The 15 Dirtiest Players in NHL History and the Hits That Prove It
NHL history has been full of players that have earned a reputation of being "dirty." In any game with a hard hitting and physical nature, some players are going to cross the line.
Here we look at the 15 dirtiest players in NHL history and some of the hits that helped earn them that reputation.
Whenever possible, we have included examples of the dirty play that earned these players their reputations. If they happened too long ago, a description and possible picture are included.
I'm sure there are plenty of other players who readers will feel deserved to be on this list, and I'd love to hear from you all and discuss your candidates and why you feel they belong.
So here are the 15 dirtiest players in NHL history and the hits that prove it.
15. Darcy Tucker
Darcy Tucker had a long history of low and late hits that helped him rack up a lot of penalty minutes and made him a lot of enemies around the NHL.
His most infamous hit came in the 2002 NHL playoffs against the New York Islanders when Tucker chopped Isles captain Mike Peca at his knees and knocked him out of a tight series between the Maple Leafs and the Isles, which the Leafs eventually won in seven games. More than a decade later, Darcy Tucker remains public enemy number one on Long Island.
He's not a fan favorite in Buffalo either for a hit he delivered to Jochen Hecht.
Tucker wasn't afraid to tell opponents he was coming for their knees, something that is considered dirty in the game of hockey. He often backed up his threats.
He topped the 100 penalty minute mark in eight NHL seasons during his NHL career and finished with 1,410 penalty minutes.
It wasn't just the infractions Tucker accumulated but the way he played the game that earned him a spot on this list.
14. Steve Downie
Steve Downie has been no stranger to the disciplinary hearings.
His most infamous hit came in a preseason game in September 2007. The Flyers winger left his feet and hit Ottawa's Dean McAmmond in the head behind the goal. McAmmond crumpled to the ice and had to be removed on a stretcher. Downie was suspended for 20 games as a result of this dirty hit.
Downie has also done other things that are outside the pale of the "code" of NHL enforcers. He struck Jason Blake in the face while the linesmen had tied Blake up after a fight.
There was another infamous hit on Petr Sykora of Pittsburgh during the 2008 playoffs that took place when Sykora didn't even have the puck.
Downie's penalty minute numbers have been coming down a bit in recent years, but his lowest PM total in a full NHL season remains 148 which he picked up in 2011-12 when he split the season between the Lightning and Avalanche.
13. Todd Bertuzzi
Todd Bertuzzi wasn't always a dirty hockey player, although he has had run-ins with the league officials for his on-ice behavior before.
But what earns the Sudbury, Ontario, native a spot on this list is one of the dirtiest and costliest hits in NHL history: the sucker punch Bertuzzi gave to Steve Moore which ended Moore's hockey career back in 2004.
You can offer whatever excuse you want for Bertuzzi's actions: It was payback for a hit by Moore on Vancouver captain Markus Naslund; that his coach "ordered" him to do it or that a bounty was placed on Moore, but there is nothing that justifies this hit.
The league suspended Bertuzzi indefinitely and didn't reinstate him until after the lockout ended. Criminal charges were later brought against him although he was given a conditional discharge.
Bertuzzi did apologize for his actions and told children who looked to him as a role model that he did not play the game that way.
Since the hit, Bertuzzi has become more or less a journeyman, spending one more season with the Canucks and time with Detroit, Calgary, Florida and Anaheim. He has also cut back on his penalty minutes and physical style of play.
Still, he earned a place on this list with one horrible incident that gave the game of hockey a black eye and cost Steve Moore his NHL career.
12. Gordie Howe
Yes, Mr. Hockey, arguably the greatest hockey player of all time, belongs on this list. Howe could do it all, including throw a lethal elbow to the head of opposing players which he became famous for over the course of his career.
There's a reason a "Gordie Howe Hat Trick" is a game in which a player scores a goal, picks up an assist and gets into a fight, although few opponents were eager to drop the gloves with Gordie after some of the fights he won.
The video on this page shows some of Howe's hits, including a few with his stick, but perhaps the most infamous fight Howe got into resulted in Rangers tough guy Leapin' Lou Fontinato receiving a broken nose (look for a brief still of Fontinato's face on the video).
