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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

An enforcer and a gentleman: The Probert-Numminen connection

Hockey is a sport that is long associated with violence; it is also a sport that annually awards a trophy to the most gentlemanly player originally donated by the wife of Canada's governor general, who's official title was Lady Byng of Vimy, viceregal consort of Canada. The sport has lived this duality throughout its entire history, although acts of egregious violence are becoming less frequent.

In this week's post we feature players who represent this duality - Bob Probert and Teppo Numminen. Probert was arguably the most feared enforcer of the late 1980s and early 1990s. A combination of strength and pure willingness to fight, along with some decent hockey skills, made Probert a scary combination for opponents. On the other hand you have Teppo Numminen, a man who played 20 NHL seasons and never recorded more than 36 penalty minutes in a single season. More impressive, Numminen was a defenceman, a position to frequently is penalized just due its nature of preventing scoring opportunities.

In honour of this contrast, I decided to compare the penalty minute totals from the Lady Byng winners and penalty minute leader for each season in the 1990s:

1990-91: Byng winner: Wayne Gretzky (16 PIMs); Penalty minute leader: Rob Ray (350 PIMs).

1991-92: Byng winner: Wayne Gretzky (34 PIMs); Penalty minute leader: Mike Peluso (408 PIMs).

1992-93: Byng winner: Pierre Turgeon (26 PIMs); Penalty minute leader: Marty McSorley (399 PIMs).

1993-94: Byng winner: Wayne Gretzky (20 PIMs); Penalty minute leader: Tie Domi (347 PIMs).

1994-95: Byng winner: Ron Francis (18 PIMs); Penalty minute leader: Enrico Ciccone (225 PIMs).

1995-96: Byng winner: Paul Kariya (20 PIMs); Penalty minute leader: Matthew Barnaby (335 PIMs).

1996-97: Byng winner: Paul Kariya (6 PIMs); Penalty minute leader: Gino Odjick (371 PIMs).

1997-98: Byng winner: Ron Francis (20 PIMs); Penalty minute leader: Donald Brashear (372 PIMs).

1998-99: Byng winner: Wayne Gretzky (14 PIMs); Penalty minute leader: Rob Ray (261 PIMs).

There is significant variation amongst the penalty minute leader, with Rob Ray being the only player to twice lead the league in penalty minutes in the decade. The gentlemanly player seem fairly consistent, with Wayne Gretzky, Ron Francis and Paul Kariya all winning multiple awards. Regardless of year, there is consistently a big gap between the Byng winner and the penalty minutes leader, which should come as no surprise.

Card 238 - Mikael Andersson

Andersson, a left winger, was selected 18th overall by Buffalo in the 1984 draft. He would play an additional season of pro hockey in Sweden before coming to North America for the 1984-85 season. His first four pro seasons would be spent bouncing between Buffalo and the AHL, with Andersson winning two Calder Cups with Rochester. In 1987-88 he would play 37 games with the Sabres, scoring three goals and 20 points.

In October 1989 he would be claimed by Hartford in the waiver draft, playing 50 games with the Whalers that season before splitting the 1990-91 season between the minors and the NHL. In 1991-92 Andersson became a full-time NHLer, playing in 74 games, scoring a career-high 18 goals and 47 points. The following season he would sign as a free agent with expansion Tampa Bay; Andersson’s seven seasons with the Lightning would be the most consistent in his career, playing an average of 65 games per season, scoring 10+ goals twice.

Late in the 1998-99 season he would be traded to Philadelphia in a three player deal, lasting 43 games with the Flyers. The following season he would be shipped to the New York Islanders in exchange for Gino Odjick. Andersson would play the final 19 games of his career with the Isles before returning to Sweden. As captain of Vasta Frolunda, he would win a league title in 2003, retiring the following season.

In 15 NHL seasons, Andersson played in 761 games, scoring 95 goals and 264 points. Since 2004 he has been a European scout with Tampa Bay.

YouTube clip: scoring the first penalty shot goal in Tampa Bay history on December 15, 1992. Andersson scored the game winner with 33 seconds left, despite clearly fanning on the shot. Marvel at the confusion of the play-by-play man who thinks for about 30 seconds that Robb Stauber made the save.

Card 239 - Bob Probert

A left winger, Probert was drafted 46th overall by Detroit in the 1983 entry draft. He would play two seasons in the OHL before turning pro in the 1985-86, splitting time between Detroit and the AHL. In the following season Probert would play in 63 games with Detroit, scoring 13 goals, 24 points and recording 221 penalty minutes.

Often remembered as the most feared enforcer of the late 1980s and 1990s, Probert also had a deft scoring touch. In the 1987-88 he recorded career highs in goals (29) and points (62), while also leading the league in penalty minutes (398), the sixth highest single-season total of all-time. Probert continued his scoring ways in the playoffs, leading the Wings with eight goals and 21 points as Detroit would make it to the Campbell Conference Finals before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers. Probert would also play in his one and only all-star game that season.

