Who are the top villains in Bruins history? Ranking the Top 10
You know them by their names steeped in Bruins infamy, and you know them by their actions on the ice. The NHL, and more specifically the Stanley Cup Playoffs, have always been about heroes and villains and the kind of heated emotion that gets sparked up on the frozen sheet when one player or another steps over the line.
Some were unmitigated, pathetic turtles like Ulf Samuelsson and Claude Lemieux who threw dirty hits and then never wanted to answer for them, and others were vile, nasty cheap shot artists that ended careers like Matt Cooke. Some were otherwise honest NHL players who got caught up in the moment like Carolina Hurricanes forward Scott Walker.
Some weren’t even bad actors on the ice at all, but instead acted as Bruins playoff dream killers like Montreal goaltender Ken Dryden, who was continually somebody who caused playoff disappointment in the 1970s. There are other “Bruins killers” who exist today like Thomas Vanek, Sebastian Aho and Braden Holtby just to name a few, but here are the Top 10 Bruins all-time villains in their nearly 100-year history:
10. Scott Walker
First up is former Carolina Hurricanes forward Scott Walker, who really didn’t have much on his Bruins rap sheet before or after the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the Black and Gold.
But Walker became a Boston public enemy in that series when he punched defenseless Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward in Game 5 of the second round playoff series and only received a two-minute minor penalty. Then two games later Walker scored the overtime game-winner in Game 7 at TD Garden in a game he might have otherwise been suspended for after sucker-punching Ward.
It was the only real incident involving Walker and the Bruins over his NHL career, but it still remains a notable one when talking about genuine Bruins villains.
9. Pat Quinn
Rule No. 1 with the Boston Bruins is that you don’t cheap shot Bobby Orr. And Pat Quinn (#23, pictured at left) decided he was going to do just that when he dropped a flying elbow on No. 4 in a playoff game between the Maple Leafs and Bruins during the 1969 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Orr was completely down and out and unconscious on the ice after the Toronto defenseman had clearly lined him up in the middle of a blowout victory for the Black and Gold. Quinn got a five-minute major for elbowing the NHL’s greatest player, and had quite the villainous take about it years later. “That one caused quite a ruckus,” said Quinn to Sports Illustrated. “You were taking your life into your own hands when you hit Bobby. The fans didn't like it. The Bruins didn't like it. But that one felt good. It was a good hit.”
Orr and Quinn eventually became friends before the longtime NHL coach’s passing in 2014, but Bruins fans still remember the bloodthirsty calls for Quinn’s head in the aftermath of knocking out Orr in a playoff game.
8. Claude Lemieux
Another of the spine-challenged turtles who played in the mid-1990’s when Cam Neely was patrolling the ice at the Boston Garden, the lasting image is of Lemieux covering up and dropping to all fours after jabbing Neely in the face with a high-stick when he was a member of the New Jersey Devils. Lemieux is perhaps much more known for his dirty tactics and dangerous hits when he was a member of the Colorado Avalanche in a number of heated showdowns with the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
He’s down on the list because he never A) threw a career-ending hit at any Bruins players or B) was on a team where there were repeated run-ins with the Black and Gold during the postseason. But anybody unwilling to fight after carving up somebody with a high stick is in prime villain territory when it comes to Bruins fans.
7. Sean Avery
Certainly the biggest punk on the Bruins all-time villain list, Sean Avery wasn’t a player who had any notable postseason run-ins with the Black and Gold over his career. So there isn’t an iconic moment when Avery made himself a villain beyond being a sneaky, cheap player that one could tell the Bruins players didn’t like or respect at all.
The truly courageous Avery saved his real mustache-twirling moments for picking on goaltenders like Martin Brodeur and getting laid out in fights with Bruins middleweights like Andrew Ference and Mark Stuart. Avery also enraged Tim Thomas when he clipped him in the back of the head with his stick during this cheap incident in 2009. And who doesn’t love a good, old-fashioned enraged Tim Thomas during his best seasons with the Bruins?
6. Ken Dryden
The Hall of Fame goaltender wasn’t a cheap shot artist, and is perhaps one of the most thoughtful, eloquent NHL players of all time. So Dryden isn’t on the list because he ended any Bruins careers or because there was some kind of bench-clearing incident involving him over the years.
Instead Dryden is a Bruins villain simply because he was extremely good against Boston when it mattered most in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and ended postseason dreams for the B's on many, many occasions. Dryden came onto the scene as a 23-year-old rookie goaltender when the Canadiens upset the juggernaut 1971 Bruins in the quarterfinals. The six-time Stanley Cup-winner went on to beat the Bruins in four playoff showdowns over the decade including heartbreaking playoff losses for Boston in both the 1978 and 1979 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The B’s never did beat Dryden in a playoff series during his decade-long NHL career.