All hockey players had to defend themselves back in the 40s, 50s and 60s when Gordie Howe was in his heyday, and Howe was never afraid to cross the line to defend himself or intimidate opponents.
11. Eddie Shore
How tough was Eddie Shore? Well, one of his nicknames was "Old Blood and Guts," and he didn't earn that for being friendly.
The most infamous hit of Shore's career came against Ace Bailey of the Leafs and effectively caused the first ever NHL All-Star Game which was a benefit for Bailey and his family.
Shore hit Bailey from behind causing his head to crash hard into the boards. Bailey suffered a fractured skull and almost died. Although he survived, his NHL career was over. The NHL suspended Shore for 16 games as a result of the incident.
Shore was tough as nails but didn't always stay within the rules. He was a great hockey player but also earned a spot on this list.
10. Sean Avery
Sean Avery didn't become the most hated man in hockey for nothing.
Avery often bent the rules (or just outright broke them). He was best known for agitating and antagonizing opponents but refusing to drop the gloves and fight them when challenged.
There are plenty of well-known incidents surrounding Avery. He is the only NHL player in recent memory who created a rule on the spot with his behavior. The NHL made "The Avery Rule" which made it an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to wave your stick in a goalie's face after Avery did that to Martin Brodeur during a playoff game between the Ranger and Devils. There was also the infamous "sloppy seconds" remark and an alleged remark Avery made about Jason Blake who was suffering from a rare form of leukemia.
Included here is a cheap shot Avery delivered to Boston goalie Tim Thomas. After the whistle blew, Avery skated past Thomas and knocked him in the head with his stick.
9. Dave Schultz
Dave "The Hammer" Schultz was the biggest bully on the original "Broad Street Bullies" team in Philadelphia that fought their way to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975.
Schultz was the most frequent fighter on those Flyers teams and still holds the record for most penalty minutes in a season with 472 set back in 1975. Many of those were misconducts which Schultz received for refusing to go the penalty box after a fight or continuing to punch opposing players after the referee had separated the combatants.
Before a game, Schultz would meditate and mentally prepare himself for particular opponents he may have to fight that night. He also briefly wrapped his hands underneath his gloves which the NHL later made illegal. He also engaged in hair pulling and head butting during many fights, including this infamous brawl against the Rangers Dale Rolfe in Game 7 of the 1974 Semi-final which the Flyers won 4-3.
Schultz changed the role of the enforcer in the NHL, but his behavior on the ice earned him a spot on this list.
8. Matt Cooke
Matt Cooke was once among the most hated players in the NHL for his cheap shots and borderline plays.
Cooke has been involved in several controversial incidents including hitting Fedor Tyutin face first into the glass from behind and elbowing the Rangers Ryan McDonagh in the head.
But the most infamous incident helped end the career of Bruins center Marc Savard who suffered a severe concussion after Cooke hit him in the head (see video).
Cooke realized he had to change the way he played the game or he would face several more suspensions and probably be run out of the league by angry opponents. In 2011-12, he reduced his penalty minute total to 44 and scored a career high 19 goals.
It remains to be seen if Cooke maintains this "new leaf," but his behavior during his first 12 seasons in the NHL earned him a spot on this list.
7. Dave Brown
Dave Brown was a tough guy with the Flyers, Oilers and Sharks in the 1980 and 90s.
In October of 1987, Brown made one of the dirtiest plays in NHL history. He basically took a two handed baseball-type swing at the face of Tomas Sandstrom of the Rangers. There was no excuse for this play, and the league made Brown sit for the next 15 games.
In his NHL career, Brown scored just 45 goals and had 1,789 penalty minutes in 789 games.
6. Marty McSorely
Marty McSorely was always known as a tough guy and an enforcer, and he spent most of his NHL career making sure nobody hurt Wayne Gretzky in Edmonton and Los Angeles.
But McSorely clearly crossed the line in February of 2000 when he swung his stick and hit Vancouver's Donald Breshear in the head with just three seconds left in a game between the Bruins and Canucks.
The NHL suspended McSorely for the rest of the 1999-2000 season. In addition, the big Hamilton, Ontario native was convicted of criminal assault as a result of his actions and sentenced to 18 months probation.
