Bob Probert was truly one of a kind, and if the NHL ever had a heavyweight champion, Bob Probert would probably be the closest thing to it.
Over his 16 seasons in the NHL, he fought 232 times and retired with 3,300 penalty minutes. When you ask enforcers who played during that era who the toughest guy in the league was, the majority will probably name Probie.
But he wasn’t just a fighter or a goon; he was also a great player who could put up impressive offensive numbers.
Probert even played in one All-Star game (1988), and while he was there, he was the superstar who almost ranked higher than Gretzky and Messier.
“All the greats, like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, were there, and the first thing they wanted to do was meet Probie,” Detroit teammate Steve Yzerman said to The Hockey News. ”I remember them coming over and asking me, ‘Can you introduce me to the big fella?’ He was revered by players, and it wasn’t just because he was a tough guy, it was because he was a great player.”
But Probert’s career didn’t go by without controversy. He was charged several times with DUI while playing for Detroit. In 1989, he served six months in prison after transporting cocaine from Canada into the U.S.
Probert battled addiction throughout his NHL career. Still, he never lost his passion for the game, and he never stopped going after his opponents or protecting his teammates.
Probert was a world-class chirper, and if you added that everyone was afraid of him, it made things perfect.
One time, former NHLer and NHL coach Scott Arniel shared a very special memory of when Probert got a whole bench to take protection with just one little move.
“In Buffalo, Bob Probert had just come off rehab or suspension or whatever it was. He’s in front of our bench. It was offsides. And the puck was sitting in front of our bench. And one of our trainers yelled at him,” Arniel told The Hockey News.
”Bob was chirping at one of our players. It was fairly quiet. Our trainer yelled out, ‘Have another drink Bob!’ Well, he turned around and looked at our bench. The puck was sitting right there and he wound up.
”Rick Dudley was our coach, John Tortorella was our assistant. Probert turns around and he’s about fifteen feet from the bench. And he winds up, takes a slap shot. Comes down. Both coaches duck, all of our players dive into the bench. He fakes it and stops and skates away. Never touches the puck. But our whole bench dove. Everybody thought he was shooting the puck into our bench. Then we all got up and looked at our trainer, like we’re gonna kill him. But it was funny. He started laughing when he skated away. It wasn’t funny for us then, but it’s kinda funny now.”