Top 10 Dirtiest NHL Players

All NHL players have one thing in common; toughness. Competing in a sport where danger awaits every corner in a matter of seconds isn’t for the weak in heart. The NHL’s speed keeps the players on full alert because the slightest ignorance leads to a painful lesson.

There’s no denying that a full season with or without the playoffs puts the body through enormous tests.  During that time, each individual will likely run into a player who can put them on the injured reserve well before the final weeks of the year with their tactics.


A hit from behind here, a high stick there is just the start. This batch of dirty players doesn’t seem content on competing in a safe method to avoid controversy. No, they prefer to initiate it.

If you feel that I may be judging an individual too harshly or disagree with me that’s fine. I will provide references, similar to the ones found on a resume, who may vouch for me choosing each.

These are the guys that make hockey that much rougher to play. Don’t bank on a Lady Byng Trophy in any of their careers.

10) Chris Neil (Ottawa Senators)

Before I get into Neil’s case, I should point out that he can be a tremendous hitter and sticks up for himself against the big boys. That being said, his checks have been aimed a little high for a lot of people’s liking. Overall, he’s a superb enforcer and energy player but he certainly isn’t squeaky clean.

References: Kris Letang (sucker punch), Andy McDonald (elbow), Jeremy Reich (high hit).

9) Denis Gauthier (Los Angeles Kings)

Gauthier plays an intimidating brand of hockey with his open-ice hits. Always physical, he’s gone head hunting previously and leaves his feet when zeroing in on an opponent sometimes. He remains an unrestricted free agent for the time being so NHL forwards may not have to worry about him any longer.

References: Patrick Marleau (head shot), Patrick Kaleta (sucker punch).

Keep your head up. (Photo courtesy of Gosh@/ Flikr.)

Keep your head up. (Photo courtesy of Gosh@/ Flikr.)

8 ) Jordin Tootoo (Nashville Predators)

Jeremy Roenick was recently asked which player he would want most to punch off of the ice. A lot of names were there for him to choose over his 18-year career yet he selected Jordin Tootoo who is dangerous for a number of reasons. He often hits late, comes in with tons of speed and jumps like there’s no tomorrow. That’s a troika which makes concussions inevitable if he lands it.

References: Stephane Robidas (sucker punch), Jan Hejda (late hit), Daniel Winnik (elbow).

7) Matt Cooke (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Summing up Cooke perfectly are the following three words: hit and run. His preferred M.O. is taking a stab at someone and then fleeing the scene before they can get their hands on him. Also, he cherishes the sight of officials stepping in between the two. While Cooke isn’t the most threatening guy to look out for, his cowards way out routine gets annoying.

References: Chris Osgood (kick).

6) Ryan Hollweg (Phoenix Coyotes)

Nobody crafts out hits from behind as well as Hollweg. He doesn’t hide from tilts to his credit however, that has led to a couple of beat-downs from established fighters no doubt pleasing audiences. The terrible penalties he takes can turn the tide easily against his team. Unsurprisingly, he currently sits on waivers after a tryout in Phoenix.

References: Sergei Kostitsyn (boarding).

5) Jarkko Ruutu (Ottawa Senators)

Constantly getting right into his opponents faces, the Finn easily gets under your skin. Ruutu will bring some offense and pot a few shootout goals but agitating is his calling card. The penalties he takes are unnecessary at times as are the theatrics. On a better note, he has provided great laughs too.

References: Andrew Peters (bite), Alex Kovalev (dive).

4) Steve Ott (Dallas Stars)

Ott has seen his share of injuries in the NHL due to his rambunctious style of play. It doesn’t appear to have sparked any changes because he’s still doing what brought him to the dance. A hard worker, he pocketed 19 goals and 27 assists last season becoming an elite rebel. Ott has gone overboard before so he must draw the line somewhere.

References: Travis Moen (eye gouge), Jordan Leopold (head shot), Dany Heatley (late hit).

3) Sean Avery (New York Rangers)

Verbally, Avery has done the most damage in the league. Instead of high hits or boarding, the pest prefers waving a stick in front of a goalie or simply slashing him in the back of the head as he skates by. The Ontario native believes the NHL needs to market their villains. Well, Avery has seen plenty of the spot light courtesy of his mouth.

