The NHL has a rich history of great lines from nearly all eras. The Kraut Line, the Production Line, the Triple Crown Line, the French Connection and the Legion of Doom are just some of the best lines with the most colourful monikers in NHL history.
In the contemporary game, many lines don’t remain together for a single period, let alone an entire game, or for that matter, an entire season. However, the following ranking of the 25 best lines in the NHL for the 2013-14 season, considers trios that are likely to play large parts of the season together. These are projected line combinations based on current signings and expected Restricted Free Agent signings in the coming weeks.
These rankings are weighted with a heavy emphasis on offense. While there have been, and continue to be, great checking lines in the NHL, that was not a consideration here. The criteria for the ranking: ability to produce goals, generate scoring chances and play well in all three zones.
Honorable mentions go to:
Phoenix Coyotes: Lauri Korpikoski (LW), Mike Ribeiro (C), Shane Doan (RW)
New Jersey Devils: Ryan Clowe(LW), Travis Zajac (C), Michael Ryder (RW)
Nashville Predators: Viktor Stalberg, David Legwand (C), Patrik Hornqvist (RW)
Team: Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres are in some flux as all of these players have been rumoured, on several occasions over the past few months, to be on their way out of Buffalo. If these three players remain with the Sabres, they would form one of the top 25 lines in the NHL. This line has size, speed, playmaking ability and an edge with the play of Drew Stafford.
Cody Hodgson is capable of being a very good centre but needs to find some long-term consistency to make the transition to being a star centreman. Stafford can shoot the puck and brings a physical element to the line.
Key Player: Thomas Vanek
Thomas Vanek is the most gifted offensive player that the Sabres have. Vanek posted 41 points last year and is capable of scoring at a point-per-game pace. He has size and speed; Thomas is able to contribute in all game situations when it is required of him.
Team: Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets were very close to making the playoffs last season and they should once again challenge for a spot. The Jets play an exciting brand of hockey despite not having any real stars on their roster. Like many other coaches, Claude Noel likes to put his lines into a blender on many nights, but these three players should get some significant time together next year.
Bryan Little has a complete, if unspectacular game. The Edmonton native is not a large centre but distributes the puck well. American Blake Wheeler is a force on the right side. The former Bruin has deceptive speed and nice touch around the net.
Evander Kane has the kind of talent that should lead to him being a top winger for the next 10 years in the league.
Key Player: Evander Kane
Evander Kane is one of the top young power forwards in the game. He hits to hurt people, can score goals and plays the game at top speed. Kane needs to continue to work on his defensive game but his greatest asset is his ability to score goals.
Team: Montreal Canadiens
While the Montreal Canadiens had a great regular season, it was truly a team effort with no forwards dominating on the score sheet on most nights.
Max Pacioretty led the team with 39 points and their second-leading scorer was Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban. Brian Gionta didn’t produce as much offensively as fans and management would like to see, but Gionta creates scoring chances and plays well in the defensive zone when required to do so.
Key Player: Tomas Plekanec
Tomas Plekanec logged a lot of challenging minutes for head coach Michel Therrien. He held his own on faceoffs, was a plus-player and had 14 goals in the shortened season.
While this line will not intimidate anyone with its size, all of these players are skilled and good at creating scoring chances versus giving them up.
Team: Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche should have no problem scoring this year. They have a dizzying number of talented forwards who will be very difficult to defend. This trio has speed, size and an ability to dominate in the offensive zone. Parenteau is one of the better offensive talents that a lot of fans don’t know about. Gabriel Landeskog is a great leader and has all the makings of becoming an elite left wing in the NHL.
With Duchene in the middle, the Avalanche have a strong top line.
Key Player: Matt Duchene
Matt Duchene is a gifted centreman who has the type of ability that could make him one of the best players in the game in the next few years. Duchene is an effortless skater with soft hands.
He wins more than half of his faceoffs, scores in bunches and is a player that makes his linemates better with his unselfish play.
Team: Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes had a disappointing season in 2013 and failed to make the playoffs.
This was despite an excellent offensive effort from the highly skilled Eric Staal. Jiri Tlusty will also get top-line minutes, but look for Jeff Skinner and Alexander Semin to play with the Hurricanes’ top centreman on many nights.