While a talented hockey player, Probert battled addiction throughout his career. Over the next two seasons he would play in only 29 games, as in 1989 he was arrested at the US-Canada border for cocaine possession and would spend time in a US federal prison.

The 1990-91 season saw Probert make his comeback, playing in 55 games, scoring 16 goals and recording 315 penalty minutes. In the four seasons following he would score 40+ points three times and record penalty minute totals in the high 200s three times. During this stretch, he would sign with Chicago as a free agent, but miss his entire first season with the Hawks (1994-95). Probert would crash his motorcycle while under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and spend the season recovering from his injuries and attending rehab.

Over the last four seasons of Probert’s pro career (1998-2002), he would play 60+ games each season, still racking up 100+ penalty minutes each season. Upon retiring in 2002 he would join the Chicago broadcast team, but would leave to attend rehab shortly after his hiring.

In 16 NHL seasons, Probert played in 935 games, scoring 163 goals and 384 points. His 3300 penalty minutes ranks fifth all-time, and in three separate seasons he finished top three in the league in PIMs. Obviously he is the Red Wings all-time penalty minute leader, and was an assistant captain from 1990 to 1994. Probert would sadly continue to have run-ins with the law in retirement, and he passed away from a heart attack in 2010. His brain was donated to Boston University’s CTE research program, which found evidence of brain damage. As a side note, Probert has 232 career NHL hockey fights according to

YouTube clip: the trailer from his autobiographical movie, Tough Guy: The Bob Probert Story.

Card 240 - Teppo Numminen

A defenceman, Numminen was drafted 29th overall by Winnipeg in 1986. He would play three additional years in Finland before joining the Jets for the 1988-89 season. In 69 games during his rookie season, Numminen recorded one goal and 15 points.

Over his next four seasons in Winnipeg Numminen would score 30+ points per season, including 11 goals and 43 points in his sophomore season. Following the 1994-95 lockout he would record a career-high 54 points in the Jets’ last season in Winnipeg.

Moving with the team to Phoenix, he would record his second 50+ point season in 1997-98, and in three of the following four seasons would record 40+ points. 2001-02 would see Numminen score a career-high 13 goals, and finish seventh in Norris Trophy and eighth in Byng Trophy voting.

During Numminen’s 15 seasons with the Jets/Coyotes franchise the team never once advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs. After the Coyotes missed the playoffs in 2003, Numminen would be traded in the off-season to Dallas for Mike Sillinger. In his first season in Dallas the team would make the playoffs, but it would be a similar result to his past, with the Stars bowing out in the first round.

For 2005-06 Numminen would sign with the Buffalo Sabres. With the team he would experience his first taste of playoff success, making back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals. In 2007-08 he would play in only one game as he underwent heart surgery that season; he would return for one final season, retiring after the 2008-09 campaign.

In 20 NHL seasons, Numminen played in 1372 games, scoring 117 goals and 637 points. He recorded only 513 penalty minutes in his career, averaging less than 25 penalty minutes per season, never recording more than 36 PIMs in a season. Numminen was an assistant captain with the Jets/Coyotes franchise from 1993-2001 and captain from 2001-2003. He ranks second all-time in games played and fifth in points for the franchise, and is second all-time in games played by a Finnish born player.

Numminen has worked for the Finnish men’s national team throughout his retirement, and was an assistant coach with Buffalo from 2011-2014.

YouTube clip: scoring a goal in Game 1 of 2006 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals versus Ottawa, the last playoff goal of career

Card 241 - Peter Zezel

Centreman Zezel was drafted 41st overall by Philadelphia in 1983. He would play one additional season in the OHL before making his NHL debut in 1984-85, scoring 15 goals and 60 points. Zezel would help the Flyers reach the Stanley Cup Finals as a rookie, ultimately losing out to the Oilers dynasty.

In 1986-87 he would score a career-high 33 goals and 72 points, and the Flyers would again lose in the Cup Finals to the Oilers. Early the following season Zezel would be traded to St. Louis for veteran Mike Bullard. In his one full season with the Blues (89-90), Zezel would match his career-high of 72 points. The summer following that season he would be traded with Mike Lalor to Washington for Geoff Courtnall.

Zezel would last 20 games as a Capital before being traded to his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs; the 90-91 season would see him score 21 goals, the fifth and final time in his career he would crack the 20-goal barrier. In three full seasons with the Leafs, Zezel would deal with back injuries, limiting the number of games he would play. His point production would also dip as coach Pat Burns developed his game into that of a defensive specialist.

