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Sportsmanship is Not a Dirty Word
The NHL's cleanest players

Copyright Iain Fyffe, 2003
Published September 8, 2003

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The history of the NHL’s dirtiest players is well-documented. Annual lists of penalty “leaders” are easy to come by, showing us who broke the rules most often. There generally are no lists of players with the fewest penalties (who are the real leaders). No attention is paid to the players who played by the rules.

It’s time to remedy that. There are, of course, many players with no career penalties who played only a few games. To eliminate this sample size problem, we’ll restrict our list to only those players who played five or more full NHL seasons (through the 1999/2000 season). Another reason for low penalty totals could be small amounts of playing time. To account for this, we will compare each player’s scoring totals to his penalty minutes, giving us a list of skilled players who rarely broke the rules.

Note there no era adjustment is made here. That is, players who played in high-penalty or low-scoring eras will find themselves disadvantaged here. But that will mostly be a matter of degree; no dirty player is going to sneak onto the list because of this. Ranking players by career points per penalty minutes gives us the following:

Player

Years

GP

Pts

PIM

Pts/PIM

Clint Smith

36-47

483

397

24

16.54

Buddy O’Connor

41-51

509

397

34

11.68

Val Fonteyne

59-72

820

229

26

8.81

Butch Goring

69-85

1107

888

102

8.71

Dave Keon

60-82

1296

986

117

8.43

Syl Apps (Sr)

36-48

423

432

56

7.71

Bobby Bauer

36-52

327

260

36

7.22

Rick Kehoe

71-85

906

767

120

6.39

Rick Middleton

74-88

1005

988

157

6.29

Camille Henry

53-70

727

528

88

6.00

Kent Nilsson

79-95

553

686

116

5.91

Mats Naslund

82-95

6561

634

111

5.71

Mike Bossy

77-87

752

1126

210

5.36

Gord Drillon

36-43

311

294

56

5.25

Russ Blinco

33-39

268

125

24

5.21

Phil Goyette

56-72

941

674

131

5.15

Wayne Gretzky

79-99

1487

2857

577

4.95

Doc Romnes

30-40

360

204

42

4.86

Guy Chouinard

74-84

578

575

120

4.79

Roy Conacher

38-52

490

426

90

4.73

These are all forwards, of course, as forwards score more points and take fewer penalties than defencemen. And contrary to what some may have thought, this list is not dominated by Europeans. Among the top 20 above, there are only two, at 11th and 12th. There are plenty of “soft” North Americans; i.e., players who didn’t break the rules.

Also note that while Gretzky is often cited as a very clean player, he shows up here only at #17, despite his scoring totals. His average per 80 games was 31 penalty minutes. Compare that to Goring’s seven or Middleton’s 11. Gretzky’s presence on this list has far more to do with his scoring than his clean play.

And now a bit more on the leaders for those who may not know about these underappreciated players.

Clint “Snuffy” Smith played his 11-year NHL career with the Rangers and Blackhawks. He led the league in assists in 1943/44 and was a two-time Lady Byng trophy winner (surprise). He had three full seasons (1937/38, 1940/41 and 1944/45) in which he took no penalties at all. He took three minors in 1946/47, two each in 1941/42, 1942/43 and 1943/44 and one each in 1938/39, 1939/40 and 1945/46, playing regularly each year. His career ratio of points to penalties is miles ahead of the number two man. Clint Smith is in the Hall of Fame.

Buddy O’Connor split his 10 NHL years between Canadiens and Rangers. He won the 1948 Hart Trophy as NHL MVP with New York, ironically the year he had his highest PIM total (eight). He had two completely clean seasons, in 1948/49 and 1950/51 (66 games). Buddy O’Connor is in the Hall of Fame.

Val Fonteyne played for Detroit, the Rangers and Pittsburgh in his 13 NHL years. A career third-liner, he had decent scoring totals, and took a grand total of 13 minor penalties in 820 games. He had five penalty-free seasons, and never took any more than two penalties in any year.

Butch Goring played 16 NHL seasons, winning four Stanley Cups with the Islanders from 1980 to 1983. He won the Conn Smythe in 1981, and the Byng in 1978. He managed a penalty-free campaign in 1980/81, playing 78 games and registering 60 points.

Dave Keon has an incredibly long career, spanning 22 years. He won the Calder Trophy, the Byng twice, and the Conn Smythe. His clean play in his four WHA years was even more impressive; he had 291 points and 20 PIM for a ratio of 14.55. Taking his NHL and WHA totals together would move him up to third place. Dave Keon is in the Hall of Fame.

Syl Apps was an excellent playmaker, leading the NHL in assists his first two years (1936/37 and 1937/38). He won the Calder, the Byng in 1942, and was the First All-Star center twice and Second All-Star center three times. Syl Apps is in the Hall of Fame.

Bobby Bauer was the right side of the famed Kraut Line of the late 1930’s/early 1940’s. He played only seven full NHL seasons (his career being interrupted by the war), but won the Lady Byng trophy three times and was the Second All-Star right winger four rimes. Bobby Bauer is in the Hall of Fame.

So the next time someone implies out outright decrees that players have to play tough to be good, point out that of the top seven players in points-to-PIM ratio, five of them are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

 Please visit Puckerings for more hockey stuff by me

 

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