Some of the NHL’s top enforcers
Fighting has been a part of the NHL for about as long as the sport has existed, but the fraternity of enforcers is dwindling as teams place a premium on skill and speed in an era of heightened concern about head injuries. Some of the league’s most ferocious fighters through the years, all of them Canadian except for Nilan (American):
Tiger Williams, 1974-1988, 3,966 penalty minutes, first all time. He made a living as an enforcer for five teams, though the 5-foot-11, 190-pound forward could poke in some goals, too. He led the league in penalty minutes in 1976-77 and 1977-78 and set a career high with 358 minutes with the Los Angeles Kings in 1986-87.
Marty McSorley, 1983-2000. 3,381 penalty minutes, fourth all time. The personal protector for Wayne Gretzky in Edmonton and Los Angeles, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound McSorley was a goon’s goon. All fight, limited offense (or defense).
Chris Nilan, 1979-1992, 3,043 penalty minutes, ninth all time. Born in Massachusetts where he dreamed of becoming the next Bobby Orr, Nilan instead put those hands to use as one of the league’s premier tough guys of the 1980s. It’s no surprise a player billed as “Knuckles” used his fists to fight his way toward more than 3,000 career penalty minutes.
Tie Domi, 1989-2006, 3,515 penalty minutes, third all time. Domi had one of the prickliest personalities in the NHL, serving multiple suspensions. His notable ones served came after he sucker-punched Ulf Samuelsson and threw an elbow at the head of New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer. Domi passed Tiger Williams for most penalty minutes by a Toronto Maple Leaf in a season with 365.
Bob Probert, 1985-2002, 3,300 penalty minutes, fifth all time. Probert was as adept with his fists as with a stick in a 16-season career with the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks. One of the game’s most feared players, Probert struggled to overcome drinking problems during his time in the NHL.
Gordie Howe, 1946-1980, 1,685 penalty minutes, 91st all time. One of the toughest players in NHL history, Howe made opponents of the Detroit Red Wings play in more ways than one. He could score, too, and held many of the league’s records until Wayne Gretzky came along and bumped him off the top spot. The Gordie Howe hat trick to this day means a goal, an assist, and a fight in the same game.
Donald Brashear, 1992-2010, 2,634 penalty minutes, 15th all time. He dropped the gloves 212 times in a 1,025-game NHL career, when he also had 85 goals and 120 assists. In the January 2010 issue of The Hockey News, Brashear was named enforcer of the decade. He was a former amateur boxer who also dabbled in mixed martial arts.
Derek Boogaard, 2005-2011, 589 career penalty minutes. In several player polls, Boogaard was voted as the league’s most intimidating player. When the New York Rangers signed him in 2010, general manager Glen Sather said the decision was made because Boogaard was “the biggest and toughest.” Boogaard was only 28 when he died of an accidental overdose of pain medication and alcohol.
Dave Schultz, 1971-1980, 2,294 penalty minutes, 34th all time. He was the baddest bully on Philadelphia’s famed “Broad Street Bullies” teams of the 1970s. Known as “The Hammer,” Schultz set the NHL record for penalty minutes in a season with 472 in 1974-75. He had a ready-to-rumble style of play that satisfied the bloodlust of fans who paid to see an old-fashioned brawl.
Craig Berube, 1986-2003, 3,149 penalty minutes, seventh all time. Better known these days in a suit and tie and on the bench as the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, Berube was one of the toughest players of his era. He hasn’t been a pushover on the bench, either. “When he gets barking, you don’t want to be making eye contact with him too much,” Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds said. “If he’s’ staring at you, you generally did something wrong.”