Hockey is a sport that is played at such high speeds, and collisions are a part of the game. It is sometimes a fine line between a hard hit and a cheap or dirty hit. Some players live on that line. Many can stay below it, but there are ones who blow past it. These are the players who are the dirtiest to have played the game.
Some players have made the list for a career of questionable hits, suspensions and fines. Others have had a brain-fart moment, one in which they went so far over the line that they have to be included on the list.
Messier is one of the greatest players to ever play the game. His stats and standing in hockey lore are well earned. Why lovingly nicknamed "The Moose," he was also called the King of Elbows. While always a physical player, he wasn’t shy about throwing his elbows high and deliberately going after an opponent's head.
Gauthier is one of those hard hitters that crossed the line every so often. He has served a couple of suspensions for his hits.
Clarke may be one of the hardest workers to ever play the game. He fought for every inch of the ice and had a never-give-up mentality. While that served him well, it also lead to him being the leader of the Broad Street Bullies, the very physical, yet Stanley Cup-winning Philadelphia Flyer teams of the 1970s. Perhaps his biggest cheap shot was his slash on Russian star player Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle during the summit series exhibition in 1975. His style of play would lead most of the world to assume that his style of play was true of all Canadian hockey.
You can’t get a 20-game suspension and not make the list. May took a slash at Steve Hienze’s face back in 2000 that resulted in getting bounced for 20 games.
This video says it all. Lapierre is beaten on a play by Scot Nichol. Well, after the play, when Nichol has already shot the puck, Lapierre cheap-shots him into the boards. The announcer on the video is correct by calling it a "garbage play." He then continues to let us know what he really thinks of it. Lapierre served a four-game suspension for this cheap hit.
Acting like a pirate and taking sword like swings at Mario Lemieux will earn you a spot on this list. Beyond the swings, the video shows what is all in a game's work for this guy and none of it is pretty.
Brown’s role with his team was that of the enforcer. His duties, though, led him to cross the line when he gave Thomas Sandstrom a cross check to the face. It resulted in a 15-game suspension for Hunter and a broken jaw and concussion for Sandstrom.
Ruutu has a habit of running the goalies, but as can be seen in this video, he has no problem running over people without the puck, either.
You don’t get to be the NHL career leader in penalty minutes by being a choir boy. Williams had no qualms about doing whatever his team needed. A sucker punch here, running a goalie there—pretty much whatever was needed.
Hartnell earns his spot on the list due to player vote. SI ran a players poll in 1999 where Hartnell was voted the fifth dirtiest player in the league at that time. Taking out a defenseless player, such as the video shows, seems to warrant his selection.
Cleghorn may be higher on the list if there were video to back up the stories. His career began in the pre-NHL days and went through the early years of the league. He used his stick to handle the puck about as much as he used it to hit, slash and butt-end his opponents. He often would lead his team in scoring and penalty minutes. He was once even charged and convicted of aggravated assault for hitting an opponent in the head with his stick during a game.
Suter is blamed for causing Wayne Gretzky’s back problems after checking him from behind and basically bending him in half, the wrong way, over the boards. He also tried to play baseball with a Russian player’s head during the 1987 Canada Cup. Neither of those compare to the hit on Paul Kariya, though.
Neil is no choir boy, which can be seen by the video. Even after a hard take down, he is willing to go the extra mile to make sure that he made the dirty player list.
Jarrko is the second Ruutu to make the list. While not as deep with penalty minutes as others on the list, he plays a sneaky, dirty game. Of course, when he decides to bite an opponent, it is a little difficult to hide that.
Tucker spent most of his career in Toronto and was known as Crazy Tucker. He was also known for going after players' knees, which is always a body part susceptible to injury. Beyond just going after the knees, he would tell opposing players to watch their knees ahead of time. This type of premeditated dirtiness is even worse than losing it in the heat of battle.
Domi leads the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise in penalty minutes and is third all time in the NHL. Among his suspensions were a sucker punch to Ulf Samuelsson and an elbow clothesline to Scott Niedermayer. The hit on Niedermayer led to him being suspended for the rest of the 2001 playoffs.
It doesn’t get much weaker than this video. After getting scored on, Hunter takes out the celebrating Pierre Turgeon. The hit caused a severe shoulder separation for Turgeon and a 21-game suspension for Hunter.
You get to make the top 10 dirtiest players when you throw cheap shots during preseason games. A cheap shot on Dean McAmmond during a preseason game lead to a 20-game suspension for Downie. In his short career, he has been suspended numerous times in the NHL and minor leagues. He has been known to throw punches when a player has their hands tied up. There also seems to be a bad history of linesman being injured around Downie.
