Toughness. We hear about it all the time in hockey.
Toughness is one of the all-important attributes that are believed to be an essential ingredient to any successful team.
Players are praised for it while coaches are often expected to bring it out of their teams.
The problem with toughness, however, is that there isn't a singular definition of it.
Toughness is a very vague concept. Different people tend to have very different perceptions of what toughness is.
Some people argue that toughness is all about size, strength and a willingness to inflict pain on the opposition. They think it's about fighting and intimidation.
Others believe toughness has more to do with determination and the willingness to fight through pain in order to succeed. They would argue that true toughness is exhibited in those players who are willing to sacrifice their bodies in front of the net rather than those making it painful for them.
I will focus on this second definition of toughness, as I list the toughest players of the eight remaining playoff teams.
Martin St. Louis amazes me every time I see him play.
As one of the smallest players in the league, you would expect St. Louis' game to be one focused solely on speed and skill. He's much more than that however.
St. Louis never hesitates to attack the net. He shows no fear when battling in the corners and along the boards. He skates in some of the most dangerous areas of the ice on a consistent basis and has been the catalyst for Tampa's offense since the lockout.
In the first round of this year's playoffs, St. Louis got most of his front teeth knocked out, stayed in the game and proceed to score shortly after.
If only Vincent Lecavalier had half the heart that St. Louis has...
Brad Marchand is a player that any team would be lucky to have. That means a lot coming from a Habs fan.
Marchand has recently emerged as one of the league's great agitators. He drives the opposition crazy with his mouth and a fair share of cheap shots after the whistle.
What makes Marchand so tough is that he's absolutely relentless in the way he carries himself. Marchand constantly plays with a giant target on his back and is the subject of constant abuse from opposition players, yet he never alters his game.
Marchand helps his team by drawing attention to himself and baiting other players into taking penalties. Marchand is willing to take all the slashes and cross-checks in the world if it helps the black and yellow.
For his tenacity and persistence, Marchand makes the list.
Chris Pronger's battles in front of the net are legendary.
The Flyers defenseman has been terrorizing opposing players since 1993. Pronger plays well over the edge and that's what makes him so effective.
Pronger will find a way to hurt opposing players big and small. He's mastered the art of judging a referee's tolerance level and then takes full advantage of any leeway he imagines to exist.
His willingness to engage in some of the most brutal battles in hockey history is not, however, the only factor that has landed him on this list.
Pronger has also shown a willingness to play through immense pain for the good of his team.
While playing in the Stanley Cup Finals with the Ducks, Pronger separated his shoulder in Game 5 and barely missed a shift.
This year, he came back early from a serious hand injury to prevent his team from being ousted by the Buffalo Sabres.
Pronger continues to play through pain for the good of the team. It would have been foolish to leave him off this list.
It would be easy for a guy with as much talent as Alex Ovechkin to take it easy every once and a while.
Fortunately for Capitals fans, I don't think Ovechkin knows how.
Ovechkin is perennially among the league's biggest hitters. In 79 games this year, Ovechkin laid out 241 hits. He's a human wrecking ball on the ice that strikes fear into the hearts of opposing players.
Of course, he doesn't need to play this way. A guy with that much talent could simply rely on some teammates to carry the physical load. Also, refraining from the physical aspect of the game will go a long way in lengthening his career.
But all of that doesn't matter to Ovechkin. He believes that playing with a physical edge will help his team.
For putting his team before his stats and long-term health, Ovechkin makes the list.
Shea Weber is the heart and soul of the Nashville Predators.
Year in, year out, Weber is among his team's leaders in hits and blocked shots. He's a force down low and relentless in front of the net.
For a player who plays such a physical game, he's also remarkably durable. Over the past five years, only once has Weber played less than 78 games.
Weber is a rock on defense and the glue that holds his team together. He is far and away the toughest player on his team.
Tomas Holmstrom has been making life difficult for goalies for a very long time, and he's taken a beating for it.
Holmstrom has made a living parking his rear end in front of the blue paint. He gets slashed, cross-checked or both, and refuses to move.
No matter how much punishment he endures, he holds his ground.
Holmstrom's game in front of the net is among the best in league history. He's consistently overlooked as one of the core components of Detroit's success over the past decade and deserves much more credit.
If only there was some kind of statistic for slashes taken...
Joe Pavelski does absolutely everything for the San Jose Sharks.
The American center truly made a name for himself in last year's playoff run. In 15 games played, Pavelski had 26 hits and 14 blocked shots.
He attacks the net with reckless abandon and doesn't shy away from the corners of the ice.
Pavelski is also known to drop the gloves from time to time, in defense of a teammate or to light a fire under his team.
On a team that's often criticized for its lack of intensity, Pavelski constantly brings it and is well deserving of a spot on this list.
Ryan Kesler is a warrior.
Kesler rose to prominence in the 2010 Winter Olympics where, for two weeks, he was the best two-way forward in the world.
This year, Kesler has taken it to a new level. He has developed into a player that is willing to do anything to win. He attacks the net and is a menace to society in all areas of the ice.
Through the first seven games of this year's playoffs, Kesler has an astounding 26 hits! He's also chipped in with six blocked shots.
Despite his offensive capabilities, Kesler plays the dirty game it takes to be successful in this league.
His battle with Jonathan Toews in Game 7 is something that's going to be talked about for a long time.