The life cycle of a hockey line goes something like this:
It's created by a coach attempting to mesh three players together into a cohesive unit; it'll stick around for anywhere from a few periods to a few games; and then it's either broken up, with the spare parts added to different lines, or it passes the chemistry test, living on for months or perhaps for seasons.
Sometimes lines earn nicknames, although that usually speaks more to their popularity than their effectiveness. Or, in some cases, it's just because the first letter from the players' names spells something cool.
Every franchise has its endearing and enduring lines, which is why we've decided to determine the best ones for all 31 teams, currently and back in the day. As these rankings can get a bit predictable when looking back -- "The Production Line," "The Triple Crown Line," "The French Connection" and the rest of the usual suspects -- we're limiting our "best line" search to the past 30 years, back to the 1989-90 season.
In addition, we're naming a "cult classic" line for every team during that span: a line that captured the fans' imagination, no matter how long it was together.
Enjoy our "best lines" rankings, and let the debates begin ...
The extraordinary thing about this line is that it dominated at two different points in the timeline. In 2006-07, when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup, it was the "Kid Line." Getzlaf and Perry were both 21, and they were the top two scorers for the Ducks in the postseason. Penner left for Edmonton as a free agent that summer. It wasn't until 2013 when Penner signed with Anaheim as a free agent that the trio reunited, and didn't skip a beat, averaging 4.28 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5.
The checking line that coach Randy Carlyle deployed with frequency during the team's 2007 Stanley Cup run, and especially in the finals against the Senators when Jason Spezza (two assists in five games) and Dany Heatley (one goal) were shut down in part due to this trio. Moen chimed in with seven goals in the playoffs, while he and Pahlsson -- a suffocating defensive center -- had 12 points each.
A strong possession line that averaged 4.07 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, it earned the second-most ice time for any line on the Ducks this season. But all three players have seen better seasons (as has their team, obviously).
Were we to open up this competition to the Coyotes' days in Winnipeg, then it's a slam dunk: Tkachuk, Alexei Zhamnov and a plucky young scorer named Teemu Selanne. But we're talking only about the desert dogs here, so that means it's Big Walt with Roenick and Tocchet. This line racked up points, with Tkachuk hitting 40 goals in 1997-98. The trio also racked up penalty minutes with its net-crashing style -- combining for 428 PIMs in 1998-99. No line was more popular in the team's first few seasons in Phoenix.
Although there wasn't a Tkachuk, Roenick, Shane Doan or Taylor Hall on the line, this trio proved to be a solid scoring unit around the 2001-02 season. Langkow actually led Phoenix with 62 points that season, ahead of Doan and Daniel Briere. Coyotes coach Bob Francis would deploy the trio as a defensive stopper line, too.
Easy call here, as Hall found a home with these two forwards after coming over from the Devils. They averaged 3.41 goals per 60 minutes and earned 55.4% of the scoring chances. Garland was a revelation, scoring 22 goals in his second NHL season. Hopefully for the Coyotes, he's not a one-hit wonder.
For one season, "The Bonanza Line" rode high in the saddle. This was the best offensive season in Oates' Hall of Fame career, with 142 points(!) including a league-high 97 assists. Juneau's 102 points and 32 goals were his career best. Don't sleep on Kvartalnov, who arrived in Boston as a 26-year-old "rookie" after a decade playing in Russia and posted 30 goals and 72 points in one of only two seasons in the NHL.
They earned their "Merlot Line" nickname because that was the color of their jerseys in practice, worn by the team's fourth line. But the trio protested against being called the team's fourth line. "Our fourth line, as it's called in Boston, is not a fourth line on most other teams. We play an important role," said Campbell. Indeed these linemates did, throwing their bodies around and energizing fans and teammates during Boston's 2011 Stanley Cup run.
Known as "The Perfection Line" (to everyone but the Bruins fans who loathe that moniker). Since 2017, these three have played just over 1,600 minutes together at 5-on-5, with the Bruins scoring 61.0% of the goals and getting 57.0% of the shot attempts. Bergeron, one of the best two-way centers in NHL history, is flanked by two wingers who have played to a 30-goal pace for the past four seasons. As dominant as they come, and an argument can be made that this is the best Bruins line of the past 30 years, too.
