The place of fighting is a debate that has been going on for years in the modern NHL. The role of the enforcer is dwindling every year and many teams do not have an enforcer on their roster at all. The enforcer used to be an extremely important position in hockey and a team was not complete without its resident "goon". The enforcer would pick up tons of penalty minutes, usually a couple points along the way and would engage in numerous fights to defend his teammates. But that is no longer true as speed is more important than ever now and fights are becoming less frequent and more frowned upon
However, enforcers of the past have accumulated incredible amounts of penalty minutes in history and, to honour the fading position, I think they deserve a list of their own. This list is going to rank some of the all time leaders in penalty minutes in the history of the NHL.
Before you read, please take note that these rankings will not be an exact representation of the 15 players with the highest penalty minutes total. The total obviously weighs heavily in the ranking, but the numbers of games played and overall reputation of a player also applies. Per example, a player with 1,500 games and 2,500 penalty minutes will rank lower than a player with 2,400 penalty minutes in 700 games. The number of fights they were part of, suspensions they gathered, the average of penalty minutes per game and other records they might have will also have an impact on the list.
So without further ado, here are the 15 most penalized players in NHL history.
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15 Ron Hextall, 584 minutes in 608 games as a goaltender
The only entry not to crack the 2,000 penalty minutes mark, Hextall still makes the cut because he is the all time leader in penalty minutes for a goaltender. He is the only netminder with over 500 minutes and just one of three who logged over 400. Hextall had over 100 penalty minutes in each of his first three seasons, including the most ever in a single season for a goalie with 117 minutes. He was suspended for six games or more three times. If you wonder how a goalie can log so many penalties, just watch his attack of Chris Chelios or his slash of Kent Nillson.
Hextall also was a very talented goalkeeper. A former 6th round pick, he played for the Flyers, Nordiques and Islanders, but his stint with Philly was the biggest part of his career. He was the first to score in an empty net in the regular season by shooting it himself and he also was the first to do so in the playoffs. He won the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophy as a rookie, winning the playoff MVP in a losing effort, only the fourth player to do so. Hextall is now the general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers.
14 Chris Neil, 2,294 minutes in 893 games, and counting
Chris Neil is by far the player with the least amount of penalty minutes on this list, excluding the only goalie to make the top, landing only at the 41st spot all time. What gives him his place is the fact that he is the leader among all active players in penalty minutes. No other active player has logged at least 2,000 minutes in the sin bin.
A former 6th round pick who has spent all of his career with the Ottawa Senators, he averages 2.5 penalty minutes per game. He has been known as the enforcer of the team for most of his 13 NHL seasons. His best year was in 2005-06, where he had a career high in goals (16) and points (33) while logging in 204 penalty minutes, just 27 minutes short of his career high.
13 Chris Chelios, 2,891 minutes in 1,651 games
Ranking 12th on the all-time penalty minutes list, Chelios's penalty minutes are mostly a result of his longevity. Playing 26 seasons in the league for the Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and Atlanta Thrashers, he is the all-time leader for games played as a defencemen, is tied with Gordie Howe for most seasons at 26 and only missed the playoffs twice in his career, in 1997-98 and 2009-10. He is the leader for most playoffs losses in North American sports with 117. He averaged less than a penalty per game (1.7 minutes/game)
A former 2nd round pick, Chris Chelios won the Stanley Cup three times, once with the Habs in 1986 and twice with the Red Wings in 2002 and 2008. He played in 11 All-Star games and won three Norris Trophies, which reward the best defenseman of the year. He was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013.
12 Scott Stevens, 2,784 minutes in 1,635 games
Even though he logged less penalty minutes than Chelios, Stevens beats him because of the punishing presence he had on the ice. He was known as one of the hardest hitters in the game for the majority of his career and he formed one of the best defensive pairings in the league when he was matched with Scott Niedermayer in New Jersey. His bone-crushing hits caused many concussions to the players on the receiving end, including Paul Kariya, Ron Francis and Eric Lindros.
Stevens was more than just a terrifying physical presence though. The only player to be drafted in the first round in this list (5th overall), he was the youngest player to reach 1,500 games played, at the age of 37. he has a cumulative plus/minus total of +393, and reached a career high +53 in 1993-94. He also recorded 78 points during that season. Before Chris Chelios was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Stevens was its leader in penalty minutes and in games played for a defenceman after being inducted in 2007. He spent his 22 seasons with the Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils. He was the captain of the Devils from 1992 to 2004, leading them to three Stanley Cup wins in four appearances in the finals and won the Conn Smythe in 2000. Despite his stellar play, he never won the Norris Trophy.
