Ranking the 100 Toughest Players in NHL History

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistOctober 2, 2014

Ranking the 100 Toughest Players in NHL History

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    Iconic tough-guy moments—the battles between Tie Domi and Bob Probert (pictured above), Scott Stevens' open-ice hit on Eric Lindros in the 2000 Eastern Conference Final and Bob Baun scoring a playoff overtime goal on a broken foot in 1964—are fondly recalled by hockey fans.

    NHL players have a well-earned reputation among the toughest athletes in professional sports. It's a trait the league frequently showcases as a selling point, and it's among the reasons cited by fans for their love of the game.

    The players on this list epitomize that toughness. Most are guys who embraced the role of enforcer. Some of the NHL's greatest stars could hit, fight and contribute on the scoresheet. Many went on to have Hall of Fame careers, inspiring young players and leaving a positive impression on the game.

    Toughness isn't limited to fighting or physical play. Several on this list played through pain, overcoming near-crippling injuries or life-threatening illnesses to have productive NHL careers.

    The following is a ranking of the 100 toughest players in NHL history. Feel free to voice your opinions in the comments section.

Nos. 100-96

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    100. Gregory Campbell

    The gritty Boston Bruins center broke his right fibula while killing a penalty in the 2013 Eastern Conference Final against Pittsburgh. Incredibly, Campbell finished his shift before limping off for medical attention.

    99. Bob Gainey

    Lauded among the best defensive forwards of all time. Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber wrote that Gainey played Game 6 of the 1984 Stanley Cup semifinal with one shoulder separated and the other dislocated.

    98. Borje Salming

    The NHL's first Swedish-born star, Salming overcame verbal and physical abuse from NHL opponents to enjoy a Hall of Fame career. In 2007, the Toronto Star's Paul Hunter wrote that Salming "needed about 250 stitches after a skate blade cut his face during a 1986 game in Detroit."

    97. Eddie Shack

    Over his 17 NHL seasons, Eddie the Entertainer thrilled NHL fans with his aggressive, physical style. He tallied 465 points and 1,437 penalty minutes in 1,047 NHL games.

    96. Patrice Bergeron

    Following the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, The Boston Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont reported that Bergeron played in the series' final game despite a punctured lung, cracked rib and torn rib cartilage. During the game, he also separated his shoulder.

Nos. 95-91

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    95. Keith Magnuson

    Though he lost more fights than he won, Magnuson took on all comers during the early years of his 10-season career with the Chicago Blackhawks.

    94. Stan Jonathan

    Combining his pugilistic skills with a decent scoring touch, the 5'8”, 175-pound Jonathan was a popular member of the Boston Bruins in the late 1970s.

    93. Doug Jarvis

    The 5'9”, 170-pound Jarvis holds the NHL record for consecutive games played (964). Over 12 seasons, he never missed a game. 

    92. Steve Yzerman

    The Detroit Red Wings captain battled through a knee injury to lead his club to the Stanley Cup in 2002.  

    91. Saku Koivu

    Playing bigger than his 5'10”, 181-pound frame, Koivu overcame knee, shoulder and eye injuries, as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, over his 18-year career.

Nos. 90-86

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    90. Mario Lemieux

    One of the NHL's greatest scorers, Lemieux battled through Hodgkin's disease and years of serious back pain during his career.

    89. Billy Smith

    Battlin' Billy was as famous for using his goal stick to keep opponents out of his crease as he was for his goaltending skills. In addition to backstopping the Islanders to four Stanley Cup titles, he also retired with 489 career penalty minutes. 

    88. Stan Mikita

    Though Mikita would twice win the Lady Byng Trophy as the NHL's most gentlemanly player, he was a chippy competitor earlier in his career. He exceeded 96 penalty minutes in five of his first six NHL seasons. 

    87. Owen Nolan

    The former San Jose Sharks captain scored 30-plus goals six times while collecting over 100 penalty minutes 11 times.

    86. Theo Fleury

    Only 5'6”, Fleury played bigger than his physical stature, never backing down from larger and stronger opponents. He scored 455 goals and collected 1,840 penalty minutes. 

Nos. 85-81

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    85. Wayne Cashman

    Throughout 17 seasons with the Boston Bruins, Cashman earned a reputation as a scrappy scoring winger who was unafraid to battle for the puck along the boards and in the corners. He overcame back surgery and went on to become the Bruins captain in 1977. 

    84. Leo Boivin

    During his Hall of Fame career with the Boston Bruins from 1954 to 1966, Boivin garnered a reputation as a hard-hitting, shutdown defenseman. Fellow Hall of Famer Tim Horton considered him the toughest blueliner to beat one-on-one. 

    83. Jack Stewart

    Black Jack was renowned as one of the league's hardest hitters as well as one of its best blueliners through the 1940s. Stewart's rugged play earned him an induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1964.

    82. Clark Gillies

    During his prime in the late 1970s and early 1980s, few players wanted to tangle with the 6'3”, 215-pound Gillies. Among the NHL's toughest power forwards, Gillies was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002.

    81. Fern Flaman

    A Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, Flaman's punishing open-ice hits helped make him one of the best defensemen of the 1950s. He was also named to the Second All-Star Team three times.

