Coming up with a list of the top 10 NHL goons of all time was surprisingly challenging. The NHL has seen hundreds of goons come and go in its history. NHL hockey is widely considered the most violent of the major professional North American sports. The NHL is certainly the only professional league that condones fighting, punishing the goons involved with a simple 5 minute penalty, instead of the game expulsion and subsequent suspension they’d face in other professional sports. Not all NHL players who fight can be considered goons, however. The terms goon and enforcer are reserved for those exceptionally gifted pugilists, who rarely possess little in the way of hockey skill. These goons make their living by terrorizing the other team, and often serve as protectors for their own team’s star players. Some of these enforcers were so effective during their career they became factors by virtue of their ability to intimidate. Here are my picks for the toughest NHL enforcers of all time:
10 – Donald Brashear
Some people may question Brashear’s appearance on the list of the top 10 NHL goons of all time, but watch YouTube videos of this guy’s fights and you’ll see why I’ve included him. The guy never seemed to lose. Occasionally the other guy might have managed to cling for dear life and battle Brashear to a draw, but Donald never got beat up. Truly one of the most effective enforcers in the history of the NHL.
9 – Stu Grimson
Say what you want about Stu Grimson, but this enforcer had of the best goon names of all time for certain. The Grim Reaper dealt out enough punishment to earn himself over 2,100 penalty minutes in an NHL career than spanned only 729 games, and during his prime in the early 1990s with the Blackhawks, the Grim Reaper was one of the most feared enforcers in the league.
8 – Tie Domi
Many would joke that this little fireplug was more of a punching bag than an enforcer, but those who do have obviously never been on the receiving end of this hard-headed goon’s punches. Domi racked up more than 3,500 career minutes in penalties during his time with the Rangers, Jets and Leafs. He gained fame as an enforcer as a member of the New York Rangers, where he had several legendary bouts with fellow goon, Bob Probert. Domi proved he wasn’t just a one trick pony though, managing to bulge the twine 104 times over his illustrious career. He is also one of the very few goons to hang around long enough to play over 1,000 games, good enough for the number 8 spot on the list of the top 10 NHL goons of all time.
7 – Red Horner
One of the most violent men of his era, Horner dished out punishment for the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1928-1940. During that time he racked up 1,264 penalty minutes, back when penalties were much rarer than they are now and a player practically had to hit another over the head with a stick to draw a foul. Horner wasn’t just a goon though. He racked up decent offensive numbers in his career as well, and even served as the Leafs’ captain for a time. He also holds the distinction of having been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, a rare honor for a so-called enforcer.
6 – Chris Nilan
With a nickname like “Knuckles” Chris Nilan was a sure bet for a spot on the list of the top 10 NHL goons of all time. Much like Domi, Nilan didn’t tower over his opponents, standing only 6 feet tall, but he sure packed a wallop. This enforcer made a name for himself as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, racking up over 200 penalty minutes every season he played there. If you look at enforcers in terms of violence per minute played, then Nilan is right at the top, with 4.42 penalty minutes a game. He finished his career with over 3,000 penalty minutes, one of only 9 enforcers to do so.
5 – Eddie Shore
Didn’t think you’d see a 4 time Hart trophy winner on this list of the top 10 NHL goons of all time, did you? Not only was Shore a dominant defenseman, but he wasn’t shy about hurting opposing players, with his fists or with his stick. He ended the career of Ace Bailey with a hit from behind that left Bailey bleeding on the ice with a fractured skull. This “Old time hockey” enforcer finished his Hall of Fame career with more than 1,000 penalty minutes, and his thuggish attack alone qualifies him as one of the biggest goons in NHL history.
4 – Bob Probert
Every player on this list of goons is there for a different reason. Some would attack you with their sticks, some would hammer you from behind, but in the case of Bob Probert, he could just flat out fight. Probert was the league’s dominant heavyweight through much of the 80s and 90s, and he dropped the mitts an incredible 231 times in his career. Not only could this enforcer dominate his opponents in a fight, but he was a threat to score as well. In 1987-88 he lit the lamp 29 times and added 33 assists, despite spending a whopping 398 minutes in the penalty box that year. He finished up his career with 163 goals, and an even 3,300 penalty minutes.
3 – Dave Schultz
You knew “The Hammer” would show up somewhere on the list of the top 10 NHL goons of all time. This enforcer patrolled the left wing for the Philadelphia Flyers during the heyday of the Broad Street Bullies that terrorized opposing teams in the 1970s. The team had more than one goon for sure, but Schultz was the toughest of them, racking up an NHL single season record with 472 penalty minutes in 1974-75. Schultz wasn’t just an enforcer though. He put up 200 points in his 535 career NHL games to go along with his 2,294 penalty minutes.
2 – Dave Brown
Some may be surprised that I’ve ranked Dave Brown this high on the list of the top 10 NHL enforcers, but he remains the single most dominant fighter I’ve seen in all my time watching hockey. This 6’5″ monster demolished nearly everyone he ever fought, including knocking the Grim Reaper out cold. He crushed Jim Kyte’s orbital bone with a punch. He drew one of the longest suspensions in NHL history when he broke Tomas Sandstrom’s jaw with a blind-side crosscheck. One of the nastiest pieces of business ever to suit up in the NHL.
1 – Tiger Williams
Not only the title holder on my list of the top 10 NHL goons of all time, but my favorite goon as well. Say what you want about Tiger Williams, he was a true character when he played the game, and the NHL could use a few more guys like him. He wasn’t that big at 5’11” and 190 lbs, but he would take all comers as shown by his NHL record 3,966 career penalty minutes, eclipsing 300 minutes in 6 different seasons. He didn’t shy away from the rough stuff in the playoffs either, adding close to 500 post-season PIMs to his lofty total. Tiger once beat up one of his own teammates, bit Dave Schultz in a fight, and tried to strangle Billy Smith. Yet, despite all these goon-like antics, Tiger wasn’t just an enforcer. He racked up over 500 points during his NHL career, and was wildly popular wherever he played, entertaining fans with his passion for the game, and his famous stick-riding after scoring a goal.