Detroit Red Wings: Top 10 Best Fighters of All Time
They have won 11 Stanley Cups, had many all-time greats such as Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman and are currently riding a playoff streak that spans 21 seasons.
However, the Red Wings have also had some of the NHL’s toughest, most feared fighters suit up for them.
From the glory years in the 1940s and '50s to the down times in the '70s and '80s. And, through the intense rivalry with the Colorado Avalanche in the late '90s, the Red Wings have always had a player or two who would drop the gloves.
With that said, there are a few who stand out above the others. These are the top 10 fighters in Red Wings history.
The current tough guy in Hockeytown is Tootoo. He doesn't make the top 10 yet, but he may someday if he stays in Detroit for a while. The 5'9", 199-pound forward has already dropped the gloves six times in his first season with the Red Wings.
Stewart was one of the NHL's toughest defensemen in the 1940s. He played with the Red Wings from 1938-39 through the 1950 season, before joining the Chicago Blackhawks for two seasons.
A legendary fight took place between Stewart and John Mariucci of the Chicago Blackhawks. The two squared off in a very lengthy battle that would apparently continue in the penalty box.
Stewart was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1964.
There are a number of other great fighters who have suited up for the Wings such as Stu Grimson, Tiger Williams and Brad May, just to name a few. However, because they played for Detroit for such a short time they didn't crack the top 10.
10. Reed Larson
Larson is one of the best blueliners to ever play for the Red Wings. The Minnesota native spent 10 years in Detroit between 1977 and 1986.
Larson dropped the gloves over 70 times in his career and is the highest ranking American born player on Detroit’s all-time penalty minutes list. He racked up 1,127 penalty minutes in his 708 games with the Red Wings.
An offensive defenseman, Larson’s 570 points are the 11th most in the history of the Red Wings and second to only Nicklas Lidstrom for Detroit defensemen.
9. Bryan Watson
Bryan "Bugsy" Watson spent parts of six seasons with the Red Wings in 1966-67 and between 1974 and 1977.
While his first stop in Detroit didn’t result in a significant number of fights, Watson’s second stint with the Wings saw him drop the gloves regularly.
The 5'9", 175-pound defenseman was known to agitate and provoke his opponents. Watson racked up over 100 career fights, a little less than 40 of which came when he was with Detroit. Watson accumulated 897 penalty minutes in just 302 games with the Red Wings.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to find footage of Watson fighting as a Red Wing. However, this video shows Watson as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, fighting the great Bobby Orr.
8. Dennis Polonich
A fan favorite and at one point captain, Polonich was drafted by the Red Wings in 1973 and played his entire NHL career with the team between 1975 and 1983.
The smallest player on this list, Polonich stood just 5'6" and weighed 166 pounds. Despite his small stature, Polonich was never afraid to drop the gloves. In fact, he was a big trash talker who knew how to get under his opponent’s skin.
In just 390 games, Polonich fought over 80 times and accumulated 1,242 penalty minutes, the seventh most in Red Wings history.
Unfortunately, Polonich’s career was dramatically altered by an ugly incident in 1978, when Wilf Paiement of the Colorado Rockies intentionally struck Polonich in the face with his stick. Polonich suffered a concussion, broken nose and other facial lacerations in what was one of the most violent acts in league history.
Paiement was suspended for 15 games and Polonich filed a lawsuit against him and was eventually awarded $850,000 four years later (via legendsofhockey.net).
Despite missing a mere 18 games because of his injuries, Polonich was never the same player after the incident.
7. Brendan Shanahan
Few players in NHL history have had the ability to score, hit and fight like Shanahan.
In his nine seasons with the Red Wings, Shanahan would drop the gloves over 35 times and earn 1,037 penalty minutes.
Shanahan will always be remembered for his role in the brawl between the Red Wings and Avalanche in 1997. Shanny collided with Patrick Roy at center ice and moments later went toe-to-toe with Adam Foote.
Shanahan became the 15th player to score 600 goals and is the only player to hit that mark and record over 2,000 penalty minutes. He’s also a member of the triple-gold club, having won the Stanley Cup, World Championship gold and Olympic gold.
6. Ted Lindsay
Lindsay’s nickname was "Terrible Ted" for a reason.