Nos. 80-76

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    80. Doug Gilmour

    Over his 20-year Hall of Fame career, the 5'10", 175-pound Gilmour epitomized two-way physical play. Killer garnered respect for his willingness to battle for the puck, amassing 1,414 points.

    79. Dave Semenko

    During the early years of the Edmonton Oilers dynasty, Semenko was the on-ice bodyguard for superstar Wayne Gretzky. His presence ensured opponents didn't take liberties with The Great One.

    78. Earl Seibert

    The great Eddie Shore confessed Seibert was the only player he was afraid to fight. Through the 1930s to the mid-1940s, the rugged Seibert was among the NHL's top defensemen. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1963.

    77. Red Horner

    In seven of his 12 NHL seasons (1928-1940), Horner led the league in penalty minutes. A respected physical defenseman, the longtime Toronto Maple Leaf was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1965.

    76. Sprague Cleghorn

    A skilled competitor with a nasty disposition, Cleghorn was a star defenseman in the 1920s with the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958.

Nos. 75-71

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    75. Barclay Plager

    Though his NHL career lasted nine seasons, Plager became one of the early stars of the St. Louis Blues. His nose was broken 15 times, and he received hundreds of stitches, but Plager's physical style earned him the love of Blues fans.

    74. Curt Fraser

    Fraser was a grinding winger who exceeded 40 points and 100 penalty minutes five times in his 12-year NHL career. He enjoyed three straight 20-plus goal seasons with Chicago and played for Team USA at the 1987 Canada Cup.

    73. Ted Green

    A hard-as-nails defenseman, Green overcame a life-threatening skull fracture in 1969 from a stick-swinging duel with St. Louis' Wayne Maki. With a steel plate in his head from the incident, Green played two more NHL seasons and seven more with the World Hockey Association.

    72. Reggie Fleming

    A combative player who could play defense and left wing, Fleming finished his NHL career with 1,468 penalty minutes in 749 games.

    71. Bob Baun

    At 5'9" and 182 pounds, Baun was a hard-hitting defenseman with the Toronto Maple Leafs. His greatest moment occurred during Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Final, returning from a broken foot to score in overtime.

Nos. 70-66

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    70. Adam Foote

    Known as a physical defensive specialist throughout his 19 NHL seasons, Foote was a key part of the Colorado Avalanche's championship teams of 1996 and 2001.

    69. Stan Smyl

    Only 5'8" and 190 pounds, Smyl was a physical presence throughout his career. He remains among the Vancouver Canucks' all-time leaders in goals (262), assists (411), points (673) and penalty minutes (1,556). 

    68. Derian Hatcher

    The 6'5", 235-pound Hatcher was a significant physical presence for 16 NHL seasons, 10 of which were with the Dallas Stars. He captained the Stars to a Stanley Cup and was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.

    67. Brian Sutter

    The eldest of the six Sutter brothers to play in the NHL, Brian's hardworking, physical style formed the template for "Sutter hockey." In 779 NHL games, he amassed 636 points and 1,786 penalty minutes.

    66. Rob Blake

    A skilled two-way defenseman, Blake never shied away from physical play, amassing 1,679 penalty minutes in 1,270 games. He will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November 2014.

Nos. 65-61

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    65. Dave Brown

    At 6'5” and 225 pounds, Brown was among the dominant NHL enforcers during the 1980s. He accumulated 1,789 penalty minutes over 729 NHL games.

    64. Jeff Beukeboom

    The 6'5”, 230-pound Beukeboom was a hard-hitting member of three Stanley Cup champions in Edmonton and one with the New York Rangers. He totaled 1,890 penalty minutes in 804 NHL games before a concussion ended his career in 1998-99.

    63. Ian Laperriere

    A popular, hardworking checking forward, Laperriere would run up 1,956 penalty minutes in 1,083 NHL games. While with the Philadelphia Flyers, his career was cut short by concussion symptoms.

    62. Harold Snepsts

    A physical stay-at-home defenseman, Snepsts overcame serious injuries (including eye, ear and knee operations) to carve out a 17-year NHL career, amassing 2,009 career penalty minutes.

    61. Jerry Korab

    During the 1970s, Korab earned a reputation as a fearsome hitter with a heavy shot. At 6'3” and 220 pounds, King Kong tallied 455 points and 1,629 penalty minutes.

Nos. 60-56

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    60. Kris King

    A rugged left winger, King collected 2,030 penalty minutes in 849 career NHL games. Respected for his leadership, he served as captain of the Winnipeg Jets in 1995-96.

    59. Ron Stern

    The gritty checking-line winger compiled 2,077 penalty minutes in 638 NHL games with Vancouver, Calgary and San Jose. He had career highs in goals (13) and penalty minutes (338) in 1991-92.

    58. Phil Russell

    Over his 14 NHL seasons, Russell garnered a reputation for hard hits and chucking knuckles, amassing 2,038 penalty minutes in 1,016 NHL games. He was also a good puck-handler, collecting 424 points. 

    57. Mike Foligno

    Runner-up to Ray Bourque for Rookie of the Year honors in 1980, Foligno scored 355 goals and 727 points while amassing 2,049 penalty minutes in 1,018 games. 

    56. Wendel Clark

    Among the most beloved players in Toronto Maple Leafs history, Clark was a heavy-hitting, hard-punching forward who possessed a strong, accurate shot. He tallied 30 or more goals six times and finished his career with 1,690 penalty minutes.

