In the past few years, there has been a push by the NHL and its franchises to curb dirty play and make “enforcers” an endangered species. Tough guys now have to actually contribute offence and defence in fourth line roles, rather than goon it up.
That is, until the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins call up Tom Sestito in advance of a “grudge” match with Winnipeg Wednesday night.
Now, fighting in hockey will likely be a part of the game going forward, however, Sestito’s actions in the wake of a Blake Wheeler-Evgeni Malkin scrap go beyond the pale. Wheeler, who took an alleged cheap shot hit from Malkin the last time the clubs met, challenged the talented Russian to dance and he obliged. Should have been the end of the story.
Sestito, the owner of 24 penalty minutes and two fights in eight previous games this season, thought he should tangle with Jets’ pugilist Chris Thorburn on the very next face-off, earning him another five. Then, in a moment of sheer stupidity later, he boarded defenceless Jets’ rearguard Tobias Enstrom from behind, getting him five for the hit and a 10 minute misconduct. Vicious stuff that later earned him a four-game suspension.
Sestito is a goon who really has no place in a NHL line-up. And here are 10 more dirty, marginally talented players who, while tough, have crossed the idiot line and should be playing beer league hockey, soon, too.
10. Tanner Glass – New York Rangers
Tanner Glass, looking at his college resume, would seem to be a pretty smart guy. The big left winger played Tier 2 Junior in B.C. to keep his NCAA eligibility and when he had his pick of schools, went to Ivy League Dartmouth. Too bad he’s kind of meathead on the ice. He’s been a scrapper his whole career since being selected 265th overall by Florida in 2003. So, far in his NHL career, he’s played 503 games, recorded 69 points and tallied 627 penalty minutes. Those PIMs pale to bygone days, but are still significant in the (somewhat) kinder, gentler NHL. Glass has been involved in 81 fights (pre and regular season) in his career, the latest during his recent call-up, a staged dust-up with Tampa tough guy Luke Witkowski. Fighting aside, we think Glass should also be deep-sixed from the NHL for being a dirty player. In a late 2014-15 game against Boston, Glass butt-ended (who does that anymore!?) the Bruins’ Adam McQuaid, earning him a $4,000 fine.
9. Ryan Garbutt – Anaheim Ducks
What is it about supposedly learned hockey players engaging in all kinds of idiocy on the ice? Edmonton’s Ryan Garbutt, who played four years of collegiate hockey at the Ivy League’s Brown University, has been suspended and fined numerous times at the NHL level. He earned his goon cred by compiling 303 penalty minutes playing with the Winnipeg South Blues of the Manitoba Junior League in 2004-05. In his pro career, which has spanned eight seasons and four leagues, he has played 305 NHL games, scoring 87 points and logging 283 penalty minutes. Garbutt hasn’t been as prolific a fighter as some (just 10 total), but he has been suspended for such dirty deeds as kneeing Edmonton’s Taylor Hall in November 2014 (two games) and slew-footing Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien in the same season (three games). His knucklehead rap sheet also includes a five-game suspension for charging Anaheim’s Dustin Penner in October 2013 (when Garbutt was with Dallas) and spearing fellow Duck Corey Perry later in 2013-14 (fine).
8. Zack Kassian – Edmonton Oilers
A look at the 2016-17 NHL season penalty minute leaders yields a few noticeable names, including that of Zack Kassian. The veteran of 297 games has 86 PIMs in 63 games this season, part of his total 507. Originally drafted in the first round by Buffalo in 2009 (13th overall), Kassian has used his mitts more for being a nitwit than for scoring goals (of which he has 44). Kassian probably has a coffee-stained mug shot in someone’s cubicle at the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, given his proclivity for doing dumb things on the ice. One of his worst offences, when he was with Vancouver, was a vicious high stick on Edmonton’s Sam Gagner in a 2013-14 pre-season match. It earned Kassian an eight game suspension. Later that season, he compounded his problems by boarding Brenden Dillon, getting another three-game ban. He’s made strides recently to turn his life around (he was suspended for violating substance abuse policy) but we think he’s a powder keg, ready to go off.
7. Radko Gudas – Philadelphia Flyers
In the half century and counting that the Flyers have been in the NHL, they have always been known to carry at least one noteworthy Neanderthal in their line-up. They aren’t called the Broad Street Bullies for nothing. The latest suspect player is Prague’s own Radko Gudas, a stout defenceman with a nasty streak and limited ability. In 257 games between Tampa Bay and Philly, Gudas has amassed 64 points and 405 penalty minutes, including 14 fighting majors. He was a nasty bit of work in three AHL seasons too (206 games), sitting in the sin bin for 567 minutes. But, it hasn’t been enough for Gudas to play hard and fight the odd time. The DoPS has levied a couple of suspensions his way, including a three-game ban in December 2015 for a head shot on Ottawa’s Mika Zibanejad. Earlier this season, Gudas added to his Meathead Hall of Fame credentials by blindsiding an unsuspecting Austin Czarnik of the Boston Bruins, earning another six-game suspension.