The 1992-93 season was notable for LaFontaine having played 84 games, the most he'd play in a season and only the second time in his 15-season Hall of Fame career in which he didn't miss a game. As a result, he put up an extraordinary 148 points, including 53 goals -- and he was still second to Mario Lemieux (160) for the Art Ross Trophy. Mogilny was the primary beneficiary with a career-best 76 goals, tying him with Teemu Selanne for the league lead. Andreychuk's big body and Hall of Fame crease crashing completed the line. (Speaking of the Hall: Get Mogilny in there finally, will you?)
We asked Barnaby who typically skated with him and Ray. "I didn't play with Rob much," he said. But they did play together for a few glorious (goriest?) moments with fellow agent of chaos Brad May around 1997 to form what was known as "The Dog Line." This brief alignment of three of the team's greatest miscreants -- with a total combined penalty minutes that season of 641 -- remains the epitome of a cult classic.
They played over 600 minutes together in 2019-20, averaging 2.74 goals per 60 minutes at even strength. Eichel's career-best 1.15 points per game helped put Olofsson in the Calder Trophy conversation.
The greatest Flames line of the past 30 years will have two basic components: Roberts, who scored 505 points in 585 games with Calgary; and his frequent linemate Nieuwendyk, the Hall of Fame center who amassed 616 points in 577 games. While there are a few candidates for their ideal right wing -- and Sergei Makarov is certainly in the mix -- it's hard not to believe the best combination would involve that mightiest of mites, Fleury, who cracked 100 points in 1990-91 and 1992-93.
The "3M Line" quickly established itself as one of the NHL's preeminent collections of grunts. The trio played over 1,790 minutes together from 2016-17 to 2018-19 and had a plus-26 goal differential. Tkachuk, Backlund and Frolik devoured teams in puck possession and earned 58.78% of the scoring chances. Backlund was quietly one of the league's best defensive centers. Tkachuk blossomed into a star thanks to his combination of goal-scoring prowess and ruthless agitation.
While the O.G. "3M Line" still skated together in 2019-20, "3M 2.0" featured a breakout season from Mangiapane (17 goals) on a line that averaged 3.55 goals per 60 minutes and had an 11.13 shooting percentage.
This line helped fuel the Hurricanes' first Stanley Cup win in 2006 and Staal's lone 100-point season in the NHL; he was the offensive star of the line. Stillman averaged 1.06 points per game in 2005-06, a career high for a player who had experience flanking high-end offensive talent. Cole scored 30 goals in 60 games and brought more sandpaper than a Home Depot.
They were nicknamed "The BBC Line," despite none of them having been born in Leeds or Liverpool. The Hurricanes' first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002 featured this trifecta of hard-nosed forwards anchored by Brind'Amour, one of the best two-way centers of the past three decades (and current Hurricanes coach). Along with Cole, Battaglia was a hustling winger who hit a career-high 21 goals in 2001-02. They were featured on T-shirts and sat down for interviews together:
Teravainen and Aho have worked well together for the past three seasons, with the Hurricanes scoring 59.89% of the goals while these two are on the ice together. Nino Niederreiter played the most with them this season, but Svechnikov really kicked them to a different level: In 286 minutes together, their line produced 4.62 goals per 60 minutes, many of them without the benefit of lacrosse moves.
This line worked despite itself. Roenick played at a different speed and tempo than his veteran linemates. "Larmer and Roenick are an odd, yet effective, couple. Larmer plays a deliberate style and avoids media interviews, while Roenick plays in the fast lane and enjoys talking about it," Mike Kiley wrote in the Chicago Tribune back in 1992. But it worked: Larmer helped Roenick to consecutive 50-goal seasons, and Goulet was a model of consistency (and, for the record, the only member of the line to make the Hockey Hall of Fame).
A sensation during their 2014 run to the conference finals, reaching "what do we nickname this line?" status. The eventual answer was the "Hustle and Flow Line," as two offensive standouts flanked uberpest Shaw. A brief but stellar trio during the Hawks' dynastic years.
The Blackhawks used a variety of lines this season, but this trio might have been the most effective from an analytics standpoint. Of the team's top 10 lines in terms of ice time at 5-on-5 this season, none had a better expected goals percentage (52.07).
Better known as the "AMP Line" thanks to their first names, which somehow won out over the "MAP Line" (they locate the back of the net!) or the "PAM Line" (greasy!). Whatever you call it, this trio was one of the best lines of the past three decades, especially in 2002-03. That's when Hejduk led the NHL with 50 goals and Forsberg led the NHL with 106 points, winning his only Hart Trophy in the process.