Nos. 55-51

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    55. Stu Grimson

    Standing 6'6” and weighing 240 pounds, Grimson earned a fearsome reputation as an enforcer throughout his 729 NHL games. The Grim Reaper compiled 2,113 career penalty minutes.

    54. Chris Neil

    The longtime Ottawa Senators agitator is the highest active leader in career penalty minutes, amassing 2,216 in 855 NHL games. 

    53. Al Secord

    A prototypical power forward, Secord was at his best with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1980s. He had three seasons of 40 goals and 180 penalty minutes, finishing his career with 495 points and 2,093 penalty minutes.


    52. Terry O'Reilly

    During the 1970s, Taz was among the Bruins' top players. Known for his toughness, intensity and tremendous work ethic, O'Reilly retired in 1985 with 606 career points and 2,095 penalty minutes.


    51. Bryan Watson

    Only 5'9” and 175 pounds, Watson was one of the NHL's biggest pests, distracting star players with obstruction tactics. Despite his stature, the hardworking Bugsy never backed down from an opponent, earning 2,212 penalty minutes in 878 NHL games.

Nos. 50-46

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    50. Rob Ramage

    Over 15 NHL seasons, Ramage effectively used his physical offensive style to collect 564 points and 2,226 penalty minutes.

    49. Kevin Dineen

    Though not a big forward (5'11”, 190 lbs), Dineen never backed down from a fight. In 1,188 games, he scored 355 goals, 760 points and accumulated 2,229 penalty minutes.

    48. Keith Tkachuk

    One of the best American-born players in NHL history, Tkachuk was among the NHL's premier power forwards during his career, scoring 538 goals and 1,065 points. He also earned 2,219 minutes in the sin bin.

    47. Brad May

    Over 18 NHL seasons, May was a rugged winger who accumulated 2,248 career penalty minutes. Despite his tough reputation, May will be forever remembered for “May Day,” his series-clinching overtime goal that lifted the Buffalo Sabres to victory in the 1993 division semifinal against the Boston Bruins.

    46. Dave Schultz

    One of the Philadelphia Flyers' infamous Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s, The Hammer collected 2,294 penalty minutes in 535 NHL games. Schultz's 472 penalty minutes in 1974-75 remain the NHL single-season record.

Nos. 45-41

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    45. Kelly Buchberger

    His rugged, hardworking style earned Buchberger 2,297 penalty minutes in 1,182 games. He was also a respected leader and captained the Edmonton Oilers from 1995-96 to 1998-99.

    44. Joe Kocur

    A tough checking forward, Kocur's 2,519 penalty minutes has him at 20th on the all-time penalty leader list. He was more than a one-dimensional goon, playing 118 playoff games and winning one Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers and two with the Detroit Red Wings.

    43. Basil McRae

    The hard-nosed McRae became a fan favorite with the Minnesota North Stars, logging three consecutive seasons of over 350 penalty minutes. His 2,457 career penalty minutes ranks 24th all time among NHL players.

    42. Shayne Corson

    Despite being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 15, Corson went on to play 19 NHL seasons with five teams. He tallied 693 points and 2,357 penalty minutes in 1,156 games.

    41. Ken Daneyko

    A rugged stay-at-home defenseman, Daneyko earned 2,519 penalty minutes in 1,283 games, all with the New Jersey Devils. He helped the Devils win three Stanley Cup titles. 

Nos. 40-36

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    40. Gino Odjick

    Over 12 NHL seasons, Odjick compiled 2,567 career penalty minutes, placing him 17th all time in that category. His best seasons were with the Vancouver Canucks, where he became a fan favorite. 

    39. Matthew Barnaby

    Barnaby, who loved to taunt opponents, sits 18th in NHL career penalty minutes with 2,562. He also tallied 300 points over his 14 NHL seasons.

    38. Scott Mellanby

    Through 1,431 NHL games, Mellanby combined a hardworking style with a good scoring touch to compile 840 points and 2,479 penalty minutes. 

    37. Gary Roberts

    An aggressive power forward earlier in his career, Roberts overcame a career-threatening neck injury and went on to score 438 goals and collect 2,560 penalty minutes. 

    36. Willi Plett

    An aggressive forward who never saw a fight he didn't like, Plett's 2,572 penalty minutes rank 16th overall among career leaders. He also had good offensive instincts, tallying 20-plus goals six times.

Nos. 35-31

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    35. Donald Brashear

    The 6'3", 237-pound Brashear was a feared enforcer who spent 16 years in the NHL, ranking 15th overall in career penalty minutes with 2,634.

    34. Dave Manson

    "Charlie" was a fierce physical defenseman whose 2,792 penalty minutes rank 13th overall on the all-time list. Manson's blistering point shot helped him collect 390 points in 1,103 career NHL games.


    33. Pat Verbeek

    The 5'9", 190-pound Verbeek racked up 2,905 penalty minutes along with 522 goals and 1,063 points. "The Little Ball of Hate" is among only four NHL players to reach 2,000 penalty minutes and 1,000 career points. 


    32. Rick Tocchet

    One of the top power forwards of his era, Tocchet tallied 440 goals and 952 points in 18 seasons. He also accumulated 2,972 penalty minutes, ranking 10th all time in that category.

