It takes a special breed of person (read: violent, wreckless, and often psychotic) to be an NHL enforcer, otherwise known as a goon. Goons are therefore often only good at one thing: fighting. That’s why it’s especially rare to see one who can also contribute on offense. While they might rack up hundreds of minutes in penalty, they aren’t particularly known for their ability to also rack up points. In fact, it’s not uncommon for an enforcer to go an entire season without registering a single goal. Just ask John Scott, who has failed to score a goal in 5 out of his 8 seasons in the NHL (which is why his presence at the 2016 All-Star Game was so risible).
Before going ahead with this list, one important distinction must be made. A goon is not to be confused with a “pest.” A pest is someone who intentionally goads opposing players but usually doesn’t fight, whereas a goon always finishes what he starts. So before you go ahead and complain that guys like Wendel Clark, Claude Lemieux, and Theo Fleury should be on this list, please consider the fact that these guys weren’t your traditional enforcers.
Here are the top 15 NHL goons who defied the odds by contributing with more than just their fists.
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16 Chris Nilan
Most goals in a season: 21
Most penalty minutes in a season: 358
With a nickname like “Knuckles,” you know the guy’s got to be pretty tough. With 8 consecutive 200+ penalty minute seasons (including two 300+ seasons), “tough” is an understatement when it comes to Chris Nilan. Even though he played in less than 700 games, he still managed to become one of only 9 players in the history of the NHL with more than 3,000 penalty minutes (he managed to collect 277 minutes in just 41 games with the Bruins in 1990-91, which would equate to 554 penalty minutes in a complete season, which easily would have surpassed the single-season record of 472 set by Dave Schultz in 74-75).
With all that time spent in the penalty box, you’d think he wouldn’t have been on the ice long enough to score goals. But that wasn’t the case, as Nilan managed to net 56 goals over three seasons with the Canadiens from 1983-86, with a career best 21 in 84-85.
15 Darren McCarty
Most goals in a season: 19
Most penalty minutes in a season: 181
As a junior player, Darren McCarty was known just as much for his hands as he was for his fists, scoring 127 points in his final year with the Belleville Bulls compared to 177 penalty minutes. His abilities carried over somewhat on the professional level, but for the most part his role as an enforcer took precedence over his role as goal scorer. He had his best season scoring-wise in 1996-97, putting up 49 points with 19 goals and helping his Detroit Red Wings to a Stanley Cup victory.
McCarty, who played most of his career with the Red Wings and a brief stint in Calgary, finished his career with 127 goals and 288 points, not bad considering he also had 1,477 career penalty minutes, thanks in large part to dozens of majors. He dropped his gloves the most in a single season during his rookie campaign in 93-94, when he fought 23 times in an effort to make a name for himself.
14 Chris Neil
Most goals in a season: 16
Most penalty minutes in a season: 231
Although often regarded as more of a pest than an enforcer, Chris Neil’s 2,459 career penalty minutes surely warrants his inclusion on this list. While he might not score as many goals as other offensive-minded enforcers, such as Probert or Dale Hunter, it might surprise some to learn that the career-long Senator has had double-digit goal seasons five teams, with a career best 16 in 2005-06.
Before being drafted into the NHL, it looked as though Neil’s career could have gone either way, having averaged more than a point per game for the North Bay Centennials in his final season in the NHL, but he quickly proved himself to be one of the toughest guys in the league, willing to go toe-to-toe with just about anyone.
At 37 years old, Neil has had an exceptionally long career for an enforcer, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down, as he’s still able to fight guys nearly half his age.
13 Bob Probert
Most goals in a season: 29
Most penalty minutes in a season: 398
Arguably the greatest hockey enforcer of all time, Bob Probert was involved in over 200 fights in his NHL career, most of which he came out on the winning end of (although Tie Domi might have something to say about that). Although he is destined to be remembered as a goon, most people tend to forget that the Windsor native was also a proficient scorer, with a career high 29 goals during the 1987-88 season with the Wings. That year he also set a career high in points with 62, which was good enough for third best on the team, and penalty minutes, with a whopping 398 thanks to 23 fights.
Probert, whose career was split between the Red Wings and the Blackhawks, had 163 goals and 384 points to go along with 3,300 career penalty minutes, making him the fifth most penalized player in the history of the game.