An aggressive line that helped fuel the Avalanche to their 2001 Stanley Cup championship. Nieminen was a solid rookie; Drury was in the midst of a five-season run of 20-plus goals; and Hinote was one of the NHL's best pests at the time.
While the "AMP Line" gets the nod for the GOAT of Avalanche scoring lines, this trio can certainly stake a claim for that title. Look no further than last season, when all three broke the 30-goal mark; Rantanen (31), Landeskog (34) and MacKinnon (41) were the team's top three scorers. Injuries limited their time together this season, but when these three were united, the line had a 61.52 expected goals percentage. Forsberg line or MacKinnon line? Who's your GOAT?
While this choice might seem as easy as "pick the one with Panarin on it," there was another worthy contender for the honor: the line of Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek that put up strong numbers in the 2010-11 season, including 3.41 goals per 60 minutes in 516 minutes together. That group was good, but this line was dynamic, averaging 4.03 goals per 60 in 750 minutes together in the 2018-19 season, with an 11.0 shooting percentage. (The debate on Nash vs. Panarin for best left wing in franchise history is a rather intriguing one, however.)
Sanderson was the first accomplished goal scorer in franchise history, hitting 30 goals in the Blue Jackets' inaugural season. He found quick chemistry with Knutsen, who had 53 points in his first season in Columbus after having amassed just three in his NHL career to that point. The duo had a slew of wingers in the early years, but we always liked how the pair rolled with Kron, a 5-foot-11 mighty mite Sanderson knew from their days with the Whalers.
There wasn't a Columbus line that played more than 200 minutes at even strength together this season. This one showed a lot of promise in limited time, with the Blue Jackets scoring 64.92% of the goals while these three were on the ice together.
One of our favorite lines in NHL history, for the way it took over games and for the personalities involved. Hull and Modano were dynamic offensive talents and dynamic personalities. Lehtinen was less flashy, putting his head down and playing some of the best two-way hockey of any winger in the league. Joe Nieuwendyk once recalled a time when coach Ken Hitchcock threw the line off the ice at practice to make a point: "Modano and Hull couldn't get off the ice fast enough to head to the golf course. Jere really took it hard. That's a cute little story that I remember about those guys."
Years later, Lehtinen helped anchor another top line for the Stars' last trip to the Western Conference finals. This trio was most notable for Morrow going Beast Mode in the Stanley Cup playoffs, with nine goals in 18 games. In the 2008 playoffs, this line scored 77.9% of the goals when it was playing at 5-on-5.
We'll give this trio the nod thanks to proof of concept, because it didn't have its greatest season together in 2019-20, with just 1.49 goals per 60 minutes at even strength. But the line did have a 57.9 expected goals percentage, and last season just tore up the league at 4.07 goals per 60 in 65 games.
Three of the famous "Russian Five" group of former Soviet stars, along with Slava Fetisov and Vladimir Konstantinov. Offensively, it was like watching the hockey manifestation of a Tchaikovsky symphony in its precision and artistry. Defensively, Fedorov was a next-level forward who would win the Selke Trophy (as he did twice) while scoring over 100 points. Scotty Bowman united them in 1995, and they starred in the Wings' Stanley Cup win two years later.
Putting the Grind Line here was an easy call. Figuring out which iteration of the line to honor was tougher. Draper, the tremendous shutdown center, and the agitating Maltby were the constants. The original Grind Line had celebrated goon Joe Kocur on right wing, and that trio provided backbone to the Wings team what won the 1997 Cup over the Flyers. But McCarty saw more time on the Grind Line and was a considerably better offensive player, so we'll go with Version 2.0.
Apologies for the whiplash in going from the Red Wings championship machine to the 2019-20 team, whose .275 points percentage was the third lowest in franchise history. But this trio of young standouts was a highlight, posting a 55.21 expected goals percentage together at 5-on-5.
We're examining a 30-year span, which means this trio sneaks in under the wire. These three were still playing together when the Oilers won their only post-Wayne Gretzky Stanley Cup in 1990, a season that saw Messier tally 129 points. Simpson and Messier tied for the playoff lead with 31 points, while Simpson led all scorers with 16 goals. A classic Edmonton trio from the dynasty days.
