The NHL is a league that relies on self- policing more so than any other major sport. There’s an unwritten rule book on what is unacceptable as well as the punishments for violating these rules. Hockey has developed a culture that is unlike any other sport.
Sometimes you have players that come into the league completely willing to pay the price. They largely abide by the league’s restrictions on how you can play but seek to stretch the limit of the unwritten rulebook. Their goal is to give their team the biggest physical edge possible. They make the game harder for opponents who have to be very careful in how they play. They can’t let their guard down or become complacent; always having to play on edge.
There’s a second type of player. One who’s willing to violate the leagues restrictions on how to play physically. Their style of play is reckless and dangerous. What they do in the game often affects other players’ lives outside the game in a very harmful way. They aren’t afraid to get their elbows and knees involved in their hits. They often leave the ice before making contact. They don’t care about the well being of the athletes they play against.
Both these type of players make up the list of the most terrifying NHLers
15. P.K. Subban
P. K. Subban is commonly seen among fans as a dirty player (though some disagree). He has a particular fondness for using his elbows. He does what it takes to get into the head of opponents and it often works.
He’s a very talented player and brings an impactful physical edge to the game. It’s hard to understand the trade rumors surrounding him as anything other than the media trying to drum up buzz for the sake of it. Though, that idea often gets thrown around when fans don’t want to believe something.
14. Dion Phaneuf
Dion Phaneuf is one of the most physical defenseman in the NHL; famed for his hard hits ever since he entered the league with the Flames in 2005.
While he’s had his share of dangerous hits, suspended on one occasion for boarding even, Phaneuf isn’t considered one of the leagues dirty players. He’ll use his style of play to get under the skin of those he plays against. When you watch him though, you don’t get the feeling he’s trying to injure people, rather just make them sore and frightened for the time being.
13. Alexei Emelin
Alexei Emelin is a player who draws a bit of controversy. Thankfully though, this controversy is in regards to whether the physical impact he has makes up for his poor defensive play. When this topic comes up in regards to physical players it always seems to be because they’re dirty. The question is do they deserve to play in the NHL.
Emelin has yet to receive a suspension. Considering he tries to hit everything in sight, his style of play is remarkably clean.
12. Matt Cooke
If this was 2010, Matt Cooke would be first without a doubt.
A couple years ago, it used to be that whenever Cooke was accused of being a dirty player someone would comeback saying that he’s cleaned up his act. Following a suspension, Cooke vowed to change the way he played. He did, for quite a while.
Unfortunately, he ruined his tale of redemption with his knee-on-knee hit to Tyson Barrie in 2014. Cooke was suspended for 7 games.
Cooke will never be seen as a clean player anymore. Having said that, his style of play today isn’t nearly as dangerous as it used to be, which is why it’s hard to justify keeping him above other more deserving players.
11. Chris Neil
Chris Neil has been playing in Ottawa for over a decade. He’s been one the NHL’s more popular enforcers. Every season he’s played he’s gotten over 100 penalty minutes, with the exception of 2014 – 15 where he only played in only 38 games.
Neil has had his share of cheap shots. However, he’s never been fined or suspended for any of them. He’s a player who knows how to play a physical game the way it was meant to be played.
10. Shea Weber
Shea Weber is one of the league’s biggest and most physical defenseman. At 6′ 4″ – 235, he’s a force on the ice.
Weber has never been given a suspension. Many would argue that he should’ve been given one for slamming Zetterberg’s head into the glass at the end of a playoff game several years back. Instead, he was only given a fine. Had that happened in a regular season game, or been done by a less talented player, it’s hard to not see it resulting in a suspension. As a result, you can’t quite say he’s a clean player. He certainly tries to stretch the rule book, but there are many players who are much worse than Weber in terms of violating the rules.
Overall, the physical impact he has is something no opponent can ignore. He’s concidered one of the NHL’s elite defensemen for a reason.
9. Steve Downie
Steve Downie will always be remembered for his absolutely absurd hit against Ottawa forward Dean McAmmmond where he launched himself into straight into his head; in a preseason game no less. Downie has no regard for the well being of anyone on the ice and is a horribly dangerous player.