11 Rick Tocchet
Most goals in a season: 48
Most penalty minutes in a season: 299
Rick Tocchet wasn’t just a goon who scored the odd goal; he was regularly atop the leaderboard when it came to goals, points, and penalty minutes. He had his most overall impressive season in 1992-93, when he had over 100 points and over 250 penalty minutes, two statistics that rarely go hand in hand.
In total, Tocchet, who is best remembered for playing for the Pennsylvania teams, had nearly 1,000 career points to go along with nearly 3,000 career penalty minutes, making him one of the most numerically impressive players in the history of the game.
10 Milan Lucic
Most goals in a season: 30
Most penalty minutes in a season: 136
There’s a reason why most of the players on this list aren’t from the modern era. It’s because today’s game, with its newly enforced rules and restrictions thanks in large part to Brendan Shanahan, deters players from racking up penalty minutes. For example, during the 2015-16 season, not a single player even came close to 200 penalty minutes, whereas several players on this list regularly had nearly double that amount on a yearly basis.
It therefore could be said that Milan Lucic is something of an old school hockey player, more of the Gordie Howe than the Bob Probert variety, but, still, we thought at least one current player should make this list. Last year, Lucic had only 79 penalty minutes, a far cry from the numbers Tiger Williams was putting up in his goonish prime, but the Vancouver native has more than proven that he has the fighting ability to be an enforcer. And now that he’ll be playing alongside Connor McDavid and Jordan Eberle, don’t be surprised if he puts up career highs in both points and penalty minutes, as he’ll likely be relied on to protect the Oilers’ young guns while also doing his part offensively.
9 Chris Simon
Most goals in a season: 29
Most penalty minutes in a season: 250
During his 15-year career in the NHL, Chris Simon was one of the meanest, dirtiest players in the game, racking up a total of 65 games worth of suspensions. His worst infraction took place in 2007, when he pulled Jarrko Ruutu down to the ice and proceeded to stomp on the back of his leg, which landed Simon a 30-game suspension, the third longest in modern NHL history.
When he wasn’t beating up on guys and had his anger under control, he was a surprisingly skilled player, falling just short of 30 goals in 1999-00 with the Washington Capitals. After leaving the NHL in 2008 with 144 career goals, Simon’s reign of terror continued in the KHL, where he racked up a ridiculous 263 penalty minutes in just 40 games in his first season in Russia.
8 Mike Foligno
Most goals in a season: 41
Most penalty minutes in a season: 220
Father of Nick and Marcus Foligno, who have carried on the family tradition of hard-nosed hockey, Mike Foligno was one of the best all-around players in his era, capable of scoring 40+ goals while also amassing 200+ penalty minutes. The Sudbury native, who spent the bulk of his career in Buffalo, where his son Marcus now plays, wasn’t always so prone to drop the gloves. As a junior player for the Sudbury Wolves, his primary focus was offense, scoring an impressive 150 points in his final year in the OHA and making him the 3rd overall pick in the draft in 1979.
Now the assistant coach in New Jersey, Foligno would be wise to impart his style of hockey on to the team, since only one Devil finished the 2015-16 with more than 100 penalty minutes, and a little toughness could go a long way to protect young stars such as Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri.
7 Al Secord
Most goals in a season: 54
Most penalty minutes in a season: 303
Apparently they grow’em tough in Sudbury. Like Foligno, Sudbury-born Al Secord was one of the toughest and most talented players in the game in the 80s. But where Foligno peaked at 41 goals, Secord had a high of 54 and had at least 40 goals in three seasons. During one of those 40+ goal seasons, he also finished in the top five of penalty minutes with 303. A rare combination of elite-level toughness and skill, he is the only player in NHL history to reach 40 goals and 300 penalty minutes in the same season.
Next time you’re flying American Airlines, make sure you take a peak into the cockpit, because you just might find that this former Blackhawk star, who became an airline pilot after retiring, is at the helm of your plane.
6 Marty McSorley
Most goals in a season: 15
Most penalty minutes in a season: 399
For all the good he accomplished on the ice, Marty McSorley is destined to be remembered for the vicious slash he applied to Donald Brashear’s head in 2000, which led to a severe concussion for the latter player and an early retirement for the former. But before he was doing his best impression of Barry Bonds, McSorley was one of the most feared enforcers in the game, famous for protecting Wayne Gretzky while they played together on the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings.
Although his primary role was as a bodyguard for “The Great One,” he was also known to score goals from time to time, with five double-digit goal seasons and a career high 15 (which he accomplished twice).