    31. Chris Nilan

    "Knuckles" spent the bulk of his career as an enforcer with the Montreal Canadiens, becoming one of their most popular players during the 1980s. Nilan sits ninth all time among penalty minutes leaders with 3,043 in only 688 games.

Nos. 30-26

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    30. Tim Hunter

    Known for his robust style of play, Hunter's heyday came with the Calgary Flames in the 1980s during their “Battle of Alberta” matches with the Edmonton Oilers. He sits eighth on the all-time penalty leaders list with 3,146.

    29. Craig Berube

    Over 17 NHL seasons, Berube earned a reputation as a grinding enforcer and locker room leader. He only had three seasons with fewer than 100 penalty minutes. Berube ranks seventh all time in penalty minutes with 3,149 in 1,054 NHL games.

    28. Rob Ray

    Honored for his off-ice charity work with the King Clancy award in 1999, Ray was renowned on the ice as a fearsome enforcer. He spent the bulk of his 900 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres. His 3,207 penalty minutes rank sixth overall on the all-time leaderboard.

    27. Bob Probert

    Battling addiction away from the rink as well as opponents on the ice, Probert accumulated 3,300 penalty minutes over 16 NHL seasons with Detroit and Chicago to rank fifth on the all-time list. He is still remembered among the most respected enforcers in league history. 

    26. Marty McSorley

    A hard-hitting defenseman, McSorley became Wayne Gretzky's on-ice bodyguard in Edmonton and Los Angeles during the late 1980s and early 1990s. His 3,381 penalty minutes are the fourth-highest mark in NHL history.

25. Glenn Hall

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    Career highlights

    • 906 games played
    • 407 wins, 326 losses, 163 ties, 84 shutouts and a career goals-against average of 2.49
    • Three-time winner of the Vezina Trophy
    • NHL Rookie of the Year in 1956
    • Winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1968
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975

    Tough-guy legacy

    Despite suffering many injuries, Glenn Hall set an NHL record for goaltenders with 502 consecutive regular-season games played. Given the changes in today's game, where teams employ a two-goalie system, Hall's record will never be broken.

    In Hall's day, goaltenders played without masks, and their equipment was considerably inferior to today's standards. Playing 502 straight games under those circumstances required considerable toughness. 

    One reason for Hall's longevity was his pioneering of what became known as the butterfly style, which he adopted as a method to work around a sore groin to avoid making a split save. Despite his reputation for durability, the pressure of goaltending often played havoc on his stomach, and he frequently vomited before game time.

    Why he's here

    Hall established an unbeatable goaltending endurance record in an era of limited player safety.

24. Larry Robinson

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    Career highlights

    • 1,384 games played
    • 208 goals, 750 assists, 958 points and 793 penalty minutes
    • Two-time winner of the Norris Trophy and winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1978
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995

    Tough-guy legacy

    At 6'4", 225 pounds, Larry Robinson used his size, strength and skills to become a dominant defenseman. A swift puck-moving blueliner with a blistering point shot, Big Bird was also a physical force and a fierce fighter when provoked.

    Robinson's legacy as a tough guy was cemented by his hit on Philadelphia Flyers forward Gary Dornhoefer at the Montreal Forum during the 1976 Stanley Cup Final. The Gazette's (Montreal) Stu Cowan recalled the thunderous body check broke the boards, stopping the game for several minutes to allow for repairs.

    Why he's here

    Robinson's imposing physical style earned him a reputation as someone not to be trifled with. He was also the forerunner of big, skilled, physical defensemen such as Chris Pronger and Zdeno Chara.

23. Bobby Hull

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    Career highlights

    • 1,063 games played
    • 610 goals, 560 assists, 1,170 points
    • Three-time Art Ross winner, two-time winner of the Hart Trophy and winner of the Lady Byng Trophy in 1965
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983

    Tough-guy legacy

    Strange as it seems to see a high-scoring Lady Byng Trophy winner on this list, Bobby Hull was indeed one of the toughest players in NHL history. The Golden Jet had a powerful physique that allowed him to absorb years of punishment from opponents. While he didn't fight often, Hull would drop the gloves when challenged.

    Gare Joyce, author of the book The Devil and Bobby Hull, wrote that Hull suffered significant head injuries throughout his career, including numerous broken noses and a broken jaw. Joyce also suspects Hull may have suffered several undiagnosed concussions.

    Why he's here

    Despite the years of physical pounding, Hull was an NHL superstar for 12 seasons and became the face of the fledgling WHA for six more. He's a prime example that tough guys don't always have to fight to garner respect.

22. Bobby Clarke

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    Career highlights

    • 1,144 games played
    • 358 goals, 852 assists, 1,210 points and 1,453 penalty minutes
    • Three-time winner of the Hart Trophy, two-time NHL First-Team All-Star and winner of the Masterton Trophy in 1972 and the Selke Trophy in 1983
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987

    Tough-guy legacy

    Bobby Clarke is remembered as the captain of the swaggering Philadelphia Flyers during the club's Broad Street Bullies era in the 1970s. He was also a diabetic who had to carefully monitor his diet and blood sugar to avoid seizures and blood infections during his playing career.

    Clarke didn't allow his condition to affect his play or his temperament. While beloved among Flyers fans, he earned a reputation for chippy play. In a ranking of the NHL's dirtiest players, the QMI Agency (via the Ottawa Sun) labelled Clarke as "a pest who notoriously turned down fights" and whose "antics eventually led to the 'third-man in' rule."