Although he was just 5'8" and 163 pounds, Lindsay was one of the toughest players in the 1940s and '50s. He was a physical force every game and wasn’t afraid to drop the gloves if needed.
One of his best fights was with Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Bill Ezinicki, a lengthy battle which Lindsay won. Lindsay played 862 games with the Wings and his 1,423 penalty minutes ranks fifth all-time in team history.
Lindsay won four Stanley Cups and an Art Ross Trophy, was an 11-time All-Star and a Hall of Famer, and his jersey hangs from the rafters of Joe Louis Arena.
5. Gordie Howe
Howe is one of the best hockey players of all time and he could truly do it all.
Mr. Hockey is one of very few extremely talented NHL forwards who never needed an enforcer to protect him.
Howe protected himself.
Of course his wild elbows and physicality are what immediately comes to mind, but Howe was also a great fighter, something he proved early on in his career.
Howe, like fellow "Production Line" member Ted Lindsay, may not have fought as often as others on this list, but when he did drop the gloves he made it count.
According to Jeff Marek (via NHL.com), Howe fought one of the NHL’s toughest players at the time, Lou Fontinato, and won. He did significant damage to Fontinato’s face in the process. Howe also took on Bill Ezinicki of the Toronto Maple Leafs twice and even went toe-to-toe with Montreal Canadiens legend, Maurice Richard.
The Gordie Howe hat trick (a goal, assist and fight) pays tribute to Mr. Hockey.
4. Gerard Gallant
At 5'10", 190 pounds Gallant certainly wasn’t the biggest player in the Red Wings' lineup during the nine seasons he spent with the team.
However, the power forward consistently fought at least nine or 10 times per season. Not bad considering Bob Probert and Joey Kocur also suited up for the Wings during that time. Gallant may not have had the same power in his punches as the "Bruise Brothers," but he got the job done and contributed on offense as well.
Gallant played on a line with Steve Yzerman for some time and was also an alternate captain for the Wings.
3. Darren McCarty
Darren McCarty is best known for his time spent on the "Grind Line" with players like Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby.
Standing 6'1" and weighing in at 210 pounds, McCarty was one of the toughest fighters during the late 1990s and early 2000s. McCarty had over 100 fights in his career, including 23 in his rookie season.
He became a fan favorite and cemented his legacy in Detroit during the infamous Red Wings/Avalanche rivalry of the late 1990s. This of course included the brawl on March 26, 1997 in Hockeytown where McCarty attempted to fight Claude Lemieux. Lemieux ignited the rivalry when he laid a dirty hit on Draper in the 1996 Western Conference finals.
It was the following season, however, that McCarty and Lemieux squared off in a great fight, one where Lemieux didn't turtle.
2. Joey Kocur
Kocur’s right hand delivered some of the hardest punches in NHL history. Many of his opponents skated away bloodied, others with fractured bones or broken helmets.
Kocur’s role was well defined throughout his career as he fought over 200 times in just 820 NHL games. He spent parts of 10 seasons with the Red Wings and his 1,963 penalty minutes with the team ranks second to only Bob Probert on Detroit’s all-time penalty minute list.
The 6'0", 222-pound right winger was traded to the New York Rangers in 1991 and won a Stanley Cup with the team in 1994. However, he returned to Detroit as a free agent in 1996 and won back-to-back cups with the Wings in 1997 and 1998.
One of Kocur’s most memorable fights was a 1988 knockout of Jim Kyte.
1. Bob Probert
He is widely regarded as the best fighter in NHL history.
Few have fought as often as Probert did over the course of his 16 seasons in the NHL, nine of which were spent with the Red Wings. Standing 6'3" and weighing 220 pounds, Probert’s size and strength combined with his great balance and quick fists made it nearly impossible to him bring down.
In 935 career games Probert amassed 3,300 penalty minutes, the fifth most of all time.
The Red Wings selected Probert 46th overall in the third round of the 1983 NHL entry draft. Detroit’s other draft choices that year included Steve Yzerman and Joey Kocur.
Probert went on to protect Yzerman in the same way Marty McSorley protected Wayne Gretzky, while he and Kocur became known as the "Bruise Brothers" during their time in Detroit.
Probert’s fights are legendary. Some were decisive knockouts, while others were lengthy battles which left both Probert and his opponent bruised.
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