NHL

Predicting the 10 Most Penalized Players for the 2014-15 NHL Season

Carol SchramFeatured ColumnistSeptember 4, 2014

Predicting the 10 Most Penalized Players for the 2014-15 NHL Season

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Fighting hasn't been legislated out of the NHL just yet, but it's becoming a much less integral part of the game of hockey.

    For all the physical play during the 2014 playoffs, HockeyFights.com reports that there was just one fight after the first round this year—when Derek Dorsett of the New York Rangers tangled with Brandon Prust of the Montreal Canadiens on May 22. The regular season also saw a drop-off from previous years: In 2013-14, a relatively low 29.76 percent of games included at least one fight.

    Without the majors and misconducts that come with the fights, players' penalty totals are dropping all across the league. The Vancouver Canucks' Tom Sestito led the NHL with 213 penalty minutes in 2013-14—less than half of the 472 minutes recorded by all-time single-season record holder Dave "The Hammer" Schultz back in 1974-75. 

    Just three years ago, Zenon Konopka eclipsed the rest of the league with 307 penalty minutes as part of the New York Islanders. But with less fighting all-round, penalty minute totals will likely continue their decline next season.

    Once again, just three players are projected to eclipse 200 minutes in penalties this year. Here are the candidates for the top 10 bad boys of 2014-15.

10. Brandon Prust: Montreal Canadiens

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Career Stats: 369 games played, 843 penalty minutes, 38th among active players

     

    2013-14 Stats: 52 games played, 121 penalty minutes, 16th overall

     

    Outlook for 2014-15

    Signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2012 to add grit to an undersized group of Montreal forwards, Brandon Prust has shown enough toughness and leadership to find his name in conversation as the potential next captain of the Montreal Canadiens, according to Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette.

    He has also found himself sidelined by injury with scary regularity—eight times in two seasons, according to The Hockey News.

    Prust is willing to stick up for his teammates. If his body holds up well enough to earn him more than 52 games in 2014-15, he'll be among the top 10 in penalty minutes.

     

    Projection: 140 penalty minutes

9. Shawn Thornton: Florida Panthers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Career Stats: 559 games played, 906 penalty minutes, 30th among active players

     

    2013-14 Stats: 64 games played, 74 penalty minutes, 71st overall

     

    Outlook for 2014-15 

    Shawn Thornton's physical play on the Boston Bruins' fourth line was a key part of their march to the 2011 Stanley Cup. After that, his role on the team gradually diminished. Boston elected not to re-sign him when he became an unrestricted free agent this summer.

    Thornton found work with the rebuilding Florida Panthers, who had money to spend in free agency thanks to new owner Vinnie Viola. The Panthers have plenty of skilled young players like Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad who could use a little backup as they establish themselves in the NHL.

    Look for Thornton to enthusiastically embrace his role as protector on his new club. His penalty minutes should spike in the direction of his career high of 154.

     

    Projection: 145 penalty minutes

8. John Scott: San Jose Sharks

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Career Stats: 236 games played, 430 penalty minutes, 153rd among active players

     

    2013-14 Stats: 56 games played, 125 penalty minutes, 13th overall

     

    Outlook for 2014-15

    The San Jose Sharks didn't sign John Scott to bake cookies—or score goals. He's done the latter just twice in his six-year NHL career.

    Scott reached a career high of 56 games with the Buffalo Sabres in 2013-14, though he averaged just 6:45 of ice time per game. He's not a regular-shift defenseman, but the Canadian Press reports via NHL.com that "general manager Doug Wilson says Scott's presence can serve as a 'deterrent' to help protect younger players."

    Scott won't need many minutes to make his presence known in the rough-and-tough Western Conference. Expect to see him stirring things up on plenty of highlight reels in 2014-15.

     

    Projection: 150 penalty minutes

7. Rich Clune: Nashville Predators

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    Kim Stallknecht/Getty Images

    Career Stats: 119 games played, 305 penalty minutes, 230th among active players

     

    2013-14 Stats: 58 games played, 166 penalty minutes, fourth overall

     

    Outlook for 2014-15

    Acquired on waivers by the Nashville Predators at the beginning of the 2012-13 season, Rich Clune has moved up from being a career minor leaguer to an effective physical presence for the Predators.

    General manager David Poile liked what he saw from Clune after one lockout-shortened season. Clune signed a two-year contract extension in July of 2013. Josh Cooper of The Tennessean is concerned about Clune's ability to adjust to new coach Peter Laviolette's more offensive system but can see a role for him next year: "He's an energy forward with a high-revving motor who can also chip in a little offensively. He is also a great team guy and was willing to fight for his teammates, as evidenced by his 166 penalty minutes."

     

    Projection: 160 penalty minutes

6. Scott Hartnell: Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Career Stats: 953 games played, 1,452 penalty minutes, fifth among active players

     

    2013-14 Stats: 78 games played, 103 penalty minutes, 28th overall

     

    Outlook for 2014-15 

    The Columbus Blue Jackets aren't shy about admitting that they acquired Scott Hartnell from the Philadelphia Flyers to add some sandpaper to their forward lines—against the Pittsburgh Penguins in particular. Hartnell told BlueJackets.com:

    Coming here, I think they're only a couple hours' drive from Columbus, I'm excited to stir that pot a little bit and get under [Sidney] Crosby's and [Evgeni] Malkin's skin and frustrate them like I usually do. I'm a hard guy to play against, and when you hit those guys they get off their game and makes it a little frustrating.

