended for kneeing and issuing racial slurs. Simon served a total of 65 games in suspensions during his NHL career.
Winnipeg Jets – Anthony Peluso
We’re going with the new version of the Jets here, not the franchise that used to play years ago. Therefore, since they’ve been in the league just a few years there aren’t as many candidates. Anthony Peluso, Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien have all been suspended by the NHL in the past, but Peluso seems to have the worst reputation of the three. The forward’s basically an enforcer who sometimes gets out of hand. Peluso was banned for three games for boarding Stars’ defenceman Alex Goligoski in 2013 with a brutal hit. He’s kept his nose clean since then, but his nine points in 107 games and 165 minutes in penalties show the type of player he is.
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