5. Chris Nilan
Sometimes the most effective villains are the ones who understand you the best. That was the case with South Boston native and longtime Canadiens tough guy Chris Nilan, who became an ongoing thorn in the side of the Bruins during countless Bruins/Canadiens rivalry games during the 1980s.
“Knuckles” twice led the Canadiens with over 300 penalty minutes in a season and amassed 2,248 penalty minutes in his NHL career, the most among Massachusetts natives who have played in the NHL. His cheap shot at Ken Linsemen instigated this classic melee between Boston and Montreal that ended with Bruins and Canadiens players fighting each other in the runway next to the Bruins bench at the Boston Garden.
Unlike some of the other Bruins villains on this list, though, Nilan ended up playing with the Bruins at the end of his career and could also absolutely handle himself when it came time to drop the gloves.
4. Wayne Maki
The Bobby Orr-era Bruins had their own set of villains, of course. Biggest among them was Wayne Maki cracking open the head of “Terrible” Ted Green with a stick-swinging incident during a 1969 preseason game between the Bruins and Blues. Green suffered a fractured skull and brain injury as a result of the wild stick-swinging incident that was so heinous that both players ended up getting assault charges filed against them.
Maki was suspended for 30 days and Green missed the entire 1969-70 NHL season with his injuries before going to play for another decade while winning a couple of Cups in Boston. Tragically Maki’s career, where he’d turned into a solid left winger for the Canucks, and his life came to an end shortly after the incident as Maki was diagnosed with a brain tumor that claimed his life at 29 years old.
3. Alex Burrows
All you need to know about Canucks dirt bag Alex Burrows is that he chose to bite one of the classiest gentlemen in NHL history, Patrice Bergeron, during Game 1 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. That’s right. At the end of the first period of Game 1 in Vancouver, Burrows bit the finger of Bergeron’s gloved hand. An incredulous Bergeron showed the referees the bite mark at the end of the first period, but there wasn’t any penalty called in the first of a number of nasty, brutal exchanges between the Bruins and the Canucks in that Cup Final series.
In many ways, Burrows biting Bergeron set the tone for just how snarly things were going to get between the two teams, and it made the Vancouver forward the poster boy for a very unlikable Canucks bunch that included Roberto Luongo, the Sedin twins, Raffi Torres, Maxim Lapierre, Ryan Kesler in addition to biting boy. Things got even nastier later in the series when Aaron Rome concussed Nathan Horton with a brutal head shot, and the Bruins pummeled Vancouver for most of the series before winning it all in seven games.
2. Matt Cooke
Just as Ulf Samuelsson is the hatchet man behind the premature end to Cam Neely’s career, Matt Cooke did the same to Marc Savard with a filthy elbow to the head late in the 2009-10 NHL season. Cooke drilled Savard with a blindside elbow to the head late in the game between the Bruins and Penguins — and it wasn’t even called a penalty. Savard returned for the playoffs that season and played a few games the following year as the B’s went on to win the Cup, but his NHL career was effectively over as a playmaking center as soon as Cooke delivered the dirty elbow.
The Bruins got their karmic revenge when Shawn Thornton manhandled Cooke in a fight later that season and the Bruins dispatched of the Penguins in an Eastern Conference Final sweep during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Cooke hit was one of a number of predatory, dangerous hits during his NHL career, and the league actually was forced into changing the rules on blindside hits as a result of Cooke injuring Savard with his 2010 head shot.
1. Ulf Samuelsson
All you need to say is “Ulf” in circles around Boston and you’ll still get dirty looks and clenched fists as the most villainous player in Bruins history. The filthy knee-on-knee hit that Samuelsson threw on Cam Neely in the 1991 Eastern Conference Final effectively ended that series, and it negatively impacted Neely’s Hall of Fame career from that moment moving forward.
Neely was able to keep playing afterward, but the hit resulted in calcification of his thigh that limited him to less than 50 games played in any season for the rest of his career before forcing him into retirement at just 30 years old. It was part of an ongoing hatred between Neely and Swedish defenseman that went on for years when Ulf was with the Hartford Whalers and Penguins. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound defenseman certainly wasn’t the smallest guy around, but was often unwilling to defend his actions by dropping the gloves after throwing predatory hits against the other team’s best players.
And that certainly was the case after Neely hammered Samuelsson in a fight late in the 1990 season. That was the case with Neely, who certainly wanted a piece of Samuelsson in this 1993 skirmish that ended with No. 8 getting an instigator penalty after the Penguins D-man wouldn’t fight back.