McSorely never played another game in the NHL after the Brashear incident as no team would sign him after his outrageous actions.
5. Bobby Clarke
Bobby Clarke makes this list for several reasons. While he was a Hall of Fame player who overcame diabetes and captained the Flyers to a pair of Stanley Cup championships, Clarke was also a player who instigated fights but rarely dropped his gloves.
Clarke would often spear or elbow an opponent and then if the opposing player tried to strike back, several Flyers players would often jump him to "defend" their captain. The NHL invented the third-man in rule which resulted in an automatic game misconduct for the third player into a fight as a result of these tactics.
One particularly gruesome incident involved defenseman Barry Cummins of the California Golden Seals who was bloodied by several Flyers after a stick swinging incident involving Clarke.
But Clarke's most infamous dirty play took place when he deliberately hacked the ankle of Valeri Kharlamov of the USSR during the 1972 Summit Series which Canada won 4-3-1. Clarke broke Kharlamov's ankle and missed Games 7 and 8 of the series.
His supporters say plays like this showed how badly Clarke wanted to win. His detractors say it showed what a dirty player he was.
4. Claude Lemieux
Claude Lemieux was a well-known pest and agitator who made a very successful NHL career out of bothering opponents and crossing the line between tough and dirty.
Lemieux once bit Calgary's Jim Peplinski's finger during a fight between the teams. But the most infamous play in Lemieux's career was his hard hit from behind which resulted in Detroit's Kris Draper crashing face first into the boards. Draper required reconstructive surgery on his face and suffered a broken jaw which had to be wired shut for several weeks.
The result of the hit was a bitter rivalry between the Avalanche and the Wings throughout the next several seasons.
If Claude Lemieux played for your team, you loved what he did on the ice. If he played against your team, you hated him. But what he did to Kris Draper was simply way over the line and cemented his place on this list.
3. Dale Hunter
Dale Hunter made a career of borderline hits. He was known as a tough player who usually came close to—and often went over—the line between annoying and dirty.
Teammates loved Hunter, but opposing fans and players couldn't stand the tough center from Petrolia, Ontario.
Hunter picked up 3,563 career penalty minutes which ranked him second all-time behind "Tiger" Williams.
His most infamous act took place in the deciding game of the 1993 playoffs against the New York Islanders. New York's Pierre Turgeon scored a big goal for the Isles and Hunter came across and checked him hard almost five full seconds after he scored. Turgeon separated his shoulder on the play and missed nearly all of the following series against Pittsburgh. Hunter was suspended for 21 games as a result of his cheap shot and earned a place in the NHL's unofficial hall of shame.
2. Ulf Samuelsson
Ulf Samuelsson was considered one of the dirtiest players of his era, and he quickly earned a reputation for hitting opponents near their knees. He also agitated but turtled, refusing to drop the gloves when challenged which violated the NHL's enforcer code.
Samuelsson's behavior made him the frequent target of Don Cherry's ire. The fact that he was Swedish certainly didn't help endear him to the former Bruins coach and Hockey Night in Canada commentator.
Samuelsson's most infamous play took place in the 1991 playoffs when he hit Boston's Cam Neely in the knee and knocked him out of the series between the Penguins and Bruins.
Neely never fully recovered from this hit, developed a degenerative knee condition and was eventually forced to retire from hockey prematurely.
His behavior made Samulsson one of hockey's most hated players and earned him a place on our list.
1. Chris Simon
Chris Simon was an NHL tough guy with anger management issues.
Simon's bad behavior led to a total of eight suspensions from the league, including an incident where he used a racial slur to refer to an opponent of African heritage and a cross check to the throat of Peter Popovic.
But Simon earned this spot atop this list for two incidents that took place in 2007. First, Simon swung his stick like a baseball bat to the head of the Rangers Ryan Hollweg. The result was a 25 game ban.
Then, early in the following season, Simon deliberately stepped on the back of the leg of Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu while the Pens' player was prone on the ice. The league suspended Simon for 30 games as a result of that hit, and the two incidents all but ended his NHL career. He played briefly for the Minnesota Wild before signing with the KHL.
Simon was considered a good teammate and great guy off the ice, but his repeated inability to control his temper placed him at the top of our list of the NHL's dirtiest players.
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