Tomas Holmstrom and the 7 Toughest Players in the NHL
Allow me describe my version of the word “tough” since it is clearly a qualitative measure and therefore subject to speculation and opinion.
Tough is not being a goon. Tough cannot be measured in fighting majors. Being an enforcer does not automatically qualify as being tough.
There are many kinds of tough. Tough is a style of play. Tough is an intrinsic value. Tough is the guys on this list.
This list is in no particular rank or order since as previously mentioned, toughness is solely something that can be observed, and not measured.
The headliner of this list, Tomas Holmstrom, is 39 years of age, just recently played his 1,000th career NHL game, and is still as tough as they come. A tribute article to Holmstrom on his 1,000th game may be found here.
He created a niche market for himself in the game of hockey by being the best at screening goaltenders and tipping shots. This has made him the target of countless abuses from slashing, hacking, pulling, pushing and punching defensemen and goaltenders.
Abuses he has endured since he entered the league in 1996.
Milan Lucic was ranked No. 1 with 20 percent of the vote in this year’s NHLPA/Hockey Night in Canada Player Poll for the question “Who is the toughest player?”
Lucic started making a name for himself instantly in the NHL by fighting Brad Winchester in his first NHL game. He became a household name however, after crashing through Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller after Miller had played the puck outside his crease.
What makes Lucic tough is not only his 6’4’’, 220-pound frame that is an obvious physical presence on the ice, but the fact the he is a constant offensive threat, grabbing 62 points last season.
Admittedly not the first, or probably even 20th, name that comes to mind when thinking of some of the NHL's toughest players but Vancouver Canucks Captain Henrik Sedin does have an iron-man quality that puts him on this list.
March 21, 2004, is when H. Sedin began his streak and has not missed a game, regular season or playoff, since. Jay Bouwmeester is six games ahead of Sedin, putting him in first place for longest active streak; however, one of Bouwmeester’s largest criticisms is his lack of physical play.
H. Sedin is by no means known for his physicality, either; however, what he is known for sets him ahead of Bouwmeester on this list. Sedin is known as an elite forward of the game, a powerhouse scorer and playmaker which also makes him more susceptible to being intentionally targeted.
As if signing to the Carolina Hurricanes for four years isn’t proof enough of resilient toughness, Tim Gleason consistently gives examples that he plays a gritty style of hockey.
Whether it’s diving for a puck to keep it in the offensive zone in the playoffs, or taking an Alexander Ovechkin wrist shot to the face and returning to score a shorthanded goal, Gleason has already and persistently proven he is one of the toughest in the league.
All this not to mention that while not a fighter per se, Gleason has successfully scrapped with the best of them, including names like Milan Lucic and Daniel Carcillo.
It should be no surprise there is a second Boston Bruin on this list. Bruins Captain Zdeno Chara was ranked No. 2 in this year’s NHLPA/Hockey Night in Canada Player Poll.
Quite simply, everything about Chara is tough. His use of his 6’9’’, 255-pound size makes him tough. His Norris trophy-winning style makes him tough. His record-holding 108.8 mph shot makes him tough. His fists make him tough.
Boston Bruin No. 3 for the list.
Shawn Thornton currently leads the league in fights with 19.
Thornton was also voted into third place behind teammates Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara in the NHLPA/ Hockey Night in Canada Player Poll for toughest player.
Currently playing for the Florida Panthers, Jose Theodore is a Vezina Trophy winner, Hart Memorial Trophy winner and most related to this list, winner of the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.”
Theodore was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial for playing one of his best seasons (30 wins and 7 losses) in 2009-10 following the death of his son, who suffered complications to a premature birth.
Honorable Mentions: Derek Boogard, Wade Belak, Rick Rypien
The NHL lost three of the toughest guys to play the game this past off season. This statement is said not only for their enforcer status on the ice, but the battles they fought off the ice.
Derek Boogard was once listed as Sports Illustrated’s best fighter in 2010. At 6’7" and over 250 pounds, he was a human wrecking ball, destroying everything in his path.
Boogard passed at the age of 28 as a result of an accidental combination of painkillers and alcohol.
Both Wade Belak and Rick Rypien were renowned tough guys in the league. Both were also reported as suffering from mental depression. Dealing with such an illness and still being able to perform at a level the NHL demands not only shows toughness, but heroism.
Honorable Mention: All Goalies
Regardless of the amount of padding, it takes a special kind of tough to stand in front of solid rubber discs flying at 100+ mph.