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The Top 10 most penalized players in NHL history

Profile Picture: Drew Levison

January 28th, 2022

You may have heard the old hockey trope, "I went to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out." It’s no secret that the NHL has had its fair share of altercations occur on-ice, leading to mucho penalty minutes for those involved. While the league has done a lot to clean up the game in recent years, the NHL's record books contain a litany of players notorious for accumulating time in the "sin bin" (AKA the penalty box).

Join us as we examine the 10 players who gathered the most minutes for their, shall we say, rambunctious play.

10. Rick Tocchet (2,970)

Years active: 1985-2002
Teams: Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitols, Phoenix Coyotes

Over the course of 18 seasons, Tocchet accumulated 2,970 penalty minutes (or PIMs, in hockey stat shorthand). Considered a prototypical power forward, his tenacious-yet-skilled play garnered him 492 goals – regular season and playoffs combined - over his career. Interesting fact: He’s the only player to score more than 400 goals as well as amass as many penalty minutes as he did.

9. Chris Nilan (3,043)

Years active: 1980-1992
Teams: Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins

There’s a reason he was nicknamed "Knuckles" - He earned it. Nilan is the proud owner of 3,043 PIMs for his career. A feisty, on-ice agitating force, Nilan was coveted as a fearless player who would stand up for his teammates whenever needed, answering the call to fight the other team’s "goon" when necessary. However, he wasn’t just limited in his role. Nilan chipped in 242 points and was a spark of energy off the bench when called upon.

8. Tim Hunter (3,146)

Years active: 1982-1997
Teams: 
Calgary Flames, Quebec Nordiques, Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks

The definition of the "hard-nosed", no-nonsense hockey player, Hunter gathered 3,146 PIMs over 16 years in the NHL. As fierce a competitor as they came, his style of play placed him among the league’s elite list of enforcers throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Beyond that, he was also an impressive defensive-minded forward, and was often relied upon by his coaches as a strong penalty killer. How ironic.

7. Craig Berube (3,149)

Years active: 1987-2004
Teams:
Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Washington Capitols, New York Islanders

The "Chief", as he’s respectfully called because of his Indigenous heritage, finished his playing days with 3,149 PIMs across 17 seasons in the league. Despite having made his living from his pugilistic prowess on the ice, Berube was and is an astute student of the game. So much so, that post-playing career, he ended up with a series of coaching jobs, culminating with his current post as the head coach of the St. Louis Blues. In 2019, he was given Interim coach status with the Blues midway through their season, and salvaged the franchise’s year by leading the team to the Stanley Cup. He is only the second interim head coach to do so (the other being Larry Robinson).

6. Rob Ray (3,207)

Years active: 1990-2004
Teams:
Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators

The Buffalo Sabres’ all-time PIMs record-holder - 3,189 to be precise – Ray’s career is an interesting one. Though he ended his career with 3,207 PIMs (the last 18 he got playing with the Ottawa Senators), he was not your stereotypical enforcer. Ray’s on-ice persona contrasted with his off-ice activities. In 1999, he was awarded the NHL’s King Clancy Memorial Trophy for outstanding leadership and humanitarianism. He is still deeply involved in the sport, only now as a color commentator for Sabres broadcasts.

5. Bob Probert (3,300)

Years active: 1986-2002
Teams:
Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks

Though he’s remembered as one of the most punishing enforcers the league ever saw, Probert’s 3,300 career PIMs came at a cost. Off-ice substance abuse and legal problems dogged his career, and his premature death at age 45 in 2010 shocked his former teammates and league-wide acquaintances. Still, Probert was more than just a fighter. In his 1987-88 season with Detroit, he flashed a scoring touch, ending up third in team points for the season (62), and he led the team in playoff points (21) during their postseason run that year. RIP Bob.

4. Marty McSorley (3,381)

Years active: 1984-2000
Teams:
Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins

Known as "Gretzky’s Bodyguard", much of McSorley’s 3,381 PIMs came as a result of taking on any player who dared even look the wrong way at his teammate Wayne. It was known that if you wanted to get to "The Great One" the road went through Marty while they were teammates for eight years on two different teams – Edmonton and then LA. Unfortunately, his playing career ended ingloriously. In 2000, he assaulted an opponent with his stick, causing a grade III concussion. The incident led to his conviction in court of assault with a weapon. This led to McSorley's suspension by the league and eventual retirement from the NHL.

3. Tie Domi (3,515)

Years active: 1990-2006
Teams:
Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Winnipeg Jets

With 3,515 PIMs, Tahir "Tie" Domi forms part of the triumvirate of all-time penalty minutes leaders in NHL history. However, of the three, he holds the distinction of being the player assessed the most fighting major penalties in league history, with 333. That’s a lot of scrapping. Post-career, Tie tried his hand at broadcasting and also appeared in some movies, including Men of Means (1999) and Mystery, Alaska (1999). It’s highly likely that he’ll be more remembered for his on-ice presence than his on-screen thespianism.

2. Dale Hunter (3,565)

Years active: 1981-1999
Teams: 
Quebec Nordiques, Washington Capitals, Colorado Avalanche

The other Hunter on this list, Dale’s 3,565 PIMs were collected over 19 seasons. He was famous for being "a pest" on the ice, as they say in hockey terms. Whether trash-talking his opponents into attacking him or getting into scuffles, Dale was one of the supreme experts at drawing – and taking – penalties. Nevertheless, his career was so much more than that. Dale Hunter is the only player in NHL history to get more than 1,000 points (1,020 - 323 goals, 697 assists) and 3,000 penalty minutes. His value as a points contributor to his teams was undeniable. He had nine 20-goal seasons, including six with at least 70 points. That’s an all-around player.

And the top penalty minute leader of all-time is...

1. Dave "Tiger" Williams (3,971)

Years active: 1975-1988
Teams: Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, Hartford Whalers

There can be only one; and that’s Tiger. With 3,971 PIMs in his penalty-filled illustrious, 14-season career, there’s no one even close. Moreover, like any leader, Tiger wasn’t just a one-note player with penalty credentials. He was a solid point contributor to his teams. During the 1979-80 season - which he split between Toronto and Vancouver after being traded by the former - he scored a career-best 30 goals. Tiger followed that up in 1980–81, scoring a career-high of 35 goals and 62 points while amassing a league-leading 343 penalty minutes in 77 games. By the way, he earned his nickname early in life, when his minor league hockey coach took note of his dogged style of play. He was just five years old.

Bonus

Interesting note: There’s only one active player who cracks the Top 50 All-Time in PIMs – Zdeno Chara. Currently, he’s sitting at 2,064 penalty minutes (and counting). And he’s 44 (or, 108 in NHL years). It’s unlikely he'll crack the top 10 all-time before he retires. 

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