References: Brendan Witt (spear), Simeon Varlamov (sucker punch).

2) Steve Downie (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Just 61 games into his NHL career, Downie has already received a 20-game suspension in both the NHL and AHL. He’s got offensive upside, yet seems to ignore it losing his temper easily for whatever reason. Perhaps a taste of his own medicine will have him focusing preferably on his potential and not frustration.

References: Dean McAmmond (head shot),  AHL Referee (slashing).

Should I take these guys to the finals? (Photo courtesy of David M/ Flikr.)

Should I take these guys to the finals? (Photo courtesy of David M/ Flikr.)

1) Chris Pronger (Philadelphia Flyers)

As dirty as he can be, Pronger is such a stimulus that NHL experts are branding the Flyers as 2010 Stanley Cup Champions. The last two teams he joined (Edmonton and Anaheim) were finalists in his first take-ins. With his size and strength, the former Norris Trophy winner can basically do what he wants, when he wants. Would you really try putting a 6-foot-6 colossal as unpleasant as Pronger in his place?

References: Tomas Holmstrom (elbow), Dean McAmmond (elbow).

* for more on hockey hits and after the clean hit fights.

Rafal Ladysz

Rafal Ladysz

Rafal Ladysz

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8 Comments

  1. this is all wrong. players like sean avery shouldn’t be on this. i’m tired of hearing he’s a dirty player. to me, a dirty player isn’t a player who gets called for lots of penalties. that’s part of the game (this applies to pronger as well, to an extent). a dirty player is a player who crosses the line in a huge way. obviously slashing someone is crossing the line, but you won’t get suspended for it. things like hitting players from behind, head shots, picking fights with skill players, biting, playing physically with the intention to injure, that’s dirty. IMO jarkko ruutu should be #1

  2. Brink McBrair says:

    Dion Phaneuf gets away with leaving his feet on hits and elbowing heads all the time. He’s one dirty fool.

    • The whole ‘Leaving His Feet’ argument doesn’t make sense to me. The problem is that refs never enforce a simple charging penalty anymore. If I’m 6 inches from a guy, standing still and decide to jump – I’m hardly going to be doing any damage yet if I’m flying at top speed, racing across the ice and cream a guy without leaving my feet, I could kill him (and when you hit a guy very hard your feet will almost always come off the ice). A charging penalty is a charging penalty and a head shot of any kind is an attempt to injure and should be at minimum a major penalty. Where’s my rule book – ?? Pronger/Phaneuf or Gordie Howe/Eddie Shore there’s always going to be ‘dirty’ players, makes the game interesting. It’s the high speed charging and head shots that are a real danger (life long danger – not just a hockey incident).

  3. Chris Shafer says:

    Aww, and here I was hoping for the Pronger, Hartnell, Carcillo 1-2-3 punch.

    Pronger is up there as one of the dirtiest players in the NHL, but dirty players have a tendency to get overrated as such. There are certainly other names that are dirty but would never make this list.

    It’s all a matter of taste. Do you consider the guy who you know is going to come flying at you with a brutal check more dirty than the guy who will wait for a scrum to build, run around behind everyone, and start throwing punches when no one’s looking?

    For my team I’ll take the first. You don’t want to be known as having the greatest flying elbows, but it’s better than being a cheap rat.

  4. Marilyn Sarvis says:

    Neil’s hit on Drury should be another mention.. also the fact that he has said a few times that he hits people to hurt them.

    There should be some sort of ‘dishonorable mention’ where you add in Maxim Lapierre, that guy plays pretty dirty sometimes.

  5. How did you find the only existing photograph in the world in which Chris Pronger’s elbows are below his ears?

  6. top line center says:

    How is Ovechkin not on the list.He fits the criteria.Late hits,knee on knee,leaving his feet.It will catch up to him sooner or later.

  7. Why aren’t Dion Phaneuf and Nik Kronwall on this list? If leaving your feet for a hit qualifies, these should be the top 2

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