Power Ranking the NHL's Toughest Teams
After the presentation of each Stanley Cup, we begin to hear the stories of the players on the championship teams who battled through bruises, muscle pulls, separated shoulders and other injuries in order to bring home the title.
That is because to win a Cup, you've got to be tough.
That's not to say that dropping the gloves every night automatically gets you to the big dance. Being tough in hockey doesn't mean fisticuffs, necessarily.
It means killing penalties. It means blocking shots. It means throwing around the body in an effective, disciplined manner.
The teams that do these things can be among the most successful. Here is a look at the toughness of each team in the NHL, regardless of skill, talent and coaching.
30. Washington Capitals
The Capitals have few players on the roster that provide any level of intimidation, and the team has suffered as a result.
Maybe new coach Adam Oates has the team playing a tamer version of hockey, but if that's his philosophy, he needs to change things fast. The Caps sit last in the Eastern Conference, managing only three wins in their first 12 games.
29. Calgary Flames
As the Calgary Flames look to rebuild, it seems that toughness might need to be a focal point for bringing this team back to a competitive level.
Only the rival Edmonton Oilers have as few fighting majors this season as the Flames do (two), and Calgary is near the bottom of the league in penalties killed. When this squad is back on its heels, it gets bowled over.
28. Dallas Stars
This offseason, Dallas' strategy was to get more skill and more experienced. They focused on bringing in players like Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney and Derek Roy.
However, the team sacrificed toughness to change its image. Steve Ott, one of the league's better skill/toughness hybrids, was traded to the Buffalo Sabres. Dallas is a good team, but toughness is not a strong point.
27. Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay does a ton of things well. Toughness is not one of them.
The Bolts parted ways with Steve Downie in the middle of last season, and since then, the team has focused on building a lethal offense and a reliable defense to match.
Tampa certainly does not get pushed around, but it is hard to consider toughness one of their defining attributes. This team is all about skill and the system.
26. Carolina Hurricanes
Tim Gleason is one of the toughest players you'll find in the league, but aside from him, the Carolina roster does not produce a whole lot of intimidation.
The team only has four fighting majors this season and are near the bottom of the league in fights per game. The 'Canes find themselves in a division where toughness isn't abound, so the team probably doesn't need to add much grit to compete for a division title.
25. Edmonton Oilers
Boy, are the Edmonton Oilers getting fun to watch.
A plethora of high draft picks have given the Oilers plenty of offensive powerhouses, and they are fast becoming one of hockey's true skilled teams. The abundance of offense leaves little room for the true tough guys, and while the likes of Ben Eager and Ryan Smyth are certainly gritty, the team is not built around their style of play.
Ladislav Smid is emerging as a workhorse of the blue line, but you would hardly consider Edmonton a team defined by its toughness.
24. Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers have flashes of toughness that come from guys like Ed Jovanovski and George Parros, but the nucleus of the team is not an intimidating one.
The Panthers have a respectable six fighting majors on the season, with Parros taking care of the most recent bouts. The Panthers are in the middle of the pack in penalties, and only one player (Jerred Smithson) breaks the league's top 50 in hits.
23. Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings were one of the toughest teams in the NHL last season, both during the regular season and through their playoff campaign.
Consistently, players like Jarrett Stoll, Dustin Brown and Willie Mitchell made LA the type of squad that you simply didn't want to have to face.
This year, the hungover Kings have played a much tamer style of hockey. In fact, among forwards in the NHL, only Jeff Carter is in the top 100 in shot-blocking (he is tied for 85th with six blocks). Stoll and Kyle Clifford are still playing physical, but most of the rest of the team has struggled to contribute to the team's toughness.
The Kings could easily pick up the pace as the reality of their slow start sets in, but for now, they are surprisingly one of the NHL's pushover teams.
22. Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings have some toughness on their roster, including offseason addition Jordin Tootoo, who has not been shy about dropping the gloves in 2013.
Tootoo has four of the team's five fights in the season, but aside from his fisticuffs, the Red Wings have a tough time getting physical with opponents. The absence of Nicklas Lidstrom has resulted in the Detroit looking like a doormat in its own zone.
21. Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets have some tough customers on their roster, including Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd.