That said, an argument can be made for the modern-day line of Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Zack Kassian, which finished the 2018-19 season averaging 4.87 goals per 60 minutes, making it one of the most dangerous lines in the league. A very strong argument can be made, in fact.
The Oilers have had several "kid" lines in their history. The best was probably Martin Gelinas, Joe Murphy and Adam Graves from around the 1990 Cup win. Then there was the line of Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner and Robert Nilsson. This line -- which some called "The Kids and the Hall," making it immediately endearing to us -- is best remembered for what might have been. Cogliano, Gagner and Nilsson combined their talents from 2011-12 to 2014-15 and were always solid but not spectacular. But it was their team, before Draisaitl and McDavid arrived ... and Eberle and Hall departed.
Draisaitl played on such a supernatural level this season that anyone on his line was going to excel. But Yamamoto's speed and Nuge's two-way game were perfect complements to Draisaitl's offensive juggernaut routine, and this line outscored opponents at 5-on-5 by a 28-8 margin in 317 minutes this season.
From 1998-99 to 2001-02, the Panthers' best line was "wherever Pavel Bure played." But this trio from the 1999-2000 season really stands out. This line featured the top three scorers on the team, with each finishing more than 20 points better than any other Panther. This was Bure's best season in Florida; he finished with 94 points (including 58 goals) in 74 games to become a Hart finalist. Whitney scored whatever Bure didn't, with 29 goals, and Kozlov had a career year, with 53 assists. Coach Terry Murray was known to refer to it as "the Russian Line," which was funny because Canadian-born Whitney was known as "Ray Whitney-ov" when he skated with Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov in San Jose.
The 1996 Panthers' run to the Stanley Cup Final featured many role players stepping up to play even bigger roles. This line ended up being their three leading scorers in the playoffs, including Lowry leading Florida in goals (10) and points (17) during the Year of the Rat.
They generated 3.74 goals per 60 minutes together this season in nearly 600 minutes together. This trio has been instant offense for the past three seasons, buoyed by Barkov's impressive growth as a premier two-way center.
Any line with The Great One during his first six dominant seasons in Los Angeles would be in the conversation, but we're fond of this trio with these wingers from the early 1990s. A high point was the 1990-91 season, when Sandstrom posted a career-high 45 goals and Gretzky posted 163 points -- a mind-blowing total that still ranked only ninth highest for his career, because he's Wayne Gretzky.
They earned the groovy nickname "That 70s Line" because their sweater numbers were 70, 77 and 73, respectively. They were an offensive engine for the Kings in their 2014 Stanley Cup victory, earning 75% of the goals scored while on the ice during the postseason. In "That '70s Show" parlance: much more Kelso than Fez.
This line had a nice resurgence this season after all three players struggled through nightmarish 2018-19 campaigns, as the Kings scored 54.0% of the goals when they're on the ice.
In the "Land of 10,000 Lakes," you usually come up dry looking for great offensive lines. But this one was dominant on both ends of the ice. In 2016-17, the trio averaged 3.58 goals per game and 1.81 goals against per 60 minutes in 62 games together. Granlund had his best offensive season. In 2017-18, the line rode together again, helping Zucker hit 33 goals (and break the bank on his next contract).
While Gaborik and Demitra clicked well during the latter player's two seasons with the Wild, they played with a carousel of linemates. But on occasion, coach Jacques Lemaire would throw them together with Brian Rolston to form "The Big Line," featuring the team's top three scorers.
They played around 145 minutes at 5-on-5 together and were a revelation defensively, allowing only one goal at 5-on-5. The Wild generated 68.7% of the scoring chances with the trio on the ice, dominated possession and had a 73.81 expected goals percentage. Granted, that 7.15 shooting percentage could be higher, but still ...
The 30-year limit of this ranking was a godsend here, sparing us the daunting task of figuring out which trinity of hockey deities would have constituted the best Canadiens line of all time. Instead, we're left debating whether this trio from the 1993 Stanley Cup run tops the Brian Savage-Pierre Turgeon-Mark Recchi line that wreaked havoc a short time later. We'll lean to the former, ever so slightly.
Outside of that Cup winner, there might not be a more endearing Canadiens team than that No. 8 seed from 2010 that stunned the Capitals and dropped the Penguins before sputtering out in the Eastern Conference finals.