    Why he's here

    Love him or hate him, Clarke's scrappy leadership turned the Flyers into champions, earning him a place among hockey's toughest captains.

21. Johnny Bower

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    Career highlights

    • 552 games played
    • 250 wins, 195 losses, 90 ties, 37 shutouts and a career goals-against average of 2.51
    • Two-time winner of the Vezina Trophy
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976

    Tough-guy legacy

    Johnny Bower is remembered by Toronto Maple Leafs fans as the great goaltender who backstopped their team to four Stanley Cups in the 1960s. What's overlooked is how tough the unassuming China Wall really was. Bower spent 14 years in the minors before embarking on a 12-year Hall of Fame career with the Leafs.

    Like many of his peers in the 1950s and 1960s, Bower played without a protective mask. He was also an innovator of the poke check and was described by the Hockey Hall of Fame as "diving head-first into the skates of an attacking player" to deflect away the puck with his goal stick. As a result, he suffered numerous facial and dental injuries.

    Why he's here

    Poke-checking is risky even for today's well-padded and protected NHL goalies. It was downright fearless (bordering on crazy) in Bower's day.

20. Tim Horton

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    Career highlights

    • 1,446 games played
    • 115 goals, 403 assists, 518 points and 1,611 penalty minutes
    • Three-time NHL First-Team All-Star and member of four Stanley Cup championship teams with the Toronto Maple Leafs
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977

    Tough-guy legacy

    Tim Horton is today known more for the coffee shops throughout Canada that bear his name than for his play on the ice. During his 24-year NHL career, though, Horton was considered among the toughest shutdown defensemen in NHL history.

    Sportnet's Brett Popplewell remembers Horton as a fearless shot-blocker with a high threshold for pain. He was also one of the strongest men in hockey, breaking up fights by subduing opponents with his rib-crushing bear hug.

    Why he's here

    Since Horton's death in 1974, his hockey legacy has almost been forgotten. He deserves to be remembered as one of the sport's toughest defenseman.

19. Jarome Iginla

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    Career highlights

    • 1,310 games played
    • 560 goals, 607 assists, 1,167 points and 887 penalty minutes
    • Two-time winner of the Richard Trophy and winner of the Art Ross Trophy in 2002
    • Named to the NHL First All-Star Team three times

    Tough-guy legacy

    Over the course of Jarome Iginla's career, much of it with the Calgary Flames, he established a reputation as one of the NHL's most consistent power forwards. In a January 2011 column, the Calgary Herald's Scott Cruickshank cited then-Flames forward Steve Staios as claiming that Iginla's offensive success depends upon his "ruggedness" and "intimidation."

    Though Iginla doesn't fight often, his bouts have earned him a reputation among the league's toughest players.  The most memorable of his bouts occurred during the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, when he and Tampa Bay Lightning star Vincent Lecavalier started throwing punches

    The rare sight of two NHL superstars engaging in a fight during a Cup Final game invoked comparisons to old-time hockey. Hockey historian Joe Pelletier claims the tilt is "one of the few legendary fights people talk about endlessly."

    Why he's here

    Entering his 18th NHL season, Iginla remains among the league's most respected power forwards. His combination of skill and toughness has secured his place among the NHL's top tough guys.

18. Ron Hextall

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    Career highlights

    • 608 games played
    • 296 wins, 214 losses, 69 ties, 23 shutouts, 2.97 goals-against average
    • Winner of the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies in 1987
    • First goaltender to shoot the puck into an opposing net
    • First goaltender to score a playoff goal

    Tough-guy legacy

    The first stick-handling goaltender, Ron Hextall was also the most physically aggressive netminder in NHL history. He had three seasons where he collected 100 or more penalty minutes. GoalieArchive.com lists his 584 career penalty minutes as the most among NHL goaltenders. 

    Hextall never spared the lumber and wasn't afraid to fight. He earned an eight-game suspension for slashing Edmonton Oilers forward Kent Nilsson during the 1987 Stanley Cup Final (served the following season). He received a 12-game suspension for attacking Montreal Canadiens defenseman Chris Chelios near the conclusion of the 1989 Eastern Conference Final.

    Why he's here

    While Hextall is now the general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, his remarkable tenure as the NHL's first true fighting goaltender is what he's still best remembered for.

17. John Ferguson

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    Associated Press

    Career highlights

    • 500 games played
    • 145 goals, 158 assists, 303 points and 1,214 penalty minutes

    Tough-guy legacy

    When John Ferguson joined the Montreal Canadiens, he vowed to be "the meanest, rottenest, most miserable cuss ever to play in the NHL." Anyone who ever tangled with him during his eight-year NHL career will agree he lived up to his vow.

    Ferguson established a reputation as the hardest battler in the league. He took on all comers and rarely came out on the losing side. His presence was a key factor in the Canadiens winning five Stanley Cup championships during his career.

    Why he's here

    Ferguson was the first true NHL "policeman," playing a regular shift on the Canadiens' top line to ensure no one took liberties with his high-scoring teammates.