However, the team is dead last in the league in penalty-killing (highlighting a passive defensive scheme), and has only seen players drop the gloves five times this year.
They do have some aggressive forwards, however, with Kane in the top 10 in hits this season.
20. St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues aren't about toughness.
This finesse team is one of the league's best defensive squads, but the team has been surprisingly inept at keeping the puck out of the net early in 2013.
The solution may be to focus on a more physical style of hockey, as only David Backes cracks the top 50 in hitting so far this season.
19. Pittsburgh Penguins
This year, Dan Bylsma's squad has calmed down, sitting near the bottom of the league in fighting majors and penalty minutes per game.
The more disciplined style seems to be paying off, as the Pens are 8-4-0 on the season. They are still tough to play, but they no longer get sucked into the physicality of the game in a way that hurts their chances.
18. Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators have started adjusting to life without Ryan Suter, and the Preds are steadily improving.
Shea Weber is having an off year, but the Predators have still been a solid special-teams squad and have picked up six fighting majors. Still, they need body checks from more of their forwards in order to really return to their 2011-12 form.
17. New York Islanders
Last season, Matt Martin led the NHL in hits, and this year only three players have more than him.
In addition to Martin, Colin McDonald and Travis Hamonic are key physical contributors and the shot-blocking of Andrew MacDonald is a difference-maker.
Even before the team started improving its record, the Islanders have been very capable of using physicality to bully opponents.
16. New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils are off to a tremendous start, and for all the skill and coaching this team has, there is no denying that toughness has played a role.
Their aggressive penalty kill has netted NJ three shorthanded goals already, and Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov sit in the top 20 in blocked shots.
Amazingly, New Jersey has no players in the top 50 in hitting, but that is a testament to how disciplined and effective they are with their physicality.
15. Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks seem to be blazing a trail to the Stanley Cup, and this tough squad has the tools to recapture hockey's treasured hardware.
David Bolland is always a physical force on the ice, and Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya are all in the league's top 20 in blocked shots. Like the Devils, the 'Hawks aren't relying on a checking-heavy philosophy to win, but they're winning anyway.
14. New York Rangers
The Rangers are perhaps a little bit less physical than many of us thought they would be, but the team is still one of the toughest in hockey.
Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan lead the team in hits and the Rangers haven't been shy about fighting, but the team has looked a little weak given its high expectations.
As the season rolls on and the Rangers get more comfortable being one of the Cup favorites, expect them to become one of the most aggressive squads in the league.
13. San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are off to a hot start, and players like Tommy Wingels and Ryane Clowe have used their physicality to make the Sharks an intimidating team to play.
In addition to tough forwards, the Sharks are build steady on the blue line. Douglas Murray has become one of the most immovable objects in the San Jose defensive zone and isn't afraid to punish anyone who comes into his territory.
The Sharks sit sixth in the league in PIM/game, indicating that they are not the kind of team who is scared of sending a message at the expense of a trip to the sin bin.
12. Minnesota Wild
The Minnesota Wild have been touting their skill in preparation for 2013, bringing in the likes of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise and putting Mikael Granlund in the lineup.
However, the Wild managed to add skill without sacrificing toughness, getting seven fights this season from the likes of Zenon Konopka, Clayton Stoner and Justin Falk.
Now, the Wild have gotten even tougher by bringing in New York's Mike Rupp, a big-bodied physical force. The skill hasn't worked out for Minny yet, but the toughness has sure been easy to find.
11. Ottawa Senators
Amazingly, the Senators have only four fighting majors on the season, but they haven't been shy about throwing the body around. Chris Neil is in the top 10 in hits this season, with Marc Methot and Colin Greening both breaking the top 25 as well.
The Sens have been disciplined this season, but they certainly haven't been passive.
10. Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver saw the need to get tougher after the 2011-12 season and have made their mark by giving significant ice time to Aaron Volpaati, who is averaging three hits a game. Max Lapierre and Dale Weise have also contributed in the hit department.
The Canucks are tied for fifth in the NHL with nine fighting majors, and they have the lead in the Northwest Division.
If only inter-conference play were in place this season, we would see all these stats on physicality get a boost when the Bruins come to town.
