Detroit Red Wings: Top 10 Toughest Wings of All Time
The Detroit Red Wings hardly make opponents tremble in fear these days, at least when it comes to dropping the gloves. While toughness isn't just measured by one's ability to engage in the fisticuffs, it's often the yardstick used to measure a team's fortitude. Detroit has come a long way from the days of the "Dead Things." Hockeytown has replaced the "Bruise Brothers" with the "Euro-twins." Doesn't quite sound as intimidating, but most of us will take the wins over the brawls.
The skill level has obviously improved, the trophy case has gotten a little fuller and there are a dozen or so more banners hanging in the Joe Louis Arena. Over the course of the last three decades, the Red Wings have filled the roster with more talent than brawn.
While there have been the notable exceptions that can bring both talent and grit to the ice, this year's Red Wings were glaringly soft. While none of the players on my list are available via free agency this summer, the Red Wings would be well served to revisit their past a little bit.
Toughness and heart usually go hand in hand. It's certainly not a coincidence that the Red Wings were able to get to the Stanley Cup after finally standing up to the school yard bully in Colorado. Once Detroit punched them in the mouth (literally), they realized they were good enough, strong enough, and gosh darn it, people liked them.
I don't think anyone can question Kris Draper's toughness after taking this check from Claude Lemieux. After literally breaking his face, Draper was back the next season. A charter member of Detroit's "Grind Line," Draper was a key member of Detroit's penalty killing unit. His speed and commitment to defense were key to Detroit's four Stanley Cups during his career.
Joey Kocur, Darren McCarty and Steve Yzerman
Dallas defenseman Dan Keczmer probably bit off more than he could chew in this clip. With Dallas leading 2-0, Keczmer takes a run at Steve Yzerman along the boards. Yzerman stayed down for a bit as his face bore the brunt of Keczmer's check. Darren McCarty immediately went after Keczmer in his captain's defense. The rest of the clip is pretty funny as it personifies how hockey players police themselves on the ice.
After McCarty takes his shot, Joe Kocur and Kirk Maltby get in on the action. Finally, cobwebs cleared, Yzerman steps up to fight Keczmer. Hardly the pugilist, Yzerman gets the worst of it before the referees step in and save him from a pummeling.
Acquiring Brendan Shanahan from Hartford in 1996 is widely regarded as the final piece to the Red Wings' Stanley Cup run. Detroit gave up toughness (Keith Primeau) and skill (Paul Coffey) and a first round draft pick, which seemed like a steep price to pay at the time. However, Shanahan combined a toughness and scoring touch that complemented the talent pool in Hockeytown.
Shanahan was more offensively gifted than the traditional power forward, but would never hesitate to drop the gloves when he needed to. The Red Wings-Avalanche brawl featured Shanahan prominently as he squared off with Adam Foote. His flying leap at Patrick Roy is an image that will never be forgotten by Red Wings faithful.
Gerard Gallant was Steve Yzerman's wing man for awhile, whenever Bob Probert wasn't available. He had some really solid offensive years, and was certainly not afraid to mix it up when he was needed. After a Marty McSorley cheap shot on Yzerman, Gallant stepped up. Knowing Probert wasn't available as sheriff, Gallant stepped in as deputy.
Gallant took some lumps in this confrontation, but was certainly a rugged addition to the Red Wings' line up from 1984-1993. In his glory years Gallant was Detroit's preeminent power forward to Probert's enforcer. Gallant's best statistical year was 1988-89 when he had 39 goals, 54 assists and 93 points. Just for fun, he added 230 PIM.
Do you think Detroit could use a guy like Gallant on today's roster?
Chris Chelios is universally regarded as one of the most annoying, dirty players in the league. He is also one of the best defenseman ever to play the game. He won the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman three different times for two different teams. He was just as likely to light up the score sheet as he was to hang out in the penalty box.
Never was Chelios' ability to irritate on better display than in the 1988-89 playoffs when Ron Hextall attacked the then Canadian's defenseman. Not really regarded as much of a fighter, or even a big hitter, Chelios' skill set him apart from his contemporaries on the blue-line.