11 Rick Tocchet, 2,972 minutes in 1,144 games
The best scorer on this list with over 400 goals, Tocchet is 10th on the all time penalty minutes list. More of a fighter early in his career, he quickly developped his skill set to become a pretty good power forward, while still picking up a fight once in a while. This diverse set of talents made him the player with the most Gordie Howe hat tricks (1 goal, 1 assist and 1 fight) with 18, postseason included. Over his career, he averaged 2.6 penalty minutes per game and hold the 10th place for all time penalty minutes. He never reached 300 minutes in a season, clocking in at 299 minutes in 1987-88, a career high.
A very well-traveled talent, the former 6th round pick played for 18 seasons and was part of the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins where he won a Stanley Cup in 1992, then the Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Phoenix Coyotes. He was the Flyers' captain for a season before being traded. Tocchet also had a short-lived head coaching gig with the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2008 to 2010 and is now an assistant coach in Pittsburgh.
10 Gino Odjick, 2,567 minutes in 608 games
Gino Odjick may only be 17th on the all time penalty leaders list, but when you look deeper in the numbers he definitely deserves a top 10 spot here. All but one player with more minutes in the sin bin than him outplayed him by 200 or more games. He averaged a whooping 4.2 penalty minutes a game. That's more than two minor penalties a game. Odjick clocked over 200 penalty minutes each of his first six seasons, twice going over 300.
The former fifth round pick played his whole career as an enforcer. His career high in scoring came in 1993-94 with 16 goals and 29 points. Apart from that season, he never scored more than seven goals and 17 points. He played 12 years in the league, seven of them with the Canucks and the rest split between the New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens.
9 Craig Berube, 3,149 minutes in 1,054 games
A former undrafted free agent, Craig Berube made quite the impression in his first game. In his debut, he managed to record 16 penalty minutes in a single game, including two majors for fighting. He then went on to be a career long enforcer, averaging nearly three minutes per game, good for 7th on the all time list. He appeared in three Stanley Cup Finals, but was never on the winning side. He is fifth all-time for most fights with 300.
Berube's career was notorious for the number of trades he was a part of. Over a seven month span, Berube was traded three times, including twice in the offseason, in deals that included stars like Doug Gilmour, Jarri Kurri, Scott Mellanby, Grant Fuhr and Vincent Damphousse, among many others. He was also traded two other times during his career. When it was all said and done, he played for the Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Washington Capitals and New York Islanders. He also was a part of the Edmonton Oilers, but he was traded before ever playing a game for them.
Berube never scored more than 18 points in his career, with a total of 159 points even if he managed to play over a thousand games. He was also head coach of the Flyers from 2013 to 2015.
8 Tim Hunter, 3,146 minutes in 815 games
A player that can sometimes be forgotten among the other great enforcers in hockey history, Hunter ranks 8th on the all time penalty minutes list. He spent most of his career with the Calgary Flames, where he was instrumental in the "Battle of Alberta" with the Edmonton Oilers. He helped the Calgary Flames become a powerhouse in in 80s, reaching two Stanley Cup Finals, both against Montreal. They lost the first final in 1986, but had their revenge in 1989, where they won the cup in the Montreal Forum, the only visiting team to ever do so. The former 3rd round pick spent 11 of his 16 seasons with the Flames, splitting the other five between the Quebec Nordiques, Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks.
Hunter never scored more than 22 points, but he reached 300 penalty minutes three years in a row, with a career high of 375 in 1988-89. More recently he spent 14 years as an assistant coach in the NHL, most of them for the Washington Capitals. He has also been named coach of the Canadian Under 18 Hockey Team.
7 Rob Ray, 3,207 minutes in 900 games
Rob Ray is considered one of the greatest enforcers of all time. A prolific fighter, a rule regarding NHL fights was changed because of his dominance. Nicknamed the Rob Ray rule, it penalizes a player that loses his jersey and/or shoulder pads during a fight. Before it passed, Ray would almost always loose these pieces of equipment, leaving his opponent unable to grab him, giving Ray a distinct advantage in a fight.
The former 5th round pick was never much of a scorer though, never reaching the 20 points or 10 goals mark. He did not reach the 100 points mark for his career total, despite playing 900 games. Apart from his last two seasons, Ray always had at least 158 penalty minutes and reached 200 in 10 of his 15 seasons. Despite being known as a fighter, he won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, which rewards the player who best represents leadership on and off the ice while also doing an humanitarian impact on his community.
6 Bob Probert, 3,300 minutes in 935 games
Bob Probert is fourth on the all time list with 302 fights, Probert, like many others on this list, was known mostly for his role as an enforcer. However, he had a troubled life off the ice. He was arrested for possession of cocaine, for which he was suspended indefinitely from the league and spent three months in jail. He was later reinstated at the end of the prison term.
