The news came out a month ago the that Senators will give Chris Neil the ultimate honour, and retire his number 25 jersey in February. There’s no disputing that Neil is the best enforcer/pest/tough guy/energy guy in Sens history. He played 1026 games for the team. He’s the franchise leader in PIMs with 2522, and second place is Chris Phillips with 756. Longevity gets him points here, but we can all remember noteworthy games, whether it’s the 2017 playoffs against Tanner Glass, the 2012 playoffs against Brian Boyle (why is it always the Rangers?), or even just a regular season game where he goads a guy like Evgeni Malkin into offsetting minors.
With that out of the way, there’s some debate as to who is the second-best enforcer in Sens history. Is longevity all it takes? Frequency? Noteworthiness? You decide!
Neil had 178 major penalties in 1026 games, or 0.17 fights per game. Vial had 71 in 176 games, or 0.40 fights per game. Sure, he played in a different era, but that’s still an impressive willingness to drop the gloves. He was a member of the Sens for parts of 5 seasons, starting with their second season when he was claimed in Phase II of the expansion draft (yes, there was a Phase II back then). His toughness really carved out a spot for him as a fan favourite during those lean first years. Also, in a weird connection, he is the uncle of current Senator Drake Batherson.
For newer fans of the Sens, this was probably the first name that jumped to mind. After all, the guy was known as Borocop, definitely an appropriate nickname for an enforcer. His 55 majors are good for third in franchise history, and he played 375 games which is 24th in franchise history, so he was part of this team for a while. He’s second in team history in hits with 1576 (though these weren’t tracked back when Vial was in the league). His toughness was originally what got him to stick around in the NHL. Over time, he’s expanded his enforcer role to off the ice, including stopping a thief in Vancouver, and standing up for marginalized communities. The author will also add that if you reach out to him about these kinds of causes on Instagram, he will reply, based on first-hand experience.
Roy only appeared in 193 games here — I could’ve sworn it was more — but put up the fourth-most fights (42) in franchise history in that time. He was known as the classic tough guy, fighting when necessary, and constantly doing things to keep the dressing room laughing off the ice. Chris Neil’s rookie season came in Roy’s last season in Ottawa, which likely played a role in forcing his trade to the Lightning (for Juha Ylonen!).
You could make a case that McGrattan was the toughest player to ever wear a Sens jersey. He was only part of the Sens for three seasons — and was a regular healthy scratch in that time — but averaged a fight every four games. At 6’4” and 235 lbs, you knew he was going to crush you. His reputation was built from his rookie season, when he notoriously took out Tie Domi with a single punch. Later in his career, McGrattan again showed his mettle by overcoming addiction with the help of the NHLPA’s substance abuse program, and spent a bunch of time mentoring younger players on not making the same coping mistakes he did.
The list could go on, but the last inclusion I’ll make is a feel-good story. A native of nearby Winchester, ON, a 29-year-old Carkner surprised everyone in 2009-10 and made the team out of training camp, playing 81 NHL games for what was sort of his rookie season (he was too old to qualify as a rookie by the NHL’s standards). He played three years in the big league with the Sens and two more with the Isles after that. In Ottawa, he did 39 fights in 161 games, and was also part of the Erik Karlsson protection squad in those 2012 playoffs. He also scored one of the most exciting goals in franchise history, a Game 6 triple-OT winner against the Penguins that almost everyone remembers.
Of course, there are so many names that could be on here. Guys like Shane Hnidy, Jarkko Ruutu, Denny Lambert, Mike Peluso, Matt Kassian, and even the lone season of Zenon Konopka or the 11 games of Rob Ray spring to mind. A player like Zack Smith could fit the bill, but some would argue he played too much of a skill role in his time here to be a true enforcer — a precursor to the monster Brady Tkachuk is becoming. You could argue that a guy like Zdeno Chara, willingly or not, served the role of an enforcer while he was here. And modernly, Austin Watson has willingly taken on that role and endeared himself to his teammates.
So, what say you? Who’s the second-best enforcer in Senators history?
Who is the second-best enforcer in Senators history?