Playing his final season as a Red Wing in 2008-09 at the age of 46, is a testament to Chelios toughness, conditioning and heart to keep playing.
The face of toughness in the late 1990's in Detroit was Darren McCarty. McCarty loved his role as the Red Wings enforcer, and was able to contribute as a legitimate third line player too. An original "Grind Line" member with Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby, McCarty even named his band "Grinder."
No one in Hockeytown will ever forget McCarty's end-to-end game winning goal in the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals. In a display of stick-handling normally reserved for the Yzerman's and Fedorov's, McCarty turned the Flyers defenseman inside out before ducking past Ron Hextall in goal. Here's a clip of McCarty's beauty.
McCarty and the Wings would part ways after the lockout, but he would return to Hockeytown in time to get his fourth ring in 2008. Always a fan favorite for his aggressive style of play and work in the community, McCarty retired for good in 2009.
Joey Kocur's 2519 penalty minutes certainly paint him in the "tough guy" category. Rest assured that most of these penalty minutes are not for hooking or goalie interference. Kocur's right hand was described as a cement block by his opponents. He would swing it like a sledgehammer at face, helmet or other with reckless abandon.
As one half of the "Bruise Brothers," Kocur and "brother" Probert would terrorize opponents in the mid to late 1980's. During this time, Kocur averaged about 275 PIMs per season while scoring 55 goals combined. Kocur was traded to the Rangers in 1991 and was on their Stanley Cup winning team in 1994.
Scotty Bowman brought Kocur back to Hockeytown in 1997 to supplement the Wings toughness heading into the playoffs. Kocur earned a spot as an honorary "Grind Line" member when McCarty got pulled up to Yzerman's line. Winning two more Cups in 1997 and 1998 makes Kocur an all-time great Red Wing.
I would be remiss if I didn't include Gordie Howe on the list. While there are no good pictures of Gordie mixing it up, anytime you have a particular type of hat trick named after you, you're a pretty bad dude. It was widely speculated that the only thing sharper than Howe's skates were his elbows. The picture above illustrates Howe's penchant for physical play, though I'll reserve judgement because it looks like a hit from behind.
He still holds most of the scoring and longevity records in Motown, a testament to his skill and his resilience. Howe was the ultimate power forward of his time, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to mix it up with Mr. Hockey even today.
The Captain certainly doesn't come to the front of your mind when you originally think of tough guys. However, considering the last five years of Yzerman's career, he is without a doubt one of the toughest athletes I've ever seen.
The picture above shows Yzerman after he took a puck to the eye socket in 2004. Yzerman also had back surgery and several knee surgeries including an osteotomy after the 2002 season. Yzerman's treatments just to play through the 2002 season and playoffs put him near the top of this list.
Imagine if Nik Lidstrom could hit and fight. If you weren't paying attention to the Red Wings before 1997, you missed out on one of the best defensemen ever to lace up skates. The "Vladinator," as he was called in Detroit and by everyone else, could flatten any forward with a massive hit, or he could strip them of the puck and stick handle past their goalie.
Vladdy's career came to an end after the 1997 Stanley Cup win. Everyone knows the story. Everyone wonders how much better Detroit could have been with him on the roster. With respect to Lidstrom, my favorite defenseman of all time. Sorely missed but never forgotten.
It's almost impossible to find a picture of Bob Probert that isn't grainy, blurry or terrifying. So I used the Chicago press picture because I got a chuckle from the bleached out cabbage on Probies' head. Usually rocking the curly mullet, my guess is that Tony Amonte convinced him to go with the kinder, gentler frosted 90's-look.
For my money, and most everyone else's, Probert was the baddest man on the planet. I include Mike Tyson in that statement. Anyone, anytime, anywhere, anyplace were Probert's words to live by. The most impressive thing about watching his fights is how many punches Probert actually takes and never goes down. None of these shots turned out to be very good for Bob's brain, but his brawling is legendary.
He was a central figure in my love and fascination for hockey and I followed his amazing and wild career from the mid-80's til he retired. Probert, in spite of his reputation as a tough guy on the ice, was one of the nicest guys off of it. He had his share of demons during and after his career ended, but had found peace and sobriety before his premature death in 2010.
Here's some of Probert's best stuff:
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