The lives of NHL enforcers
A closer look at some of the men who play or have played one of sports' most unique and dangerous roles: NHL enforcer. Reporting by Arthur Staple
NHL seasons: 7 | Teams: Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Capitals, Nordiques
Summary: Kordic (above, left) won a Stanley Cup with the Canadiens as a rookie in 1986 and piled up 997 penalty minutes in 247 games, died in 1992 after a drug overdose and a struggle with police. He was 7.
NHL seasons: 15 | Teams: Red Wings, Blackhawks
Summary: Probert was the league's heavyweight champion during the late 1980s and 1990s. He amassed 3,300 penalty minutes in a 15-year career that included a suspension that followed an arrest and conviction for cocaine possession in 1989. He died in July 2010 at age 45. Researchers at Boston University discovered Probert’s brain had evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which has been found in the brains of several deceased football and hockey players.
NHL seasons: 6 | Teams: Ducks, Blue Jackets, Lightning, Islanders
Quotable: “Mentally, it is a grind. We chose this profession, so we know the risks and the rewards. But it’s like any other job with its stressful times. You’re going out every night knowing you have to be ready to fight. It can weigh on you.”
NHL seasons: 3 | Teams: Ducks, Islanders
Quotable: Zenon Konopka, on Gillies' role with the Islanders: “People look at him and they see him fight or do what he does and they make assumptions. This is a real human being, with real worries about his job and a wife and two kids. He’s doing what he does to keep his job, and people are saying he has no business being in the league. Like me, like Derek [Boogaard], he fought every night in the East Coast league for $386 a week after taxes. We’ve worked hard to get where we are and people want to dismiss us as goons or thugs. It can be really, really tough.”
NHL seasons: 10 | Teams: Capitals, Whalers, Rangers, Maple Leafs
Quotable: “When I came up (with the Capitals in 1989), you could look down a roster and see four or five guys who you could say fill that enforcer role. Prior to that, in the 1970s and early 1980s, maybe half a roster would do that. Now, you’ve got one, maybe two guys. Or some teams have none. Teams like the Leafs and the Rangers still put a priority on having an enforcer, but some have abandoned it."
NHL seasons: 5 | Team: Rangers
Quotable: “By the time you establish yourself as a fighter and a guy who can be trusted by his teammates, you’re making maybe $800,000. That’s great, great money, even though it’s not a lot compared to some other guys. But the difference for us is that if you lose a fight or you can’t fight one night, there’s a guy who’s making $70,000 in the minors ready to take your place.”
ERIC CAIRNS, Defense
Islanders (1998-2004): 327 games, 9 G, 27 A, 36 PTS Rangers (1996-1998): 79 games, 0 G, 4 A, 4 PTS