Drafted in the third round, Probert was a decent scorer, even reaching 62 points in 1987-88. He had four seasons of 40 or more points and reached 398 penalty minutes in a single season. A former fourth rounder, he unfortunately passed away in 2010 of a heart attack at the age of 45. He is mostly remembered as one half of the "Bruise Brothers" along with Joey Kocur with the Detroit Red Wings. He spent nine of his 16 seasons in Detroit and the remainder with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Probert was part of the inspiration for the character of Russ Rhea in the movie "Goon". Actor Liev Schreiber said in an interview with "Puck Daddy" that he studied a lot of film from Probert, looking in his fights and his overall attitude. He even went as far as taping his wrists, just like the former Detroit enforcer.
5 Marty McSorley, 3,381 minutes in 961 games
Known through most of his career as "Gretzky's Enforcer", McSorley followed The Great One from Edmonton to Los Angeles, where he spent the majority of his career. The former undrafted free agent also had stints with the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins.
Despite all of his penalty minutes, McSorley will always be remembered for a single penalty he picked up during the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993. With the Kings having a 2-1 lead late in the third period and a 1-0 lead in the series, Montreal's coach Jacques Demers called for a measurement of McSorley's stick. A very unusual call turned out to be right, as his stick's curve was illegal. Montreal had a power play and tied the game, which they later won to even the series. They then went on to win the next three games and the Stanley Cup. Many consider the penalty to be the turning point of the series.
McSorley's retirement was the result of an extremely controversial play. In 2000, McSorley slashed the head of Donald Brashear with less than five seconds remaining in a game between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks. Brashear suffered a very severe concussion and McSorley was found guilty of assault with a weapon and was suspended for the remainder of the season and received 18 months probation from the British Columbia Provincial Court. McSorley never played another NHL game.
4 Dale Hunter, 3,565 minutes in 1,407 games
The only player on this list to score over a thousand points in his career, Hunter is the most penalized 1,000 point scorer in the history of the league. Averaging around 2.5 penalty minutes a game, he ranks second on the all-time penalty minutes list. He was traded from the Quebec Nordiques to the Washington Capitals for a package that included a first round pick, which was used to select Hall of Famer Joe Sakic.
Hunter was named captain of the Capitals in 1994, a position he held for five years. A controversial player on the ice, he was said to be humble and well-mannered outside of the rink, despite his nickname of "La Petite Peste" ("The Nuisance" in English). A fan favourite throughout his career with the Quebec Nordiques and Capitals (and the Colorado Avalanche for 12 games), the former 2nd round pick had nine seasons of 60 or more points and as many with 20 or more goals. He also reached the 200 penalty minutes mark 11 times.
3 Chris Nilan, 3,043 minutes in 688 games
When your nickname is "Knuckles", you are bound to get your fait share of penalties. Even if he ranks "only" 9th on the all time list, he has the highest average penalty minutes per game of all time, with more than 4.4 min/game. He has 500 less penalty minutes than Dale Hunter, but he accumulated them in half the games. He is also the leader for most penalties in a single game with 10: six minors, two majors, one misconduct and a game misconduct, for a total of a whooping 42 penalty minutes in a 60-minute game. He is also third on the list for most fights in a career, with 316.
A 19th round pick, Nilan is best known for his time as the enforcer of the Montreal Canadiens in the 80s. At his peak, he was a decent fourth line scorer, with two seasons of over 30 points. His career high in goals is 21 in 1984-85, the same year he had a career high with 358 penalty minutes. He spent 10 of his 13 seasons with the Habs, splitting the remaining years between the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins.
2 Tie Domi, 3,515 mintes in 1,020 games
The NHL's all-time leader in fights with 338, Domi is considered as one of the game's dirtiest players. Not only picking fights with opposing players, he also got in a brawl with a fan during one of his numerous trip to the sin bin, for which he was fined $1,000 (the league's maximum at the time). He was suspended numerous times, most notably for his infamous sucker punch on Ulf Samuelsson and his elbow on Scott Niedermayer.
Domi did have five seasons of at least 20 points, with a career high of 29 in 2002-03. A former 2nd round pick, his dirty style of play landed him third on the all time penalty minutes list and on many rankings of the dirtiest players in the history of the game.
1 Tiger Williams, 3,966 minutes in 962 games
No other player than Dave "Tiger" Williams could ever think of clinching the top spot on this list. With a comfortable lead of 401 minutes over the second place, his record might never be challenged in the history of the game, especially with the role of enforcer being less and less present around the modern NHL. The former 2nd round pick averaged 4.1 minutes per game and is second all time for most NHL fights with 330.
A surprisingly good scorer, Williams actually led the Vancouver Canucks in goals in 1980-81 with 35 and was named to the All-Star team, where he was paired with Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy. He recorded four seasons of 20 or more goals and three others of either 18 or 19 goals. But no matter his scoring touch, he will forever be remembered as the most penalized player of all time.
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