In the 1994 off-season Zezel would be transferred to Dallas as compensation for the Leafs signing of Mike Craig. He would last one shortened season with the Stars before heading back to St. Louis for 1995-96, appearing in 57 games. Over the final three seasons of Zezel’s NHL career he would play for St. Louis, New Jersey and Vancouver, as well as spending time in the AHL. During the 1998-99 season he requested a trade from Vancouver to an Eastern Conference team to be closer to his niece who was terminally ill. Canucks GM Brian Burke traded Zezel to Anaheim, and Zezel promptly retired from the NHL.

In 15 NHL seasons, Zezel played in 873 games, scoring 219 goals and 607 points. From 2002-05 he played senior hockey in Cambridge and operated sports camps in Toronto. Zezel was also an avid and skilled soccer player, having dabbled in pro soccer in North America throughout his NHL career. He passed away in 2009 from complications related to a rare blood disorder.

YouTube clip: scoring the overtime winner in Game 1 of 1994 Campbell Conference Finals against Vancouver.

Card 242 - Denis Savard

A centre, Savard was drafted third overall by Chicago in 1980, having scored 181 points in his draft year with Montreal in the QMJHL. He jumped immediately to the NHL for the 1980-81 season, scoring 28 goals and 75 points, finishing fifth in Calder Trophy voting.

Over Savard’s next nine seasons with Chicago he would establish himself as one of the most dominant offensive players in the NHL:

  • Scoring 30+ goals seven times, including three 40+ goal seasons;

  • Scoring 90+ points seven times, including four 100+ point seasons;

  • Scoring a career-high 47 goals in 1985-86, and a career-high 131 points in 1987-88, good for third in league scoring;

  • Leading the Blackhawks in scoring seven times, finishing second twice;

  • Helping lead the team to four Campbell Conference Finals.

In the summer of 1990 Savard was traded to his home province Montreal Canadiens for defenceman Chris Chelios. Although he was no longer a superstar offensive producer, Savard scored 28 goals in his first two seasons with the Habs, including 70 points in 1991-92. He would win his first Cup with the Habs in 1993, recording five assists in 14 playoff games.

Following the Cup win, Savard would sign with Tampa Bay as a free agent, playing almost two seasons with the Lightning before a trade back to Chicago late in the 1994-95 season. He would play two final seasons with the Blackhawks before retiring after the 1996-97 season.

In a 17 season NHL career, Savard played in 1196 games, scoring 473 goals and 1338 points (29th all-time). His 865 career assists are 24th all-time. Savard played in seven all-star games and was captain of the Blackhawks from 1987-89. He was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000. Upon retirement Savard was hired by the Hawks as an assistant coach, keeping that role until 2006-07 when he was hired as head coach (he had previously served as interim head coach in 2000-01). Savard was let go in 2008-09, just before the Hawks would develop into a modern-day dynasty.

YouTube clip: highlight video from being named one of the 100 greatest NHL players of all-time.

Card 243 - Al MacInnis

Defenceman MacInnis was drafted 15th overall by Calgary in 1981. He would spend the two seasons following the draft in the OHL, but would appear in 16 games with the Flames. MacInnis would turn pro for the 1983-84 season, playing in 51 games with Calgary, scoring 11 goals and 45 points.

In the 10 years from 1984 to 1994, MacInnis would produce a decade of offensive domination with Calgary:

  • Scoring 10+ goals each season and 20+ goals five times and three separate times scoring 28 goals (career-high);

  • Scoring 60+ points nine times and 90+ points twice, including a career-high 103 points in 1990-91, good for ninth in league scoring.

  • Being named a first-team all star twice and second-team all star three times.

  • Being named a Norris Trophy finalist three times.

  • Appearing in two Stanley Cup Finals (1986 and 89), winning the Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1989 while leading all playoff scorers in assists and points.

In July 1994 MacInnis would sign with St. Louis as a free agent, with Phil Housley and draft picks being sent to Calgary as compensation. Brought in to mentor a young Chris Pronger, by no means was MacInnis close to slowing down. In the 1998-99 season, at age 35, MacInnis would score 20 goals and 62 points, be named a first-team all star and win his first Norris Trophy.

In nine seasons with the Blues, MacInnis would score 10+ goals and 40+ points in all but one season. In 2002-03, at age 39, he scored 16 goals and 68 points, was named a first-team all star for the fourth time, and finished second in Norris Trophy and sixth in Hart Trophy voting. MacInnis would return for the 2003-04 season, but play only three games before retiring.

In a 23 year NHL career, MacInnis played in 1416 games (35th all-time), scoring 340 goals and 1274 points (38th all-time). He ranks 16th all-time in career assists with 934 and is third all-time in goals, assists and points scored by a defenceman. MacInnis was an assistant captain with Calgary from 1988-1994 and with St. Louis from 1994 to 2004. He played in 12 all star games, and seven times won the hardest shot competition. MacInnis was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007. Shortly after retirement he would be hired by the Blues’ front office, serving as vice-president of hockey operations from 2006-2012 and since 2014 has been a senior advisor.

YouTube clip: highlight video from being named one of the 100 greatest NHL players of all-time.

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