Fighting in hockey, as we know it, is way, way down from even 10 years ago.
With the emphasis now on youth, speed and skill, NHL teams can no longer afford to employ the traditional goon — or two — on their fourth line.
Just 10 years ago, the Calgary Flames led all teams with 70 total fights and there were eight other clubs with over 50. In 2016-17, there was no team above 50 total scraps and the Anaheim Ducks were pugilism kings with 46 fights.
However, even with lower numbers of on-ice combats, fights can and still will occur. Just witness Sunday night’s punishing tilt between Detroit tough guy Luke Witkowski and Minnesota Wild rookie defenceman Nick Seeler. The two exchanged extremely punishing blows before it was all over.
These guys are certainly a dying breed. And the new tough guys, for the most part, have to bring other assets to the table, like penalty killing proficiency, shot blocking and secondary scoring.
In that regard, we have easily identify 15 current NHLers who can just as soon beat a rival with finesse, as well as pummel them into submission with their fists.
15. C Matt Hendricks – Winnipeg Jets
Minnesotan Matt Hendricks is a throwback veteran for the Jets, just as able to to win face-offs, score the odd goal and toss his weight around as he is to punch it up with willing foes. He has played for five different clubs in 10 seasons, with the current campaign looking like it will be one of the most productive of his career. Skating on the fourth line and getting about nine and a half minutes of ice time per game, Hendricks has been able to chip in 13 points, 111 hits, 41 blocked shots and 219 face-off wins in 440 draws. And, for good measure, he has dropped the mitts four times in 56 games, which accounts for 20 of his 32 penalty minutes. While these days he has gone toe-to-toe with the likes of Nashville’s Cody McLeod (twice), in his first season (2009-10) Hendricks fought a total of 10 times, also in 56 games. That year he had to duke it out with legendary scrappers like Colin Fraser and Steve Ott.
14. RW Zack Kassian – Edmonton Oilers
Being a big guy with a bit of short fuze, it makes sense that Zack Kassian can often be a target of opposition tough guys. Good enough to be drafted 13th overall by Buffalo in 2009, Kassian was the perfect blend of scorer and enforcer in junior with Windsor, scoring 77 points in 56 games during his last campaign, along with 67 penalty minutes. The Windsor native played but 44 games between Buffalo and Vancouver in his rookie season of 2011-12 and answered the bell three times, once with current Toronto hard head Matt Martin (who he has fought this year, too). Kassian did gain a measure of respectability, though, by chipping in 10 points and logging some powerplay time. In his career, Kassian has 114 points in 376 games. This season with Edmonton, he has an admirable 16 points in 63 games, playing on the fourth line. He has logged a bit of penalty killing time too and has registered the first two shorthanded points of his career, both assists. On the fight side he is tied with several others for fifth at six total.
13. D Kevin Bieksa – Anaheim Ducks
Even at the ripe old age of 36, there is still plenty of game — and a little fight — left in veteran defenceman Kevin Bieksa. Throughout his 805-game NHL career with Vancouver and now Anaheim, the Grimsby Ontario born defender has been a regular contributor to the scoresheet in a number of ways. He has 277 regular season points to his credit and 1,122 penalty minutes, along with 58 regular season fighting majors. This year, Bieksa has played in 56 games with the Ducks and has seven assists. He has blocked 71 shots and dished out 108 hits, while going toe-to-toe with five different enforcers, including Patrick Maroon and Tom Wilson (more on them later). If Bieksa fights just two more times this year, he’ll eclipse his own personal mark of six, which he’s done twice. Heck, Bieksa even duked it out three times during Vancouver’s run to the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.
12. LW Marcus Foligno – Minnesota Wild
The Foligno brothers, Nick and the younger Marcus, have as much a reputation for having soft hands as never backing down from contact — or in Marcus’ case, making contact with his fists on someone’s face. Throughout his seven-year career, Marcus has been remarkably consistent. His first season comprised just 14 games with Buffalo, but he scored 13 points, an anomaly in our estimation. In the last six seasons, five with Buffalo, he has averaged just over 20 points, with no total lower than 18 and none higher than 23. He’s also managed to sit in the penalty box an average of just under 65 minutes per season. A good portion of his 398 penalty minutes, too, have been eaten up by five-minute fighting majors, of which he has 31, including four this year with Minnesota (along with 20 points in 61 games). Two of his scraps have been with Central Division opponents such as Austin Watson of Nashville and Lance Bouma of Chicago.
