The Toughest Player in the History of Each NHL Team
Every team has a lightweight, and every team has a tough guy. That's just a reality that's been in play throughout the history of the physical game of hockey: if the best player on the team is a guy that other teams like to pick on, you get a guy to protect him.
But each team has a history of having some players that have displayed toughness in a number of ways, whether it was by beating up opponents or defeating cancer.
Here are the toughest players in the history of each organization.
Teemu Selanne isn't going to knock anyone out, but Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf need to play in over 300 more games in a Ducks sweater to catch up to Selanne. He's played through pain and on good teams and bad ones for years in Anaheim while stacking up his Hall-of-Fame numbers.
Eddie Shore was a cult hero in Boston and the source of overwhelming fear for most players in the Original Six. He was a physical, mean player who would (and did) fight anyone.
Rob Ray played in 889 games with the Sabres, still the fourth-highest total in team history. He was their enforcer 1989-90 to 2002-03 and piled up 3,189 penalty minutes while in Buffalo. Not many players stepped up with every heavyweight in the NHL like Ray did.
Jarome Iginla is the prototype power forward in today's NHL. He can skate, and while he might take a beating, he usually leaves the other guy in worse shape. Iginla's a rugged player who can score through contact and has been an exceptional captain for the Flames. Now if they could just find a decent center for him...
Anyone with the nickname "The Little Ball of Hate" (NOT Brad Marchand) has to be tough, and Pat Verbeek certainly was during his time with the Canes. In Carolina, he was almost a point-per-game player while also serving as a wrecking ball to mix things up.
I could write a couple paragraphs about Glenn Hall, or I could just point out that he played more than 500 consecutive games in goal without a mask.
Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques
(from left) Marian, Peter and Anton Stastny were incredible hockey players in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, good enough to have their own line at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics. But the toughness displayed by them wasn't on the ice. Peter and Anton defected in 1980 and became the first Czechoslovakian players in the NHL. Marian joined them a year later, and they enjoyed fantastic NHL careers while making a strong political statement.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Anyone that continues to screw up a franchise and somehow keeps his job has to have thick skin, so Scott Howson gets the honor of being the toughest in Columbus history. Maybe if he acquired some tough players, he wouldn't be here...
Dallas Stars/Minnesota North Stars
Dino Ciccarelli spent the 1980s in Minnesota with the North Stars and was a superstar in every way. He posted 651 points—and 642 penalty minutes—in only 602 games while playing through a lot of adversity in the old Norris Division. Now, he has a Hall-of-Fame ring to show for his efforts.
Detroit Red Wings
Gordie Howe may not have been prolific in the act that bears his name, the "Gordie Howe Hat Trick," but his elbow are legendary and his hips were lethal. He played forever, with the best years of his career coming in Detroit, and not many players in the history of the game were as tough as Howe.
It's hard to think of a tougher player in the last 30 years than Mark Messier, who was a great captain for more than just the Oilers. He obviously put up enormous numbers, but he was also a physical player throughout his career. Now, he's taken his toughness to the board room, where he hopes the helmet that bears his name will help keep tough players safe and healthy longer.
Stephen Weiss has battled back from a number of serious injuries to remain an effective player, and top-notch scorer, for the Panthers. In fact, entering Tuesday, he's only 35 points behind Olli Jokinen for the top spot in points in Florida history.
Los Angeles Kings
It was Marty McSorley's job to make sure that Wayne Gretzky could do his job, and he was effective at protecting "The Great One" during their time in LA. And by effective, I mean he piled up 1,846 penalty minutes in 472 games.
Derek Boogaard only posted 14 points in 255 games with the Wild, but he knew his role wasn't to put the puck in the net. Anyone who read the powerful series that ran in the New York Times about him has a better feel for just how tough he was and what a player goes through when being bred to be an enforcer.
Saku Koivu was a longtime captain in Montreal who dealt with more than any player ever should. His legs were always giving him problems, with various knee injuries costing him games throughout his career.
