From Hall of Fame linemates, to great 1-2 punches, to defense pairings that shut teams down we take a look at the 25 best duos in NHL history. These duos do not necessarily need to be players that played on the same line, but just notable duos that carried teams and made a constant impact. Or, most specifically, duos that define a team. Lemieux and Jagr. Gretzky and Messier. Hull and Oates. Savard and Robinson. We take a look at all of them.
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Gretzky and Jari Kurri were the linemates, but it Gretzky and Messier were the foundation of the team and the duo that is synonymous with Edmonton’s glory days. Gretzky and Messier combined to win four Stanley Cups in the 1980s and were the focal points of one of the NHL’s most dominant dynasties. They defined an entire era of NHL hockey and put up some of the most obscene offensive numbers ever. A truly dominant 1-2 punch.
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When these two were teamed up together on the ice there was nobody that could consistently stop them. Arguably two of the 10 best players to ever play in the NHL, they were not only on the same team, but also regularly on the same line. They made magic happen when they were both going at the best. They won two Stanley Cups together in Pittsburgh and combined for four MVP awards and 11 scoring titles.
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They may have played different positions (Esposito a forward and Orr a defenseman) but these might be the first two names that come to mind when you think of the Boston Bruins. They were the two most dominant offensive players of their era as they combined to win seven consecutive scoring titles between 1968 and 1975. In five of those seasons they finished first and second in the scoring race. They finished first and third in one of the others. The Bruins won two Stanley Cups during their time together, while Orr remains one of the most game-changing players in league history for the way he helped revolutionize the defense position. He was a consistent 100-point threat and scoring champion contender as a defenseman, something that was — and still is — almost unheard of in the NHL.
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Beginning in 1946 these two were the foundation of the Detroit Red Wings organization and formed one of the most dominant — and toughest — duos of the Original Six era. During their time together in Detroit they led the Red Wings to four Stanley Cups and were two-thirds of the team’s famed “Production Line” alongside Sid Abel (and then later Alex Delvecchio when Abel was traded). During the 1949-50 season, the year Lindsay won his only scoring title, the trio finished 1-2-3 in scoring. It was one of the four times that Howe and Lindsay finished first and second in the points race (also doing so during the 1951-52, 1952-53, and 1956-57 seasons). They also both finished in the top-three (Howe first, Lindsay third) during the 1953-54 season.
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The duo that helped lead the New York Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cup titles in the early 1980s. Trottier was the all-around foundation of the team, while Bossy was one of the most pure goal scorers to ever play in the league. He scored 50 goals in each of his first nine seasons in the league (including five 60-goal seasons). That run came to an end in his 10th — and final — NHL season when he “only” scored 38 goals in 63 games. That would have been a 50-goal pace over 82 games.
Simply the best and most dominant defense pairing in the NHL during the 1970s. Together with Guy Lapointe they helped form Montreal’s famed “Big Three” on defense that shut down the rest of the league, powering the Canadiens to five Stanley Cups between 1972 and 1980. Robinson went on to have the best career of the three, but all of them were dominant in their own way. When you put two of them together (Robinson and Savard) the rest of the league did not have a chance.
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The best duo of the salary cap era. From the time Malkin arrived in Pittsburgh (one year after Crosby’s debut) they helped the Penguins become one of the league’s elite teams. Starting with the 2006-07 season (Malkin’s first), the Penguins have more regular season and playoff games than any team in the league, been to four Stanley Cup finals (also the most in the league) and won three Stanley Cups (tied for the most). Along with that Crosby and Malkin are second and third in the league in regular season points, and first and second in postseason scoring.
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Not only a dominant duo for the Blackhawks, producing a Stanley Cup championship together during the 1960-61 season, they were also game-changers. Mikita popularized the curved blade (something Hull also did) which eventually caused the league to limit how much curve a blade could have because it gave them such an advantage. Mikita was also one of the first players in league history to wear a helmet on the ice. Along with their Stanley Cup, the duo also combined to win three MVP awards and seven scoring titles, including a combined five in a row at one point.
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Yzerman was always the face of the Red Wings and the most prominent player, but they were both among the best two-way players in the league. They helped bring there Stanley Cups to Detroit, while combining for three Selke Trophies (best defensive forward), two Lester B. Pearson Awards (best player as voted by the players), and a Conn Smythe Trophy. They were not only two of the most gifted offensive players in the league, they were also both outstanding defensive players. The total package, and the foundation of a mini-dynasty in the late 1990s.
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Just two magnificent all-around players, and the cornerstones of an Avalanche team that won two Stanley Cups and was a constant championship contender during the mid 1990s and early 2000s. For the decade between 1994 and 2004, they were two of the top-five regular season point producers in the league and the top-two postseason point producers.
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Maurice and Henri Richard (Montreal Canadiens)
One of the most famous brother duos in league history, the Richard’s only spent five years playing together in the NHL but they made the most out of that time by, quite literally, winning the Stanley Cup every season. They were at very different points of their careers when they finally got the opportunity to play together (Henri was just starting; Maurice was at the twilight) but they still were key contributors to one of the NHL’s all-time great dynasties.
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Throughout most of the 1990s and early 2000s the Devils were the most tenacious defensive team in the league. That blue line, led by Stevens and Niedermayerand (and later Brian Rafalski) was the focal point of three Stanley Cup winning teams in 1994, 2000 and 2003. Stevens and Niedermayer brought different styles to the table (Stevens was a hammer; Niedermayer was the smoothest skater in the league), but very similar results — total defensive domination, and a heck of a lot lot of winning.
