Ranking the 13 Scariest Players in NHL History

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistOctober 30, 2020

Ranking the 13 Scariest Players in NHL History

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    Ron Frehm/Associated Press

    'Tis the season. Sort of.

    Though typically the conclusion of the first month of the NHL season would coincide with Halloween, these are hardly typical times.

    Instead, the Tampa Bay Lightning are barely a month into their reign as 2019-20 Stanley Cup champs, and the arrival of next season will come no earlier than Jan. 1, according to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

    So given the frightening proposition of no pucks and sticks through the holidays, the B/R ice hockey team reconvened with a distinct lean toward sheer terror by compiling a list of the 13 scariest players in NHL history, based on their wrathful hitting, fistic inclination and/or chilling dispositions.

    Take a look and see where your favorite players (or most loathed tormentors) finished up, and head on down to the comments to dispense any pertinent tricks or treats.

    But just know that Mom will be inspecting all feedback before we read it.

13. Cam Neely

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    Peter Southwick/Associated Press

    Few players in NHL history blended toughness and talent the way Cam Neely did.

    The British Columbia native was the ninth overall selection in the 1983 draft and produced everything you would expect from a guy picked that high, including 395 goals and 694 points in a 13-year career pockmarked by injury.

    The 6'1", 218-pounder reached 50 goals in a season three times and finished with 35 or more on three other occasions. He also spent more than 1,200 minutes—that's 20 full games—in the penalty box for various infractions, including racking up 100 or more minutes in six straight seasons.

12. Rob Ray

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    WILLIAM PLOWMAN/Associated Press

    For a few years there, Rob Ray was Buffalo hockey.

    Though the Sabres had players with more skills and better stats, not many ever bled the black and red—literally and figuratively—with more passion than the winger who spent all but 11 games of his NHL career with the franchise from 1989 until retiring with the Ottawa Senators in 2004.

    Ray never scored more than eight goals in a season but retired with the sixth-most penalty minutes (3,207) in league history and was the namesake for the so-called Rob Ray Rule, which mandates that players fasten sweaters to their uniform pants lest they earn a game misconduct. In his fighting heyday, Ray would often allow his jersey to be pulled over his head so foes could not clutch and grab it or his shoulder pads, freeing his hands for mayhem.

11. Maurice Richard

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    Associated Press

    Statisticians know Maurice Richard had great numbers. Passionate fans know he was a total badass too.

    Not only was Rocket the first NHL player to net 50 goals in a season, but he's also the first on record to prompt a riot. The former came when the then-23-year-old Montreal Canadiens superstar scored No. 50 with less than three minutes remaining in the 1944-45 season finale against the Boston Bruins.

    The latter came a decade later, after he was penalized by league president Clarence Campbell for striking an official in a March 1955 game against the Bruins. The infraction put Richard on the shelf for the rest of the 1954-55 season and playoffs, and angry fans took to the streets shortly after the suspension and ran damage costs into six figures when Campbell attended a game in Montreal.

10. Bobby Clarke

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    Rusty Kennedy/Associated Press

    Bobby Clarke wasn't the biggest of the Broad Street Bullies, but he was certainly the most versatile.

    Not only did the oft-toothless captain of the Philadelphia Flyers have the chops to be a three-time league MVP, eight-time All-Star and two-time Stanley Cup champion, but he was also pretty adept at chops in the scary sense too.

    The Flin Flon, Manitoba, product was known leaguewide for his creative stick work. It became the stuff of legend during the 1972 Summit Series with the Soviet Union, when he broke star Soviet player Valeri Kharlamov's ankle with a slash during Game 6 of the eight-game series.

9. Tony Twist

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    TOM GANNAM/Associated Press

    If the NHL had crowned a heavyweight champion in the 1990s, Tony Twist would have been a contender.

    The mammoth winger from Alberta packed an imposing 245 pounds on a sturdy 6'1" frame and had the forearms and fists to back up the stature.

    He spent 100 or more minutes in the penalty box in eight of the 10 seasons in which he wore an NHL sweater, missing only in the two years when he played 34 and 28 games. In fact, Twist finished with 1,121 penalty minutes in 445 games and made his mark in the icy "ring" as one of the top enforcers of his era.

8. Ron Hextall

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    Rusty Kennedy/Associated Press

    Wanna know how scary Ron Hextall was? Ask an Edmonton Oilers fan. A rookie goalie with the heavily outgunned Philadelphia Flyers, Hextall almost singlehandedly carried his team to the brink of a Stanley Cup in 1987, pushing one of history's most talented teams to a Game 7.