You won’t find a lot of cheap shots by Downie and recent years. That isn’t because he’s cleaned up his game. Rather he simply hasn’t played that much. Since the 2011- 12′ season, Downie has only had two seasons where he played over half the games. Unsurprisingly, Downie has quite the injury history.
8. Milan Lucic
Milan Lucic is a physical player who isn’t afraid to get a little dirty, having been suspended for an illegal check, roughing, and a sucker punch.
Lucic has the size to make his style of play even more intimidating, at 6′ 4″ – 235. Around the league he’s been known as one of the hardest hitting power forwards over the past several years. He’s a player who is committed to giving his team the physical edge, but often lets his emotions take over.
7. Patrick Kaleta
Patrick Kaleta plays rough. He likes hitting people; but perhaps a little too much. He’s a very popular name with the NHL disciplinary committee, having received quite a few punishments over his career.
The most notable of which is his 10 game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Columbus Blue Jacket Jack Johnson in late 2013. In addition, he was given a 5 game suspension for an illegal check from behind when he shoved Rangers forward Brad Richards head first into the boards in a game that occurred earlier in the year.
Kaleta is widely regarded among fans as one of the dirtiest players in the NHL.
6. Ryan Garbutt
Ryan Garbutt is one of the NHL’s cheapest players. It’s surprising that Garbutt hasn’t caused more injuries than he has. He’s received suspensions for kneeing and slew foots; two of the dirtiest things you can do in the NHL.
Garbutt is someone who resorts to dirty tactics in order to injure people. It’s a horrible thing to watch.
5. Zdeno Chara
Zdeno Chara is one of the most physically intimidating players in the NHL, at 6′ 9″ – 255. Due to no NHLer being able to match up with him in size, Chara has seemingly been allowed to do whatever he wants in the NHL.
He can get down and dirty with his style of play, like nearly every physical hockey player. But to date he has never received a suspension. There were two incidents, one in 2011 on a check to the back of Max Pacioretty and another in 2013 for a hit to the head of Tommy Wingels. There were many who felt these hits should’ve warranted a suspension, but the league decided differently. He has shown a tendency to let his emotions get the best of him on occasion.
4. James Neal
James Neal isn’t afraid to resort to dirty tactics to get an edge over his opponents. Many will remember the Pittsburgh Penguins hilarious and awful PR tactic with the twitter hash tag #askneal. Nearly every question was a joke in regards to hitting players in the head.
The lowest point of his career was his knee to the head of Brad Marchand. With Marchand lying on the ice after being tripped, Neal intentionally skated into him and stared at him as he made contact with his head. He has no regard for the wellbeing of those he plays with.
James Neal has earned every single label he’s been given.
3. Zac Rinaldo
Zac Rinaldo is a small player, about 5′ 11″ – 185. Physically speaking, he isn’t very intimidating. What’s terrifying about him is that he plays like he’s legally insane. He goes out and trying to knock someone out every shift. Everyone on the ice knows about Rinaldo and how he likes to play.
Rinaldo has been suspended on several occasions, including an 8 game suspension for a check to the back of Kris Letang. In addition, he has received 649 penalty minutes in his 5 year career.
2. Raffi Torres
Raffi Torres was selected 5th overall in 2000 by the New York Islanders. By all means, he has a ton of talent. Through his career he’s managed to waste most of that talent, evident by the fact that he’s played with 7 different NHL Teams since being drafted.
Torres was recently suspended a staggering 41 games for an illegal check to the head of Silverberg. This was his 6th suspension by the NHL, all of them involving contact with the head.
Headshots are by far the worst type of cheap shot. There’s absolutely no excuse for them.
1. Niklas Kronwall
Kronwall has had once suspension in his career, coming from a charging play. By and large however, Kronwall is not a dirty player. He’s earned his title as one of the hardest hitters in the league. The term “Kronwalled” is one that many people who follow Detroit hockey will be very familiar with. Those who hear it for the first time don’t have to ask what it means.
Those who play against the Red Wings have to keep their heads up and stay on point when they play. Kronwall is the type of impact player that every coach and every fan dreams of having on their blue line.
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