Back in the day, the NHL was often dominated by tough guys who would use their fists more than their skates. Did you know that Maurice Richard and Gordie Howe, the two best players of the '40s and '50s, were among the toughest hockey players back then? They could score 50 goals in a season yet dish out hits and punches to any player who tried to get into their paths.
And in the '70s, teams like the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers won Stanley Cups by intimidating their opponents with toughness. They threw their weight around and beat opponents miserably to win games. But in the 2010s, the NHL has tried to steer away from fighting. Past enforcers have developed severe brain damage and/or concussions, so there isn't a lot of room left for goons in today's NHL.
However, some NHL players still dish out dirty hits when they can -- especially cheapshots. On the other hand, many NHL players seem timid of the physical style and try to stay away from getting touched. Here's a look at the eight biggest goons and the seven biggest wimps in the NHL.
*Stats courtesty of HockeyDB and Hockey Reference*
15 Goon: Dustin Brown
For an NHL player's standards, Dustin Brown isn't all that big at 6'0, 212 pounds. But he throws his weight around more than 99.9 percent of NHLers, and he's helped the Los Angeles Kings establish an identity of being on-ice bullies.
Brown is among the NHL's leaders in hits each season, having racked up 2,530 through the 2016-17 season. His goon-like style helped the Kings shut down opposing stars during their 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup championship journeys.
Brown is also one of hockey's biggest goons, throwing out blind-side hits and delivering the vicious elbows on the likes of Henrik Sedin and Jason Pominville. Brown's earned a reputation as one of the dirtiest players in hockey, but what does he care? It's made him one of the most successful pests of his era.
14 Wimp: Taylor Hall
The Edmonton Oilers passed on Tyler Seguin and drafted Taylor Hall with the top selection in 2010, and they didn't see the results they were hoping for. Hall was able to score 20-plus goals four times in Edmonton, but his smallish size and lack of toughness prevented Hall from being a true superstar scorer.
Hall would often try to use his excellent burst of speed to cut to the net, but opposing defencemen had no reason throwing him off the puck. Hall is just easy to rough up for other teams, and it's a reason he hasn't been able to take his scoring to an elite level up to this point.
Mind you, playing on an undersized Oilers team was tough enough for Hall. But playing for New Jersey now doesn't make things much easier. This isn't to take anything away from his talents, but Hall's lack of muscle and toughness have held him back for a while now.
13 Goon: Cody McLeod
Though enforcers aren't really a thing in the NHL as much as they were from the '70s to the '90s, Cody McLeod remains one of the league's rare fisticuffs fighters. He's big at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds. McLeod doesn't believe in scoring (122 points in 690 NHL games), and he's among the NHL's top penalty minute leaders every year.
McLeod has posted over 100 penalty minutes in every full 82-game regular season since 2008-09. He already has 1,452 career penalty minutes in just 690 NHL games. McLeod has gotten into his fair share of fights with guys like Jarome Iginla, Milan Lucic, Jared Boll, Jordin Tootoo and Matt Martin. He's the stereotypical NHL enforcer, and perhaps one of the final we'll ever see as the league transitions away from fighting.
12 Wimp: Logan Couture
Though Logan Couture is among the league's top scorers (who helped the San Jose Sharks reach their first-ever Stanley Cup Final in 2016), the man doesn't bring a whole lot of toughness to his game. The Sharks as a whole have struggled to go on deep playoff runs because of their "soft" play. Couture is the king of that.
It's been pointed out before by some fans how soft Couture really can be on the ice. For example, he's thrown only 50-plus hits in three different seasons. He put out 16 alone in the 2013-14 regular season. Couture also has just 131 career penalty minutes in 504 games -- further showing how much he refuses to dig dirty while he's playing.
But hey, Couture's forte is to score goals -- so it's not a bad thing if he plays soft. He's just on the List of Alex.
11 Goon: Dion Phaneuf
Has it really been 11 years since Dion Phaneuf scored 20 goals in 2005-06 and was a nominee for the Calder Trophy? Yup. The former Calgary Flames star defenceman has done less scoring and a lot more fighting, hitting and penalizing since his awesome first year in the pros. Phaneuf has played in 423 games up to this point of his career, and he's managed 598 penalty minutes and 1,113 hits.