    As a veteran leader on a young Columbus squad looking to make strides down the playoff road, Hartnell will relish his opportunities to play a physical game. Expect a spike from last year's relatively subdued 103 minutes.

     

    Projection: 170 penalty minutes

5. Zac Rinaldo: Philadelphia Flyers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Career Stats: 165 games played, 470 penalty minutes, 129th among active players

     

    2013-14 Stats: 67 games played, 153 penalty minutes, fifth overall

     

    Outlook for 2014-15

    After three feisty seasons to launch his NHL career, it looks like Zac Rinaldo's whirlwind playing style is a hit with coach Craig Berube and new general manager Ron Hextall. With one year to go on the 24-year-old's current contract, Rinaldo signed a two-year extension on September 2, which will carry him through the 2016-17 season.

    As reported by NHL.com, Rinaldo said, "I know they want to see me get better as a player and this is the place to do it," but don't expect to see a big shift in his playing style. He'll continue to play fourth-line minutes, causing a ruckus and taking plenty of penalties whenever he hits the ice.

     

    Projection: 180 penalty minutes

4. Luke Gazdic: Edmonton Oilers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Career Stats: 67 games played, 127 penalty minutes, 418th among active players

     

    2013-14 Stats: 67 games played, 127 penalty minutes, 11th overall

     

    Outlook for 2014-15

    After neatly filling the enforcer's role for the Edmonton Oilers after he was acquired off waivers to start the 2013-14 season, Luke Gazdic will have even more opportunity to lead with his fists in his second NHL season.

    With impressive performances in 15 fights during his rookie year, according to HockeyFights.com, Gazdic was re-signed to a two-year deal on July 1. Now that he's less of an unknown, he'll likely draw plenty of interest from other Western Conference heavyweights. Expect to see Gadzic climb into the league's top five.

     

    Projection: 190 penalty minutes

3. Chris Neil: Ottawa Senators

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    Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images

    Career Stats: 855 games played, 2,216 penalty minutes, first among active players

     

    2013-14 Stats: 76 games played, 211 penalty minutes, second overall

     

    Outlook for 2014-15

    Now 35 years old, Chris Neil has been bringing the pain on the right wing for the Ottawa Senators for 12 seasons. Neil saw a slight dip in his ice time in 2013-14 from his career-high 13:52 per game during the lockout year, but his 211 penalty minutes were the second-highest of his career—second only to 231 minutes in his rookie year back in 2001-02. Fighting is trending downward, but Neil's penalty minutes are trending up.

    He'll never tear up the scoresheet, but Neil is an important player for Ottawa. He was named alternate captain before the 2013-14 season and is up for consideration to assume the captaincy that was left vacant after Jason Spezza's departure, according to NHL.com.

    Expect to see Neil continue to rack up penalty minutes as he makes room for his teammates on the ice.

     

    Projection: 200 penalty minutes

2. Antoine Roussel: Dallas Stars

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Career Stats: 120 games played, 294 penalty minutes, 236th among active players

     

    2013-14 Stats: 81 games played, 209 penalty minutes, third overall

     

    Outlook for 2014-15

    A middleweight at 6'0" and 200 pounds, Antoine Roussel established himself as one of hockey's top agitators in his second NHL season. He's the kind of player who gets under opponents' skin and isn't afraid to back up his actions with his fists when necessary.

    "I don’t look for fights or anything like that, but I believe you have to stick up for each other," Roussel told Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News back in April. "That’s a big part of my job."

    Roussel posted 29 points along with his 209 penalty minutes in 2013-14, so coach Lindy Ruff can make use of him on the ice rather than in the penalty box. Still, Roussel's sandpaper style is effective. Expect to see him keep stirring the pot for the Dallas Stars this season.

     

    Projection: 205 penalty minutes

1. Derek Dorsett: Vancouver Canucks

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Career Stats: 331 games played, 855 penalty minutes, 37th among active players

     

    2013-14 Stats: 51 games played, 128 penalty minutes, 10th overall

     

    Outlook for 2014-15

    In 2011-12, Derek Dorsett led the NHL with 235 penalty minutes in 77 games, including a whopping 19 fights, according to HockeyFights.com.

    Despite missing 31 games with injuries in 2013-14, Dorsett still squeezed in 10 fights, good enough for the 10th spot in the year's penalty rankings.

    Now a member of the Vancouver Canucks, expect to see Dorsett usurp the role of incumbent tough guy from Tom Sestito, who led the league with 19 fights and 213 penalty minutes last season. Dorsett played his junior hockey with the Medicine Hat Tigers under Vancouver's new coach Willie Desjardins, so he'll likely have the inside track on fourth-line ice time.

    Expect to see Dorsett play an energetic role with the retooled Canucks.

     

    Projection: 210 penalty minutes

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