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Toughest fighters

Bob Probert took on all opponents during his career. (Elsa/Getty Images)

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Bob Probert took on all opponents during his career. (Elsa/Getty Images)

In honor of Bob Probert, whose death this week shocked and saddened the hockey world, we thought we’d take a look back at some of the NHL’s all-time toughest fighters.

There are fewer things more difficult as a hockey observer than comparing players from different eras, so you won’t find any Eddie Shores or Sprague Cleghorns on this list. And we’ve only gone with guys who played for a number of years. So, Mr. Gaetz, despite 412 PIMs in 65 games, you’re out. Same goes for you, Mr. Boogaard; you may break faces, but you haven’t been around quite long enough yet.

This isn’t a straight PIMs list, this is more of a mélange of antics and reputations.

This is THN’s 10 toughest NHL fighters:

10. Stan Jonathan; Boston, Pittsburgh
Jonathan played during the Big, Bad Bruins-era. In the late 1970s and early 1980s he was one of the NHL’s most-feared fighters – just ask Pierre Bouchard – but had some hands, too, twice scoring 21 or more goals.

9. Terry O’Reilly; Boston
Oh those ’70s and ’80s Bruins. Those were the days between when every player had to be able to stand up for himself and when designated goons came in vogue. O’Reilly could play it rough-and-tumble or he could score; in 12 full seasons, he failed to score double-digit goals just twice and popped 20 or more four times. Oh, and he totaled nearly 2100 PIMs during his career.

8. Tie Domi; Rangers, Winnipeg, Toronto
Domi sits third all-time in PIMs with 3,515, a pretty amazing feat since he’s listed at a generous 5-foot-10. The little fighter who could took on all-comers and was one of the league’s first modern sideshows. He topped-out at 365 PIMs in 1997-98 and never totaled fewer than 109 when playing a full season (he had 42 in 1989-90, but played just two games). He could do more than fight, but that’s what he’ll be remembered for.

7. Marty McSorley; Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Rangers, San Jose, Boston
Fourth all-time in PIMs, McSorley was Wayne Gretzky’s protector in Los Angeles, but could play some, too. A defenseman, he scored 20 or more points 10 times and was lauded for his leadership on and off the ice. His career came to an ignominious end, but McSorley was no simple goon.

6. Dave Semenko; Edmonton, Toronto
Semenko was the Boogaard of the 1980s, except he got to skate alongside The Great One in Edmonton, which is how he managed to score double-digit goals three times. He pioneered the designated bodyguard/goon position and did it as well as anyone.

5. Georges Laraque; Edmonton, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Montreal
Still active-ish, Laraque was the undisputed heavyweight champ of the league during his seven-plus seasons in Edmonton. Whether he plays this coming season or not he’s still right up there. But – again like Boogaard – he finds dancing partners hard to come by. 

4. Dave ‘Tiger’ Williams; Toronto, Vancouver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Hartford
The all-time PIMs leader with 3,966, Tiger was as entertaining as they come. He’d fight anyone who’d fight him and is famous for riding his stick cowboy style after scoring a goal, something he did 241 times during his career. His best season came with the Canucks in 1980-81: 35 goals, 62 points, 343 PIMs.

3. Dave ‘The Hammer’ Schultz; Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Buffalo
Schultz won two Stanley Cups with the Flyers and was the poster boy for the Broad Street Bullies. No player comes within 63 PIMs of Schultz’s 472 in 1974-75. The Hammer scored 20 goals the season before, but dipped to nine during his record-setting campaign. His career PIMs-per-game average is 4.3.

2. John Ferguson; Montreal
Ferguson is considered the NHL’s original policeman, but he was so much more. During his eight NHL seasons he finished outside the top nine in PIMs just once (he was 11th in 1967-68), won five Cups, scored 15 or more goals seven times and played with (and held his own with) some of the greatest players the game has known.

1. Bob Probert; Detroit, Chicago
Probert is fifth all-time with 3,300 PIMs, but he was probably the most skilled of anyone on this list; Ferguson once said as good as he was at his role, he was no Probert. His best season came in 1987-88 with the Wings: 29 goals (including 15 power play markers and five game-winners), 62 points, a plus-16 rating and 398 PIMs – he added another 21 points in 16 playoff contests. Heady numbers to be sure and worthy of top spot here.

The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.

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