Eurotrash, Part I: 2000-2004

European NHLers– wrongly but relentlessly– were never known for being rough or tough.

When the first wave of Swedes headed west to the NHL in the 1970s (Borje Salming, Inge Hammarstrom, Juha Widing, Bob Nystrom, the execrable Hardy Åström), “Euros” were denounced as chicken, soft, or dirty by Don Cherry and his fellow Europhobes. With notable exceptions (Salming, Peter Stastny, Kent Nilsson, Jari Kurri, the late Pelle Lindbergh), 70s and 80s European NHLers, whether Swede, Finn, or Czech, weren’t stars but supporting players (Miroslav Frycer, the other two Stastnys, drug-smuggling Jiri Bubla, Petri Skriko)– and the notable exceptions weren’t known for dropping the gloves.

The Russians, in the wake of glasnost, weren’t much more welcome. With the exceptions of the ageless Igor Larionov and Slava Fetisov and the world’s oldest rookie Sergei Makarov, the first wave of ex-Soviet veterans in the NHL were either unmemorable (Fetisov’s fellow Devil Alexei Kasatonov) or just plain ugly (Sergei Mylnikov, who went 1-7-2, 4.96, .858 for a brutal Nordiques team, and of course ex-Canuck Vladimir Krutov, whose traumatic reaction to North America and extra weight led to the nickname “Vladimir Crouton,” and who will forever be honored on Facebook). When younger Russian superstars took over (Bure, Mogilny, Fedorov, Kovalev), the word “enigmatic” became a euphemism for “Russian” among Russophobes.

Whatever the Europeans/Russians were, one thing they weren’t was goons. With one exception– the Whalers’ Ulf Samuelsson, the future Penguin/Ranger/Red Wing/Flyer and the only player born outside North America to rank in the top 25 in career PM (at exactly 25th, with 2,453 PM)– Europeans/Russians weren’t exactly helpful in the PM category in your hockey pool. Even now, no European/Russian has ever “won” the PM title (five have won the Lady Byng; Pavel Datsyuk won it 4 times) and none crack the top fifty this season.

Who have the best– or worst, depending on one’s outlook– non-North-American-born NHLers been for PM within the past decade, both before and after the lockout? We’ll begin at the beginning, with the 2000-2001 season.

Note: players are ranked based on total PM only, not PM per minute of ice time, PM per game, or any other more Moneypuck-type metric. (Despite the expectedly tacky banner ads (Zwack Hungarian Herb Liqueur?), NHL.com has some decent season-by-season stats, or maybe I just enjoyed seeing former goons referred to by their full names, e.g. “Edward Ward” and “Anthony Twist.”)

2000-2001
Euro rank / Overall rank / Player / Total PM / Born
1. #4 Andrei Nazarov 229 Russia
2. #17 Krzysztof Oliwa 165 Poland
3. #21 Zdeno Chara 157 Slovakia
4. #61 Darius Kasparaitis 111 Lithuania
5. #74 Olli Jokinen 106 Finland
6. #79 Pavel Kubina 103 Czech Republic
7. #83 Sami Helenius 99 Finland
8. #84 Vitaly Vishnevski 99 Ukraine
9. #86 Bobby Holik 97 Czech Republic
10(t). #87 Jiri Slegr 96 Czech Republic
10(t). #89 Alexei Kovalev 96 Russia

Nazarov’s 229 PM between the Ducks and Bruins were a career high, but barely (222 for the 1996-97 Sharks, when he somehow scored 12-15-27 as well). Oliwa’s 165 PM between the Blue Jackets and Penguins weren’t even close, nor was his 17th overall rank, after three consecutive seasons in the top 10 (#8 in 1999-2000 with 184 PM, #5 in 1998-1999 with 240 PM, and #3 in 1997-98 with an amazing 295 PM as a Devils rookie, the most ever by a European player in a single season). Chara cracks the top 10 for the first time in his final season as an Islander before being traded to the Senators with Bill Muckalt and a pick (Jason Spezza) for Alexei Yashin and Carol Alt. Holik (career high of 119), Kasparaitis (career high of 166 as a rookie), and Kubina (career high of 116 as a Leaf– see Part II) were/are also regulars among the Euro-PM rankings. Jokinen, on the other hand, would never again top 100 PM– though he would come close once. Vishnevski’s 99 were a career high as well. Sami Helenius would never even crack his 57 games played with Dallas again. Most obscure fact: the year the Rangers won the Cup, to the torment of Canuck fans everywhere, a sophomore Alexei Kovalev racked up 154 PM. He would never again top 100.

