Gloves Off: The 10 Top NHL Enforcers of All Time

Aaron BrenkerCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2008

Under the new rules of the NHL, the enforcer has become nothing more than a liability to his own team.

New penalties have limited physical play and kept the fighters at bay—but in the NHL's past there have been many great enforcers.  Here are my top ten of all time:

10. Chris Simon

He was taken in the second round of the 1990 NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, but was later traded in the famous Eric Lindros deal to the Quebec Nordiques. Simon became a journeyman in the NHL, playing for eight different teams.

Simon was most successful on the Washington Capitals, where he scored and fought. In his second season in Washington, he helped lead the Capitals to the Stanley Cup Finals.  He enjoyed his most productive offensive season with the Capitals in 1999-2000, scoring 29 goals and notching 20 assists.

But it was not until 2006, when Simon signed with the New York Islanders, that he truly became an enforcer.

Over the course of his career, Simon has been suspended eight times for a total of 65 games. His most famous suspension came at the expense of New York Rangers' Ryan Hollwegg, whom he smacked in the face with his stick.

9. Dale Hunter

Hunter was selected by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1979 NHL draft. He played seven seasons for Quebec, before he and a draft pick were traded to Washington for Joe Sakic.

Hunter was one of the first enforcers the Capitals had. He provided a safety blanket for Washington's forwards. Hunter had one of his best seasons with Washington in '92-93, tallying 79 points.

Currently, Hunter is second all-time in penalty minutes, with an unbelievable 3,565 PIM.

8. Dave Semenko

As a frequent fighter for Edmonton. Semenko was known as Wayne Gretzky's bodyguard. During his career, he also provided protection for star players such as Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, and Paul Coffey.

Semenko's enforcing ability gave the Oilers' stars more freedom on the ice. The Oilers would go on to win Stanley Cups in the 1984 and 1985 seasons.

Semenko had brief stints with the Hartford Whalers and Toronto Maple Leafs before retiring.  After his NHL career, Semenko would fight boxing legend Muhammad Ali in an exhibition boxing match.

Semenko finished his career with 1,175 penalty minutes.

7. Bob Probert

Probert was picked by the Detroit Red Wings in the third round of the 1983 NHL Draft.  He was drafted along with fellow enforcer Joe Kocur and center Steve Yzerman.

In the 1985-86 season, Probert was third on the team in penalty minutes behind Joe Kocur and Randy Ladouceur.  In the 1986-87 season, Probert increased his fighting ability and amassed an impressive 221 penalty minutes.  The next year, Probert increased his reputation as an enforcer tallying 398 penalty minutes.

During his career with Detroit and the Chicago Blackhawks, Probert had great battles with fellow enforcers Tie Domi, Donald Brashear, and Marty McSorley. Most notably, on February 4, 1994, Probert had a fight with McSorley lasting 100 seconds.

6. Donald Brashear

He began his NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens, after being signed via free agency. Brashear has also played for the Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals.

Brashear currently has 2,440 penalty minutes in his NHL career. He was trained by boxing legend Joe Frazier. He played a role in a brawl that led to the most penalized NHL game ever, against the Ottawa Senators. Brashear received the most penalty minutes in that game.

He has said in the past that he does not like the new NHL's wide-open game. This style of play is one of the reasons Brashear is one of the only true enforcers left in today's NHL.

5. Clark Gillies

In his rookie season, Gillies signed with the New York Islanders. He quickly proved his ability to fight when he brawled with Dave Schultz in the 1974-75 playoffs. Gillies was not typically a fighter, but when necessary he did not hesitate taking on the biggest and most feared players in the NHL.

In 1977-78, Gillies was named the captain of the New York Islanders, but he struggled to play well in big games, and eventually let teammate Denis Potvin take over as captain. With the pressure of captaincy off Gillies' shoulders, he was able to focus on what he did best—fighting and scoring.

He was recognized as a great enforcer, but also skated well and had a great shot. He scored 319 goals in his long NHL career.

Gillies finished his career with 1,023 penalty minutes. During the Islanders' playoff runs, he provided protection for players like Bobby Nystrom, Mike Bossy and Brian Trottier.

4. Tie Domi

Domi was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round of the 1988 NHL draft.  In the 1997-98 season, Tie set a Toronto record for most penalty minutes in a season with 365, passing Tiger Williams.

One of Domi's most infamous incidents was against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2000-01 NHL season. While sitting in the penalty box, Domi was being heckled by an intoxicated Flyers fan.

The Flyers fan continued to bang on the glass of the penalty box. Domi responded by spraying the fan with his water bottle. The fan's glass barrier gave way and he fell right on top of Domi, who preceded to pin him and give him a few jabs,

Today, Domi is regarded as one of the best enforcers of all time. During his NHL career, Domi racked up an unfathomable 3,515 penalty minutes.

3. Marty McSorley

He most notably played for the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings. McSorley won two Stanley Cups with the Oilers in the 1987 and 1988 NHL seasons.

McSorley, a lot like Dave Semenko, provided protection for Wayne Gretzky and all of the Oilers' other star players. When Gretzky was traded to the Kings, he refused to go unless McSorley was included in the trade.

One of McSorley's most infamous moments was when he swung his stick into Donald Brashear's head during a Boston Bruins-Vancouver Canucks game. Brashear suffered a grade three concussion.

McSorley is the fourth-most penalized player in NHL history with 3,381 penalty minutes.

2. Terry O'Reilly

He was picked by the Boston Bruins in the first round of the 1971 NHL Amateur draft. O'reilly became known as a tough player, racking up 200 penalty minutes in five straight NHL seasons.

O'Reilly's most infamous moment happened on December 26, 1979, at Madison Square Garden. During a post-game brawl, a Rangers fan stole Stan Jonathan's stick and hit him with it. O'Reilly went after the fan scaling over the glass, and continuing to chase him. He caught the fan who stole the stick and grappled with him in the stands. O'Reilly was suspended eight games for this incident.

O'Reilly finished his great career with 2,095 penalty minutes. His number 24 remains retired by the Boston Bruins.

1. Dave Schultz

He earned the nickname "Hammer" while playing for the "Broad Street Bullies" (Philadelphia Flyers). Schultz provided protection for the Flyers' star and instigator Bobby Clarke.

Schultz scored a series-clinching goal in overtime against the Atlanta Flames in the first round of the 1974 Stanley Cup playoffs. In the 1973-74 season, Schultz scored a career-high 20 goals for the Flyers.

Schultz finished his NHL career with 2,294 penalty minutes. No one in the NHL was more intimidating then Dave Schultz. He was the anchor of the strong Flyers teams that had great battles with teams like the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins.

It seems that today, the role of enforcer is all but dead. But maybe the memories of these enforcers can inspire more players to stand up for their teammates, and provide more physical play in today's new NHL.


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