For better or worse, hitting is a part of hockey. Even as we learn more about the dangers and effects of concussions, it would be wrong to remove that element from the sport altogether. Maybe it’s twisted to celebrate hard hits in medleys and highlight reels, but they play a legitimate role in how the game is played.
Every now and then, a fearsome hitter can change the very flow of a contest. The advantages are most obvious for defensemen whose fearsome checks render courageous forwards into wallflowers. The benefits don’t stop at the defensive end, though; a big hitter can turn a mundane forecheck into a turnover waiting to happen and that extra level of intimidation can open up room for more finesse-driven linemates.
Much like a bruising NFL running back, big-hitters sometimes take almost as much abuse as they give. That’s one of the most interesting things about NHL.com’s list of the 10 biggest hitters. Eric Lindros, Cam Neely and Scott Stevens (the top guy on the list) probably shortened the careers of other players with their willingness to use their big bodies, but injuries forced them into retirement as well. Stevens is the only one of those three who could probably say that his career didn’t end with many “What if” scenarios because of those injuries, but there might be days when he rues that rugged style.
Other older/retired players included on the list were Lindros nemesis Darius Kasparaitis, New York Islanders great Denis Potvin and and hip-check machine Leo Boivin.
The most interesting part of the list might be the modern members, though. Here are the active NHLers who made the list, with their ranking and a comment and/or video.
9. Cal Clutterbuck
As John Kreiser points out, Clutterbuck set an NHL record for hits in a season with 356 in 2008-09. Maybe he’s more about quantity than delivering astounding checks, although he has his fair share of hard ones as well.
7. Zdeno Chara
Of course, many will think of the infamous check on Max Pacioretty, but Chara is feared for a reason: his size. He doesn’t have a reputation for taking liberties with opponents, for the most part, though. His inclusion on this list is fine, but I couldn’t help but ask: where’s Chris Pronger? Pronger isn’t much smaller than Chara and he makes up for that size difference by showing no mercy to opponents.
6. Alex Ovechkin
Ovechkin is most known for his free-wheeling attitude and high-scoring ways, but he’s the human embodiment of what a perfect video game athlete would be because he also throws his body around with reckless abandon. One cannot help but wonder if this style will come back to haunt him when he gets older like it did for Neely and Lindros, but his willingness to get physical is part of what makes him so beloved among hockey fans. (Except if he’s delivering a hit – sometimes a controversial one – on one of your favorite players.)
2. Dion Phaneuf
At some point, it seemed like Phaneuf would be the next Scott Stevens or Chris Pronger. Right now, that seems to be true more in his salary than his on-ice results, as he’s been exposed with tougher defensive assignments. Word out of Toronto is that he’s getting it back together, though, which might mean that the fake verb “Phaneuf’d” won’t be used sarcastically much longer.
Even if his stature in the league suffered, Phaneuf makes vulnerable forwards suffer from some savage hits. I’ll always think of his brutal hit on Kyle Okposo in the 2009 preseason, but NHL.com provides another example.
Holy Mackinaw indeed.
So what do you think of the list? Is Stevens the biggest hitter ever? Should Phaneuf be ranked so high? Are there any fearsome hitters who should have made the top 10? Let us know in the comments.