The narrative in the NHL is that there's no longer a need for the intimidating fourth line enforcer who's solely responsible for handing out punches to the face. Instead, teams are searching for hard-hitting players for their fourth line who can forecheck and backcheck with equal intensity for roughly six to eight minutes a night. It's all gravy if they can chip in a few goals and drop the gloves when needed.
But don't let the narrative fool you. Fighting still exists in the NHL and it isn't going anywhere anytime soon. As of January 8th, there has been 188 fights in the 2016-17 season compared to just 173 in the same time frame last year. And with the growing number of young stars in the game, there's only going to be a further need for protection. Look at Jake McCabe's monstrous hit on Winnipeg's Patrik Laine as an example - a booming, clean, open-ice hit that even Laine's coach had no problem with. Yet, Laine's teammates did, and rightfully so. Clean or not, devastating hits to star players aren't going to suddenly go unnoticed.
So getting back to those 188 fights so far this season. There's quite a few players with frequent fighter miles this season, but there's also several who only dropped the mitts once, likely in heat-of-the-moment situations. For the purpose of this list, then, we won't be including skilled players whose fighting experience is limited among the worst, nor will we include pugilists whose fighting resume, while impressive, is sparse.
All fight stats are taken from HockeyFights.com.
15 Best: Wayne Simmonds
We considered putting Evander Kane in this spot - his three fights in one game with Alex Petrovic last season earned him respect and fear league-wide - but he has a loss on his record to one of the fighters who shows up on the list as one of the game's worst fighters.
Wayne Simmonds, meanwhile, is widely known as a man you don't want to fight. As a member of the Montreal Canadiens last season, P.K. Subban put it bluntly to teammate Max Pacioretty: "No, you cannot fight Wayne Simmonds," he said after using his name as an adjective - Wayne-Simmonds-tough. Simmonds' resume backs up Subban's comments. Including preseason and postseason games, Simmonds has fought 62 times in the NHL and owns a record of 29-15-18. Draws are a frequent result in NHL fights, so for Simmonds to win 29 decisively is impressive. The fact that he has 188 career goals in 648 games is even better.
14 Worst: Chris Thorburn
Fighting a lot doesn't make you tough, especially if you're not that good at it. Winnipeg Jets' tough guy Chris Thorburn is a 6-foot-3, 235-pound winger whose role resembles that of old-time enforcers and while we're not willing to call him one of the league's worst fighters to his face, his resume suggests the assertion isn't that far off.
The 33-year-old has fought 102 times to date in the NHL, but has won just 29 of those fights outright, according to the hockeyfights.com voters. His record stands at 29-40-33, but what's worst about it is that he's received beat downs from players like Evgeny Arthukin (a Russian, albeit a big one, with all of 313 career penalty minutes), Ben Ondrus (listed generously at 6-foot), and Greg Stewart (who?). Thorburn has nine fights this season, making up more than two-thirds of the fights Jets players have been involved in, but his last three fights have been lopsided losses.
13 Best: Ryan Reaves
Ryan Reaves is a player that doesn't get much attention, because, well, he's not that good. In 378 career NHL games, the Winnipeg, Manitoba native has 22 goals and 22 assists, all with the St. Louis Blues. But the Blues aren't keeping him around for his scoring - the reason might have something to do with the fact he's an intimidating dude with a tree-trunk-sized neck and heavy fists. Reaves has accumulated 617 penalty minutes throughout his career, most of which have come as a result of fights.
He owns a ridiculous 38-13-7 record in fights, most of which were against the league's top heavyweights throughout the past few seasons - George Parros, Brian McGrattan, and John Scott, to a name a few. He isn't winning by small margins either - just ask Nick Foligno and Kurtis Gabriel who figured it would be smart to drop the gloves with Reaves this season.
12 Worst: Brandon Dubinsky
Noted shutdown artist of Sidney Crosby, Brandon Dubinsky is a pest that has some skill, evidenced by his 382 points in 658 career games. And unlike less-respected pests (we're looking at you, Alex Burrows), Dubinsky actually doesn't mind dropping the gloves; the American center has 39 fights in his career. However, he's hardly one of the league's most feared fighters with an abysmal 11-21-8 record.
