NHL’s Most Badass Enforcers of All-Time

Through the history of the NHL, there have been many so-called “goons” that specialize in protecting their team’s star players and possibly have little more value than their fighting ability.  That said, some of these players also have a decent overall skill set that is overshadowed by their pugnacity. With that in mind, here is our list of the NHL’s Most Badass Enforcers of All-Time.

12. Joe Kocur

Kocur won three Stanley Cups during his NHL career, and compiled over 2,500 penalty minutes during his 15 seasons.  He set  a career-high with 36 points in the 1989-90 season with the Detroit Red Wings, with whom he spent his best years as one-half of the “Bruise Brothers” with fellow enforcer Bob Probert.  Kocur’s vicious right hand caused a lot of damage to those that dare take him on in a fight, even cracking a player’s helmet once.

11.  Dale Hunter

Hunter is best known for his brutal hit on New York Islanders’ forward Pierre Turgeon in the 1993 playoffs, which led to him being suspended for 21 games. However, he accumulated 3,565 penalty minutes (2nd all-time) during his 19 NHL seasons.  Hunter is the only NHL player to have over 1,000 career points (1,020) and over 3,000 penalty minutes in his career, and took the most games (1,308) to reach the 1,000 point milestone.  He spent some time after his career coaching the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and is currently co-owner of the team with his brother Mark.

10. Marty McSorley

McSorley served as Wayne Gretzky’s de facto bodyguard for a couple seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, and continued with the Los Angeles Kings when both were traded there in 1988.  He accumulated 3,381 penalty minutes in 17 NHL seasons, but his career would come to an abrupt end in 2000 when he hit Vancouver Canucks’ player Donald Brashear in the head with his stick near the end of a game.  McSorley would be suspended for a year by the NHL and was sentenced to 18 months of probation for the attack.  He served as head coach for the Springfield Falcons of the AHL from 2002-2004.

9.  Dave Semenko

Semenko served as a sort of “Bodyguard to the Stars” for the Edmonton Oilers’ dynasties of the early 1980’s, and even participated in an exhibition boxing match with Muhammad Ali in 1983.  He only played nine NHL seasons, so his numbers in terms of penalty minutes are not astronomical.  Still, “Cementhead”, as he came to be known by fans, made it much easier for Oilers’ stars like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier to work their magic on the ice.

8.  Stu Grimson

“The Grim Reaper” earned a reputation as one of the best fighters in the NHL over 14 NHL seasons with eight teams as he would enjoy a career-long rivalry with fellow enforcer Bob Probert.   In the late 1990’s, Grimson established his reputation as a willing fighter.  He would suffer from post-concussion syndrome during his final NHL season in 2001-2002 and would be forced to retire after a fight with George Laraque.  Grimson’s career penalty minutes (2,113) far exceeded his career point production (39),  which is certainly the mark of a noted enforcer.

7.  Clark Gillies

Gillies may well be the most skilled player on this list, as evidenced by his 697 career points (319 goals).  His best years came with the New York Islanders as part of a superstar line with Mike Bossy and Brian Trottier.  Gillies did not accumulate a lot of penalty minutes, but he was a willing fighter and clearly the enforcer on the Islanders’ dynasty of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.   He would play his final two seasons for the Buffalo Sabres before retiring after the 1987-88 season.  Gillies was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002.

6.  Claude Lemieux

Lemieux is one of a select few players in NHL history to win a Stanley Cup with three teams, and his 80 career playoff goals rank in the top-10 all time as well.  After a long absence from the NHL, he came back and played 18 games for the San Jose Sharks during the 2008-09 season at the age of 43.  During his 21 NHL seasons total, Lemieux accumulated over 2,300 penalty minutes between the regular season and the playoffs and was often among the most-hated players in the league due to his agitating style.  Opponents hated him, and his teammates loved him.

5. Terry “Taz” O’Reilly

O’Reilly spent all 14 of his NHL seasons with the Boston Bruins, which is somewhat astonishing for someone considered a notorious enforcer.  He was infamously involved in  a brawl with fans at Madison Square Garden in 1979, and was even suspended for the first 10 games of the 1982-83 season for punching  a referee.  He had five straight seasons with 200 or more penalty minutes, but was also a fairly skilled player as he had 606 career points (204 goals).  O’Reilly would serve as the Bruins’ head coach for three seasons after he retired and would also serve as an assistant coach for the New York Rangers for two seasons in the 2000’s.

4.  Tie Domi

Domi was a well-known agitator and enforcer during his 16 NHL seasons, as he accumulated 3,515 regular season penalty minutes during his career.  Despite not being particularly imposing physically (5’10” tall), he was virtually fearless when it came to picking fights.  He spent the majority of his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, including his three best seasons in terms of goals scored.  But he obviously was not known as a goal scorer, and his reputation as an enforcer often preceded him.

3.  Dave “Tiger” Williams

Williams had six seasons with 300 or more penalty minutes during his 14 NHL season, on his way to retiring with a league-record 3,966 penalty minutes.  His role as an enforcer overshadowed the fact he was actually a decent goal scorer, 241 for his career, and topped 40 points in a season six times.  In the 1980-81 season with the Vancouver Canucks, Williams set career highs with 35 goals and 62 points along with 343 penalty minutes (third-most in his career) during the regular season.   He would set his career-high for penalty minutes in a season with 358 while playing for the Los Angeles Kings, in what turned out to the final NHL season in which he played at least 50 games.

2.  Bob Probert

If you looked at Probert’s numbers from the 1987-88 season, you may think he was a prolific scorer during his 16-year NHL career.  He set what would stand as career highs in goals (29), assists (33) and obviously points (62) along with a career-high in penalty minutes (398) with the Detroit Red Wings.   He would garner at least 235 penalty minutes in six straight seasons from 1990-91 through 1996-97, the last two of which he spent with the Chicago Blackhawks.   His career was plagued by off-ice issues until he retired after the 2001-2002 season.   Probert died on July 5, 2010 at the age of 45 after he collapsed while boating with his family in Ontario, Canada.

1.  Dave Schultz

Anybody with a nickname like “The Hammer” certainly deserves the top spot on this list.  Shultz was part of the 1970’s Philadelphia Flyers teams dubbed the “Broad Street Bullies” what won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975.  He set a record with 472 penalty minutes during the 1974-75 season and had over 400 penalty minutes twice during his career.    Schultz would play for the Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres before retiring following the 1979-80 season, his ninth in the NHL.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Scott Stevens
  • Bobby Clarke
  • George LaRaque
  • John Ferguson
  • Derek Boogard

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