This trio produced a 60.74 expected goals percentage in 571 minutes together at 5-on-5, which would have been higher were it not for Gallagher's injuries this season. Tatar had a career-best 61 points in 68 games.
While Bruins fans might protest, this line could state its case as the best in the NHL for a stretch from 2016-17 to 2019-20. The Predators scored 62.71% of the goals while this group was on the ice at 5-on-5 during that time period. In 2017-18, that shot up to 68.75%. Forsberg blossomed into nearly a point-per-game player with these linemates. The great "what if?" for Predators fans: What would have happened against the Penguins in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final if Johansen hadn't been hurt in the Western Conference finals?
But there is another solid contender for best Predators line in franchise history: J.P. Dumont (72 points), Jason Arnott (72) and Alexander Radulov (58), who led Nashville in scoring in 2007-08. Even though he was only 21 at the time, one could argue Radulov was the most explosive offensive player on either line.
The "Vowel Line" is one of the best "remembering some guys" lines we're featuring here. Arkhipov was a former Soviet player who spent four seasons with the Predators. Orszagh, a Czech, played there for three seasons. Countryman Erat logged 11 campaigns with Nashville, scoring 481 points before -- infamously, for Capitals fans -- getting traded for Forsberg. A fan-favorite trio of random forwards.
The Predators played around with a lot of combinations this season, including breaking up the top line. This trio played the most minutes (406) together at 5-on-5 and was rather incredible in dominating possession, scoring 4.28 goals and giving up just 1.59 goals per 60 minutes at even strength. Grimaldi had a career year with these two.
It's hard to really capture how vital "The A Line" was to the success of the Devils around the turn of the millennium, and how its chemistry was just off the charts. Elias was a point-per-game player in 1999-2000 with Sykora notching 25 goals and Arnott serving as the 6-5 bull in a china shop who created space in the middle. They had a multiyear run as the team's dominant line. Their quintessential moment as a line came at a moment when they weren't all together: Elias feeding Arnott for the 2000 Stanley Cup-winning goal against Dallas in Game 6, winning it for Sykora as he watched from the hospital after a Derian Hatcher hit earlier in the game.
It speaks volumes about this trio that "The Crash Line" became shorthand for when teams load up their fourth line with absolute bruisers. The 1995 Devils' secret weapon, they would throw their bodies around with reckless abandon on the forecheck -- and produce a surprising amount of offense. Peluso and McKay were brawlers, and 6-4 Holik eventually blossomed into a consistent goal scorer (and a multimillionaire, courtesy of an ill-fated free-agent headhunting from the rival Rangers).
This is essentially the Devils' top line from the past few years, except with Bratt drawing in for Taylor Hall after he was traded. Solid offensively during its time together but remarkable defensively: The trio scored 10 goals and gave up only two in 141 minutes this season at 5-on-5.
An argument can be made for John Tavares in the middle of Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo, which was a solid unit over multiple season for the Islanders. But this line was dominant for the Islanders in 1992-93, the last time the Isles made the conference final. Turgeon finished fifth for the Hart Trophy with 58 goals and 132 points. King had 38 goals. "Stumpy" Thomas was a dangerous scorer (37 goals) who also roughed it up (111 penalty minutes). Wild offensive numbers, but a lot has changed since 1993. OK, the Islanders are still playing in the Nassau Coliseum 27 years later, but trust us, a lot has changed.
Everyone's favorite wrecking balls. From 2014-15 to 2015-16, the Islanders had the best fourth line in hockey, to the point that Don Cherry once bellowed that it was "maybe the best fourth line ever in hockey, as far as I'm concerned." Clutterbuck was one of the NHL's most prodigious checkers; Martin could drop the gloves; and Cizikas was a solid defender with sneaky offense. They were reunited this season, but as with many reunion shows, it was hard to rekindle the magic.
The good news is that this line gets the majority of the shot attempts and scoring chances, and scored 22 goals together in 58 games this season. The bad news is that this line gave up 24 of them.
Messier was still an elite offensive player, while Graves popped for a career-best 52 goals in 1993-94. Kovalev's best seasons were ahead of him, but the 20-year-old was already a wizard with the puck. Thinking about this line immediately conjures memories of Game 6 guarantees, 54-year droughts ending and parade routes in Midtown.
From about 2005-06 to 2006-07, the Rangers had one of those delightful energy lines whose chemistry outkicked its expected effectiveness. Offense had no home here; in fact, none of these three players cracked double digits in goals during any season in their NHL careers. But they could throw the body and, in Orr's case, chuck the knuckles.