16. Cam Neely

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    Career highlights

    • 726 games played
    • 395 goals, 299 assists, 694 points and 1,241 penalty minutes
    • Winner of the Masterton Trophy in 1994 for perseverance
    • Three-time 50-goal scorer
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2005

    Tough-guy legacy

    Though he began his career with the Vancouver Canucks, it was with the Boston Bruins that Cam Neely shone as a power forward in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nicknamed Bam Bam Cam by Bruins fans, Neely was as effective with his fists and heavy-hitting style as he was at scoring goals.

    Injuries would shorten Neely's career, though he tried playing through them. The Boston Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont recalled how a bony tumor in his left thigh, knee injuries and an arthritic hip ultimately derailed Neely. Incredibly, he was still nearly a point-per-game player in his final three injury-shortened seasons, including an amazing 50 goals in only 49 games in 1993-94.

    Why he's here

    Whether it was opposing players or injuries, Neely was a battler. He was one of the best in NHL history.

15. Maurice Richard

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    Associated Press

    Career highlights

    • 978 games played
    • 544 goals, 421 assists, 965 points and 1,285 penalty minutes
    • Eight-time First All-Star Team right wing
    • Winner of the Hart Trophy in 1947
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961

    Tough-guy legacy

    Maurice Richard was as renowned for his fiery temper as he was for his explosive scoring for the Montreal Canadiens. At times, his anger got the better of him. A season-ending suspension for striking a linesman during a 1955 game against the Boston Bruins was the catalyst for "The Richard Riot" in Montreal.

    A prime example of Richard's toughness occurred during the 1952 semifinal between Montreal and Boston. Having been knocked unconscious earlier in the game, a still-groggy Richard, blood trickling down his face from a cut above his eye, returned to score the series-winner in overtime.

    Why he's here

    Richard was a superstar who fought his own battles, becoming a sports legend throughout Canada and a folk hero in his native Quebec.

14. Zdeno Chara

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Career highlights

    • 1,132 games played
    • 161 goals, 357 assists, 518 points and 1,607 penalty minutes
    • Winner of the Norris Trophy in 2009 and three times named to the NHL First All-Star Team

    Tough-guy legacy

    At 6'9" and 255 pounds, Zdeno Chara is one of the biggest players in NHL history. His size and strength have earned him a reputation as a punishing hitter and a fearsome fighter. Hockeyfights.com reports Chara doesn't drop the gloves that much anymore, but he remains an intimidating opponent.

    The most notorious moment of Chara's career came on March 8, 2011, when he checked Montreal's Max Pacioretty into a stanchion at the Bell Centre. Pacioretty was carried from the ice unconscious, suffering a concussion and a cracked vertebrae. Chara was not suspended for the incident.

    Why he's here

    Chara has established himself among the league's most skilled and physically imposing players. He's also helped put an end to the stereotype of European players being unwilling to play a physical game.

13. Chris Pronger

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    Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    Career highlights

    • 1,167 games played
    • 157 goals, 541 assists, 698 points and 1,590 penalty minutes
    • Winner of the Hart and Norris Trophies in 2000

    Tough-guy legacy

    Before his career prematurely ended due to injury, Chris Pronger was one of the NHL's most talented defensemen and one of the meanest in league history. ESPN.com notes the 6'6", 220-pound Pronger was suspended eight times, totaling 22 games.

    Pronger became only the third player in NHL history to be suspended twice in the same playoff year. In Game 3 of the 2007 Western Conference Final, he received a one-game suspension for elbowing Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom. In the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, he received another one-game suspension for elbowing, this time on Ottawa's Dean McAmmond.

    Why he's here

    Pronger's combination of elite skills and nasty temperament earns him this place among the league's toughest players.

12. Mark Messier

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    JEFF ZELEVANSKY/Associated Press

    Career highlights

    • 1,756 games played
    • 694 goals, 1,193 assists, 1,887 points and 1,910 penalty minutes
    • Two-time winner of the Hart Trophy and winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1984
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007

    Tough-guy legacy

    Mark Messier is remembered as one of the game's greatest scorers, respected leaders and most complete players. Renowned for his steely glare that could intimidate teammates and opponents alike, Messier would fight when challenged and possessed an "unpredictable mean streak," according to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    Hockey Draft Central notes that Messier was suspended several times. These punishments included a 10-game suspension for cracking Jamie Macoun's cheekbone, a six-game punishment for hitting Thomas Gradin's helmet with his stick and six games for high-sticking Rich Sutter in the mouth. Dallas Stars fans will also recall Messier's blindside hit on Mike Modano.

    Why he's here

    Intimidation was part of Messier's greatness. His sometimes vicious tactics are a dark part of his legacy.

11. Chris Chelios

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Career highlights

    • 1,651 games played
    • 185 goals, 763 assists, 948 points and 2,891 penalty minutes
    • Three-time winner of the Norris Trophy
    • Named to the NHL First All-Star Team five times
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013

    Tough-guy legacy

    Chris Chelios' 26-year NHL playing career places him fifth in total games played. As the Toronto Sun's Lance Hornby observed, Chelios didn't get where he did by being Mr. Nice Guy. Bob McGill, a former teammate, observed the defenseman was "nasty, dirty and mean," per Hornby, but also a terrific player.

    A prime example of his nastiness occurred in the 1989 playoff series between the Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers, when Chelios knocked Flyers star Brian Propp from the series with a hit to the head.

    Why he's here

    It takes a rare combination of endurance and toughness to last 26 years in the NHL playing a hard-nosed style like Chelios did.