Skinner is excellent with the puck on his stick and can create space with his puck-handling and good speed. Alexander Semin seemed to fit in well in Carolina with 44 points in 44 games.
Key Player: Eric Staal
Eric Staal deserves to be mentioned with some of the best centres of his generation. If he played in Toronto, New York, Chicago or Montreal, he would be a perennial candidate for the Hart Memorial Trophy.
Staal never takes a night off and has represented Canada on the international stage on numerous occasions. Staal creates individual chances, but it is his playmaking ability that makes him one of the best centres in the game.
Team: Washington Capitals
Head coach Adam Oates was able to revitalize the mercurial Alex Ovechkin last season. The All-Star winger had a great season and led the Capitals to their playoff berth. Brooks Laich will be coming off an injury-filled season and will want to put up some good offensive numbers. Nicklas Backstrom had a very good regular season with 48 points.
He is a creative centre who complements Ovechkin’s shoot-first mentality. Nicklas had an excellent 24.88 Corsi number in the 2013 playoffs, proving he can play some of his best hockey when it counts the most.
Key Player: Alex Ovechkin
Alexander the Great had one of his better seasons as a pro. His 56 points were outstanding and he took over 220 shots in just 48 games. Ovechkin plays a physical game and loves to be counted upon to generate offence for his team.
The Capitals flew under the radar for much of the year, but don’t expect that to happen again in 2013-14.
Team: Minnesota Wild
This is another relatively new line with Jason Pominville being a recent addition to the Minnesota Wild. Pominville scored at nearly a point-per-game pace after he joined the Wild and that could continue next season. Mikko Koivu is one of the game’s quieter stars. He is gifted with the puck, plays a lot of difficult minutes, and wins a lot of his draws.
With Zach Parise patrolling the left side, look for this trio to be an offensive force for the young and talented Wild.
Key Player: Zach Parise
Zach Parise is a natural leader who has been one of the best wingers in the game over the past five years. Parise had a very good Corsi number of 11.32 over the 2013 season and led the Wild in scoring with 38 points.
The Wild have been on the cusp of being a solid playoff contender for several seasons and Parise will be one of the key players in those efforts.
Team: New York Rangers
The New York Rangers had a relatively disappointing season after many pundits picked them to win the Eastern conference in the lockout-shortened 2013 season. With the cantankerous John Tortorella now in Vancouver, look for head coach Alain Vigneault to re-build relationships.
Brad Richards needs to be an important part of the club and if he can develop some chemistry with Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan, the Rangers should be able to score at the rates at which they are capable.
Key Player: Brad Richards
Things can’t get worse for Richards next year and if Vigneault can help him forget the 2013 season, the Rangers will be much better for it. Richards has incredible hands and has always been a heady player.
If Brad can re-gain even most of his form, he’ll be a very good producer for the Rangers next year.
Team: Boston Bruins
On most teams, this line would easily be the top line.
The Boston Bruins can boast two of the top 25 lines in the NHL with the talent they have in their top six. David Krejci will centre this trio and was the leading scorer in the 2013 playoffs. The hulking Milan Lucic isn’t always as motivated as Bruins fans would like, but at his best he is one of the game’s best left wingers.
Jarome Iginla will be highly motivated next year to win a Stanley Cup, and with Krejci’s passing ability, look for Iginla to score a lot of goals.
Key Player: David Krejci
On many nights, Krejci is likely to play top-line minutes. He is one of the slower skaters among the elite players in the league but he controls the play with his excellent hands. Krejci gives coach Claude Julien a great one-two punch with Patrice Bergeron down the middle.
The Bruins should once again be a top contender for the Stanley Cup.
Team: Dallas Stars
This top line for the Dallas Stars will offer some of the biggest intrigue in 2013-14.
Tyler Seguin came to the Stars in a blockbuster trade that saw winger Loui Eriksson move to the Boston Bruins. This move allows Jamie Benn to move to his natural spot at left wing. Erik Cole has always been an honest player with great skating ability and is capable of putting up points.
Jamie Benn isn’t the most gifted skater but he has a high hockey IQ that should mesh well with Seguin.