Phaneuf cemented his reputation as one of hockey's best open-ice hitters way back in the 2005 World Juniors:
As good as Phaneuf is, he's also developed a bad reputation for taking some of the worst penalties at the worst of times. The reason for that? He's more worried about delivering big hits than staying out of the penalty box. That's just a goon's lifestyle on the ice.
10 Wimp: Vladimir Tarasenko
The St. Louis Blues pay Vladimir Tarasenko to score goals. Lots of them. And he does.
Tarasenko has reached the 30-goal mark in his last three seasons, and is by far the best player on this Western Conference juggernaut. That being said, Tarasenko has struggled in the playoffs (32 points in 44 games with a minus-six rating isn't that spectacular). The main reason? He's not willing to play with grit or toughness -- which are extremely key elements in the playoffs.
In five NHL seasons, Tarasenko has managed just 164 hits -- no more than 50 in a season. He's also taken no more than 37 penalty minutes in a regular season. Now that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is evidence that he's not willing to bring more to his game. All he wants to do is score.
9 Goon: Corey Perry
It's not too often where a former Hart Trophy winner, Stanley Cup champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist and constant 30-goal scorer is a goon. But Anaheim Ducks sniper Corey Perry loves to stir things up on the ice as much as he loves to score goals.
Perry is known as one of hockey's most savage trash-talkers on the ice. One time, Perry skated by the Carolina Hurricanes bench and grabbed a stick from one of their players. In another game against the Winnipeg Jets, Perry fired the puck in the net seconds after the refs called offside.
Perry also doesn't like to get into actual fights as much as he loves to hit defenseless players. He knows people hate him, but like all goons, he just couldn't care how you feel.
8 Wimp: Daniel Sedin
As a life-long fan and supporter of Daniel Sedin, it's tough to put him on this list. But if you were to look up "soft" in the dictionary, you would see one-half of the slick Swedish twin combination. Even though he's a former Art Ross Trophy winner and second all-time in franchise scoring, Daniel hasn't brought ANY grit or toughness to his game since coming into the NHL.
Just look at him taking punches from Brad Marchand over-and-over again, instead of standing his own ground:
The most hits Daniel has dished out in a single season is 37. He's known for being extremely soft, so it's been easy for the likes of Brad Marchand, Dave Bolland and Dustin Brown to rough him up in the postseason. Daniel's always been a slick goal-scorer and set-up man, but he lacks that one important quality -- toughness.
7 Goon: Zdeno Chara
When you are the tallest player in NHL history (6-foot-9 and weighing in at 250 pounds), you can only expect to be a goon. Considering Zdeno Chara's father is also a former professional wrestler, you can see where the element of toughness/being a goon would come into play.
Chara cemented himself as one of the biggest goons in the league after nearly breaking Max Pacioretty's neck during a 2011 game:
Amazingly enough, Chara didn't even get suspended for the dirty hit. Because he's twice the size of most NHLers, he's had no problem bullying them. It's just not possible for him to "pick on someone his own size", unless he goes to the WWE.
With Chara now at 40 years of age and struggling to stay healthy, he hasn't been as much of a goon as before. That doesn't mean he'll ever fully erase the reputation of being a goon, though.
6 Wimp: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
The Edmonton Oilers drafted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first-overall back in 2011, but they haven't exactly gotten what they were hoping for. His best season thus far was 2014-15, when Nugent-Hopkins scored 24 goals and 56 points. It's been nothing but injuries, inconsistency and frustration since, however.
Nugent-Hopkins isn't that big (6'0", 196 pounds), so it's been easy for other teams to rough him up and get him off his game. Nugent-Hopkins did very little for the Oilers in the 2017 playoffs, finishing with a mere four points in 13 games. Part of that was because...he's sort of a whimp.
