The dishes were cleared. The leftovers were in the fridge, and the relatives had all gone home. A raw and rainy Southern California Thanksgiving had finally come to an end, and for the first time all day, I was alone. I kicked off the shoes, mixed a Crown and Coke, and headed upstairs to a spare bedroom my wife and daughter have coined the “Calabasas Man Cave”. I instinctively began searching sports-related movies on Netflix, and discovered “Ice Guardians”, a 2016 documentary which promised “to explore the controversial role of ice hockey ‘enforcers,’ as well as the physical and mental price paid by the game’s notorious tough guys.”
That got me thinking of some of the best “goons” and “enforcers” in Kings history. Although many fans use these terms interchangeably, I see goons and enforcers as having different roles. Dictionary.com defines “goon” as “a hired hoodlum or thug.” In hockey terms the goon’s role is entirely related to the [clear throat] “physical game.” From the moment a goon hops over the boards, his presence on the ice is intended to intimidate the opponent into abandoning its own physical style of play, regardless of whether the opponent has actually done anything wrong to the goon’s teammate. Moreover, a goon’s role is not limited to handing out “street justice” to a perceived offender. A goon may also instigate rough play against an opponent who dares to commit the felonious offense of having a good game. However, under the game’s Unwritten Code, a goon would never go after an opponent’s best player, because the opposing team has a goon too, and we’ve all seen enough hockey to know what would come next.
In contrast, an “enforcer” possesses hockey skills beyond just dropping the gloves. Typically not a strong skater, an enforcer contributes to the team in other ways, often doing grinder work in the corners. Moreover, unlike a goon, an enforcer’s primary role is to act as a “bodyguard” for his team’s top players, shielding them from physical play so as to allow them to wander open ice with the intent to create scoring opportunities. Dictionary.com defines “enforcer” as “a physically intimidating or willingly belligerent player who is counted on to retaliate when rough tactics are used by the opposing team.”
In forming my list of top Kings tough guys I set two ground rules concerning eligibility (my list, my rules). The first rule is that a player must have played 120 games with the Kings. I picked this number because it represents an approximate sample size of a season and a half with the team. I call this the “Dave Schultz” rule, named after NHL single season penalty minutes leader Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, who in 1974-75 racked up 472 penalty minutes in 76 games with the Flyers. Unfortunately, Schultz played only one full season with the Kings (setting a then-franchise single-season record of 232 penalty minutes) before being traded eight games into the in 1976-77 season. Thus neither Schultz, nor other notable policemen such as Ken “The Bomber” Baumgartner who played 91 games with the team. or Stu “The Grim Reaper” Grimson, who played only 72 games, were eligible to take home honors.
The second rule applies to two Kings whose sweaters hang on the Staples Center wall, Dave Taylor and Rob Blake. While, as the marketing slogan goes “We are all Kings”, Taylor and Blake are clearly two of the greatest in club history to ever lace them up (duh, their numbers are retired). However, their penalty minute numbers are primarily related to their longevity with the team. Thus although Taylor ranks second all-time in franchise penalty minutes behind only Marty McSorely, that ranking cannot be separated from the fact that Taylor also ranks second behind Dustin Brown in all-time games played. For example, Taylor played 507 more games with the Kings than Jay Wells, who is right behind Taylor at number three on the franchise all-time penalty minutes list, played. Yet Taylor has only 143 more penalty minutes than Wells. Moreover, no long-times Kings fan would ever accuse (or some would say “honor”) #18 with the moniker of “goon” or ”enforcer”, as Taylor’s primary role was that of a goal scorer, where he ranks third on the team’s all-time register behind only Luc Robataille and Marcel Dionne. Similarly, while playing with the Kings, Rob Blake never accumulated more than 152 penalty minutes in a single season. Yet he ranks fourth all-time in penalty minutes, behind McSorely, Taylor, and Wells. With those rules in mind, I present my list of “Royal Goons and Regal Enforcers”.
5. Warren Rychal
Rychal played two full seasons with the team. He holds positions five and seven on the team’s single season penalty minute list. Consider that as a player on the 1992-93 conference championship team he accumulated a whopping 314 penalty minutes in 70 games for an average of just under four and a half minutes a game. The following year he played 80 games, spending 322 minutes in the box, for an average of just over four minutes a game. The first line of Rychal’s Wikipedia entry reads “Rychel was primarily an enforcer, and thus drew 1,422 career penalty minutes and did not score many goals. He only scored 38 goals and 77 points in his NHL career.”
