The grinder. One of the NHL's most important roles. They can play anywhere on the team and they usually don't see the score sheet that much. Sometimes they can go unnoticed to a fan, but their teammates are grateful for the presence.
As I said earlier, grinders usually don't score all that much, but there are a few that can light the lamp like the league's elite. While they could be classified as power forwards, grinders add additional parts to their game.
Here are, in no particular order, the NHL's 50 greatest grinders in history.
Teams: Detroit Red Wings, Calgary Flames
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,477
Teams: Winnipeg Jets, Detroit Red Wings
Career Penalty Minutes: 790
Teams: Edmonton Oilers, Detroit Red Wings
Career Penalty Minutes: 867
I had to include these three as one because as a unit, they were a huge part of Detroit's success in the late 1990s and early 2000s. When they needed the opposition's offense shut down, Draper, McCarty and Maltby were the players Scotty Bowman would send out.
Teams: Detroit Red Wings
Career Penalty Minutes: 767
From a trio of Red Wings to another bearer of the winged wheel. Tomas Holmstrom is the grinder of today's Red Wings. Never afraid to go to the front of the net and the dirty areas of the ice, Holmstrom will be missed when he decides to call it a career.
Teams: New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,439
Nicknamed "The Entertainer" for the way he played the game, Eddie Shack was never afraid to get under the opposing team's skin. He was so popular at times that, during his stint in Toronto, there was a song written about him.
If you want a laugh, here's a link to the song.
Teams: Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings, Hartford Whalers
Career Penalty Minutes: 3,966
Simply said, Dave "Tiger" Williams is the NHL's career leader in penalty minutes. I think that gives him a place on this list.
Teams: Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Winnipeg Jets
Career Penalty Minutes: 3,515
Any fan that watched him play, any teammate that played with him, loved Tie Domi. Always there to stick up for his teammates, Domi was one of the best tough guys to play the game.
Teams: Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks
Career Penalty Minutes: 3,300
The late Bob Probert might be the best fighter to ever play the game. He was the Red Wings and Blackhawks enforcer ready to step in if an opposing player took liberties with one of his teammates.
Teams: Edmonton Oilers, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, Montreal Canadiens
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,126
Another primary fighter, Georges Laraque was a help to any team that he played for in his career. With his career over, he could probably be serviceable in his old stomping ground of Pittsburgh, making sure no one touches Sidney Crosby.
Teams: Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks
Career Penalty Minutes: 2,519
Along with Bob Probert, Joey Kocur was one-half of Detroit's "Bruise Brothers." With his devastating right-hand punch, opposing players were always aware when Kocur was on the ice.
Teams: Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning
Career Penalty Minutes: 2,560
A tough player who could put his share of pucks in the net, Gary Roberts was one tough customer. After being forced to retire because of a neck injury in 1996, Roberts fought his way back to the game he loves and went on to play for another 12 seasons, never fearing about his past injuries.
Teams: Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins
Career Penalty Minutes: 3,043
One game justifies Chris Nilan's place on this list: On March 31, 1991, Nilan recorded 10 penalties in one game—six minors, two majors, one misconduct and one game misconduct for a total of 42 penalty minutes.
Teams: Calgary Flames, Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Detroit Red Wings, Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes, Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators
Career Penalty Minutes: 2,113
Stu Grimson, also known as the "Grim Reaper," was another great fighter of his time. Protecting the likes of Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, Grimson was feared by many.
Teams: Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, Dallas Stars
Career Penalty Minutes: 2,357
One of grittiest players of his time, Shayne Corson was a force to be reckoned with in his 19-year career. A three-time NHL All-Star, Corson knew his role and played it well.
Teams: Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Colorado Avalanche
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,410
Best known for his time in Toronto, Darcy Tucker was often the straw that stirred the drink during his time there. He was excellent as an agitator and was a fan favorite of the blue and white.
Teams: Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche, Phoenix Coyotes, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,777
A player that had his fair share of meetings with the "Grind Line" in Detroit, Claude Lemieux quite possibly started the rivalry between Colorado and Detroit. With his hard-nosed style of play, Lemieux would become one of the most hated players in the game.
Teams: Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators
Career Penalty Minutes: 3,207
If there's anyone synonymous with Buffalo when it comes to physicality, it's Rob Ray. Not only was he a leader on the scale of toughness, but he was a leader off the ice as well. Not that many tough guys have won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, and Ray is one of them. He was definitely a favorite of his teammates.