In fact, Dubinsky seems to have gotten worse at fighting in recent years, only outright winning two of his last 13 fights, which includes losses to Crosby and Dallas Stars sniper Jamie Benn. His wins are often against players not accustom to fighting, like Alex Ovechkin, while he has piled up some embarrassing beat downs from players like Mike Green and Jarko Ruutu. He has even fought Wayne Simmonds, which leads to the question, is he either brave or stupid?
11 Best: Matt Martin
In his first NHL preseason as a member of the New York Islanders, Matt Martin dropped the gloves four times in an effort to earn himself a role on the team. It worked. Martin obliterated Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames in his first fight and fared well in the other three. To date, the Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy owns a record of 39-15-29.
According to hockeyfights.com, Martin has just two definitive losses in his last 21 fights, both of which have come this season and one of which was against Slovak freak-of-nature Zdeno Chara. He didn't lose any of his 11 fights in the 2015-16 regular season. Though his four-year, $10 million contract with Leafs earned some criticism in the recent offseason, it's clear the impact he has had on the up-and-coming team.
10 Worst: Luke Schenn
You could be one of the most intimidating enforcers in the league, but a fight loss to Patrick Kaleta does a lot to tarnish one's reputation. While not a heavyweight by any means, that was what happened to Luke Schenn in November of 2010, when he ate a few hay-makers from the Buffalo pest, who was essentially the 2000s-era Matthew Barnaby (translation: a Buffalo Sabre who enjoyed - but was awful at - fighting).
Schenn came into the league as a promising defenseman drafted by Toronto with the fifth overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft. His rookie season was promising in terms of his play and his on-ice toughness as he fought seven times, winning four tilts while still 18-years-old. However, he never quite reached his ceiling in terms of development and he's taken some butt-kickings since. Schenn has been involved in 41 career fights, winning just 15. What's worse is that, while most fighters' records are filled with draws, Schenn has just five, owning a combined record of 15-21-5.
9 Best: Dustin Byfuglien
Dustin Byfuglien has only fought 13 times in 720 career NHL games, but there's a reason for that. For one, the defenseman and former forward has often been a valuable member of his team, whether it be the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks or the Winnipeg Jets, so sitting in the penalty box for five minutes is less than ideal. But the biggest reason might be his 6-foot-5, 260-plus pound frame.
Few of the NHL's known fighters have been willing to drop the mitts with Big Buff and the ones that do fare poorly. In fact, Byfuglien has never lost a fight in his NHL career, posting a 9-0-4 record, which includes wins over not-so-smart players like Steve Downie, Garnet Hathaway, and an aging Keith Tkachuk.
8 Worst: Nazem Kadri
Nazem Kadri just barely fits under our criteria for determining the league's worst fighters, but he does so nonetheless. The Maple Leafs center hasn't won any of his five career fights; in fact, he hasn't even recorded a draw, posting a record of 0-5-0. What's worse about his fighting record is that he picks his fights strategically, squaring off against players who aren't necessarily known fighters, while rejecting invitations from tough guys.
A noted diver and pest, Kadri's five losses have come against Victor Hedman, who, while gigantic, has just four career fights, Matt Calvert, David Backes (twice), and Jannik Hansen, who got in his fair share of shots on Kadri this season in what was also his fifth career fight. For Kadri's sake, we'd advise he keep his gloves on tight.
7 Best: Cody McLeod
We can't be sure if Cody McLeod enjoys his role as one of the last pure enforcers in the game, but we know he does it well. The 32-year-old has played all of his 658 career games with the Colorado Avalanche and has put his face on the line 137 times, taking on the league's toughest heavyweights multiple times each season - he notched a career high in fights with 18 in the 2009-10 regular season before setting a new record with 19 in the 2014-15 season.
Overall, McLeod owns a 50-37-50 record, with only recent losses coming against others who appear on this list like Matt Martin and Ryan Reaves. For that volume of fights, we can't decide if it's more impressive he has lost just 37 times or that the only major injury he suffered in his career was to his shoulder.
6 Worst: Dion Phaneuf
Dion Phaneuf broke into the NHL as a high-scoring defenseman armed with a lethal slapshot and a knack for laying booming open-ice hits. Naturally, he'd have to answer for those hits and he often did so quite well. In the 2007-08 season, his third campaign in the league, Phaneuf had ten fights and lost just three of them - Shane Doan, Ethan Moreau, and Brent Burns were the only players to get the better of Phanuef.