There's a strong argument to be made for Mika Zibanejad's line with Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich, which actually produced higher offensive numbers but in a more limited sample size. But we'll go with the proof of concept here: This trio played 450 minutes together and scored 28 goals while giving up only 11.
One of the most dominant offensive lines of the past two decades, and a catalyst for the Senators' trip to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final. Heatley hit 50 goals in his first two seasons in Ottawa thanks in part to Spezza, a young standout center, and Alfredsson, the franchise legend who's currently waiting for his Hall of Fame call. In 2008, the trio became the first forward line to be named in its entirety to the All-Star Game since 1981. How good was this line? It earned different nicknames from rival newspapers: The Ottawa Citizen's poll dubbed it the CASH Line, as in "Captain Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley," but the Ottawa Sun went with the Pizza Line, because Pizza Pizza used to give away a free slice to ticket holders when Ottawa scored five or more goals.
This checking line thrived around 2010 and helped the Senators make things tough for defending champion Pittsburgh in the first round. It was a classic configuration: Kelly was the skilled offensive grinder; Neil was the pugilist; and Ruutu was the masterful agitator. Not the trio opponents wanted to see jump over the boards.
This was a challenge, considering that Jean-Gabriel Pageau played on several "best line" combinations before his trade to the Islanders. From the players remaining on the Sens, this trio showed some promise once Ryan returned this season.
The hipster pick here would have been "The Crazy 8s Line" featuring Mark Recchi (No. 8), the immortal Brent Fedyk (No. 18) and a very young Lindros (No. 88) that dominated the league for a spell. It would have been very "I watched a dominant Eric Lindros line before there was a Legion of Doom." Alas, we can't be contrarian here: The Legion is the definitive line of the 1990s and of Big E's career, in particular his offensive partnership with LeClair. The LOD rolled from 1995-96 to 1996-97, leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final in its final season together before copious amounts of Nicklas Lidstrom stopped it short for the championship.
They were nicknamed "The Redemption Line" because all three repaired their hockey reputations in the 2010-11 season. Briere scored 34 goals after two down seasons. Hartnell scored 24 goals after dropping to 14 in the previous season. Leino had been a nonfactor in his NHL career with 20 points in 69 games; he scored 53 points in 81 games that season.
To be clear, this line lasted only 138 minutes together this season, as Jakub Voracek saw more time with Couturier and Giroux. But over the past two seasons, it's clear that this trio can dominate on both ends of the ice. And Konecny is an accomplished yapper.
Were it not for Evgeni Malkin, it could be argued that this entire line belongs on the Penguins' Mount Puckmore along with Sidney Crosby. One of the most devastating lines in NHL history, the trio combined for 307 points in 1996-97, during the trap years. Francis was the defensive glue while Mario and Jagr did their thing. "I think we know each other's games pretty much from just watching each other over the years and playing together occasionally during that time," Lemieux said in 1996. "All three guys can handle the puck, make plays and make passes, reach the play very well. So every time you have that combination out there, I think you can be successful." And they were.
It's hard to make an argument that another line could possibly be better than three Hall of Famers -- two who are in, one who will be when he retires, although given that it's Jagr, that might be around 2040. Lemieux and Jagr also dominated with Kevin Stevens during the Penguins' back-to-back Stanley Cup wins as "The Sky Line," and they're certainly in the conversation. Crosby's line with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis might be the best trio in the Sid The Kid era for Pittsburgh, although another line might give them a run for that throne ...
The "HBK Line" was the backbone of the Penguins' 2016 Stanley Cup championship. Hagelin was a blazing fast forward with a strong defensive game. Bonino was a solid defensive center. Kessel was the offensive star. Emerging from the shadow of Crosby and Malkin isn't easy, but the HBK Line was the team's best during that run and became a sensation -- even bringing out the Heartbreak Kid himself to a Penguins playoff game:
The Penguins were a jumble of lines because of injuries this season. Rust and Guentzel work well together whether it's Crosby or Malkin at center; this season, it was mostly Malkin before Guentzel's injury, and they clicked at a stellar 64.15% expected goals together.