Ott has been voted as one of five dirtiest players in a few SI polls. He has been suspended several times for his hits and once for gouging the eyes of Travis Moen.
Lemieux's famous dirty play was on Detroit’s Kris Draper, who Lemieux hit hard in the head long after the puck had been passed. Even the dirtiest of players are known to show some remorse after a bad hit, especially one that breaks a players jaw, nose and cheekbone, but Lemieux had none. In addition to that hit, he also has bitten opposing players.
Bertuzzi was always known as a tough physical player, but then he had the stupid hit on Steve Moore. The blindsided sucker punch was made even worse by then riding Moore to the ground. This act made Bertuzzi a permanent member of the dirty players list. Moore had several neck injuries, including three broken vertebrae. Bertuzzi would be suspended for his team's last 20 games of the season. The following year, 2004-05, the NHL was in a lockout, so no games were played. While many players went overseas to play, Bertuzzi was banned by the International Ice Hockey Federation and was not allowed to play. The result was a 17-month suspension from hockey.
Don't worry, Cooke fans, he still has enough playing years left to move further up the list. Cooke has shot up the dirty player charts the past few seasons. His numerous suspensions, including one this season that kept him out of the last 10 regular season games plus the entire first round of the playoffs, has earned him this infamous recognition. Even his own teammates and management have spoken out against his style of play. The NHL even had to tighten up the headshot rules just to combat Cooke’s trend of vicious hits, such as the one where he laid out Marc Savard.
Marchment was known as the knee destroyer. He spent his career trying injure and shorten the careers of opposing players. His usual tactic was to go after their knees. Warren Baker over at armchairpools.com has compiled a comprehensive list of Marchment’s suspensions.
- Suspended two games for checking Mike Gartner of the Rangers from behind.
- Suspended one game for receiving his third non-stick-related misconduct of the season.
- Suspended five games for a kneeing incident against the Jets Jason Simon.
- Hit Mike Gartner at center ice and collapsed his lung. Marchment would later state that the hit was payback for a previous high stick from Gartner.
- Suspended twice for a total of three games for receiving game misconduct penalties.
- Suspended three games leaving the bench to fight Denis Chasse of St. Louis.
- Suspended three games for kneeing Mike Modano. The hit kept Dallas Stars Mike Modano out for six weeks.
- Suspended eight games for kneeing Carolina Hurricanes forward Kevin Dineen. The suspension was the longest of the season.
- Suspended one game for directing racial comments at Donald Brashear.
- Suspended three games for spearing Paul Kariya in the stomach.
- Suspended three games for kneeing Montreal Canadiens forward Martin Rucinsky.
- Suspended six games for elbowing Carolina Hurricanes forward Shane Willis in the head.
- Suspended two games after his third fight-instigator penalty of the season.
Samuelsson, like Marchment, focused on hurting players. Dirty players like them have no place in the game. A late hit is bad, but to intentionally go out with the focus and intent being to injure other players is over the line and Sameulsson and Marchment were two of the worst. The list of players that he seriously injured is, sadly, long. He was able to avoid the length or quantity of suspensions as other players this high on the list had. That just means he was the sneakiest of the dirty players as well.
Teeing off on an opponent’s head will get you top-five status. Sadly, the head shot on Donald Brashear wasn’t his only incident, just his worst. The hit on Brashear effectively ended McSorely’s career. He was suspended for 23 games initially, but after an assault conviction for the hit, the ban was extended to one year. Once reinstated, no team would sign him.
Time and time again, Pronger is among the top players on any poll where other players are asked who is the dirtiest in the game. High flying elbows, blindside hits and even stomping on opponents are all a regular part of his repertoire. What is sad is that Pronger may be the best player talent-wise on this list and really shouldn’t have to resort to such cheap tactics to get ahead. Once busted for his antics, he does not let up. In 2007, he was suspended twice during the same playoff run.
When your career suspensions are added up and you have almost missed a full season of games, then you are the dirtiest of the dirty. Simon holds the distinction of having two of the three longest suspensions that the NHL has ever dealt out. After his dangerous swing at Ryan Hollweg’s head, he should not have been allowed back into the league. He was, and later that year he snuck up behind Jarrko Ruutu, leg swiped him, then stomped on his leg. That would be his last season, as he only seems to be able to get a job in the Russian leagues now.