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Datsyuk and Zetterberg came up together in Detroit and started off as complementary players at the tail end of the Steve Yzerman era. Even though they had smaller roles at the very beginning, their talent and potential was obvious to anyone that watched them. Eventually they blossomed into the focal points of the franchise, and along with Nicklas Lidstrom, helped the Red Wings maintain their dominance over the league. Datsyuk and Zetterberg were two of the best two-way players of their era and helped lead the Red Wings to back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances in 2007-08 and 2008-09, winning in 2008 and losing in a seventh game at home in 2009 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Stanley Cup Final rematch.
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The arrival of Toews and Kane in Chicago helped revive a dormant franchise that had become an afterthought in the league for more than a decade. Toews has been one of the league’s best two-way players throughout his career, while Kane has been a consistent force offensively. Together they helped the Blackhawks end a decades long Stanley Cup drought and brought three championships to Chicago in a six-year stretch.
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They finally got their championship in 2018, but even before then this was one of the league’s most dominant pairings. Ovechkin is the greatest goal-scorer of all time, while Backstrom was one of the best playmakers of his era (and a very good defensive player on top of that). During their time in Washington the Capitals won three Presidents’ Trophies (best regular season record in the league) and a Stanley Cup.
Simply a devastating and completely intimidating defense duo. Even though the Blues never won the Stanley Cup with them, Pronger and MacInnis helped make the Blues one of the most feared defensive teams in the league. Each of them was the total package as a defender. Whatever requirement you want in a top-pairing defender, they had it. Durability, size, shutdown defensive ability, physicality, booming shots, and offensive brilliance. They each won a Norris Trophy with the Blues and are Hall of Fame players.
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A sublime display of offensive brilliance. Selanne and Kariya were a must-see attraction in Anaheim and one of the most breathtaking offensive duos the league has ever seen. They had production, the wow factor, and everything you want in a Hall of Fame talent (which they both are). Following their time in Anaheim they tried to briefly reconnect for a run in Colorado but were unable to duplicate the magic they had with the Ducks.
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One of the most unique duos in league history, and also one of the most productive. Identical twin brothers that went second and third overall in their draft class (after an insane series of trades by the Vancouver Canucks to secure those two picks) and went on to be a Hall of Fame duo for more than a decade. They were never able to bring a Stanley Cup to Vancouver (they got as close as a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final) but they were still among the best players of their era and helped make the Canucks a bonafide contender throughout their careers. Each of them won a scoring title in the NHL.
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Along with Mikael Renberg these two helped form the Legion Of Doom in Philadelphia, which was not only one of the coolest line names in league history, but also a three-man wrecking crew that just steamrolled everything in its path. They were everything you imagine Philadelphia Flyers hockey to be — big, strong, powerful, fearless, and talented. Lindros was the best of the bunch and the driving force behind the line only to have his career sidetracked by constant concussion problems toward the end. This duo powered the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final in 1997.
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Brett Hull and Adam Oates (St. Louis Blues)
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They only spent a couple of years together in St. Louis, but wow were they dominant during that time. Had they spent more time together they would have easily been higher on this list. With Oates as his playmaking center, Hull scored 158 goals during the 1989-90 and 1990-91 seasons and was ripping up the league again in 1991-92 before Oates was traded to Boston at the trade deadline.
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Peter and Anton Stastny (Quebec Nordiques)
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A significant duo in league history, not only for their brilliance on the ice, but for what their arrival meant to the future of the league. They were two of the first star players to defect from the Eastern European bloc teams to defect to the NHL and helped open the door for European players in the future.
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Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer (Anaheim Ducks)
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They each appear on this list two different times with two different teams. The joined forces in Anaheim at the start of the 2006-07 season when Pronger was acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Edmonton Oilers. Niedermayer had signed with the Ducks as a free agent one year earlier. Together they formed a Hall of Fame defense duo that drove the Ducks to a Stanley Cup in Pronger’s first year. They only spent three years together (Pronger was traded to Philadelphia before the 2009-10 season) and they were both at the end of their careers when they played next to each other, but they were still as dominant as any duo in league history.
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They entered the league in completely opposite ways, but when united together they helped put Tampa Bay hockey on the map and brought a Stanley Cup to the sunshine state. While Lecavalier was the No. 1 overall pick and a prized prospect in 1998, St. Louis entered the league as an undrafted free agent and eventually signed with Tampa Bay in 2000 after a forgettable two-year run with the Calgary Flames. St. Louis won two scoring titles with the Lightning, while Lecavalier won a goal-scoring crown. Together they were as good as any duo in the league during their prime years.
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Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall (St. Louis Blues)
When the Blues entered the league during the 1967 season as part of a massive expansion that doubled the size of the NHL, they made quite an entrance by playing in three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals. They were by far the best of the new teams, mainly due to the presence of a Hall of Fame goaltending duo in Plante and Hall during the 1968-69 and 1969-70 seasons. They may have been at the end of their careers, but they still played at an elite level and helped carry the team to success.
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It is not often that a team has two Vezina Trophy winning goalies on its roster at the same time, and both playing significant roles. But it happened for the Bruins between 2009-10 and 2011-12 when they were one of the top teams in the league. And both goalies played a significant role in that success. Of the 70 goalies that appeared in at least 30 games during that stretch, Thomas and Rask were second and third in the NHL in save percentage with virtually identical numbers (.927 for Rask; .926 for Thomas).