Teams: Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins
Career Penalty Minutes: 3,381
Anyone who was responsible for Wayne Gretzky's safety should definitely be on this list.
Teams: Hartford Whalers, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers
Career Penalty Minutes: 2,453
The beginning of Ulf Samuelsson's Wikipedia biography pretty much describes the role of a grinder:
He specialized in heavy body checks and agitating opponents. His playing style also prompted his English nickname Robocop for the suit of armor-like padding he wore and Tuffe Uffe ("Tough Ulf" in Swedish) in Sweden. He was loved among his fans and teammates for his sacrificing and tough playing style.
Teams: Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,263
Another player that left us too soon. Wade Belak was as tough as they came and was a happy-go-lucky guy at the same time. It is truly sad that a player like him is gone.
Teams: Ottawa Senators
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,852
Chris Neil is one of those players that you hate to play against but would love to have on your own team. He can cross the line and become a pest, but a player like Neil is one of the great grinders of today.
Teams: Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins
Career Penalty Minutes: 763
Possibly the best grinder in today's NHL, Shawn Thornton has been a pest to anyone who has played against the Boston Bruins the last few seasons. Not many players in the NHL can play the way that Thornton can, and Boston's luckier for it.
Teams: Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Detroit Red Wings
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,306
Steve "Stumpy" Thomas was a pretty good scorer in his time, but that doesn't take away from his ability in other aspects of the game. He was a player who could go on the ice and do anything from scoring a goal to shutting down the opponent. He was good at everything.
Teams: Boston Bruins, New York Americans
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,037
Probably most known for ending Ace Bailey's career, Eddie Shore was one of the toughest players of his time. He even once lost half his ear and then watched as a doctor sewed it back on. If that doesn't classify him as a grinder, I don't know what does.
Teams: Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers
Career Penalty Minutes: 2,049
One of the best two-way players in history, Mike Foligno is one of the most beloved Sabres of all time. Playing more of an offensive game early in his career, he was forced to play a defensive game when the Sabres acquired more offensive players.
He would continue in that defensive, grinding role for the rest of his career.
Teams: Calgary Flames, Philadelphia Flyers
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,934
Joel Otto was in the NHL to shut down the opposition. He even once said that Mark Messier was the only reason he was in the NHL.
Teams: Hartford Whalers, Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes, Ottawa Senators, Columbus Blue Jackets
Career Penalty Minutes: 2,229
Another player that could be described more as a power forward, but Kevin Dineen's defensive aspects of the game can't be looked down upon. Hey, you can't become a coach if you don't know both sides of the game, can you?
Teams: Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, New Jersey Devils, Vancouver Canucks, Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,077
Playing on a line with Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri, Esa Tikkanen was assigned the job of being the defensive player of the line. In addition to being a sound defensive player, not many opponents can confuse an opponent the way Tikkanen could with his Tikkanese.
Teams: Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,224
One of the most important players of the Rangers' Stanley Cup win in 1994, Adam Graves was a pretty good offensive player for the Rangers. Everywhere else, he was a defensive player who was relied upon in a checking role.
Teams: Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Phoenix Coyotes
Career Penalty Minutes: 2,972
Starting out as a pure power forward, Rick Tocchet developed more into a grinder as his career went on. As his goal totals went down, Tocchet was relied upon more and more to be a defensive stalwart on the teams that he played for.
Teams: Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,470
As one of the few players in NHL history to outscore Wayne Gretzky in a single season, Kevin Stevens, at first glance, should not be on this list. Notwithstanding one great year, he was a power forward.
Only five times out of the seasons that he played 41 or more games did he not have more than 125 penalty minutes.
Teams: Vancouver Canucks, Boston Bruins
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,241
Perhaps the greatest power forward the game has ever known, Cam Neely was one of the best players of his time. Neely was as feared for his bone-crunching hits as he was for his offensive game.
Teams: Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Colorado Avalanche
Career Penalty Minutes: 654
Steve Downie is a player that can be quite good offensively when he wants to be. When he isn't, he is one of the better agitators in the game today.
Teams: Toronto Maple Leafs, Quebec Nordiques, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,690
Wendel Clark was one of toughest players and hardest hitters of his time, earning the nickname "Captain Crunch." Clark was beloved by fans and his teammates, especially during his time as captain of the Maple Leafs.
