By Allan Muir
Let’s close out SI.com’s Power Week with a look at the best slap shots in NHL history. Long hockey’s ultimate weapon of intimidation, the slapper is creeping toward obsolescence as faster, more aggressive defensive schemes take away the time and space needed to lock, load and fire a rubber bullet. Still, it can be an effective option, especially on the power play, and some of the best ever to wind up and let loose still roam the ice.
The list leans heavily toward modern players, but that’s not a reflection of bias. It’s all about the math. Today’s athletes are stronger and more muscular and their sticks are lighter and more flexible, allowing them to get far more power into their shot than previous generations could have imagined.
Did one of your favorites get overlooked? Make your case in the comment section below.
10. Bernie Geoffrion: There are arguments about who invented the slap shot–Montreal’s Armand Mondou and New York’s Frank Boucher are popularly credited–but no one denies who transformed it into a legitimate weapon. Geoffrion (who’d been nicknamed Boom Boom before his slap shot days) had toyed with it before his rookie season with the Habs in 1950-51, but it was there that he became the stuff of goalies’ nightmares with his cannonading blasts. “I always like the sound it made,” he said. “It made me happy.”
9. Ray Bourque: The Bruins blueliner did so many things so well that the power and accuracy of his slapper are often overlooked. Former teammate Reggie Lemelin told me once he thought Bourque “could put it right threw me if he wanted to. He could really hurt you with that shot.” Bourque preferred a half- or three quarter-windup so he could release it more quickly, but was still able to get tremendous velocity on his blasts.
8. Brian Rolston: There might never have been a slapper unleashed with more predictable accuracy than Rolston’s and maybe that’s why there always seemed to be drama involved when he uncorked. He was legendary for being one of the very few confident enough to let it fly on breakaways and penalty shots, and when it missed his target there usually was a pane of broken glass, or a goalie flat on his keester, to show for it.
7. Stephane Richer: A two-time 50-goal scorer, Richer had a vast array of shots and a lightning quick release that allowed him to light the lamp so frequently. His best weapon though was his slapper, released either on the fly or from just off the half-boards where he was so effective on the power play. Like Bourque he could wind it up, but he preferred a shorter stroke, one that took less time but still allowed him to generate devastating power.
6. Shea Weber: Seems inevitable that Weber someday will wear the crown, but until then there’s no shame in playing the bridesmaid to Zdeno Chara in the NHL’s Hardest Shot competition. Weber is always in the mix, capable of topping 100 MPH when he gets all of a shot. That sort of power is as dangerous to teammates as to opposing netminders. In one six-month span a couple years back he sent David Legwand, Jordin Tootoo and Martin Erat to the IR after they got in his way.
5. Bryan McCabe: Leafs fans remember the drill well: Tomas Kaberle would tee it up and McCabe would drive it home and the red light would start spinning. His bomb was so effective that it probably worked to his detriment. Opponents began cheating on him to cut down his time and he struggled to adapt. But when he could let fly, he had a Howitzer.
4. Al Iafrate: At 6′-3″, 240 pounds, Iafrate was one of the biggest, strongest men ever to play the game and could he lay the hammer down. He knew he scared goalies with his shot, so he loved to move down into the circle before letting it fly to really put the fear into them. He was the favorite to win the inaugural Hardest Shot competition and he delivered a 96 MPH blast to earn the title, but it was what he did the next year that sealed his rep as one of the all-time bombers: a 105.2 MPH rocket that stood unchallenged for 16 years.
3. Al MacInnis: MacInnis was legendary for that big windup that served as a precursor to pain for anyone who got in the way of one of his point blasts. A seven-time winner of the NHL’s hardest shooter contest, he once cracked the mask of Hartford’s Mike Liut with a shot…from center ice. Former Calgary teammate Reggie Lemelin said he would have to remind Mac to take something off his shots in practice, and then would have to let a few in so MacInnis wouldn’t take out his frustrations with his best material.
2. Bobby Hull: “It’s hard to put into words,” former Rangers goalie Ed Giacomin once said of Hull’s slapper in the New York Times. “It would rise or dip. You’d pull up when you should really be ducking. It played games with your mind.” Hull may not have invented the slapper, but he perfected it as a weapon of terror. It was fast–reportedly clocked at 118 MPH, with a wooden stick, no less–and extremely heavy because he was able to get it off at full speed. He once joked that he could have hit 150 MPH with a modern stick…at least, I think he was joking.
1. Zdeno Chara: I was down near ice level when Chara hammered his record-smashing 108.8 MPH bomb at the 2012 All-Star Game and it was flat-out frightening. But what’s really scary about the five-time winner is that his top blast has gotten progressively fast each year: 100.4, 103.1, 105.4, 105.9 and 108.8.