NHL Power Rankings: Ranking Each Team Based on Overall Toughness
Toughness can be a subjective term when it comes to a sport like hockey. Professional hockey players exhibit unnatural toughness by default. After all they are hockey players. The combination of physical and mental toughness takes center stage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when wars of attrition are waged in an endless overtime.
The physical steps a player must take to go from prospect to simply making the NHL roster are unparalleled in professional sports. Baseball is the only other sport with a true minor league. However, I think it's fair to say that the young men toiling in the junior and minor leagues of hockey are put through a more taxing grind than their contemporaries on the baseball diamond.
So let's take the subjective term of toughness to a different level. It's understood that hockey players are tough, but while the term "tough" in hockey elicits a certain image, you don't have to bleed regularly or lose one tooth per game to be considered tough.
This power ranking will be based on a team's current roster. The images for each team are mostly of fights, but a player's willingness to drop the gloves doesn't immediately send him to the top of the toughness hierarchy. While it doesn't hurt the ranking to have guys who are willing and able to punch you in the neck, a team's style is also critical to the perception of toughness.
So take out your front two Chiclets, and lose that visor Nancy-boy, we're going to see which NHL team is the toughest.
Losing Steve Ott didn't help the Stars toughness ranking, but trading Mike Ribiero for checking center Cody Eakin did. The Stars had some interesting offseason moves to try and get back to the playoffs next season.
Adding 40-somethings Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney bring experience, but hardly toughness. Captain Brendan Morrow is a pretty tough guy, but after that there isn't much else.
Detroit Red Wings-C-
Hockeytown has come a long way from the "Bruise Brothers" and even the "Grind Line." Loaded with skilled players, Detroit is content to bear the "soft" label with a puck moving up tempo game.
The addition of Jordin Tootoo gives them some legitimate sandpaper and edginess, and saves them from a D.
Washington Capitals- C-
For the longest time I thought that the Capitals were modeling their own franchise after Detroit. Chock full of Russians and Europeans with offense all day, the Caps were one of the most exciting teams in the NHL.
They shifted their focus with the more defensive-minded Dale Hunter coaching last season. New coach Adam Oates made a career out of his stellar offensive play and could re-inspire Washington's abundance of offense.
With Matt Hendricks and Troy Brouwer as the only real conventional "tough guys" on the team, Washington grades low in the toughness department.
Toronto Maple Leafs- C-
Toronto boasts some of the best tradition and best fans in hockey. They are also mired in one of the worst slumps in franchise history. They found a great offensive punch last year with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, but couldn't consistently outscore their opponents down the stretch.
Outside of Mike Brown and Dion Phaneuf, the Leafs lack in the tough department. If Toronto wants to get back to the playoffs, they need some more grit in addition to their goaltending woes.
Embedded in the heart of NASCAR country one would figure the Hurricanes to be a blue-collar, rugged, tough team. However, Carolina relies on skilled finesse players to get the job done.
Defenseman Tim Gleason is the only guy I can remember to beat Boston heavyweight Milan Lucic in a fight. He doesn't really fight that much though, and the rest of the Canes don't at all.
Tampa Bay Lightning- C-
Tampa Bay looks like it is being put together very much the same way Steve Yzerman's former team used to be. The Lightning are assembling skilled players on the Gulf Coast. Shipping off Steve Downie to Colorado was a statement move by Yzerman that the team were headed in that direction.
Ryan Malone and recently acquired B.J.Crombeen remain the only real rugged presence in Tampa, as the Lightning seem to be more finesse than fist. The Bolts will need to get some grinders to complement their talent so they don't get pushed around if and when they get to the playoffs.
The Oilers are loaded with young talent and could be a force to be reckoned with once they can grow facial hair. What the Oilers need is some grit and bulk. Ben Eager may be the penalty minutes leader and 240 pounds, but 200 of that is Charmin and marshmallow cream.