Did you know Jiri Slegr’s father was Jiri Bubla?

2001-2002
1. #6 Andrei Nazarov 215 Russia
2. #27 Zdeno Chara 156 Slovakia
3. #30 Krzysztof Oliwa 150 Poland
4. #33 Darius Kasparaitis 142 Lithuania
5. #40 Tomas Kloucek 137 Czech Republic
6. #80 Pavel Kubina 106 Czech Republic
7. #95 Olli Jokinen 98 Finland
8. #96 Bobby Holik 97 Czech Republic
9. #97 Ruslan Salei 97 Belarus
10(t). #103 Owen Nolan 93 Ireland
10(t). #105 Robyn Regehr 93 Brazil

Yes, both Nolan and Regehr count, as both were born outside of North America. (Nolan is the only other “Euro” among the top 100 PM leaders, ranked #71 with 1,793 total. Otherwise, it’s the usual suspects plus Tomas Kloucek, who would only play 45 more games for the Predators and Thrashers before defecting to the KHL.

2002-2003
1. #13 Krzysztof Oliwa 161 Poland
2. #29 Andrei Nazarov 135 Russia
3. #37 Nik Antropov 124 Kazakhstan
4. #48 Zdeno Chara 116 Slovakia
5. #67 Owen Nolan 107 Ireland
6. #88 Ville Nieminen 95 Finland
7. #89 Ladislav Nagy 92 Slovakia
8. #90 Ivan Majesky 92 Slovakia
9. #101 Roman Hamrlik 87 Czech Republic
10. #104 Robyn Regehr 87 Brazil

Why do so many Finns excel as superpests (other than, of course, sisu)? (see also: Esa Tikkanen, Jarkko Ruutu, Tuomo Ruutu) Roman Hamrlik, who is older than dirt now, will always be the Ottawa Senator Who Got Away to me. Per ROAD GAMES by Roy MacGregor:

The team had been named the Senators after the team that won ten Stanley Cups between 1903 and 1927 before fleeing town for St. Louis in 1934. The modern Senators would bask in the ageless glory of the “Silver Seven,” which had featured such legends as one-eyed Frank McGee, who once scored 14 goals in a Stanley Cup game and later died in action during the Great War. The new logo would be of a Roman Centurion– so what if Don Cherry had ridiculed it on Hockey Night in Canada as looking like a condom package?- and their star player, their future, would be an 18-year old whose first name was “Roman.” A marketer’s dream.

Until, of course, Tampa drafted him first overall. (Ottawa had the second pick.)

2003-2004
1. #3 Krzysztof Oliwa 247 Poland
2. #19 Zdeno Chara 147 Slovakia
3. #32 Jarkko Ruutu 133 Finland
4. #38 Andrei Nazarov 125 Russia
5. #39 Ronald Petrovicky 123 Slovakia
6. #52 Ruslan Salei 110 Belarus
7. #54 Owen Nolan 110 Ireland
8. #68 Alexei Zhitnik 102 Ukraine
9. #82 Bobby Holik 96 Czech Republic
10. #83 Danny Markov 95 Russia

No European/Russian has ever led the NHL in PM, but Oliwa came close, a mere 14 PM behind Sean Avery’s league-leading 261 and 3 PM behind Chris Simon at #2 with 250.

Jarkko Ruutu also cracks the top 10 for the first time with a bullet. Speaking of Finns, Ossi Vaananen (89 PM) just missed the cut.

In Part II: more Ruutu! (Two Ruutus, actually.) A Norwegian! The Latvian Assassin!

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4 Responses to “Eurotrash, Part I: 2000-2004”

  1. nice…. ^_^b

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  3. […] we last left our heroes, Krzysztof Oliwa was not only the EuroPIM winner of the NHL with 247 but almost a Stanley Cup […]

  4. […] years ago Andrei Nazarov ranked 4th in the NHL with 229 PIM. Fellow Euro Krzysztof Oliwa was 17th with 165 PIM– a four season low (not to be confused […]

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