But Koivu's battle with with Burkitt's lymphoma, a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, that cost him the 2001-02 season was powerful and his fight to get back into the NHL was amazing. The fact that he's still playing today, 10 years after beating cancer, defines tough.
Jordin Tootoo hits as hard as anyone in the NHL today, but his battles with substance abuse and addiction off the ice and hard work to get back into the game are what truly make him tough. He has a powerful story, and here's hoping he can continue on the right side of the ledger.
New Jersey Devils
Ken Daneyko and another No. 3, Chicago's Keith Magnuson, might have the least impressive offensive numbers of any skaters to have their numbers retired. Daneyko scored only 36 goals in 1,283 games, but he kept the guys who did put the puck in the net on their feet.
New York Islanders
Denis Potvin was as good on the blue line as anyone between Orr and Lidstrom, posting an astounding 1,052 points in 1,060 games as a defenseman for the Isles. But while he was winning Norris Trophies, he was also defending teammates, racking up 1,356 penalty minutes as well.
New York Rangers
When you consider that only three players in the great, long history of this Original Six franchise have played in over 1,000 games and Brian Leetch did it between 1987 and 2004, it's remarkable that he was able to be as durable as he was while playing under some of the brightest lights in the league in New York.
Chris Neil has been smacking the snot out of opponents since 2001, and his 1,819 penalty minutes are almost three times as many as any other player in Sens history. He's been their enforcer for the last decade and continues to play the role effectively, even while he loses games to injury.
For all of the tough guys that have played on the Broad Street Bullies, it's both sad and enlightening to read about the issues Eric Lindros dealt with while playing through concussions. Indeed, he was preaching about the concerns of concussions years before anyone else cared.
How about the numbers Keith Tkachuk put up in Phoenix: 323 goals, 300 assists and 1,508 penalty minutes in only 640 games, many of which were while bearing the "C" on his chest. Tkachuk was an old-school grinder who made plays and forced the issue all over the ice.
He was also a tough negotiator, as his contract extension is seen by some as the straw that broke the camel's back and ultimately forced the Jets to move to the desert.
Not only was he a tough player, but Super Mario battled back from cancer to play at a high level in the NHL again. There isn't another player in NHL history that has meant as much to an organization or city as Mario Lemieux has in Pittsburgh, whether it's being one of the greatest players of all-time, his battle with cancer and subsequent launching of a charitable foundation or putting up his personal cash to keep the team in town.
San Jose Sharks
Not only is Thornton the best player in franchise history, but he's been one of the most effective power forwards of the last 20 years. He's put up enormous numbers and continues to be a banger in the Bay while trying to figure out what it takes to get to the Finals.
St. Louis Blues
Brian Sutter ranks second in Blues history in games played (779), third in points (636) and first in penalty minutes (1,786). He was an all-out, physical forward who has taken that approach behind the bench for a number of organizations.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Chris Gratton cleaned up the ice while spending 482 games between 1993 and 2004 in Tampa Bay. He piled up 828 penalty minutes during his time with the Bolts.
Toronto Maple Leafs
There have been plenty of tough guys in Toronto history, certainly none that were as rugged as Tie Domi. But Borje Salming broke the mold that players from Sweden were all soft "figure skaters" when he came to the Leafs and banged with the best of them for years. He was a Hall-of-Fame player who showed the world that Swedish-born players can hit, too.
There have been a couple guys that piled up more penalty minutes than the 1,556 Stan Smyl accumulated during his days in Vancouver, but neither of them came close to his 673 points. He's still third in penalty minutes and fifth in points in Canucks history.
Yes, now their head coach, Dale Hunter was the toughest player in the history of the Caps. He had over 500 points and over 2,000 penalty minutes while with Washington and always displayed a toughness that he'd love to see from some of his players between now and the end of the regular season.
We're going to give this to the fans in Winnipeg for their long suffering until the Jets finally returned this season. The fans have been outstanding all year in Winnipeg, and the team will hopefully give them playoff games to watch soon.