11. LW Scott Hartnell – Nashville Predators
The year that not-so-prototypical tough guy Scott Hartnell scored a career high 37 goals, he also was involved in four donnybrooks. Over the course of a really good career spanning 17 seasons, 1,237 games and three teams, Hartnell has scored 326 goals, added 378 assists and sat in the sin bin a total of 1,788 minutes. Add to that the fact the Regina native has 47 points in 95 playoff games and another 146 penalty minutes and a picture is painted of a guy who definitely can kill teams with equal parts talent and pugnacity. Hartnell has logged 68 fights since he debuted with Nashville during the 2000-01 season, as well as five tilts in the post-season. And his first scrap was a doozy, as a then fresh-faced 18-year-old Hartnell took on 31-year-old feared enforcer Bryan Marchment. Yikes.
10. D Brandon Manning – Philadelphia Flyers
As a third pair defensive duo go, there might not be any tougher pair than Flyers rearguards Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas. In fact, Gudas just narrowly missed making this list, but we’re sure he’d be proud of his partner for showing up. Manning, 27, literally had to fight his way into the NHL, where he has also added a new wrinkle to his game, and that is offensive production. Undrafted after four seasons with the Chilliwack Bruins of the WHL, Prince George, B.C. born Manning caught on with Philadelphia’s AHL team, the Phantoms, and slowly worked his way into the full-time line-up in 2015-16. He’s toned down the penalty minutes significantly from the minors to the big league, but his fight card has been busy nonetheless. Last season was his busiest, with nine fights, as well as 12 points in 65 games. This season, Manning has engaged in four bouts, and already has career highs in goals (6), assists (10) and points (16).
9. D Travis Hamonic – Calgary Flames
Travis Hamonic is as prized for his hockey IQ as he is for his pugilistic capability. The big Manitoban made a name for himself on Long Island, scoring 146 points and registering 452 penalty minutes in 444 games with the Islanders. The Flames were so enamored of his total package, they dealt a first round and two second round draft picks to acquire him last June. As a testament to his overall toughness and ability, Hamonic recorded a career high 33 points in 71 games during the 2014-15 campaign, along with a career best 213 hits, 131 blocked shots and three fights. This season, his offensive output hasn’t been as prolific on the Flames second pair with T.J. Brodie (10 points in 61 games) but he has been engaged in the most scraps in any one season already at five.
8. LW Antoine Roussel – Dallas Stars
Taking a look at Roubaix, France native Antoine Roussel‘s stats, they are so uniform that a double take is in order. For the four seasons preceding this one, he recorded 29, 25, 29 and 27 points for the Stars. The only thing that changed were the penalty minutes, that decreased every season from 209 in 2013-14 to 115 in 2016-17. Another undrafted player out of junior in Quebec, Roussel worked and fought his way through the ECHL and AHL before earning a full-time gig in Big D. In addition to being a regular contributor on the third line, Roussel has also thrown down 51 times in 397 NHL games, including a high of 11 during the 2014-15 season. Roussel played just 39 games during his rookie season in 2012-13, but had to duke it out seven times, with his first NHL scrap coming against NHL legend Jarome Iginla. This season he’s already gone toe-to-toe six times in 57 games, while also scoring 16 points.
7. C Austin Watson – Nashville Predators
Should third year Predators forward Austin Watson need any tips on opposition tough guys and how to handle them, he need only look down the bench to teammate Scott Hartnell, who also appears here. It would seem then, that the Preds have the market cornered on scrappers who can dangle, as Watson has dropped the mitts seven times in 2017-18, which is fourth most in the NHL. No one trick pony, though, as the Ann Arbor, MI born Watson has fired 10 goals and added two assists in 63 games played mostly on the fourth line. Watson is fast for a big guy (6’4″, 205 lbs.) and is a pretty good penalty killer, with two of his 10 markers coming shorthanded. After fighting 13 times last year, Watson has had to stare down and punch it out with some of the toughest dudes this season, including fights leader Micheal Haley of the Florida Panthers, who has an astounding 18 fighting majors.
