What exactly defines a successful offensive duo in the NHL? It's a very difficult question to answer and there's no clear cut way of telling. If you asked 20 different avid NHL fans who would be among the top 15 most successful duos, you'd likely get 20 different answers. There are commonalities between the duos atop of the list. It goes without saying that there needs to be chemistry between a duo in order to be successful, but there also needs to be statistical evidence to back up their success. Elite duos not only have insane point production, but they maintain it over a long period of time. They also have the personal awards to back it up, most notably the Art Ross Memorial trophy and more recently "The Rocket" Richard trophy.
Of course, hockey is a team sport and while personal accolades during the regular season are fine and dandy (can't say dandy without thinking of Bob Cole), players are judged by how they perform when the stakes are the highest. For example, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton have been a staple of consistency in the regular season for a decade. They seem to be aging like wine as they light the lamp in the regular season year after year. But there's always a scoff when their names are mentioned because of their lack of success in the postseason. Some of the duos that are about to be mentioned reflected sheer dominance and could have been so much higher on the list had they simply achieved more success in the playoffs. Without further ado, here are the top 15 most successful duos in NHL history!
16 16. Henrik and Daniel Sedin
They won't be the best "brother duo" on this list, but they would certainly rank #1 in regards to how much they look and play like each other. The Sedin's have a lot of skeptics in the league. Pundits feel that they're soft, can't step up in pivotal moments, and that they're on the decline. There may be some merit to those claims but nobody can deny that they've put up an incredible amount of points over the course of their collective careers. They've each won a scoring title and rank 1 and 2 for points in franchise history. They fell short against the Bruins in the Cup Finals of 2011, but in their earlier years, the Canucks' offense rested squarely on the Sedin's shoulders. They still managed to lead the Canucks to 10 playoff berths.
15 Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin
What's scary about these two is that their assault on the record books has just begun, as they still have plenty of juice left in the tank. When analyzing their accomplishments, it's also important to consider how much time Crosby missed due to lingering concussion issues. Malkin's won one Hart trophy while Sid the Kid has taken home two, and they both have two scoring titles to their names. We also can't forget their Stanley Cup win in 2009 when they took down the mighty Detroit Red Wings, with Malkin winning the Conn Smythe. When these two combine on the power play, it's an absolute thing of beauty. If we revisit this list in a few years, it's likely they'll rank even higher.
14 Eric Lindros and John LeClair
They were 2/3's of the "Legion of Doom" line. While they never won the cup, they were arguably the most physically dominating line of all time. They would use their large frames to their advantage and were seemingly impossible to take off the puck. They also weren't shy when it came to the rough stuff, notably with Lindros who engaged in it so much that he developed concussion problems that cut his career short. The L.O.D. line was formed in 1994, when they combined LeClair and Lindros with Mikael Renberg. It was love at first sight for these guys, as the line put up 80 goals and 96 assists for the Flyers. The next season, they were unbelievably even more productive as they combined for 121 goals and 134 assists.
Despite this regular season dominance, they could never finish the job in the playoffs, which is strange because that's usually where the bigger bodies thrive. The closest they got was the 1997 finals, but Detroit managed to blanket them.
13 Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis
Their longevity was incredible, as Lecavalier and St. Louis were linemates for 13 seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning. There was no doubt that these two possessed spectacular skills, but they were still an unlikely offensive duo in a way. Normally a successful offensive tandem has a sniper and a guy that feeds him his passes. In the case of Marty and Vinny, defenseman didn't know who was going to pass or take the shot as they were equally satisfied with passing or burying, as long as the puck ended up in the net.
These two experience a great deal of success together, as St. Louis took home two Art Ross trophies and one Hart, while Lecavalier took home the Rocket trophy. They also led the Lightning to their only Stanley Cup in 2004.
12 Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane
They don't boast the personal accolades like some of the other people on this list (yet anyway), but they certainly know how to win games when it counts. Toews and Kane are 25 and 26, respectively, and have already hoisted the cup twice in their young careers. It appears as though they're just getting started, as every season the Hawks are considered one of the favorites to win the cup. Last season, they lost to L.A in the Conference Finals after squandering a 2-0 lead and had they gotten passed the Kings, who knows what would have happened? That was a joke, they clearly would have beat the Rangers. Nevertheless, two Cups on their resumes is astounding. They played intricate roles in those Cup victories as Captain Serious won the Conn Smythe in 2010 and Kane took home the same honor in 2013.
11 Brett Hull and Adam Oates
On the ice and off the ice, these two were like Frick and Frack. They were unbelievable together and they knew it, and they weren't shy to let everyone else know it either. As ex-teammate Sergio Momesso put it: "they liked themselves." They only played 3 seasons together on the Blues, but their offensive output was mind blowing. While St. Louis and Lecavalier would take turns scoring and passing, Hull and Oates knew their roles. In the 3 seasons they played together, Hull notched 72, 86 and 70 goals and Oates racked up 79, 90 and 59 assists. They didn't win the Stanley Cup, but had they stuck together, who knows?
10 Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg
Along with their great offensive output, these two bring another intangible that is rarely possessed by offensive duos. They are two of the greatest two-way players in the game, especially with Datsyuk, who boasts three Selke trophies on his resume. But unlike Hull and Oates, he wouldn't tell you about them as he and Zetterberg are two of the most humble and classiest players in the game. Datsyuk's four consecutive Lady Byng trophies from 2006-2019 would reflect that notion as well. Whether they're playing separately or together, they're both wonderful players to watch. While Zetterberg doesn't have the same personal accolades as Datsyuk, he has a knack for finding the net when it counts and won the Smythe in the Wings' cup win in 2008.
9 Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier
Gretzky's more notable partner in crime was Jari Kurri, but we'll talk more about them later. Gretzky and Kurri were both skilled guys, and it's been said many times that to become a Stanley Cup contender, a team also needs some sandpaper and, most of all, leadership. That is exactly what Messier brought to the table and enabled them to become a dynasty. This is not to say that "Mess" was simply a grinder that would muck it up in the corners. He put up incredible numbers along with Gretzky and Kurri. While Gretzky was busy obliterating the record books, Messier was routinely putting up 80-100 point seasons. The tandem won 4 cups together with the Oilers.
8 Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg
A quiet, reserved, and smooth skating Canadian and a fierce, hard hitting Swede? Don Cherry is still in denial about this one. The rarest commodity in the league is a premiere center. Teams spend years trying to find one, whether it's through the draft or via trade. Colorado (and Quebec in the early years) were lucky enough to have two. The city of Quebec almost had a riot when Eric Lindros refused to put their jersey on, but the trade ended up being beneficial in the end... for Colorado (poor Quebec). The two were a staple up the middle for nearly a decade and led the Avs to two Stanley Cups. "Burnaby Joe" was a slick player that had a knack for stepping up at key moments and his 1996 Smythe trophy would echo that sentiment. On his side was Forsberg, who was just a freak of nature. His ferocious play left him ridden with injuries but he always found his way back. He somehow led the 2002 playoffs in scoring despite missing the entire regular season that year. What's crazier than that is that he didn't even win the cup that year, as they were eliminated in the Conference Finals by the Red Wings.
7 Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux
Oh what could have been...these two were perfect for each other, like peanut butter and jelly. When Jagr burst onto the scene in the 1990-91 season, Lemieux was already a superstar and was a serious challenger to Wayne Gretzky's records. As a team, however, they were just missing a little something to get them over that hump. That little something was Jaromir Jagr, as they won back to back Stanley Cups in 91 and 92. Lemieux won the Conn Smythe in both triumphs, but Jagr played an intricate role.
Unfortunately their assault on the league as tag team got cut way too short, as Lemieux's health cost the tandem three full seasons together. Once Lemieux went on hiatus, Jagr took over the reigns as the league's top scorer. But it's hard to imagine them not pulling in another Cup or two had Lemieux not had health issues.
6 Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay
What a contrast these two were when compared to the law abiding Red Wings that dominated the NHL in the late 90's. Howe and Lindsay played together for 11 seasons, leading the Wings to four Stanley Cups. They were lethal in a sense that they'd rack up points year after year, but they were also lethal to opposing players as they had would throw elbows and even knees. Lindsay was nicknamed "Terrible" for a reason and it's because of him that the NHL created elbowing and kneeing penalties. Howe was even more proficient at throwing elbows because he'd often times get away with it! He is also the innovator of the "Gordie Howe Hat Trick," which occurs when a player scores a goal, records an assist and get into a fight in the same game. Anyone who has every played hockey knows that you get more street cred in the room for a Gordie Howe hat trick, than a standard one.
5 Maurice and Henri Richard
"The Rocket" and the "Pocket Rocket" were so different, but both incredibly successful. When Henri showed up to training camp in 1995, the public thought it was a joke. People were suggesting that he was only there because he was Maurice's brother. The other players scoffed, as Henri was only 5'7 and a meager 160 pounds. Nobody was laughing when the brothers went on to lead the Habs to a record-setting five Stanley Cups in a row.
Maurice was a powerful, fiery player with incredible determination. When the puck was on his stick, the look in his eyes was frightening. Saying this man enjoyed scoring goals is an understatement. He was the first player to notch 500 goals, and score 50 in a single season.
Henri was totally different, as he was a smooth skating forward that could mesmerize you with his stick handling. Unlike his older brother, he loved to dish the puck and setup his teammates. He retired with a staggering 11 Stanley Cups.
4 Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy
They're definitely the most underrated duo in NHL history. For some reason, when people talk about the all time greats, Bossy and Trottier seem to slip their minds. With the lack of success that's marred Long Island for the past 15 years (although they're currently improving), it's tough for modern fans to imagine the Isles as a force to be reckoned with. But they were indeed a dynasty that won four Stanley Cups in a row, and it was in large part to Trottier and Bossy's chemistry.
Trottier was the type of player that every team wants, as he was a two-way center with a gritty attitude that would never give up on a play. When people hear the term "two-way center," they automatically think of a shut down guy that will chip in offensively here and there. Trottier's 1,425 points in 1279 games is a little more than "chipping in."
Bossy was an entirely different player, as he was a pure goal scorer. Some would argue that he was the most pure goal scorer in the league's history. During their decade tenure together, only once did Bossy not hit the 50 goal mark.
3 Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull
They played together for 13 seasons and racked up a lot of hardware, to put it mildly. They combined for four Hart trophies and seven scoring titles. But it wasn't always smooth sailing, particularly for Mikita. While Hull was a natural and could do as he pleased, coming to the NHL was a huge adaptation for Mikita. His first full season was a bust as he only notched 26 points and spent most of his time in the penalty box.
Management didn't give up on Mikita and neither did Bobby Hull, as the two developed into one of the most prolific duos in the league's history. Mikita progressively turned into a superstar, earning himself four Art Ross trophies in five seasons, while Hull earned three of his own.
Who was the better player? That's up for debate. But unquestionably Mikita's complete turn around was the most remarkable feat. It's mind blowing to think that he racked up over 700 penalty minutes in his first seven seasons, and then somehow managed to pickup two Lady Byng trophies in the latter portion of his career. The only stumbling block with Mikita and Hull is the fact that they only won one Stanley Cup.
2 Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr
We will never see another Bobby Orr, he was just that special. Was he an offensive defenseman or a defensive defenseman? He was both, and he was the all-time best in both aspects. He won the Norris trophy as the league's best defenseman, an unprecedented eight times. He also won the Art Ross as the top scorer twice. He is the only defenseman to ever win the trophy and probably will be the last. For our younger readers, catch an old school Bruins game on ESPN Classic and you'll have your mind blown.
Esposito was one of the most charismatic players to ever play the game. He was a tremendous leader and never pulled any punches (see his Summit Series speech). He was a cocky guy but he could back up every word as he took home five Art Ross titles on his own.
The duo lit the lamp consistently for the eight seasons they played together and they also won two Stanley Cups while they were at it.
1 Jari Kurri and Wayne Gretzky
Kurri was known as Gretzky's "right hand man" or sidekick. That tends to happen when you're playing with the best player to ever play the game. There was also a myth that anyone could play with Wayne Gretzky, but that wasn't true. Coach Glen Sather struggled to find linemates for Gretzky in the 1980-81 season. By the season's mid point, Sather finally put Kurri on Gretzky's wing based on a hunch. They ended up scoring 429 goals together in Edmonton!
The two fed off each other, so it's no coincidence that their most productive years were while they were playing together. Gretzky went on to obliterate the record books, but Kurri went on to dispel certain stereotypes about European born players. Notable records that Gretzky achieved alongside Kurri were: most goals in a season (92), most points (215), and the most impressive of all, 50 goals in 39 games. Kurri, on the other hand, was the first Finnish player to ever record a 50 goal season and to collect 100 points in a season. Most importantly, he smashed the myth that Europeans couldn't produce in the playoffs, as he capped off his career with 233 points in 200 playoff games.
The duo also achieved team success as well, winning four Stanley Cups with the Oilers. Granted, they were part of some of the most powerful teams in league history, but it was still a 21 team league as opposed to six teams, where some of the other duos thrived.