Initially, we had Geoff Courtnall here on left wing. But Oates himself told us that he remembered Courtnall playing down the lineup and that he and Hull spent more time skating with Sergio Momesso and Gino Cavallini while dominating with the Blues. Momesso had the better numbers from 1989-90 to 1990-91, so we'll go with him. No disrespect to either of them or any other winger who skated on the Blues' top line, but Oates and Hull could have carried a bag of toasted ravioli to 50 points during this portion of their careers.
There are few more invigorating things in hockey than when three young players come together to form an energy line that acts like a defibrillator for their team. On "The Kid Line," Oshie (39 points) and Berglund (47) were rookies; Perron (50) had one season under his belt. They averaged 2.67 goals per 60 minutes and allowed just 0.78 goals per 60. "Being on the 'kid' line was hard. [Coach] Andy Murray would come up to us every day at practice, every day, telling us he was looking for our line to make mistakes so he could stop practice [and point them out]," Oshie told ESPN. "He was an old-school coach. It was hard. But that's your role as a rookie. Take the brunt of the abuse."
One of the better possession lines on the defending champs and the one that played together the most (54 games). O'Reilly remains the anchor, leading the Blues with 61 points, with Perron (60) right behind him. Sanford's 30 points before the pause was a career high.
One of the most dominant two-man shows in recent NHL history, with Cheechoo hitting 56 goals in 2005-06 and Thornton scoring 92 points in 58 games(!) after coming over from the Bruins. But it wasn't a two-man line: Ekman had 21 goals and 36 assists that season, playing primarily with Jumbo and Cheechoo. As a trio, they were absolutely dominant -- even if they didn't have a cool nickname like Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley would a few years later, which was "Jumbo Heated Patty," according to one online poll. Ekman was traded that summer.
From the Arturs Irbe days in San Jose, these two Russian hockey legends and an underrated Swede combined to form a potent offensive line around 1993-94. In fairness, they could have been considered a foursome, playing extensively with puck-moving defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh.
The turnover for the Sharks last summer and injuries this season have made their lines a constant jumble. But this trio was solid on puck possession and skated to a 59.02 expected goals percentage in 2019-20, albeit in just 135 minutes at 5-on-5.
Which Marty St. Louis line do you like better? An argument can be made for the dominant MVP Line that featured Vaclav Prospal and Vincent Lecavalier. But this trio with stoically solid Modin and Richards, one of the most gifted playmakers of the past 20 years, gets our nod. They skated with St. Louis during his 2003-04 career-defining campaign when he won the Hart, Pearson and Art Ross and finished fourth for the Selke.
We acknowledge The Triplets line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov (aka "Coop's Troops") could be the choice here. But the "Dirt Line" has more of that cult classic feel. The players earned the nickname for being, well, "old as dirt" during the Bolts' 2004 Cup run: Andreychuk was 40, Taylor was 34 and Dingman was the toddler of the line at 27. Hey, it's all relative.
We're going to need a little more proof of concept, since they played less than 300 minutes together at 5-on-5. But it's hard to ignore the 6.13 goals per 60 minutes(!) they posted in that brief run this season.
There were a few contenders for this selection. A recent line featuring Zach Hyman, John Tavares and Mitch Marner put up some incredible numbers. My friend Sean "Down Goes Brown" McIndoe suggested the "GEM" Line of Gary Leeman, Ed Olczyk and Mark Osborne that produced a 50-goal season for Leeman in 1989-90 -- at the cusp of our time frame constraints. Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuk saw some time together around 1994, but not much. So we'll go with the "MAD Line," which led the Leafs from 2001-02 to 2002-03. Sundin, a Hall of Fame center, and Mogilny, who should be in the Hall, had 37 and 33 goals respectively in 2002-03. Tucker's physical game rounded out a complete unit for coach Pat Quinn.
At a time when Phil Kessel was the offensive standard-bearer for the Leafs, this line was by far Toronto's most effective. "It was legitimately a great line in 2010-11. One of the best second lines in the league, no exaggeration. The problem is the rest of the team sucked," recalled Sportsnet's Steve Dangle. "Go look at the Leafs' numbers from that year and try figuring out who the hell Kessel played with, knowing it wasn't those three."
In the past three seasons, Matthews and Marner haven't played all that much together -- less than 700 even-strength minutes, actually. But together with Hyman, they played 376 minutes on a line in 2019-20 and averaged 3.95 goals per 60 minutes with an expected goals percentage of 57.25. More of this, please.
There were few things more satisfying than watching the Sedins work their twin magic, cycling the puck in the offensive zone and seeming to know where the other one was without even looking. As majestic as they were, Burrows was the opposite: a north-south instrument of blunt force. "Playing with Alex, he knows where we want to put the puck, and it's a simple game: get pucks deep and battle for them. It's more straightforward," said Henrik Sedin back in 2011. Burrows would light a fire under the twins. The twins would lift him to career-best numbers. With due respect to the Canucks' other great lines through the years, no one comes close to the Sedins and Burrows ...
... unless we're talking about the "West Coast Express" starring LW Markus Naslund, C Brendan Morrison and RW Todd Bertuzzi. They do make a strong case. Their run from 2002-03 to 2005-06 featured a 104-point season from Naslund and a career-best 46-goal effort from Bertuzzi in 2002-03, as well as Morrison's most productive seasons.
Either one is a worthy choice, but we'll go with Burrows and the Sedins.
A one-hit wonder, as Carter skated with the Canucks for only the 2005-06 season, but what a hit: Carter scored 33 goals and added 22 assists with the Sedins. Said Daniel Sedin of Carter, to The Players' Tribune: "When we started playing with Anson, it was an eye-opener for me. That's when I realized that we really can play in this league, and we can be really good. Before that season, every time we would go back to Sweden in the summer, a part of me would think, Can we really do this? Should we just stay here? Everything clicked for us because of Anson. He's probably why we're still here at 36 years old."
Miller's addition to last season's successful Pettersson and Boeser partnership was revelatory. The Canucks scored 67.06% of the goals with this line on the ice at 5-on-5 this season. In some ways, Miller filled the Burrows role for his linemates: a grinding, north-south player who helped two gifted offensive stars flourish.
The first top line in franchise history was a trio that powered the Golden Knights' inaugural season run to the Stanley Cup Final. In 2017-18, this line outscored opponents 47-23 and earned 55.93% of the scoring chances. Marchessault's water-bug speed and Karlsson's tremendous two-way game -- including 43 goals that season -- were the highlights.
This bruising checking line actually had a higher expected goals percentage (59.63) than the Marchessault line in 2018-19, mostly thanks to its defensive prowess. The physicality of Bellemare and the brute force of Reaves made this an endearing group -- especially when Evander Kane was across the rink.
What a trio this turned out to be for the Knights. Stephenson came over from the Capitals in December and played just over 223 minutes at 5-on-5 with these two wingers. His forechecking fit well with two former 30-goal scorers, and they simply dominated on both ends of the ice: outscoring opponents 20-5(!) and generating 62.4% of the shot attempts when out there together. Their expected goals percentage was 70.26% -- that's astounding! Alas, the line met its end when William Karlsson returned from injury and slid into Stevenson's spot.
The catalyst for the "Rock The Red" revival of the Capitals was not only Ovechkin but a generation of "young guns" players who grew together. Backstrom and Semin were two of them, and this trio just absolutely crushed it offensively ... well, in the regular season. From 2007-08 to 2008-09, the players combined for 571 points,.
It's hard to imagine naming a "cult classic" line and not having Dale Hunter, the Capitals' brutally effective but considerably divisive center, as a part of it. His chemistry with Miller tracked back to the 1980s. They became an even more effective unit when Konowalchuk's gritty offensive game was added during the mid-1990s.
Perhaps the best goal scorer in NHL history, playing with one of the best two-way centers of his era, and paired with a power forward who's good for 20 goals while remaining on his best behavior. But it's really neck-and-neck with the Capitals line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie, although that latter group was on the negative side of puck possession and expected goals percentage (41.5%) this season.
The preeminent line when the Jets returned to Winnipeg, and an effective one at that: In over 1,330 minutes together from 2013-14 to 2015-16, this line led the Jets to score 60.0% of the goals and 55.0% of the scoring chances when it was on the ice at 5-on-5.
The "GST Line" featured three body-throwing depth forwards whose energetic (although brief) appearances turned them into fan favorites; the crowds in Winnipeg would chant "GST" when they hit the ice. It was a one-hit wonder, though: Glass spent only one season with the Jets.
While Connor and Scheifele mostly skated with Patrik Laine this season, this long-standing trio helped the Jets score 58.11% of the goals when on ice together. Can it ever get back to its 2017-18 apex as a line, when Wheeler led the league with 68 assists?