The former first-overall pick doesn't dish out hits, take penalties, get into fights or block many shots. He's simply only worried about scoring goals and isn't willing to get nasty when he has to. As such, Nugent-Hopkins is holding himself back from being the ultra superstar that he was in junior.
5 Goon: Ryan Kesler
Ryan Kesler may be the most hated player in the NHL among his peers, but he's happy to have it that way. The man also doesn't do a whole lot to make the fans love him, either. During the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver -- when he was playing for the Canucks -- Kesler mentioned that he hates Team Canada. That's what a true goon sounds like.
The former Selke Trophy winner also has developed a knack for throwing out cheap hits, such as this one on Mikael Granlund:
It's also been widely rumored for a while that Kesler was traded by the Canucks to Anaheim in 2014 because of how disliked he was in the locker room. A personality like that? It's also enough to put him on the list of goons.
But hey, Kesler's goon-like style of hockey has worked for a number of years. No reason for him to stop it at this point.
4 Wimp: Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby is far-and-away the greatest hockey player on the planet. Period and end of story. But there are different types of great NHL stars. There are the Wayne Gretzkys and Sidney Crosbys who just score and rely on enforcers to protect them. Then there are the likes of Mario Lemieux and Gordie Howe, who won multiple scoring titles but also threw out their fists and bodies when they had to.
Crosby isn't big (5-foot-11, 200 pounds), and teams have unfortunately been targeting him with dirty hits to the head throughout the years. But when Crosby IS healthy, he doesn't play like a real tough guy -- more of a wimp.
He's known for being one of the NHL's biggest divers and can often be seen getting special help from referees. This isn't to take anything away from Crosby's greatness -- but the man really is soft. But who cares? He's the best player in hockey because he's only focused on scoring.
3 Goon: Milan Lucic
Milan Lucic defines "power forward" like very few NHLers. He's got the hulking frame at 6-foot-3, 236 pounds. His toughness and grit helped the Boston Bruins win the 2011 Stanley Cup -- as they bullied and battered the undersized Vancouver Canucks.
Even though he's a reliable 20-goal scorer, Lucic is more infamous for the big hits he throws. After being hit by Logan Couture in an Oct. 2015 game, Lucic hunted him down and threw out a dirty hit himself:
And who can forget the time he completely bulled over Ryan Miller, prompting the latter to call Lucic "gutless"? Lucic is absolutely one of the best power forwards the NHL has seen, but with it comes a "goon" reputation.
As someone who's personally met Milan Lucic, I have to say he's one of the classiest and most humble athletes you can talk to. It's a shame his style of hockey has many fans think of him as nothing more than a goon.
2 Wimp: Phil Kessel
Phil Kessel has been one of the NHL's premier goal scorers of the past decade, scoring 20-plus goals every year since the 2008-09 season. He was a crucial part of the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup championship last year and is an integral reason why they're in the Stanley Cup Final for a second consecutive year.
That being said, 'Phil the Thrill' is a world class wimp, to say the least. This epic dive against the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final was a key turning point in helping Pittsburgh reach the Final:
(Go to 0:19 mark)
Kessel didn't take his diving talents to Pittsburgh. During a game with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Kessel made it look like he got high-sticked, when he really didn't:
Kessel's incredible soft play and diving (because he can't take real hits), has helped Pittsburgh win a lot of games. Gotta give him credit, even if it's an embarrassment to the game of hockey.
1 Goon: Brad Marchand
Well, who else was it going to be?
Brad Marchand is one of the biggest pests and arguably the dirtiest player in NHL history. The amount of ugly hits he's thrown out, the amount of slew-footing and the constant punching of other peoples' heads. Marchand is undoubtedly the biggest goon in the NHL, yet also one of the best goal-scorers.
There was this extremely dirty hit on Sami Salo that resulted in a five-game suspension for Marchand:
There's this video montage of Marchand intentionally trying to hurt other players with slew footing. This is just disgraceful and doesn't belong in hockey:
Marchand has wasted so many dollars in fines by taking silly penalties. He's ruined his reputation. Folks don't think of him as a true superstar, they only think of him as hockey's ultimate goon.
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