Darcy Hordichuk is capable but most of the Oilers veterans not named Ryan Smyth seemed to be sleepwalking for much of last season. Intensity and toughness will be a necessary compliment to get the young Oilers to the playoffs.
Les Habitants are coming off of one of their worst seasons in recent memory. The undersized Canadiens seemed to get pushed around more often than not. When P.K. Subban is your penalty minute leader, nearly doubling the next guy on the list, you might be a soft team.
The Canadiens re-signed Travis Moen and got Brandon Prust via free agency to help add some grit and energy to the lineup. The Canadiens need all the toughness they can get and Prust is a great fit there.
With all due respect to Jarome Iginla and his unquestioned toughness, any team that made Jiri Hudler and Dennis Wideman its key offseason additions will not rank well in a toughness list. Calgary is the traditional white-collar city in Alberta, but has had a history of hard-nosed, blue-collar players like Iginla, Gary Roberts, Theo Fleury and Lanny McDonald.
This team is composed of very few players outside of enforcer Tim Jackman that fit that mold.
The Vancouver Canucks seem to have an identity crisis at times. Blessed with some of the best talent in hockey the Canucks also try to play tough guy too. The Canucks seem to have more guys on their roster that can be classified as pests than tough guys. They have some biters too.
Edler can hit, and Kassian can fight, but after that I don't think anyone is too worried about Maxim Lapierre, the Canucks PIM leader, biting them. Alex Burrows or Kevin Bieksa can handle themselves. The Canucks are an elite skill team, but hardly the toughest.
The Avalanche like Detroit have come a long way from the days of the Av-Red Wing brawls. Colorado has rebuilt it's roster with young talent supplemented by some grinders. Steve Downie was a thorny addition to the Avalanche roster, but he's more of a pest.
The Avalanche enforcer, Cody McLeod racked up 164 penalty minutes and 17 fighting majors, but that's about where it ends. Defenseman Shane O'Brien is a rugged player, but doesn't fight nearly as often as he used to.
The Florida Panthers enjoyed a bit of a rebirth last year, winning the Southeast Division and stretching the Stanley Cup Finalist Devils to a seventh game in the playoffs. The Panthers combined collective team scoring, solid defense and the right amount of elbow grease to forge their successful campaign.
While the penalties and fights were concentrated on Krys Barch and rookie Erik Gudbranson, the rest of the team played with energy and toughness throughout the year. Losing Barch to the Devils this offseason hurts the Panthers in this category.
Buffalo cannot rank any higher than this because of the Ryan Miller incident alone. After Lucic gets pushed up against the boards there were approximately zero punches thrown. Your best player just got taken out by a rival and there was no "on-ice policing" of the situation. Then nobody went after Lucic the rest of the game. Come on!
Paul Gaustad got to be the reluctant sacrificial lamb for Lucic to pummel the next game. Now Steve Ott and John Scott will help make sure Lucic doesn't come near Miller again. Circle the date of the first Bruin-Sabres game. Scott is a 6'8" fighter who will give Lucic all he can handle.
Columbus Blue Jackets-B-
With Rick Nash finally out of town, the Columbus Blue Jackets officially have four grinding lines. Not that Nash's presence affected their toughness adversely, but expect Columbus to rely more on a physical style now that he has headed to New York.
The Jackets didn't get equal value for Nash, but they got enough good pieces to build something.
The Senators fell south on this list because they lost tough guys Zenon Konopka, Matt Carkner and Nick Foligno to free agency and trades. They are left with a distinct European flavor on the roster which traditionally translates to a lack of toughness.
Chris Neil and his maniacal toothless grin are still in the capital city, but much of Ottawa's toughness from last year plays elsewhere now.
San Jose Sharks- B-
The Sharks had used a formula of toughness and skill to become one of the top franchises in the Western Conference over the last five years. It seems that the skill has aged and most of the toughness has disappeared. Brad Stuart adds some much needed "ooomph" to a relatively passive defensive corps.
