They were pure gold to their teammates. They were pure hell to play against. They excelled at the game but played too close to the edge.
Brad Marchand keeps topping and re-topping his career highs. He’s enjoyed a banner season as the Boston Bruins’ first-line left winger, continuing the momentum he built with a tremendous performance at the World Cup with Team Canada. He’ll likely finish his season as a top-five scorer in the NHL. And yet, instead of discussing his offensive prowess, we’re again discussing his dirty play. Marchand just can’t stay away from that edge. In his seven seasons, he’s racked up suspensions and fines for elbowing, clipping, slew-footing and punching. Yes, punching. He’s earned supplemental discipline more than once for clipping and slew-footing, and he was fined earlier this season for a “dangerous trip” of Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall. Next up was a spear to the groin of Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin Tuesday.
Marchand is one of the game’s most prominent blends of scintillating talent and maddening refusal to obey the law. Others like him have made their mark over the years. Which guys blended dirty with legitimate skill better than anyone? This is the All-Dirty Team. No Ulf Samuelsson or Bryan Marchment on this list, by the way. We’re talking high-end talents who played rough, not just the dirtiest of the dirty.
There’s a reason Pronger works for the Department of Player Safety now. He provides the NHL with the dirty player’s perspective. He understood throughout his Hall of Fame career what it meant to skirt justice. He was an expert at it, though he sometimes got caught. Pronger, a Hart and Norris Trophy winner, earned a whopping eight suspensions, the most notorious of which was for this skate stomp of Ryan Kesler:
Shore appears on two shortlists for virtually any hockey historian: the greatest defensemen ever to play the sport and the nastiest human beings every to play the sport. Shore was a vicious customer. His worst on-ice crime, which came in 1933 and earned him a 16-game ban, was a check from behind to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Ace Bailey that fractured his skull and sent him into convulsions. Bailey’s father reportedly sought out Shore in a Boston bar that night, brandishing a gun. Shore later became one of the dirtiest owner/coach/GMs in hockey history, terrorizing his players on the Can-Am League’s Springfield Indians.
Honorable mentions: Chris Chelios, Scott Stevens
Clarke was a heart-and-soul player, an all-time great, a three-time league MVP and two-time Cup champ with the Broad Street Bullies-era Philadelphia Flyers. But the dirty reputation is just as synonymous with Clarke as the gap between his teeth was. Clarke was the star player who would infuriate players with his stick work and get protection from a team full of tough guys if anyone wanted to mess with him. When we spoke to the Bullies for an oral history a few years back, however, the players made it clear they never saw things that way. They loved their captain.
“I’ll tell you one thing that’s always pissed me off, and it’s when other players say, ‘I didn’t like Clarkie, he didn’t fight his own battles, he’d start the s— and then all of the Flyers’ tough guys would jump in there,” Bill Clement told me a couple years ago. “But here’s what you don’t know: Bobby Clarke never asked anybody to fight for him, and Bobby Clarke would’ve fought to the death if there was nobody else on that team that jumped in to defend him. He never asked them. The guys that jumped in to defend him did it with reverence and respect and dedication and loyalty for Bobby.”
Regardless, Clarke was as dirty can be. He even planned his infamous slash on the Soviets’ Valeri Kharlamov in the 1972 Summit Series, which broke Kharlamov’s ankle:
Lemieux was his generation’s Justin Williams, the guy who killed you in clutch games, known for an amazing 1994-95 playoff run that culminated in a Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils. All Lemieux did was win Cups – four of ’em. And all Lemieux did was cheap shot opponents and incite rage. The granddaddy of all Lemieux controversies was, of course, this hit from behind in the 1996 playoffs that destroyed Kris Draper’s face:
The hit inspired one of hockey’s most epic brawls when the Lemieux’s Colorado Avalanche and Draper’s Detroit Red Wings clashed a year later.
Marchand’s most common nickname is the ‘Nose Face Killah,” probably because ‘The Rat’ was taken. Ken Linseman, a Marchand clone, earned that nickname during his career. He was a dangerous scorer who loved to run his mouth and constantly caught opponents with dangerous hits and low-bridges. Sound familiar? Linseman was so dirty that he was actually convicted of assault in junior for kicking a player in the forehead with his skate.
Honorable mentions: Dale Hunter, Gordie Howe
No Ron Hextall? That’s right. Hextall was pretty up front about his play. He charged at guys and hit them and fought them. That isn’t necessarily dirty, though it at least warrants an honorable mention. The dirtier netminder was Smith, who backstopped the New York Islanders dynasty. If you skated too close to his crease, it was like getting caught in a Venus flytrap. The testy Smith would whack you in all the wrong places. Skip to the 2:30 mark of this clip and you’ll see Smith whack Lindy Ruff in the family jewels and butt-end him in the eye on the same shift:
Honorable mentions: Ron Hextall, Ray Emery