9. Colorado Avalanche
Not a lot is going right for the Colorado Avalanche this season, but at least the team has been good about taking out its frustrations.
The Avs have six fighting majors in 10 games this season and are second in the league in penalty minutes per game, including four misconducts.
In addition, some of Colorado's defensemen, including Erik Johnson and Jan Hejda, have been very successful in giving up the body to block shots. If Colorado has one thing going for it this season, it's toughness.
8. Buffalo Sabres
Last year, the skilled Buffalo Sabres missed the playoffs and the Sabres' brass made the decision to get tougher before the new season began.
Steve Ott was brought in as an everyday player who could stir the pot along with Patrick Kaleta, and big John Scott has started in all 12 games for Buffalo this year, contributing in a big way to the team's nine fighting majors.
Unfortunately, Buffalo is still in the basement of the Northeast, so that mindset of toughness hasn't paid dividends quite yet.
7. Anaheim Ducks
Anaheim has bounced back from a disappointing season and has overtaken the Sharks as the current leader in the Pacific Division.
Physicality has been a huge part of Anaheim's game. The Ducks have seven fighting majors, getting contributions from everyone from Corey Perry to Matt Beleskey.
Key players have been fearless, as the Ducks have three forwards in the top 15 in blocked shots by forwards (Bobby Ryan, Daniel Winnik and Nick Bonino). This team is willing to put it all on the line, and that mentality is going to allow them to make a huge run for the Stanley Cup.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets
If there's one thing the Jackets have going for them, it's toughness.
The Blue Jackets have 14 fighting majors on the season, relying on players like Jared Boll to put opponents in their places. Only two other teams average a fight a game or better.
This commitment to toughness has not paid off for Columbus, but at least they leave the ice with a little more pride each night.
5. Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers have played significant games without Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell, but the struggling team has stayed tough.
Newly-acquired defenseman Luke Schenn leads the league in hitting and Zac Rinaldo has been his usual wrecking-ball self. Only Montreal, Colorado and Columbus are more penalized than Philadelphia.
The team needs to find a hot streak in order to get back in the playoff hunt, but it is all going to begin with disciplined fearlessness. The Broad Street Bullies certainly have the "fearlessness" part down pat.
4. Phoenix Coyotes
The Phoenix Coyotes are glad to have Shane Doan in the desert.
After choosing to extend his tenure in Arizona, Doan is 12th in the league in hitting. One of the few players he trails is fellow Coyote, Derek Morris. Antoine Vermette has also been surprisingly physical in 2013 with 27 hits.
In addition, Zbynek Michalek leads the league in blocked shots. If Phoenix can get tighter defensively, they'll be on their way to another big playoff run in this grueling, compact 2013 season.
3. Montreal Canadiens
Few people saw the Montreal Canadiens performing as well as they have, but that's only the beginning.
The once-passive Habs, who averaged under 12 PIM/game last season, find themselves racking up 22.55 PIM/game in 2013. Only two teams have exceeded their 10 fighting majors.
The team that was supposed to be the pushover of the Northeast Division is anything but. They play tough night in and night out, and they leave opponents battered and bruised. Alexei Emelin has been a revelation, with 45 hits in only 11 games this year.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs are still trying to figure out how to rekindle their playoff success of the days of yore, but they've at least got the toughness thing down pat.
Toronto is tied with Columbus for the league lead in fighting majors with 14. Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr have been especially anxious to drop the gloves in this short season.
In addition, center Leo Komarov is third in the league in hits with 43, and while he is no longer the force he once was, Dion Phaneuf will still make you sorry for skating through center ice with your head down.
No division is tougher than the Northeast, and Toronto is a huge reason why.
1. Boston Bruins
Sitting atop arguably the toughest division in hockey, the Bruins are the NHL's premier tough-as-nails team.
The roster alone is enough to make opponents wet the bed. Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, Shawn Thornton, Nathan Horton...when the B's aren't scoring, they're bringing the pain.
Lucic is averaging more than three PIMs per game early in the season and has racked up an astonishing 37 hits in his first nine games. As a whole, the team sits tied for fifth in fighting majors with nine.
If you're an Eastern Conference team looking to punch your ticket to the Stanley Cup Final, you'd better be ready for the road to travel through the goons of Beantown.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!