Updated May 28, 2023
Reviewed By @geauxirish

We Just Ranked The 10 Best Fighters in NHL History

For a lot of hockey fans, fighting is one of the most entertaining aspects of the game. A lot of “enforcers” over the years have become fan favorites because of their fighting skills alone.

For years, fighting was a big part of the game. In today’s league, it is a rare occasion to see two bruisers go toe-to-toe in a real hockey fight. Sure, there are still some big guys in the league who can throw down with anyone. However, there are very few true fighters like there have been in past years.

Don’t expect to see any current players on this list.

But that doesn't mean there haven't been some fierce fighters in NHL history. 

Let's breakdown the 10 best fighters in NHL history.

READ: These are the 10 Best Hockey Players Ever

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10. Terry O’Reilly

A Boston Bruins legend, Terry O’Reilly was one of the most famous enforcers in NHL history. After being drafted fourteenth overall in the 1971 draft, the enforcer didn’t take long to earn the nickname “Bloody O’Reilly” with five consecutive seasons where he amassed over 200 penalty minutes.

He’s fought several bouts against Dave Schultz and Tiger Williams, which proved he could go toe-to-toe with some of the toughest players in hockey history. One of his most memorable moments occurred at Madison Square Garden, where he climbed over the glass to confront a fan that struck a Rangers player and stole their stick. He was suspended for eight games for his infamous role in the melee. 

9. Tony Twist

Tony Twist never saw much ice time, playing just 445 games, but he still managed to put up six 10-fight seasons, including a career-high 15 fights during the ‘92-’93 season. He intimidated everyone in the league, including other enforcers that knew the damage he could do. Darren McCarty, a former Red Wings enforcer, has said he once had his coach save him before engaging in a fight with the devastating Twist. 

His NHL career ended when he broke his pelvis in a motorcycle accident. Twist threw down with some of the biggest fighters in NHL history on a regular basis, including a couple of names on this list.

8. Stu Grimson

Stu Grimson was an intimidating 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds and was perhaps the most feared guy of the 1990s. By the time he officially retired in 2003, the “Grim Reaper” had amassed more than 2,000 career penalty minutes.

Grimson had a career-long rivalry with Bob Probert and the two squared off a dozen times, although Probert got the best of him more times. Grimson could take a punch better than any other fighter, which helped him take down a lot of other fighters. However, a concussion suffered during a fight with Georges Laraque in 2001 ended his career.

7. Rob Ray

Rob Ray created the fighting technique where players would remove their jersey and shoulder pads to prevent their opponents from grabbing onto them, which was later banned. Ray finished his career with 241 fights and led the league in penalty minutes during two seasons. He served at least 150 penalty minutes in every season but his last. Ray fought with another elite fighter on this list, Tie Domi, 13 times. Those were regarded as some of the best brawls in NHL history.

Like O’Reilly, Ray also has a fan fight under his belt. In ‘92, he beat down a fan that ran onto the ice and approached their bench.

6. Chris Nilan

Chris “Knuckles” Nilan saw more fights than almost any other fighter in NHL history. Nilan averaged more penalty minutes per game than any other player in league history and also holds the record for most penalty minutes in a single game (42). Nilan is also just one of only nine players to pass the 3,000 penalty minute mark in their career. This mark is even more impressive when you consider he missed over 200 games over the final five years of his career.

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5. Joey Kocur

Joey Kocur fought 217 times during his NHL career. That's a lot. Kocur started his career by earning the most penalty minutes in the NHL during his rookie season. During the ‘85-’86 season, Kocur amassed 377 penalty minutes, the eighth-highest total in NHL history. He managed to do that in just 59 games. Impressive.

The forward joined fellow Red Wing enforcer Bob Probert to form the aptly named “Bruise Brothers.” He earned the nickname as his infamous right hook was so strong it once broke an opponent's helmet.

4. Tie Domi

Tie Domi may not have been the biggest guy on the ice at just 5-foot-8, but he made up for it by being the toughest. He made a name for himself when he knocked a player out with a so-called sucker punch in 1995, earning him an eight-game suspension. Domi retired with the third-most penalty minutes of all-time. He finished his career with a whopping 274 fights. Domi also had some of the most epic battles in NHL history with Bob Probert. He was infamous for his post-fight celebration against Probert, where he mimicked putting on a boxing title belt.

Domi was also involved in a fan altercation when an opposing fan climbed into the penalty box. Domi repeatedly hit the fan until they were pulled apart. He was fined but not suspended.

3. Dave “Tiger” Williams

Dave “Tiger” Williams is the career penalty minute leader with 3,971, more than 400 more minutes than the next highest player. In today’s NHL, this record will likely never be broken. He is set apart from the other players on this list by his ability to score. The 1980-81 season was likely his most impressive, leading the Canucks’ with 35 goals while also serving 343 penalty minutes.

After being drafted 31st overall in 1974, Williams finished his career with 246 total fights. He led the NHL in penalty minutes three times during his career.

2. Dave Schultz

Dave “The Hammer” Schultz holds the all-time record for penalty minutes in a season with 472, which he earned during the 1974-75 season, a year in which he also won the Stanley Cup with the Philadelphia Flyers. Schultz was a founding member of the Broad Street Bullies. He led the NHL in penalty minutes four times, and also had seven 10-fight seasons and two 20-fight seasons. Only four times in NHL history has a player accumulated over 400 penalty minutes in a single season. Schultz did it twice. 

Schultz began using boxing wraps to protect his hands and wrists during fights, something other enforcers copied. The trend was short-lived, as the NHL banned them under the “Schultz Rule”.

1.   Bob Probert

Bob Probert racked up 3,300 penalty minutes in his career and it took him just 935 games. For comparison, the players ahead of him totaled 3,381 PIM in 961 games, 3,515 PIM in 1020 games, 3,565 PIM in 1,407 games and then “Tiger” Williams who blew everyone else away with 3,971 PIM in just 962 games.

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Probert threw down with some of the league’s best all-time fighters and he got the best of them all. One of his more memorable fights came towards the end of his career when the Av’s Scott Parker tried to make a name for himself by initiating a fight with Probert. Parker was knocked out in under 11 seconds. No other fighter has Probert's track record, making him our choice to top the list.

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