6. Mark Borowiecki – Ottawa Senators
Not a whole lot further proof is needed that Ottawa defenceman Mark Borowiecki should become a former NHLer than his stats line. A hometown boy, Borowiecki has played 204 games with the Senators, scored four goals and sat in the penalty box for 408 minutes. Of his league leading 126 penalty minutes this season, 55 of those minutes have been earned in 11 fights (he has 35 scraps, all-time). Like all players on this list, Borowiecki isn’t just a noble pugilist, standing up for his lesser muscled, but more talented teammates. No, he’s been suspended for dirty play, including a two-game ban for boarding Los Angeles Kings’ forward Tyler Toffoli in December. Borowiecki is so ingrained in the “code” that his nickname with the Senators is “BoroCop.”
5. Steve Ott – Montreal Canadiens
It’s not enough that Steve Ott is a noted pest and trash talker — who can play hockey — but that he is also a dirty player who has been nabbed by the long arm of NHL law more than once. In his lengthy NHL career (840 games and counting), Ott has scored 109 goals and 179 assists, but also visited the penalty box for 1,543 minutes. Early in his career with the Dallas Stars (2007-08), the abrasive native of Summerside, PEI, was given a three-games suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Colorado’s Jordan Leopold. The following season, he was banished for one game for eye-gouging Anaheim’s Travis Moen. He’s bounced from Dallas to Buffalo, St. Louis, Detroit and now Montreal and despite his caustic personality has kept his cool. But, a tiger can’t change its stripes. Earlier this season, when he was still with the Red Wings, Ott just couldn’t hold back, spearing Boston’s Zdeno Chara. He wasn’t suspended, but his wallet was $2,222.22 lighter for it.
4. Ryan Reaves – St. Louis Blues
Since turning pro in 2008 with the Alaska Aces of the East Coast Hockey League, Ryan Reaves has had 47 NHL fights and 48 minor league fights. At the NHL level Reaves has twice as many fights as he has goals (23, in 402 games) along with 671 PIMs. The solidly built native of Winnipeg has taken on all manner of goons in his career, all with the Blues, but he has forgotten the “code” from time to time and dished out dim-witted cheap shots that have got him hearings with the Department of Player Safety. Last season, for instance, Reaves got a maximum fine early in the season for throwing a vicious elbow at the Los Angeles Kings’ Anze Kopitar. Then, in a game against San Jose on Feb. 22, 2016, Reaves plowed the Sharks’ Matt Tennyson from behind, warranting a three-game suspension.
3. Cody McLeod – Nashville Predators
McLeod is pretty much the reigning heavyweight champion of the National Hockey League. He leads the loop in fighting majors this season with 15 tilts, factoring as a major part of his 97 penalty minutes between Colorado and Nashville. McLeod can score, as evidenced by his 69 goals in 676 games, but his total fights are nearly twice that at 136. McLeod also has 1,404 penalty minutes, putting him fifth among active players in all-time sin bin minutes and 173rd overall. McLeod, though, hasn’t been just a feared scrapper, he’s also skated on the edge and been suspended for ding-dong antics on the ice. During the 2013-14 season, McLeod viciously pasted Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall from behind, causing the Swede a concussion. Despite McLeod being a first time offender, it was bad enough that he had to sit out five games for it. That was his only detectable and punishable dirty hit, but there have been other suspect checks that have gained him a rep for being dirty.
2. Jared Boll – Anaheim Ducks
Charlotte, N.C. native Jared Boll is the definitive marginally talented big body player who has made a living in the NHL with his fists and gained a reputation as a dirty player. Ever since being drafted 101st overall by Columbus in 2005, Boll has racked up the fights (a whopping 168) and penalty minutes (1,275) in just 561 games. His point total reads 64, on 27 goals and 37 assists. The NHL’s current no. 2 in pugilism (14 fights this season), fought a grand total of 96 times in his first four seasons alone. Eventually, though, a guy with a nasty streak as bad as Boll’s will cross the line in other areas on the ice. During the 2014-15 season with Columbus, he walloped big dude Patrick Maroon of the Ducks with an illegal check, which carried a suspension of three games. Almost exactly a year later, Boll got himself a seat in the press box for four games for a hit on Philadelphia’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare that was deemed “both excessively late and incredibly forceful.”
1. Zac Rinaldo – Boston Bruins
It’s a good thing for all other NHLers not in a Boston uniform that Zac Rinaldo isn’t good enough to play with the B’s this year. Rinaldo, by far, is the dirtiest player to grace an NHL ice surface in the last six years. In his first season with Philadelphia, which drafted him 178th overall in 2008, Rinaldo sat out 232 penalty minutes in just 66 games, placing him second to Derek Dorsett, who had 235 PIM, in 11 more games. Career-wise, Rinaldo has all of nine goals and 18 assists in 275 games, but has sat in the sin bin for 655 minutes and been involved in 38 fights. If only he’d just punch it up, though, instead of running around like a total maniac. In fact, when he was with the Philadelphia Phantoms (he was a Flyers draft pick, after all) in 2010-11 he had more AHL suspensions (4) than goals (3) in 60 games. Once in the NHL he became the most censured player in the league with a rap sheet that includes: eight games for charging Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang in early 2015; and five games for an illegal hit to Tampa Bay’s Cedric Paquette in March, 2016 (his fourth since making his NHL debut in 2011).