Brad Winchester and Ryane Clowe do most of the on ice policing for the Sharks, but there aren't many rows of teeth to the Sharks bite (sorry, had to) after those two.
Pittsburgh Penguins- B-
Settle down Penguin fans, you still have the most talented roster in the league. It just isn't the toughest roster in the league. Engelland and Vitale can throw fists, but the Penguins are happy to be a finesse team with a hint of grit. Adding Tanner Glass from Winnipeg will help the toughness of the slick skating Penguins.
They reduced their fighting majors from 71 to 31 last season, which saw the Penguins lead the league in scoring. James Neal had a breakout year as a power forward and led the team in penalty minutes.
New York Islanders-B
Long Island was a carnival of bench clearing brawls and goalie fights in 2010-11. The following year the Islanders got a little older, a lot wiser and a lot better. Showing flashes of big things to come New York's Islanders lowered their fighting majors from 68 to 27.
The only real career tough guy on the Isles roster is reigning NHL hit leader, left winger Matt Martin. The Islanders signed free agent Matt Carkner for some snarl on the blue line and have enough big bodies on the roster to stand up to any opponent.
The enthusiasm from the Winnipeg crowd must be awesome to keep you pumped up during a game, and it showed with the Jets first season back in Manitoba. The Jets were led in goal scoring by power-forward Evander Kane who also loves to throw the body around.
The former Thrashers of Atlanta fed off of packed houses in Winnipeg and played a fast and physical style with Chris Thorburn, Kane, Mark Stuart and Zach Bogosian leading the way.
When the Predators matched captain Shea Weber's offer sheet from Philadelphia it increased their ranking from a C to a B. He is the heart and soul of the franchise and makes them tick at both ends of the ice. Nashville plays an up tempo heavy fore-checking style with a roster full of two-way players.
The Predators don't fight that much, but Brian McGrattan is a willing dance partner if the situation arises. Paul Gaustad is also a willing combatant that give Nashville an energetic and physical presence.
Phoenix Coyotes- B
The Coyotes take the ice every night without a bona fide star, Radim Vrbata the closest thing to that title. Leading scorer, 40-year-old Ray Whitney left for Dallas which means that someone else may need to step up if Phoenix wants to defend their Pacific Division title. The Coyotes are a tough team because in order to remain competitive in lieu of their ownership and cost-cutting situation, they have to be just to survive.
Enforcer Paul Bissonnette had almost more healthy scratches than penalty minutes, but the Phoenix roster is filled with role players who compete hard every night. Leading hitters Martin Hanzal and Raffi Torres lead the Coyotes hard fore-checking assault. Shane Doan was the physical leader of the team, but he may have played his last game in the desert.
Chicago Blackhawks- B+
The Blackhawks have some of the league's best enforcers in Brandon Bollig, Jamal Mayers and a guy they like to call "Car Bomb" Carcillo. The Blackhawks looked like they were setting up for some old-time hockey with their collection of tough guys supporting the skilled skaters. Exit big John Scott and the Hawks look a little less menacing.
Brent Seabrook hits anything that moves but the Hawks defense lacks anyone else that consistently uses the body. Outside of Bollig, Carcillo, Bryan Bickell and maybe Andrew Shaw, the Blackhawks have a relatively soft line up. Newbie Jimmy Hayes is a monster at 6'6", but hasn't established himself just yet.
St. Louis Blues- B+
The St. Louis Blues employ a team-first, check finishing, defensive style that Ken Hitchcock loves. They are loaded with pest-type players who skate well and skate hard. Tough guy Ryan Reaves is the rink sheriff for the Blues.
Strong goalie play and Hitchcock's in your face style motivated the Blues to a Central Division crown last season. A second round loss to eventual champ Los Angeles ended the Blues season, but they should come back strong another year wiser in 2011-12.
