The NHL “enforcer” is a position of considerable controversy. His job is to make sure the opposition doesn’t get away with any violent or dirty play during a game. He’s out there to be physically imposing or to defensively stop the other team from overstepping their boundaries.
The most notable thing about NHL enforcers is their tendency to get into fights for the sake of their team. In some cases, tough guys from both sides of the ice will agree to square off with each other, other times fighting erupts as a reaction to a dirty hit or a scuffle involving a smaller team mate. Either way, hockey fights have the potential to swing the momentum of a game in the blink of an eye.
While the enforcer has been heralded in the past by teams like the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers of the 1970s, the position has been frowned upon in recent years. This is primarily because some enforcers are there just to be overtly physical without contributing to their team in other aspects of the game. Also, concerns about the health of these players have risen following the deaths of Wade Belak and Derek Boogaard. The head trauma that these players endure is thought to raise their chances of developing degenerative diseases like chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.
Still, NHL teams are willing to pay handsome amounts of money to their enforcers. This is especially the case for clubs that have high-level players who need to be protected as much as possible. It can take just one hit for a franchise player like Steve Stamkos or Sidney Crosby to go down with a serious injury, so many teams that have top-tier players are willing to pay top dollar to ensure their safety.
If there’s one interesting point about this list it’s that many of these enforcers are earning bigger salaries than they have in the past. Even with all the controversy surrounding the enforcer and whether it is a position the NHL really needs, teams are investing their money in these players in order to keep their teams well-protected.
This list contains ten of the most valued enforcers in the NHL at the start of the 2013-14 season. These tough guys don’t make as much as many of the biggest stars in the league, but their unique talents still earn them a decent paycheck.
Note: All statistics listed here are as of November 7, 2013.
10. Steve MacIntyre – Edminton Oilers – $625,000 This Year
Steve MacIntyre has been noted for being one of the most prominent fighters in the game. At 6’5″ and weighing in at a healthy 250 pounds, he has played in only 91 NHL games since 2008 but has amassed 175 penalty minutes. A player who has spent a good deal of time in the AHL over the past few years, “Big Mac” gets called up when the Oilers need to beef up their fourth line. Last season, he had 70 penalty minutes in 29 games with the Wilkes-Barre Penguins. He also had more than 200 penalty minutes for two consecutive years with the Charlotte Checkers and got into seventeen fights in the 2005-06 season. His current salary is about $100,000 higher than what he was making three years ago.
9. Zac Rinaldo – Philadelphia Flyers – $750,000 This Year
Zac Rinaldo got a raise of about $200,000 thanks to a new two-year deal that he signed with the Flyers this offseason. Although Rinaldo has only been in the league since 2011, he has played in 112 games for the Flyers and has 351 penalty minutes alongside five goals. His most active period as a fighter came in the 2010-11 season when he played for the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms. He got into 28 fights that year and tallied 331 penalty minutes over the course of sixty games.
8. Krys Barch – Florida Panthers – $750,000 This Year
Krys Barch only played in half of the Dallas Stars’ games in the 2010-11 season but he still managed to get into twelve fights that year. He got twelve more the next year between Dallas and Florida. He is currently earning close to $90,000 less per year than he did in 2010, likely due to salary reductions that took place after the 2012 lockout. Barch has played in 331 games since 2006 and has 725 penalty minutes. In addition, he had 154 penalty minutes in 55 games in the 2004-05 season with the ECHL’s Greenville Grrrowl.
7. Colton Orr – Toronto Maple Leafs – $925,000 This Year
Colton Orr does not earn as much as he did in his last contract with the Leafs, but he is still a key member of the team. Orr used to make $1 million a year but is earning $75,000 less as part of his new two-year contract with the team. Orr got in thirteen fights during a shortened 2013 campaign and led the NHL in penalty minutes with 155. Overall, Orr has played in 437 games that were split mostly between the Leafs and New York Rangers and has twelve goals and 1,127 penalty minutes.
6. Zenon Konopka – Minnesota Wild – $925,000 This Year
Zenon Konopka is no stranger to fighting as he dropped his gloves 25 times in the 2010-11 season while playing with the New York Islanders. In 303 career games he has twelve goals and 1,026 penalty minutes and he led the NHL in penalty minutes in 2010 and 2011. He had 307 penalty minutes during his one season with the Islanders. Konopka has been extremely valuable as a physical force and he is earning more than he did in the past. While he only made $600,000 playing for the Islanders, he got a substantial raise when he joined the the Wild in 2012.
5. George Parros – Montreal Canadiens – $937,500 This Year
While George Parros did suffer a scary injury after a fight at the start of this season, he is back to his old ways as the Habs’ most fearsome forward. Parros had been in 27 fights in the 2010-11 season and in eleven a year after that. He has 18 goals and 1,039 penalty minutes in 456 games, the majority of which were with the Anaheim Ducks. The mustachioed brawler is currently making $62,500 more than he did with The Ducks.
4. Jared Boll – Columbus Blue Jackets – $1.05 Million This Year
Although Jared Boll only played in 54 games during the 2011-12 season as a Columbus Blue Jacket, he still engaged in eighteen fights. He was in 23 fights the season before that. Boll has played in 400 games in his NHL career with Columbus and has a total of 24 goals and 989 penalty minutes. Despite his roll as enforcer, Boll wears the ‘A’ on his jersey as the team’s alternate captain. Boll’s salary is expected to increase in the near future as he signed a three-year extension that will come into effect next year. This extension will bring him up to $1.7 million a year.
3. Shawn Thornton – Boston Bruins – $1.1 Million This Year
Shawn Thornton has been one of the more reliable enforcers in the NHL since entering the league a decade ago. In 509 career games, he has 851 penalty minutes and 34 goals. Thornton was in twenty fights in the 2011-12 season and twenty-one just two years earlier. Thornton’s salary has been consistently growing from the $812,500 he made in 2010 and the modest $516,667 he earned in 2007.
2. Mike Rupp – Minnesota Wild – $1.5 Million This Year
Mike Rupp is Zenon Konopka’s teammate with the Minnesota Wild and he is just as tough. Rupp saw thirteen fights in the 2011-12 season and twelve more in each of the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. He has 832 penalty minutes in 597 games. His current salary is close to twice as much as he made in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rupp was only getting $825,000 a year during the time he spent on the East coast.
1. Chris Neil – Ottawa Senators – $2 Million This Year
Chris Neil’s responsibilities have shifted considerably since he was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 1998. He spent his first years with the club building his reputation as a fierce combatant, amassing a career-high 231 penalty minutes in his first full season. Neil’s role expanded in 2005-06 as he was given power play time and more offensive responsibilities. Neil has had opportunities to sign with different clubs but he opted to sacrifice a pay raise to stay in Ottawa where he currently wears the ‘A’ alongside defenseman Chris Phillips. His latest contract sees him earning almost $6 million over the next three years.
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