But as his play has deteriorated, so has his fighting ability. He owns a 4-5-3 record in his last 12 fights, which doesn't sound awful on the surface, but he has suffered beat downs to Swede Jonathan Ericsson and Drew Stafford, neither of whom scream toughness, while his wins have come against the likes of Eric Staal, Milan Michalek, and Dmitry Kulikov. Yikes.
5 Best: Milan Lucic
Is Milan Lucic, at 6-foot-3, 233-pounds, an intimidating force? Sure. But what might be most terrifying about Lucic is the crazed look he gets in his eyes when he's coming after you. The Vancouver, BC native doesn't fight as often as he first did when he broke into the league, but that's in part due to a lack of willing participants.
Lucic has fought 68 times through nine-and-a-half seasons in the NHL and owns a record of 47-14-7. He played two seasons where he got the better of his opponent in all of his fights. That said, he has fought just twice in his first season with the Edmonton Oilers and lost one while the other could be considered a draw. It's understandable, however; his fists have to be wearing down after so many memorable fights in the NHL, not to mention the 39 he had in just two seasons of junior hockey.
4 Worst: Steve Ott
Though regarded primarily as a pest throughout the early stages of his career, Steve Ott had no trouble dropping the gloves when necessary. He often even held his own, winning seven of 16 fights with ease in the 2005-06 regular season. He's no longer the physical threat he once was, due to a declining speed and years of wear and tear on his body. The 34-year-old has won just four of his last 26 fights.
The former first round pick of the Dallas Stars has fought 126 times in his lengthy career, posting a combined record of 28-51-47. Depending on your definition of tough, Ott might fit the bill because it's evident he can take a punch, though he's not exactly the best at dishing them out.
3 Best: Chris Neil
Few fighters make it past 1,000 games, but that's exactly what Chris Neil did this season. The 37-year-old has played in 1,011 career games, all with the Ottawa Senators, posting 248 points and a whopping 2,508 penalty minutes. He was almost single-handedly responsible for creating the famed Battle of Ontario rivalry between the Maple Leafs and Senators in the early 2000s with his in-your-face style of play and willingness to back it up with his fists.
Neil has fought 210 times in the NHL, including a career high 24 fights in the 2003-04 regular season. The Ontario native is such a dinosaur in the league that most of his early fights haven't received enough votes to award a winner, but we're confident in saying he likely won most of them. He won or settled for a draw in more than half of his 2008-09 fights, which featured opponents like George Parros, Eric Godard, Tim Jackman, Shawn Thornton, and Milan Lucic. Even this year, old man Neil has won four of the five fights he has taken part in.
2 Worst: Ryan Kesler
Like Nazem Kadri above, Kesler is a bit of a noted pest, though he brings a little more to the table than the Maple Leafs' center. He's one of the league's best faceoff men, a strong defensive player, and is on pace to top 20 goals for the ninth consecutive season, not including his injury-shortened campaign in 2012-13. However, there's one thing he's not that great at; fighting.
Kesler often scraps with the league's lower-tier middleweights and lightweights and owns an abysmal 4-14-10 record through 29 fights. He didn't get the better of an opponent until 2013-14 when he had his way with Dustin Brown, but that fight is an outlier in an otherwise horrible resume. Kesler has had his clock cleaned by both Vladimir Tarasenko and Sam Gagner, who have a combined ten fights, as well as current teammates Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. He was most recently the victim of a lethal one-punch takedown from Max Domi, which you need to watch immediately.
1 Best: Zdeno Chara
It's a little unfair, but we have to give the nod to Zdeno Chara, partially because of his six-foot-nine frame, but mostly because of the way he can dominate his opponents around without even having to throw a punch (see Chara ragdolling Bryan McCabe in 2008).
Big Z fought sparingly as a junior in the Canadian Hockey League, but backed up his intimidating size early on by scrapping with some unsuspecting victims. He isn't necessarily undefeated as one might think given his size, but he has laid some memorable poundings in his 18-and-a-half seasons, typically against only the league's most willing heavyweights. He has only fought twice this season, but had little trouble with either Matt Martin or Patrick Maroon. For an example of the damage Chara can afflict on an opponent, see David Koci's face after the pair's fight.
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