The Minnesota Wild will certainly have a lot to look forward to this season with the two big free agent acquisitions. The Wild get an injection of offense to complement a team built around hard work and hard skating. There is no shortage of toughness either in the "State of Hockey."
Cal Clutterbuck and his mustache lead the hitting brigade along with Darroll Powe and Clayton Stoner. The departure of Brad Staubitz to Anaheim means that Matt Kassian or new "Wild-man" Zenon Konopka will be deputized as the team marshall in the fisticuff department.
Los Angeles Kings-B+
The Stanley Cup Champions took the hard, scenic route on their journey to the top of the mountain. Along the way the Kings showed grit and toughness that are inconsistent with the glam and style of nearby Hollywood. Led by their wrecking ball captain Dustin Brown, the Kings complemented their strong goalie play with an up tempo style favored by Darryl Sutter.
The playoffs seemed to awaken big bodies Dustin Penner and youngster Dwight King which earned each of them an extension in L.A. The defense, led by hit happy Drew Doughty and Matt Greene can play a bit more aggressive knowing they had Quick in goal.
New Jersey Devils-B+
A year filled with highs and lows for New Jersey was known for a full line brawl against the hated New York Rangers, a trip to the Stanley Cup Final and finally the exodus of their captain to Minnesota in free agency. Sprinkle in a little bit of financial insecurity and the Devils could be in for stumble next season.
They do have a tough and veteran roster, with a collection of youngsters to build on. The Devils added tough guy Krys Barch in the offseason as a younger version of Eric Boulton. He complements Dave Clarkson, Cam Janssen and Ryan Carter's physical play.
Anaheim Ducks- A
Despite losing George Parros and his rugged mustache to the Panthers in free agency, the Ducks might have actually gotten tougher. Adding big defenseman Bryan Allen and veteran Sheldon Souray give the Ducks a pair of ornery blue liners to go with hit machine Luca Sbisa.
Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are two of the more physical, prickly star players in the league. Look for left wing Matt Beleskey to pick up some of Parros' slack in the tough guy front along with new winger Brad Staubitz.
Philadelphia Flyers- A
They aren't quite the bullies from the Broad St. days, but these Flyers don't back down from anybody. Blending skill, speed and toughness with youthful enthusiasm the Flyers took out the Penguins in an entertaining and physical playoff series. Ruslan Fedotenko, Max Talbot and Scott Hartnell bring scoring and physical play to the offense.
New arrival Luke Schenn will bring toughness to the defense that outgoing Matt Carle lacked. Shea Weber could have elevated the team to an A++, but the Flyers still have plenty of toughness. Tom Sestito will return from injury to join Zac Rinaldo and Wayne "Wayne Train" Simmonds in the donnybrooks. Jody Shelley may be "irrelevant" in some circles, but ask Mike Rupp if he can still throw.
New York Rangers- A
The New York Rangers lost Brandon Prust and his 20 fighting majors to the Canadiens in free agency, but the Rangers have no shortage of players to fill his void. Captain Ryan Callahan leads the physical play in New York finishing top five in hits. He is joined on the Ranger hit list by Brian Boyle, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Stu Bickel and Michael del Zotto.
Mike Rupp and Bickel are more than capable of handling the enforcement duties for the Blueshirts. Did I mention that they just added one of the NHL's premier power forwards in Rick Nash?
The Boston Bruins have the ideal combination of skill and toughness to succeed in today's NHL. With the obvious success they achieved in the 2011 season, there was no reason to assume there would be a drop off in the Bruins.
They have a relatively young roster of skilled players who are equally physical. It seems that team president Cam Neely might be filling the roster with players of similar ilk. Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, Shawn Thornton, Adam McQuaid, Nathan Horton, Johnny Boychuk and Greg Campbell headline a group that is supplemented by pests and scorers.
If Boston can get it's goalie situation fixed (if Rask pans out), they could be favorites to win another cup soon.