10. Brendan Shanahan

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    DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/Associated Press

    Career highlights

    • 1,524 games played
    • 656 goals, 698 assists, 1,354 points and 2,489 penalty minutes
    • Twice named to the NHL First All-Star Team
    • Member of three Stanley Cup championship teams with the Detroit Red Wings
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013

    Tough-guy legacy

    Brendan Shanahan was among the most dominant power forwards in NHL history. He's the only player to score 600 goals while accumulating 2,000 penalty minutes.

    Upon Shanahan's retirement in 2009, Yahoo Sports' Greg Wyshynski observed he led the league in "Gordie Howe hat tricks" (a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game), with 17.

    Prior to Shanahan's induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, ESPN.com's Katie Strang cited testimonials from his former teammates, coaches and managers attesting to his willingness to stick up for those he played with.

    Why he's here

    Few players in NHL history can match Shanahan's 21 seasons of consistent offensive production and toughness.

9. Tie Domi

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    BILL KOSTROUN/Associated Press

    Career highlights

    • 1,020 games played
    • 104 goals, 141 assists, 245 points and 3,515 penalty minutes

    Tough-guy legacy

    Built like a fireplug at 5'10” and 213 pounds, Domi went on to become one of the most popular brawlers in NHL history. His tilts with Detroit Red Wings enforcer Bob Probert are still considered classics by fans of hockey fights.

    While Domi was known for his pugilistic skills, he wasn't above cheap shots. In 1996, he sucker-punched New York Rangers defenseman Ulf Samuelson, knocking him unconscious. In 2001, Domi was suspended 11 games for knocking out New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer with an elbow.

    Why he's here

    Domi ranks third on the all-time list of penalty minutes, with 3,515.

8. Dale Hunter

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    Robert Laberge/Getty Images

    Career highlights

    • 1,407 games played
    • 323 goals, 697 assists, 1,020 points and 3,565 penalty minutes

    Tough-guy legacy

    A hard-nosed and durable player, Dale Hunter was a unique mix of unrelenting skill and aggression. A skilled offensive player who tallied 57 or more points 11 times and captained the Washington Capitals from 1994 to 1999, Hunter is best remembered for his tough, physical style.

    Hunter's most infamous moment occurred during the 1993 playoffs, when he leveled New York Islanders star Pierre Turgeon with a blindside hit. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman handed Hunter a 21-game suspension, one of the longest in NHL history.

    Why he's here

    Hunter is the only player in NHL history to amass over 3,000 penalty minutes and 1,000 points. He's also second all time in penalty minutes.

7. Dave 'Tiger' Williams

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    Steve Babineau/Getty Images

    Career highlights

    • 962 games played
    • 241 goals, 272 assists, 513 points and 3,966 penalty minutes

    Tough-guy legacy

    Tiger Williams was perhaps the most entertaining tough guy in NHL history, known for riding his stick down the ice after scoring a goal. He was beloved in Toronto and Vancouver, which is where he had his best seasons. Williams was more than just an enforcer, tallying 40 or more points six times during his 14-year career.

    Tiger also earned his share of suspensions. After the Red Wings dealt Williams to the Los Angeles Kings in 1985, the Los Angeles Times' Sam McManis noted he was suspended seven games in 1982 for hitting New York Islanders goalie Billy Smith with his stick. He also received an eight-game suspension for trying to choke Calgary's Paul Baxter with his stick.

    Why he's here

    He's the all-time NHL penalty minutes leader. Enough said.

6. Scott Stevens

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    Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    Career highlights

    • 1,635 games played
    • 196 goals, 712 assists, 908 points and 2,785 penalty minutes
    • Winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2000
    • Twice named to the NHL First All-Star Team
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007

    Tough-guy legacy

    Though a superb puck-handling defenseman earlier in his career, Scott Stevens established a well-earned reputation for delivering thunderous body checks that could change the course of a game and, in some cases, of an opponent's career.

    In 2003, NHL.com's Phil Coffey described Stevens' hits as "hard, violent, devastating and clean." The longtime Devils captain was never suspended over his checking style. Among those on the receiving end of those heavy hits were NHL stars Eric Lindros, Ron Francis and Paul Kariya.

    Why he's here

    Stevens was perhaps the most devastating open-ice hitter in NHL history.

5. Ted Lindsay

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    Associated Press

    Career highlights

    • 1,068 games played
    • 379 goals, 472 assists, 851 points and 1,808 penalty minutes
    • Named to the NHL First All-Star Team eight times and winner of the Art Ross Trophy in 1950
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966

    Tough-guy legacy

    Ted Lindsay was living proof that dynamite comes in small packages. Only 5'8" and 160 pounds, Terrible Ted had a mean streak that made him the most penalized player of his era.

    Though a gifted offensive player, he never backed down from tangling with larger opponents. In 2008, NHL.com's John McGourty wrote that the NHL apparently "created the elbowing and kneeing penalties to counteract some of Lindsay's actions."

    Lindsay's willingness to stand up to bigger opposition wasn't limited to the ice. In 1957, he was the driving force behind a fledgling attempt to form a players union. In 2010, the NHL Players' Association renamed its MVP award for Lindsay to honor his labor efforts.

    Why he's here

    Whether on the ice or in the boardroom, Lindsay always punched above his weight class. He can be considered the forerunner for players like former NHL star Theo Fleury and Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand.