6. Patrick Maroon – New Jersey Devils
That sure is one tough, but fairly talented, fourth line they have now in Jersey. From 6’6″, 245 lb. center Brian Boyle, to newcomer Patrick Maroon (6’3″, 225 lbs.) and Blake Coleman (5’11”, 200 lbs.), this line can score and fight it out. Maroon, acquired from the Edmonton Oilers at the deadline, is the most prolific in all categories this season, engaging in five fights so far, as well as scoring 14 goals and adding 19 assists in 60 games between Edmonton and the Devils. Meanwhile, Coleman has 15 points and two fights and Boyle 18 points and one scrap. Maroon, a native of St. Louis, MO, has scored at every level from junior with the London Knights to the AHL and finally the NHL, where he has 194 points in 403 total games. He has also squared up against 45 other tough guys in his career. Curiously, he had two fights in his first extended stay (13 games) in the NHL, both against noted enforcer Zenon Konopka of Minnesota.
5. D Josh Manson – Anaheim Ducks
In terms of hockey talent and toughness, Anaheim Ducks’ rearguard Josh Manson comes by it quite naturally. Fourth-year defenceman Josh is the son of none other than longtime NHL defenceman and heavyweight champion Dave Manson. Manson the elder played in 1,103 NHL games, scoring 390 points and logging 2,792 penalty minutes, which included 72 fights. Like father, like son, Josh has played in 247 games so far in his career, scoring 63 points and fighting 15 times. He may have a lot of catching up to do to match his old man in season high output, as Dave Manson put up 54 points with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1988-89. Josh, though, is already having a career season in Anaheim with highs in assists (23) and points (28) in 66 games. Manson is also logging over 20 minutes per game and putting in penalty killing time, too.
4. LW Milan Lucic – Edmonton Oilers
Not many NHL tough guys cut as imposing a figure, both with a puck on his stick or throwing around his considerable bulk, than Oilers winger Milan Lucic. The 2011 Stanley Cup winner tips the scales at 6’3″ and 236 lbs. and skates on the left side of the Oilers first line with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. So, on any given night, the can intimidate the opposition with his fierce demeanor, or use his fairly soft paws to score a goal or set one up. In his 795-game career, Vancouver born Lucic has 192 goals and 287 assists, along with 964 penalty minutes (including 67 fights). He has also collected 70 points in 114 playoff games and another two fights. In his rookie season, 2007-08 with Boston, Lucic proved himself in all areas. While scoring 27 points in 77 games, he engaged in a career high 13 scraps, which no doubt endeared him to the faithful in Boston.
3. RW Tom Wilson – Washington Capitals
Like Milan Lucic in Edmonton, Toronto native Tom Wilson is a roving monster in D.C. who hits, scores and fights with equal elan. Not many players in the NHL are as good at agitating as Wilson either. The durable first line right winger is having a heck of a 2017-18 campaign, with career highs in all offensive categories like goals (11), assists (18) and points (29). Add to those significant numbers 185 hits, 35 blocked shots and a jaw-jarring 12 fights already. Those dozen scraps put him second in the NHL to Micheal Haley (18) and his bouts have been against fellow hard-heads Patrick Maroon and Kevin Bieksa, who also appear here. Wilson has been one of the busiest pugilists in the NHL since breaking in with Washington in 2013-14, with 54 fights to his credit already.
2. RW Corey Perry – Anaheim Ducks
Ducks veteran winger Corey Perry has pretty much seen and done it all in 13 seasons in the NHL. A rookie when Anaheim was still known as the Mighty Ducks in 2005-06, Perry has a goal scoring title to his credit (50 in 2010-11), a Hart Trophy (same year), a Stanley Cup 2007), two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup ring. Perry, who has scored 756 points in 941 regular season games, has also been known as a pest without parallel and has been suspended on two occasions for questionable hits. However, he isn’t all talk and no action, having battled it out with his fists 30 times in the regular season and another four in the playoffs. Perry has 39 points in 55 games this year and has put his hands to use fighting with the likes of Travis Hamonic (above) and Dion Phaneuf.
1. RW Wayne Simmonds – Philadelphia Flyers
Pound for pound, we consider the Flyers’ Simmonds to be the most effective tough guy in the NHL. Since breaking in with Los Angeles in 2008-09, Simmonds has been durable, missing just 17 of a possible 704 games games up until 2016-17, though he does have a cryptic upper body injury this season, while putting up 222 goals and 223 assists. He has scored on the powerplay (85 goals), shorthanded (three) and has 31 game-winners. Never afraid of the heavy going, Simmonds has dished out 1,343 career hits and blocked 364 shots. The Scarborough, Ontario born winger has also punched it out 56 times over the course of his career with the Broadstreet Bullies. This season, Simmonds has answered the bell with Florida enforcer Micheal Haley, which should keep his broad popularity intact for a while longer.