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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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