4. Terry Sawchuk

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    Associated Press

    Career highlights

    • 971 games played
    • 447 wins, 330 losses, 172 ties, 103 shutouts, 2.51 career goals-against average
    • Four-time winner of the Vezina Trophy
    • NHL Rookie of the Year in 1951
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1971

    Tough-guy legacy

    Terry Sawchuk was one of hockey's greatest goaltenders, but he paid an incredible physical and mental price for the honor.

    In 1966, Sawchuk agreed to have a makeup artist simulate the facial injuries he acquired in 16 seasons of NHL action for Life magazine (note: image is graphic). The caption claimed the veteran netminder looked like "a modern Frankenstein's monster." The magazine also noted Sawchuk suffered a slashed eyeball, lost 70 percent usage of his right arm and had a permanent "sway-back," owing to his crouched stance in the goal crease.

    A Bobby Hull slap shot to the face in 1963 finally convinced Sawchuk to don a protective mask. He also suffered chest injuries related to a car accident and was plagued by depression. In 2009, the Toronto Sun's Mike Zeisberger quoted Sawchuk's former teammate Gordie Howe as claiming the goalie seemed to be battling demons and was a very sad person.

    Why he's here

    In a time when goaltenders lacked the protective gear of today's stars and depression was so little understood, Sawchuk's ability to perform at such a high level for so long is nothing short of remarkable. Sadly, his life was cut short in 1970 from injuries due to an off-ice incident with a teammate.

3. Eddie Shore

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    Associated Press

    Career highlights

    • 550 games played
    • 105 goals, 179 assists, 284 points and 1,047 penalty minutes
    • Four-time winner of the Hart Trophy
    • Seven-time First All-Star Team
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1947

    Tough-guy legacy

    Eddie Shore was among the NHL's greatest players in the 1920s and 1930s and one of the most intimidating ever to lace up skates. He twice set single-season penalty records. Shore's most notorious moment occurred on December 12, 1933, when he ended the career of Toronto forward Ace Bailey with a blindside hit, earning a 16-game suspension.

    Shore's ability to withstand pain was legendary. After having his ear nearly sliced off during a collision in practice, Shore refused to have it removed by team doctors. He instead found a doctor willing to sew it back on, making him change the final stitch so it wouldn't leave a scar.

    The Hockey News' Stan Fischler recounts an incident in which Shore, having missed the team train to Montreal, engaged in a death-defying 22-hour drive through a raging blizzard to suit up for a game that his Bruins needed to win. He arrived on time and played, despite suffering frostbitten fingers and exhaustion.

    Why he's here

    The ear incident alone seems reason enough. Few players in NHL history have left a lasting legacy of incredible skill, toughness and pure menace like Eddie Shore.

2. Bobby Orr

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    Associated Press

    Career highlights

    • 657 games played
    • 270 goals, 645 assists, 915 points and 953 penalty minutes
    • Eight-time winner of the Norris Trophy
    • Three-time winner of the Hart Trophy
    • Two-time winner of the Art Ross and Conn Smythe trophies
    • NHL Rookie of the Year in 1967
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979

    Tough-guy legacy

    Bobby Orr is revered today as the greatest defenseman, and arguably the greatest player, in NHL history. His amazing skills often overshadowed his brute strength and willingness to drop the gloves when challenged. The Gazette's (Montreal) Stu Cowan cites colleague Red Fisher, who claimed Orr was among "the five toughest guys and five toughest fighters in the league when he had to."

    What is more impressive is how Orr accomplished all this on badly damaged knees. The National Post's Joe O'Connor reports Orr's left knee alone underwent at least 17 operations, forcing him to retire in 1978 at age 30.

    Why he's here

    Orr wasn't as renowned for his physical skills as others on this list, though the case can be made that he should be. His ability to perform at a high level despite chronic knee injuries displays a level of toughness that ranks among the league's very best.

1. Gordie Howe

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    Career highlights

    • 1,767 games played
    • 801 goals, 1,049 assists, 1,850 points and 1,685 penalty minutes
    • Six-time winner of the Art Ross and Hart trophies
    • Selected to the First All-Star Team 12 times
    • Played for four Stanley Cup winners
    • Played 26 NHL seasons
    • Inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972

    Tough-guy legacy

    Gordie Howe was respected for his strength, endurance and physical play almost as much as for his offensive prowess. He never shied away from heavy hitting, especially in battles for pucks in the corners, where his sharp elbows exacted a toll upon anyone foolish enough to tangle with him.

    The blog Greatest Hockey Legends reveals Howe participated in only 22 fights during his NHL career. It was his 1959 thumping of New York Rangers enforcer Lou Fontinato that earned Howe a lasting reputation as a ferocious fighter. Photos of that fight and its gruesome aftermath wound up in Life magazine (h/t Third String Goalie; note: Image is graphic).

    Collecting a goal, an assist and a fighting major in a single game is referred to as a "Gordie Howe hat trick." Throughout his long career, however, Howe only had two of these.

    Why he's here

    For 20 NHL seasons, Howe was the dominant player of his generation and among the game's all-time greats. No other player earned as much respect for his skills, intimidation and toughness as Mr. Hockey. He remains as revered today throughout the hockey world as he was in his playing days.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all player information via NHL.com and the Hockey Hall of Fame.


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