On This Date in Sports February 12, 1988: The Legend of Tiger Williams

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Hartford Whalers release Winger Dave “Tiger” Williams, who proceeds to announce his retirement from the NHL. Tiger Williams was a cult figure from a bygone era in the NHL, the true enforcer. In a 14-year career, Williams scored just 109 goals with 132 assists, while amassing a record 3,971 penalty minutes as he more often than not found himself in a fight.

David Williams was born on February 3, 1954, in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. Earning the nickname Tiger as a young boy, Dave Williams was from a family of boxers, with his father and brothers all fighting as amateurs. Tiger Williams used his boxing knowledge to his advantage as fighting became a big part of hockey in the 1970s.

Tiger Williams was chosen with the 31st overall pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL Draft, and 33rd overall by the Cincinnati Stingers in 1974. His choice was to play in the NHL, where he made his on January 7, 1975. In just 42 games, Williams collected 187 penalty minutes, while scoring ten goals with 19 assists.

In his first full season, Tiger Williams finished with 299 penalty minutes, as he became one of the league’s top enforcers. In the 1976/77 season, Williams topped 300 penalty minutes for the first time with a league-leading 338 minutes sent in the sin bin. This helped make Tiger Williams an instant fan favorite in Toronto. Williams amassed 351 penalty minutes in 1978 but fell short of leading the league, as fighting became an epidemic in the NHL, with certain enforcers taping the hands like boxers. Tiger Williams again led the league with 298 minutes in 1979 in his final full season in Toronto.

Tiger Williams would lead the league in penalty minutes again in 1980 as he was traded in the middle of the season to the Vancouver Canucks that year despite the trade, marked the first time that he would finish with 30 goals. A year later, Tiger Williams enjoyed he best season as he made the All-Star team for the only time in his career with 35 goals, often riding his stick after notching a goal as he looked to anatomize the opposition. Once again, Williams led the league in penalty minutes that year with 343 minutes. Tiger Williams would play a key role in the Canucks surprise run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1982, as he had 116 penalty minutes.

After two more years in Vancouver, Tiger Williams was traded to the Detroit Red Wings, where he never quite fit in and was demoted to the AHL Before the season was over he was moved again this time to the Los Angeles Kings. By 1986, the tolerance for fighting in the NHL began to wane, as stricter rules were put into place this helped him have his most penalty-filled season in 1987 when he was in the penalty box for 358 minutes. The following season would see the Kings sell Tiger Williams to the Hartford Whalers where he played just 26 games before being released.

When it was all said and done, Tiger Williams had spent more time in the penalty box than any other player in NHL history coming just short of reaching 4,000 minutes in the sin bin. He led the NHL in penalty minutes three times, topped 300 minutes in a season six times, as his 3,971 penalty minutes are 406 more than Dale Hunter who ranks second. To put that in perspective, Tiger Williams averaged close to four minutes in the penalty box in 962 career games. Averaged out over 60 minutes, that is more than 66 full games worth of penalty minutes.