5 Terry O’Reilly
Most goals in a season: 29
Most penalty minutes in a season: 265
In many ways, Terry O’Reilly is the perfect example of Boston Bruins-style hockey: hard-nosed, unafraid to fight, but also able to put the puck in the net. O’Reilly—who earned the nickname “Taz,” as in Tasmanian Devil, from teammate Phil Esposito—was so aggressive that some even called him reckless. His five consecutive seasons of 200 or more penalty minutes and his willingness to duke it out with just about anyone earned him another nickname: “Bloody O’Reilly.”
But just as strong as his propensity to draw blood was his propensity to score, as O’Reilly had 204 goals and 606 points in his 891 career games. He led the Bruins in scoring with 90 in 1977-78, making him the first player ever to finish amongst the top ten in scorers while also receiving over 200 penalty minutes.
It should come as no surprise that O’Reilly once stated that his favorite modern day Bruin is Milan Lucic, since in many ways Milan’s aggressive style of play finds its roots in former Bruins like Cam Neely and the Tasmanian Devil himself.
4 John Ferguson
Most goals in a season: 29
Most penalty minutes in a season: 185
In just 8 seasons in the NHL, John Ferguson won five Stanley Cups with the legendary Montreal Canadiens of the 1960s. Originally brought up to protect star player Jean Beliveau, Fergy, who got into (and would wind up winning) a fight just over 10 seconds into his first game, quickly proved that he was more than just an enforcer. In his 8 years in Montreal, he led the team in penalty minutes all but twice, but he was also regularly near the top in scoring, with a career best 29 goals and 52 points in 1968-69.
While most people credit star players such as Beliveau, Henri Richard, and Yvan Courneyer for the success of the team during the 60s and early 70s, Ferguson’s contributions are not to be overlooked. He was so important to the Habs, in fact, that when he retired in 1971, General Manager Sam Pollock attempted to persuade him to return to the team because they were getting bullied by opponents without his presence on the ice.
3 Willi Plett
Most goals in a season: 38
Most penalty minutes in a season: 316
Players like WIlli Plett are a dying breed in today’s game, which for better or worse has all but eliminated the role of the enforcer. Yet even in today’s style of hockey, Plett would have no problem finding a job, because when you strip away his ability to fight you’re still left with a talented player, one who regularly put up double-digit goal seasons, including three 30+ goal seasons and a career high 38 with the Calgary Flames in 1980-81.
Plett’s career got off to an incredible start, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy in 1976-77 after averaging nearly a point per game. He had 123 penalty minutes during his rookie campaign, but it wasn’t until his third season in the NHL that he truly took on the role of enforcer, as he would go on to have more than 200 penalty minutes in 7 out of his remaining 10 seasons, on his way to over 2,500 in his career.
2 Tiger Williams
Most goals in a season: 35
Most penalty minutes in a season: 358
With nearly 4,000 career penalty minutes, Dave Williams is by far the most penalized player in the history of the NHL, which is even crazier when you consider the fact that the second most penalized player played in 445 more games than the man they aptly called Tiger. More than just an enforcer, however, the former Maple Leaf/Canuck also had 241 career goals and 513 points, with a career best season in 1977-78, when he led the Canucks with 35 goals, virtually unheard of for an enforcer of his caliber.
Williams’s scoring abilities should have come as no surprise given that he had a combined 210 points in his final 2 seasons as a junior player. But Tiger will always be remembered for his tough and aggressive style of play, amassing over 300 penalty minutes 6 times in the NHL (and with 299, 298, and 294 penalty minutes in 75-76, 78-79, and 83-84, he fell just short of 9 300+ seasons).
1 Dale Hunter
Most goals in a season: 28
Most penalty minutes in a season: 272
With over 1,000 career points and 3,500 career penalty minutes, Dale Hunter epitomizes what it means to be a two-way player. It’s not that he was a goon who could score or a goal scorer who could fight; it’s that he was equally as proficient at both. His two-way abilities are particularly impressive when you consider that Hunter, who played for the Quebec Nordiques and the Washington Capitals, was just 5’10”, by no means a giant, whereas most of the players on this list far exceed 6’ and 200 lbs. (Hunter was 200 dead-on).
Another valuable attribute that Hunter epitomized was consistency. He never scored 30 goals or reached 300 penalty minutes, but he regularly put up 20+ goals and 200+ penalty minutes.
As a retirement gift, the Capitals gave him the penalty box from Washington’s Capital Center, a fitting gesture considering it was practically his home away from home for 12 years.
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