Ranking the 10 Biggest Goons in NHL History
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Want to polarize a room quickly?
Get a group of hockey fans together and ask them their thoughts on the art of the goon.
For as long as there have been pristine 200-foot sheets of ice, there have been players who’ve occupied spots on rosters primarily based on an ability to set a physical tone—or enforce their version of justice—on the opposition.
Some despise the practice. Others consider it an integral part of the game. Either way, there’s little doubt that an old-fashioned drop-the-gloves scrap is a go-to catalyst for a spike in crowd noise at any NHL arena.
We’ve assembled a list of the top NHL goons of all time, along with a sidecar list of those who nearly made the cut, but wound up as also-rans. Click through to see which of your picks jibe with ours.
11-20. Honorable Mentions
Into every top 10 list, some near-misses must fall...and this one’s no different.
While tossing out the names that ultimately made the final cut, there were another 10 that drew slightly less than the necessary affirmations required for eternal glory.
We present them here with no comment, outside of a heartfelt “thanks anyway” and “better luck next time,” and a genuine hope that we meet none of them in a dark concourse while attending our next game.
10. Clark Gillies
Some may bristle at the suggestion that a four-time Stanley Cup winner and an NHL Hall of Fame inductee was a goon, but New York Islanders winger Clark Gillies certainly had the skills to exist solely as a tough guy if he’d had nothing else to go on.
Fortunately for both he and the Islanders, he did, which resulted in 319 goals and 697 points—along with 1,023 penalty minutes—in 14 NHL seasons, 12 of which were spent on Long Island.
9. Stu Grimson
Unlike his predecessor at spot No. 10, the inclusion of Stu Grimson on a list of noteworthy goons is less likely to create a stir.
A 6’5” 230-pounder, Grimson’s career stat line of 17 goals, 22 assists and 2,113 penalty minutes in 729 games—an average of 2.9 minutes for each game played—indicates where the strength of his game resided.
He played in eight NHL cities across 14 years before ultimately throwing his last violent check with the Nashville Predators in the 2001-02 season.
8. Dave Brown
Dave Brown’s inclusion on any rundown of NHL goons is, like Grimson’s before him, a sign of the validity of the collection.
Another big body at 6’5” and 205 pounds, Brown appropriately broke into the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1982-83 season and was a fixture through the 1988-89 campaign, which he split between Philadelphia and the by-then-Gretzkyless Edmonton Oilers.
He stayed in Edmonton through the end of 1991, then rejoined the Flyers for four seasons before finishing his NHL tenure with San Jose in 1995-96.
His final stat line: 45 goals, 52 assists and 1,789 penalty minutes in 729 games.
7. Dale Hunter
At 5’10” and 200 pounds, Dale Hunter wasn’t the typical mammoth-framed tough guy, but he did enough agitating over a 1,407-game NHL career to create some angry memories for foes.
Sort of like Gillies before him, Hunter was a productive player in addition to his antics, scoring 20 or more goals nine times in parts of 19 seasons with three teams—Quebec, Washington and Colorado.
He clumped together a two-season stretch with Quebec (1984-85 and 1985-86) in which he scored 48 goals and was a plus-29, then had a two-year stretch with Washington (1991-92 and 1992-93) in which he tallied 48 more times and had 13 points in 13 playoff games.
When it all ended, at age 39 with the Avalanche, he had 323 NHL goals and an astounding 3,563 penalty minutes.
6. Dave Semenko
If you’ve got to have an NHL gig as a goon, there are worse places to have it than alongside the greatest player on arguably some of the greatest teams in league history.
Such was the sentence served by 6’3” Manitoba native, who latched on with the Edmonton Oilers in their final two WHA seasons and rode the subsequent NHL wave to two Stanley Cup titles before heading to Hartford during the 1986-87 season.
He spent one more year in Toronto before exiting the league for good, but his final tallies of 65 goals, 153 points and 1,175 penalty minutes in 575 games warrant a prominent mention.
5. Terry O'Reilly
When it came to NHL tough guys who could both handle the rough stuff and be a valuable on-ice commodity, Boston’s Terry O’Reilly is one of the top examples.
He spent each and every one of 891 NHL games with the Boston Bruins and compiled 204 goals with 402 points to go along with his 2,095 penalty minutes. And, he wasn't averse to hopping over the glass and going nose to nose with a fan when he felt it needed.
He was a plus-40 while scoring a career-best 90 points (and spending 211 minutes in the box) in 1977-78 and helping the Bruins to a failed Stanley Cup Final appearance against the Montreal Canadiens.
4. Tie Domi
If nothing else can be said about Tie Domi, he certainly looked the part of an NHL agitator.
At 5’10” and 207 pounds, he had the perfect body type—and the right facial expression—to annoy on-ice foes, which he managed to do over parts of 16 NHL seasons with Toronto, the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets between 1989 and 2006.
In the end, he spent 3,515 minutes in the penalty box—the equivalent of 58 full games and then some—while scoring 104 goals and compiling 245 points in 1,020 actual games.
3. Dave Schultz
To anyone who grew up watching hockey in the 1970s who also happened to not be a Philadelphia Flyers fan, Dave Schultz was the most feared and disliked man in the NHL universe.
“The Hammer” took on-ice thuggery to new levels with the “Broad Street Bullies” and had his name etched on the Stanley Cup twice as a result, as the tough-guy Flyers mugged the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in succession to win titles in 1974 and 1975.
Schultz scored nine goals, assisted on 17 and spent a whopping 472 minutes in the penalty box—an average of 52.4 minutes for every goal, incidentally—for the Flyers in the 1974-75 season, when he had five points and 93 penalty minutes in 17 playoff games.
He was an NHL vagabond in his sunset years, spending time with Los Angeles and Pittsburgh before winding up his career with 13 NHL games with Buffalo in the 1979-80 season.
2. Bob Probert
Few would dispute that Bob Probert was another of the series of huge, tough individuals who could both take care of matters physically and also contribute with the stick in their hands.
He stood an imposing 6’3” and weighed 225 pounds sans skates, and it was that bulk that made him an avoided commodity during his heyday with the Detroit Red Wings in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Probert scored 29 goals and had 398 penalty minutes in 1987-88 with the Red Wings, and topped 20 goals again in 1991-92 before heading off to the rival Chicago Blackhawks. He scored 19 in his initial season with Chicago, but never again cracked double digits before ending his career after the 2001-02 season.
Overall, he scored 163 goals and had an even 3,300 penalty minutes in 935 NHL games.
1. Dave "Tiger" Williams
No fan of hockey fights in the last few generations is immune to the impact of Dave “Tiger” Williams, who brought the art of the brawl to a new level over a 962-game run that stretched from the 1974-75 season in Toronto to the 1987-88 campaign in Hartford.
In between, the comparatively average-sized Williams—who stood 5’11” and weighed 190 pounds—never found an opponent he wouldn’t throw down with, compiling 3,966 penalty minutes to go with his 241 goals and 513 points.
Williams topped 300 penalty minutes six times in 14 seasons and was between 200 and 300 another six times while wearing the often blood-spattered sweaters of the Maple Leafs and Whalers, in addition to the Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings.