The NHL has had its share of stars and superstars throughout history. Some of these players have been able to single-handedly impact a game, win a playoff series, even turn an organization around. But what’s even better than having one of these players? Having two of them, of course.
Whether it was the number Stanley Cup’s won, the individual accolades between the two players, the team’s overall success, or the impressive amount of point totals, there are a number of duos in NHL history that completed truly remarkable feats.
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While there are many to choose from, here are the top-ten best duos of all time in the NHL’s long history and what they were able to accomplish together.
Note: The “Combined Awards” only includes the trophies won while the players were on the same team.
10) Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl
Combined Awards: Three Hart Memorial Trophy, Four Lester B Pearson Trophy, Five Art Ross Trophies.
It’s difficult to judge relatively new players when it comes to the annals of history, especially for a league as old as the NHL. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t understand true greatness as you see it happening on the ice. Currently, there is no better example of this than the pairing of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid for the Edmonton Oilers.
Yes, it is still early in their careers, but what these two have done together in the regular season is baffling. Since McDavid first took the ice in 2015, they have been offensive dynamos, posting a combined eight 100-point seasons despite only playing a full 82-games together once. In 472 career games together, Draisaiyl scored 558 points, whereas McDavid posted 682. These are both staggering numbers, which should only grow as they continue playing alongside each other.
They have also already won a career’s worth of trophies, with McDavid pulling down two Hart Trophies, three Lest B. Pearson Awards, and four Art Ross Trophies as the highest-scoring player in the NHL. For his part, Draisaitl has one of each of these Trophies, showcasing that he is more than pulling his own weight in this relationship.
While they have yet to claim a Stanley Cup, the 2022 postseason was a bit of a coming-out party for these superstars. Despite only reaching the Western Conference Final, they still would lead all players in points scored, with McDavid posting 33 and Draisaitl scoring 32. This should just be the start to their playoff story, as the Oilers look to build a contending team around these players.
Depending on how Edmonton handles things, there’s potential for these two stars to terrorize the league for the better part of the next decade. If this happens, expect them to continue moving up this list, as they will be winning more awards, gaining more recognition, and one day, maybe even hoisting the Stanley Cup.
9) Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg
Combined Awards: two Stanley Cups, two Hart Memorial Trophy, one Conn Smythe Trophy, one Art Ross Trophy, one Lester B. Pearson Trophy, one Lady Byng Memorial Trophy and one Calder Memorial Trophy.
It’s hard to think of the Colorado Avalanche and not think of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. From 1994-95 to 2003-04, and then once again in 2007-08, these two future Hall of Famers dominated the league together. It could be argued that they were helped by star-studded rosters including Rob Blake, Adam Foote, Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque and Milan Hejduk (to name a few), but these two were the leaders on that team.
Although injuries would later derail his dominant career, Peter Forsberg was an elite offensive player who changed the perception of European players. Typically thought to be soft, Forsberg played a style quite opposite, using his body to not only protect the puck but also to lay the occasional devastating body check.
Sakic, on the other hand, remains one of the most elite players to have played in the NHL. Known for his world-class release, “Burnaby Joe” was a consistent goal scorer and a great leader. He played his entire 20-year NHL career with the Avalanche organization, including seven with the Quebec Nordiques.
The longtime Avalanche captain still leads the franchise in games played (1,378), goals scored (625), assists (1,016), points (1,641) and many other stats, Forsberg leads in plus/minus with a staggering plus-210.
Despite playing during the Dead Puck Era, Sakic and Forsberg combined for 557 goals, 1,076 assists and 1,633 points in just 1,327 games. While teams were worrying about one player, the other one had already scored.
After Forsberg’s retirement, Sakic had glowing recollections of his star teammate, “Once he stepped on the ice, he was going to play his way, the way he knew and he did that. He’s definitely a huge force in this game. For his time, when he played, there was nobody better, with the vision, hockey sense, the playmaking ability and the strength.”
The two led the team to Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001. That 1995-96 season was one to remember, with Sakic scoring 51 goals and 120 points and Forsberg adding 30 goals and 116 points in just his second season. Remarkably, they didn’t win any regular season individual awards for their efforts, in large part thanks to a player by the name of Mario Lemieux. But we’ll get to him.
8) Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin
Combined Awards: three Stanley Cups, three Hart Memorial Trophies, three Conn Smythe Awards, four Art Ross Trophies, two Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophies, four Lester B. Pearson/Ted Lindsay Awards, one Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award and one Calder Memorial Trophy.
Since entering the league, the pair have only played for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Crosby had his rookie season just before Malkin came to town. Crosby has put up crazy numbers in his time, with 517 goals and 892 assists for 1,409 points in 1,108 games. That’s 1.27 points per game.
Malkin is right there as well, though. In 981 games, he has 444 goals, 702 assists and 1,146 points. That’s a little bit less than Crosby, at 1.17 points per game. Yet, still a monstrous rate.
Prior to both players being on the team, the Penguins had not made the playoffs in four straight seasons. Enter Crosby and Malkin, and they have made the postseason 13 straight seasons – and counting. That includes four trips to the Stanley Cup Final, winning three Cups. The four trips to the Final is the most of any team since they’ve been in the league. Plus, their back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017 was the first time a team repeated as the winner since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.
What is most impressive about this duo, is that their time isn’t over. The two are still pushing forward with the Penguins and the competition between them to be better continues to drive them.
“It’s good competition between me and Sid,” Malkin said to NHL.com. “If Sid scores, I want to score two. If Sid [gets] one more, oh, I want to score one more too. If Sid scores hat trick, I stop.”
That last part was a joke, of course. Looking at their point totals through the years, the two have made some good competition for themselves. Crosby has topped 100 points six times in his career, while Malkin has three times. They’ve both hit the 50-goal plateau once, with Crosby coming out one ahead, 51 goals to 50 for career highs. As mentioned, these two aren’t done yet, making it all the more impressive.
7) Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull
Combined Awards: one Stanley Cup, four Hart Memorial Trophies, seven Art Ross Trophies, and three Lady Byng Memorial Trophies. (Bobby Hull also led the league in goal scoring seven times in their time together, prior to the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy).
While playing together with the Chicago Blackhawks from 1958-59 to 1971-72, Hull and Stan Mikita rewrote the franchise record books. The two became unstoppable together, still standing atop numerous franchise records.
Mikita leads the franchise in games played (1,396), assists (926), and points (1,467), while Hull stands alone in the goal column (604). In their 13 full seasons together, they just won the one Stanley Cup, but they reached the Final on three other occasions, falling to the Toronto Maple Leafs once and the Montreal Canadiens twice.
Prior to the two being on the team, the Blackhawks had not reached the playoffs in five straight seasons and made it just three times in the previous 16 seasons. With the duo on the team, they missed the postseason just once.
The two complimented each other so well. Hull was a pure goal-scorer, with a booming shot that would terrify goaltenders. He had five 50-plus-goal seasons, capped off by a 58-goal season in 1968-69. Mikita was the playmaker on the team, seeming to do everything right on a nightly basis. He still leads the franchise in plus/minus as a plus-329.
Related: Stan Mikita: A True Chicago Legend
After Hull’s passing in 2018, Mikita spoke to reporters about his other half. In the interview, he was asked about two rarely playing on the same line, something that led many fans to think they didn’t get along.
“That wasn’t the case at all,” Mikita told the Chicago Tribune. “The reason was that we both liked to handle the puck. I wanted it between the blue lines, and he had to have it wherever he thought he could get into position for that great shot of his.” (From: “Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull formed special bond with Blackhawks” –Chicago Tribune –Aug. 7, 2018).
Outside the Blackhawks arena, the United Center, statues of Hull and Mikita stand tall. Just like they did on the ice for over a decade.
6) Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr
Combined Awards: two Stanley Cups, two Hart Memorial Trophies, two Conn Smythe Trophies, six Art Ross Trophies, two Lester B. Pearson Trophies, one Bill Masterton Trophy. (Mario Lemieux also led the league in goal scoring once in their time together, prior to the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy).
From 1990-91 to 1996-97 and then again 2000-01, Penguins fans were given the opportunity to watch not just one, but two of the greatest players to ever play the game. Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr are two of the best all-time players and for seven seasons, they played together in Pennsylvania.
It seems crazy that for the seven seasons they played together, there weren’t more awards won. The two Hart Memorial Trophies were won by Lemieux in 1992-93 and 1995-96, along with four of the Art Ross Trophies. When Lemieux retired for the 1997-98 to 1999-00 seasons, Jagr won the Art Ross Trophy every year, as well as two Lester B. Pearson Trophies and a Hart Trophy.
What that means, if that from 1991-92 until 2000-01, either Lemieux or Jagr won the Art Ross Trophy every season except one. In 1993-94, Wayne Gretzky won the trophy.
Lemieux, a first-overall pick of the Penguins in 1984, is arguably one of the best players in NHL history. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Lemieux was known for his ability to use his size to his advantage, size which helped him reach eighth-place on the all-time scoring list.
Related: The 5 Greatest Hockey Players Ever
His dynamic partner, Jagr, played a similar brand of hockey to Lemieux. Jagr, who is currently second all-time in points, is known as a menace behind the goal line, using his size and strength to shield the puck from his opponents.
Although Lemieux’s dominance began in 1984, it wasn’t until 1990 when Jagr made his Penguins debut. The result? Instant success. The Penguins won two consecutive Stanley Cups in the 1991 and 1992 seasons while Lemieux took home back-to-back Conn Smythe Trophies. Winning back-to-back Stanley Cups has only been done twice since, as mentioned above, by the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998 and the Penguins in 2016 and 2017.
5) Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier
Combined Awards: four Stanley Cups, one Hart Memorial Trophy, two Conn Smythe Trophy, one Art Ross Trophy, three Lady Byng Memorial Trophies, and one Calder Memorial Trophy. (Mike Bossy also led the league in goal scoring twice in their time together, prior to the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy).
We’re into the top-five dynamic duos of all time now, and you’ll notice one of the numbers in the “Combined Awards” really start to jump up here. From 1977-78 to 1986-87, the New York Islanders maintained one of the best dynasties in NHL history, led by Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier.
During their time together, the duo and the Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups between 1980 and 1983. In fact, those are the team’s only Stanley Cups to date.
In the ten seasons that they played together, Bossy was a man on fire, scoring 573 goals, 553 assists for 1,126 points in 752 games. The goals are still a franchise record. He piled on the goals in his time, with five seasons of over 60, capped by the franchise-leading 69 in 1978-79. His first nine NHL seasons finished with over 50 goals, an NHL record that still stands. Of his 10 seasons, seven of them saw him collect over 117 points.
In that same time, Trottier wasn’t far behind Bossy, scoring 378 goals, 657 assists and 1,035 points in 758 games. Starting with the Islanders before and playing after Bossy, Trottier still holds the franchise records for games (1,123), assists (853) and points (1,353).
At just 30 years old, Bossy didn’t play the 1987-88 season due to trying to find medical help for a chronic back injury. A year later he officially retired.
In a letter to his younger self, Bossy touched on the relationship that he and Trottier had. His own words are better than any other description of what these two had.
“[Trottier is] the complete hockey player, and you’re going to develop such an unbelievable chemistry with him that you guys won’t be able to keep a leftwinger. They’ll always complain that you and Bryan are just passing the puck back and forth to one another. It’s kind of true. But it works. At some point, you’ll tell Bryan, ‘You don’t need to see me, just my stick. As long as you can see my stick, put it there.'”
There’s no question that this duo is one of the best in history, but there are a lot of questions. Imagine if Bossy continued playing? How far up the record books would he have gone? Could he and Trottier have brought another Cup to the franchise? He played just 10 seasons, but he and Trottier were able to do something truly special with the time they had.
4) Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe
Combined Awards: four Stanley Cups, three Hart Memorial Trophies, and six Art Ross Trophy.(Gordie Howe also led the league in goal scoring four times in their time together, prior to the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy. Ted Lindsay led the league once).
When talking about the most dynamic duos in NHL history, Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay need to be near the top. They are arguably the original dynamic duo, playing together from 1946-47 to 1956-57 and then for one more season in 1964-65.
Howe, also known as “Mr. Hockey”, was exactly that in his 26-season NHL and 32-year professional hockey career. In an amazing 25 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings alone, Howe became known for his offence as well as his physical play, becoming famous for earning the “Gordie Howe Hat Trick”, culminating a goal, an assist and a fight.
Until Gretzky came along, Howe was the all-time leader in goals, with 801. He still sits second on that list. He’s also 10th in assists (1,049) and fourth in points (1,850).
As a duo, Lindsay and Howe led the Red Wings to Stanley Cup titles in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955. The contributions of both Lindsay and Howe to the NHL were so great in fact, that they are both in the Hockey Hall of Fame and Lindsay currently has the NHL’s award for Most Outstanding Player as determined by the NHLPA named in his honour.
The two were part of what is known as the “Production Line,” also including Sid Abel, and then Alex Delvecchio when Abel was traded. The original line is still the only line in NHL history to finish one, two and three in league scoring. It was in 1949-50 when Lindsay won the Art Ross Trophy with a career-high 78 points, Abel finished second with 69 points and Howe right behind him with 68.
If there’s one thing that can set the best duos away from the rest, it’s the ability to know where the other is on the ice without even looking. Lindsay and Howe had that, as Lindsay penned in a 1957 edition of Hockey Blueline magazine.
“I can truthfully say that I can pass without looking and nine times out of ten Gordie will be right there to take it. It’s the same thing with me, I just seem to know what Gord’s going to do and most of the time I’m lucky enough to be there for the pass.”
Howe and Lindsay had an immense impact on the game, both on and off the ice. They set records, and Lindsay even helped to create the NHLPA that is known today. Some may even have them higher on this list for their mark left on the NHL to this day.
3) Maurice and Henri Richard
Combined Awards: five Stanley Cups.
That’s not a typo, that does read five Stanley Cups. Even more impressive? Brothers Maurice and Henri Richard played together for the Montreal Canadiens from 1955-56 to 1959-60. Feel free to count that out on your hand – it’s five seasons. With the Richard brothers in the lineup, the team went a perfect five-for-five with the Stanley Cup. The five consecutive winning seasons is still a record that stands today.
Considering the career these two had and the fact that they won every Stanley Cup while they played together, it’s incredible that they don’t have individual hardware from this time. But there was some impressive competition back then. Howe took three Hart Trophies and an Art Ross Trophy, Dickie Moore won two Art Ross Trophies, and Jean Beliveau won both a Hart and Art Ross Trophy while leading the league in goals twice. There was a lot of talent in the ’50s.
The brothers may have only played for five seasons together, but they had long careers that left their mark on the history books. Maurice played for the Canadiens for 18 seasons, and Henri played for 20. Those five seasons together marked the last five of Maurice’s career and the first five of Henri’s.
Maurice remains the all-time goals leader for the franchise, with 544 goals. He’s known by the hockey world as the “Rocket” and for the award now named after him awarded to the player who scores the most goals in the regular season. The elder Richard became the first NHL player to score 500 goals and 50 in a season –which he did in 50 games in 1944-45.
Henri leads the duo in games played, with 1,258. While he didn’t have the goal-scoring abilities like his brother, the “Pocket Rocket” is still one of the Canadiens all-time greats. He was more of a playmaker and finished his career beating his brother in assists (688) and points (1,046). He beat his brother, and the rest of the NHL, in Stanley Cups too. He won 11 of them, to Maurice’s eight.
The impact that the Rocket and the Pocket Rocket had on the Canadiens and the league is immense. The two players marked the end of one era and the bigging of another – both equally successful. Their meeting in the middle of five straight Stanley Cups is an unprecedented feat that is very unlikely to ever be matched.
2) Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr
Combined Awards: two Stanley Cups, five Hart Memorial Trophies, two Conn Smythe Trophies, seven Art Ross Trophies, eight James Norris Trophies, and three Lester B. Pearson Awards. (Phil Esposito also led the league in goal scoring six times in their time together, prior to the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy).
Alright, Boston Bruins’ Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr may have won only two Stanley Cups together, but did you take a look at those other numbers? When talking about pure dominance as a duo, Esposito and Orr are two of the best in history.
The two greats played together for the Boston Bruins from 1967-68 to 1975-76 (eight seasons). Now take a look at those awards again. Orr won the Norris Trophy every season and led the league in points twice, while Esposito led the league in goal scoring six times and points five times. All while Orr won three Hart Trophies and Esposito won two. They ran the league.
Esposito was a big and strong centreman who became known as the most prolific goal scorer in NHL history at the time. His 76 in 1970-71 set a new league record. That mark is still the fifth-best for one season. Esposito finished his career with 717 goals, still sixth all-time. Of those goals, 495 came while playing with Orr and the Bruins. He also had six seasons out of seven of over 126 points, including five straight.
On the other hand, Bobby Orr redefined the definition of an NHL defenseman. His smooth skating alongside his fantastic scoring abilities made him one of the best in history and remains the benchmark of an offensive defenseman to this day.
Related: Bobby Orr’s Landmark Season
He is the only player to win the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe, Hart, Art Ross and Norris Trophies in a single season (1969-70). He is the only NHL defenseman to have nine hat tricks in his career and in 1970-71 set single-season records for assists (102), points by a defenseman (139) and plus/minus rating (plus-124). While Esposito was on his run of over 100-points seasons, Orr did too with six straight over 101 points.
As Esposito said, “All that Bobby did was change the face of hockey all by himself.”
The 1968-69 season was the true beginning of this great duo, as both players exploded, enjoying career-best seasons. Although, they would break those highs very soon. As individuals, both players were exceptional, yet when both were on the ice together, they and the Bruins as a whole were a dominant force.
1) Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri
Combined Awards: four Stanley Cups, seven Hart Memorial Trophies, two Conn Smyth Trophies, eight Art Ross Trophies, five Lester B. Pearson Trophies, and three Lady Byng Memorial Trophies. (Wayne Gretzky also led the league in goal scoring five times in their time together, prior to the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy. Jari Kurri led the league once).
Now, to be completely transparent, Jari Kurri only won one of those awards: – a Lady Byng in 1984-85. But let’s face it, when you’re in the league with Gretzky, not many others are going to win awards. From 1980-81 to 1987-88 with the Edmonton Oilers and 1991-92 to 1995-96 with the Los Angeles Kings, these two stars ran the league.
There should be no question that the Gretzky-Kurri connection is the best duo in NHL history. Part of that is because most all-time NHL lists have Gretzky at the top of them, but the main reason is the magic that these two players had on the ice.
Gretzky is the best player to ever play the game. Looking at his statistics, it isn’t even close. He still leads the league in all-time goals (894), assists (1,963) and points (2,857). While playing with Kurri, he set a number of single-season records as well. There are way too many to list (He owns or shares 61 league records), but from when the duo was together, Gretzky set records for most goals (92), assists (163) and points (215) in a single season.
The duo is mainly known for their time with the Oilers. With them both on the team, Gretzky played some of his best hockey, not just getting over 100 points each season, but his lowest total was 149 points. He crossed 200 four times. He also had over 100 assists each season.
Kurri crossed the 100-point plateau five times, in consecutive seasons. His best season was in 1984-85 when he had 71 goals, 64 assists and 135 points in 73 games.
While Gretzky was racking up the points, Kurri was his biggest contributor, assisting on 196 of Gretzky’s goals. Remember, number 99 was also an elite playmaker, and he proved that by assisting on 364 of Kurry’s goals.
Kurri was largely overshadowed by number 99, yet he still made his mark on the history books. Obviously, Gretzky leads the goals, assists and point categories for the Oilers, but Kurri is right near the top. He’s second all-time goals (474) and points (1,043) and third in assists (569).
There aren’t many people who haven’t heard of “The Great One,” but Kurri is a lesser-known superstar. As far as Gretzky was concerned, there wasn’t one player better than the other, they were a tandem, “We figured we could score nine out of 10 times,” Gretzky said years after playing. “No matter where I put the puck, on Jari’s stick, in his feet … he’d snap it.”
There are many that say Gretzky and Mark Messier were the better tandem, and there would definitely be a case for that. However, the performance that Gretzky and Kurri put on the ice night in and night out is by far the better pairing. It is very likely that their output will never be matched.
Honourable Mentions (In No Particular Order):
- Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier
- Serge Savard and Larry Robinson
- Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane
- Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry
- Henrik and Daniel Sedin`
- Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer
- Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis
- John LeClair and Eric Lindros
- Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk
- Steve Shutt and Guy Lafleur
- Brett Hull and Adam Oates
Statistics from hockey-reference.com.
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Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.