4. Jay Miller
The only American among the list, the Boston-area native played a total of 230 games for the Kings over three and a half seasons, serving an average of 3.76 minutes per game in the sin bin. Miller was obtained from the Bruins in January 1989, for the sole purpose of helping Marty McSorely protect Wayne Gretzky, a role Miller embraced, accumulating 133 penalty minutes in 29 games that season, for an average of over four and a half penalty minutes a game. Wikipedia specifically notes Miller played “the role of enforcer on a team that included Wayne Gretzky”, which when you think about it is not a bad epitaph for a nine-year NHL player who finished his career with 84 points (not goals, points).
3. Jay Wells
Wells is third on the Kings’ all-time career penalty minutes leader board, behind only Marty McSorely and Dave Taylor (see my introductory “rules of the game” for why Taylor is not on the list). The team’s first round draft pick (16th overall) in 1979, Wells logged 43 games with the big club that year, scoring zero goals, zero assists, and zero points. He also had 113 penalty minutes and a plus/minus rating of -22.
Wells’ career exemplifies how hockey has changed from that era. Playing 604 games with the team from 1979 through 1988, Wells scored a total of 34 goals, although ironically, he scored the first of five Kings third period goals in the 1982 “Miracle on Manchester”. Can anyone imagine a GM today spending a first-rounder (and #16 at that) on a defensemen (or “defencemen” for our Canadian readers) whom you knew would spend nine years with your team, scoring more than seven goals only once (11 in 1985-86 with 226 penalty minutes), while accumulating a plus/minus ratings of -22 (twice) as well as a -19. I did not think so.
2. Dave “Tiger” Williams
The Leafs second-round pick in 1974 (31st overall, making him the equivalent of a “first-rounder” talent-wise in today’s 32-team league), Williams was also the third overall selection in that year’s WHA draft. Always “Tiger” or “Dave Tiger Williams” and never just “Dave Williams”, Tiger is the NHL’s all-time career leader in penalty minutes, posting 3971 minutes in 962 games. He played a total of 162 games over four seasons with the Kings between 1984-1985 and 1987-1988.
However, because he joined the Kings late in the 1984-85 season (playing 12 games after being acquired) and was traded to Hartford a mere two games into the 1987-1988 season, the focus must be on the two full seasons Williams spent in Los Angeles during which time he twice broke the team’s single season records for penalty minutes in a season (now held by Marty McSorely).
During the 1985-1986 campaign, Tiger had 320 penalty minutes in 72 games (plus 20 goals) besting Dave Schultz’ previous franchise mark by 98 minutes despite Williams playing four less games than Schultz did when he set the prior mark in 1976-77. Not resting on his laurels (but possibly while in the penalty box) Williams came back the following year to beat his own team record, gathering 358 penalty minutes in 72 games, which averages to 4.97 minutes (essentially a major penalty) per game.
1. Marty McSorely
McSorely holds the one, two, four, and nine spots on the franchise’s single-season penalty minute list. Needless to say he is the Kings all-time career leader in penalty minutes. McSorely was known as “Wayne Gretzky’s bodyguard” because his role with both Edmonton and Los Angeles was simply to protect the Great One. According to Wikipedia, #99 would not approve the Trade unless the Oilers agreed to send McSorely with him to Los Angeles.
During the 1992-93 season McSorely racked up a franchise record 399 penalty minutes, for a whopping average of 4.93 minutes per game. Ironically, he scored a career-best 15 goals that season, but — and you knew this was coming — I suspect some of those goals might have been scored using an illegally-curved stick (what can I say, it still hurts). Fun fact: Just before the start of the 1993-1994 season, McSorely was traded to Pittsburgh for Shawn McEachern. Mid-way through that same season, he was traded by the Penguins back to the Kings for. . . wait for it. . . Shawn McEachern. (Okay, other players were involved, but roll with it.)
So that’s my list. Agree? Disagree? Is there anybody you think should have made the list but did not? Ian Laperrriere? Sean Avery? Jerry “King Kong” Korab? Make your case in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter @MarkDevoreNHL.