    "Hextall is probably the best goaltender I've ever seen in the National Hockey League, that I've ever played against," said no less an authority than Wayne Gretzky, whose team won the title with a 3-1 series-deciding triumph, though the beaten goalie got the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

    Oh, and Hextall was never more than a temper tantrum away from creating chaos too. He was renowned for working other players with his goalie stick, and he incurred multiple suspensions while setting the record for most penalty minutes for a goalie (584) in a career that spanned 13 seasons and included stints with the Flyers, Quebec Nordiques and New York Islanders.

7. Terry O'Reilly

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    Ray Stubblebine/Associated Press

    Here's a warning to NHL fans: Heckle opposing tough guys at your own risk. Because you never know when the guy you are taunting might give you the Terry O'Reilly treatment.

    The Boston Bruins winger played 891 regular-season games and scored 25 playoff goals, but it's no stretch to suggest he's best known for a night in 1979 when he and some teammates scaled the boards at Madison Square Garden to confront a bothersome fan.

    O'Reilly got an eight-game suspension for his role in the melee, which blends nicely with the 2,095 penalty minutes he racked up over 14 seasons, including five straight years in which he exceeded 200.

6. Tie Domi

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    Ron Frehm/Associated Press

    Some guys are born to score goals. Others are born to make saves. Tie Domi, at least as far as the NHL was concerned, was born to fight.

    On the smaller side compared to the league's other heavyweights at 5'10", Domi was nevertheless feared and respected thanks to a high-revving motor and an unshakeable willingness to stand up for teammates.

    He was a fan favorite through stints with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and New York Rangers. He lasted 16 seasons and played 1,020 games before retiring with the third-most penalty minutes (3,515) in league history.

5. Tiger Williams

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    DMB/Associated Press

    If you recall the Slap Shot era of the NHL in the 1970s, you remember Tiger Williams.

    The caustic forward played with five teams in a 962-game career, but he made his initial impact with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a popular fighter from 1974 through 1980. He established a reputation that wound up earning him 3,971 minutes (the equivalent of 66 games) in the penalty box, which still holds the record for most in league history.

    Still, it's easily forgotten that he could actually play. In fact, Williams scored 20 or more goals in four seasons and peaked at 35 with the Vancouver Canucks in 1980-81, earning his first invite to the All-Star Game. He later played for the Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings and Hartford Whalers before retiring in 1988, and he set his personal record of 358 penalty minutes with the Kings in the 1986-87 season.

4. Scott Stevens

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    You wanna fight? Scott Stevens would fight. But more so than with his fists, the hulking New Jersey Devils defenseman wreaked havoc with his shoulders and hips (and perhaps the random elbow or two).

    A three-time Stanley Cup champion, Stevens played 22 seasons in the NHL for three teams but saved his most menacing moments for his time in New Jersey. That included devastating hits on high-caliber players like Philadelphia's Eric Lindros and Anaheim's Paul Kariya in playoff games.

    Overall, he played 1,635 games in the NHL, never finished a season with a negative plus/minus rating and wrapped up with a Hall of Fame induction in 2007.

3. Dave Schultz

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    Where Bobby Clarke was the instigator, Dave Schultz was the enforcer.

    Aptly nicknamed The Hammer, Schultz was at the forefront of an era of players whose role was to influence the manner in which the game was played, focusing more on brawn than brains.

    He racked up a league-leading 472 penalty minutes for the Philadelphia Flyers during their second straight Stanley Cup season in 1974-75, a mark that still hasn't been matched 45 years later. His time with the Flyers ended after they were dethroned the following season, however, and he drifted through stops with three teams in four seasons—the Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres—before retiring in 1980.

2. Bob Probert

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Few guys could intimidate on a sheet of ice like Bob Probert.

    A 6'3", 230-pound winger, Probert was a third-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 1983. He was no slouch when it came to scoring, potting a career-best 29 goals in his third season in 1987-88.

    But he's far more recognized for fighting, which meant bouts with all the other top scrappers of the era, including Marty McSorley, Stu Grimson, Tie Domi and Wendel Clark. Probert had a career-high 398 penalty minutes during that 29-goal season and ended his career with 3,300, good for fifth in league history.

1. Gordie Howe

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    Alvin Quinn/Associated Press

    He no longer holds the record for goals, assists or points.

    But to fans of a certain vintage, Gordie Howe was the perfect hockey player.

    Mr. Hockey, in fact.

    A right wing by trade, Howe stood a burly 6'0" and 205 pounds and mixed unparalleled finishing ability with headline-grabbing toughness, developing a reputation for hard hits and a willingness to bend the rules in order to complete a play and secure a victory.

    A Gordie Howe hat trick, in fact, was coined to refer to a game in which a player scored, added an assist and got in a fight.

    His Red Wings teams won four Stanley Cups before he retired in 1971. He then made a remarkable comeback in 1973, spending six seasons in the WHA (and reaching 30 goals four times). He returned to the NHL with the Hartford Whalers in 1979, scoring 15 goals in 80 games in a season during which he turned 52.