Teams: Vancouver Canucks, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens
Career Penalty Minutes: 2,567
Nicknamed "The Enforcer," Gino Odjick was a fixture in Vancouver's lineup for seven-and-a-half seasons. In six of of his 12 NHL seasons, he had more than 200 penalty minutes. In three of those seasons, he had more than 300.
Teams: New York Islanders, Vancouver Canucks, Florida Panthers, Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,434
Todd Bertuzzi's career was marred by the Steve Moore incident. While what he did and how he did it was wrong, why he did it is at least reasonable. He was sticking up for a teammate Markus Naslund, whom Moore injured in a previous game.
Sticking up for a teammate is one aspect of being a grinder, and Bertuzzi does that.
Teams: Quebec Nordiques, Washington Capitals, Colorado Avalanche
Career Penalty Minutes: 3,563
The man now behind the Caps' bench used to be one of their best players. The only player in NHL history to have more than 1,000 points and 3,000 penalty minutes, Hunter definitely is in a league of his own.
Teams: Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota North Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers
Career Penalty Minutes: 2,224
The only player on this list to have been drafted first overall, Rob Ramage did not become the grinder he was meant to be until he was traded to the St.Louis Blues. With St. Louis and Calgary, Ramage would thrive in the defensive game.
Teams: Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota North Stars
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,684
Another grinder to go into the coaching or management side of the game, Paul Holmgren was a regular at the top of the Philadelphia Flyers' penalty minutes leaders during his 10 seasons with the team.
Teams: Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils, Dallas Stars, Montreal Canadiens
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,731
An important part in two of the New Jersey Devils' Stanley Cup runs, Randy McKay was only one of the defensive players that the Devils employed at the time. McKay found a way to stand out.
Teams: Montreal Canadiens
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,214
One sign that John Ferguson was destined to be a defensive player in the NHL was that his first fight took place just 12 seconds into his first NHL game.
Teams: Boston Bruins, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues
Career Penalty Minutes: 891
You have to be one tough player to play in the NHL without a helmet, and Craig MacTavish was the last player to play without one.
A key player for the Oilers and Rangers, he was a vital faceoff man and a solid checker.
Teams: Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Toronto Maple Leafs
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,175
Considered to be one of the toughest players in NHL history, Dave Semenko once fought Muhammad Ali in 1983. If he had the guts to up against Ali, just think of what opposing players thought of him.
Teams: New Jersey Devils, Hartford Whalers, New York Rangers, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings
Career Penalty Minutes: 2,905
Four words: "Little Ball of Hate."
Teams: Calgary Flames, Quebec Nordiques, Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks
Career Penalty Minutes: 3,146
Tim Hunter twice led the NHL in penalty minutes and had 108 penalty minutes in the 1986 NHL playoffs. If that doesn't say grinder, I don't know what does.
Teams: Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars
Career Penalty Minutes: 2,562
One of the more pesky players of the last generation of NHLers, Matthew Barnaby was always there to get under the opponent's skin.
Teams: Montreal Canadiens
Career Penalty Minutes: 585
From the Hockey Hall of Fame website:
Gainey's style of play and ability to check and skate with the NHL's top forwards inspired the league to create a new post-season award. Beginning in 1978, the NHL presented the Frank J. Selke Trophy to the top defensive forward in the game. Fittingly, Gainey was the recipient in each of the first four years it was awarded.
If you play in such a way that the league creates an award to practically give to you, you can bet you're the type of player that the award entails.
Teams: Montreal Canadiens, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars
Career Penalty Minutes: 820
Guy Carbonneau pretty much took the reins as the defensive stalwart from Bob Gainey. Winning three Selke trophies, he was vital to two Montreal Stanley Cup wins and one Dallas Stars Cup win.
Teams: Philadelphia Flyers
Career Penalty Minutes: 1,453
I could pretty much put any member of the Philadelphia Flyers from the '80s, but I'm going to go with the player that is most synonymous with the Flyers during that time.
You can't get much tougher than Bobby Clarke.
Teams: Boston Bruins
Career Penalty Minutes: 521
Ask anyone in the NHL right now which forward they hate going up against, and you're more than likely to get the answer of Milan Lucic.