Key Player: Tyler Seguin
Seguin has not had a lot of opportunity to play at centre at the NHL level. He’ll get that chance with this re-start in Big D. He is an incredibly quick player and with these big wingers creating space for him, he should be at his creative best.
Both Benn and Cole can finish so Seguin’s assist totals should only increase on this highly skilled line.
Team: St. Louis Blues
Ken Hitchcock has been one of the best coaches in the league over the past two decades.
The St. Louis Blues make life miserable for most opponents on most nights. Hitchcock loves to mix his lines, but this trio should play some significant numbers together in 2013-14. Alex Steen is very underrated on the wing and is an important contributor to the Blues.
Chris Stewart has size and speed on the right side, and when combined with Backes, they are almost impossible to separate from the puck.
Key Player: David Backes
David Backes does not get nearly the accolades he deserves. He can play in all game situations and once he retrieves the puck, there is a good chance that he will generate a quality scoring opportunity. Backes wins more than half of his draws and starts an inordinate number of his shifts in the defensive zone.
His offensive numbers should be even better this year than last. Fans should expect Backes to produce more than 60 points over a full season.
Team: Edmonton Oilers
This line has the potential to crack the top five in the NHL in the next two or three seasons.
Hall and Eberle have been invited to the Canadian Olympic summer camp, with Hall likely having a better chance of making the team. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is one of the best young centres in the game, and outside of his faceoff percentage, does all the little things well. He is a sublime passer with excellent vision.
Eberle didn’t have his best season last year but expect him to rebound this year.
Key Player: Taylor Hall
Ultimately, Taylor Hall is the key player on the line. He has exceptional speed and can beat any defenceman in the league. Hall may be the Oilers next captain and has the potential to challenge for an Art Ross Trophy in the coming years.
Hall’s will to win just might propel the Oilers into playoff contention this year.
Team: San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks have done a great job in integrating talented young players into their lineup.
Some of those players will get top-line minutes on many nights, but this trio is likely to be the Sharks top unit. Brent Burns brings size and an ability to create even more space for Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. Marleau is a great skater who has been one of the top players in the game over the past ten years.
Jumbo Joe has absorbed a lot of criticism over his career but he has handled it well.
Key Player: Joe Thornton
Joe Thornton is not quite ready to have Logan Couture take his spot as the team’s top pivot.
Thornton still has the tools to be an elite centre despite not being at his peak physically. Thornton is highly intelligent and, flanked by Marleau and Burns, expect him to lead the Sharks both on and off the ice.
Team: Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings have a balanced roster with elite talent at every position.
This line may not play the entire year together, but expect some great play from these players when it does happen. Dustin Brown brings incredible tenacity and necessary grit to the line. Justin Williams is a responsible player who can contribute offensively off the wing. Anze Kopitar is a dominant player who has no flaws in his game.
Key Player: Anze Kopitar
If Kopitar played in a bigger hockey market, he would be touted as one of the game’s best. He has size, skill and scoring ability.
He’s great on faceoffs and his Corsi number of 25.43 over the 2013 regular season means he dominates in the offensive zone and possesses the puck like few players in the game. Kopitar is the Kings most important forward and teamed with Brown and Williams, he should put up great offensive numbers in 2013-14.
Team: Anaheim Ducks
This line has not played together for years, but they had some great chemistry in seasons past.
They were one of the key reasons the Ducks were able to win a Stanley Cup in 2007. Dustin Penner is returning to Anaheim and look for him to be reunited with the Getzlaf and Perry pairing in the fall. This line is one of the heaviest top lines in the NHL, yet their skill is all-world. Peterborough native Corey Perry is a wizard with the puck and Ryan Getzlaf brings physicality, size and skill to the rink every night.
Penner’s game should be elevated playing with his former linemates.
Key Player: Ryan Getzlaf
Getzlaf is one of the most gifted players in the NHL.
Not only are his numbers very good, but Ryan has a mean streak that can intimidate most opponents. Getzlaf plays the game effortlessly. He and Perry have been one of the game’s best duos for several years.
Expect Getzlaf to have a great year and be a key component on Canada’s Olympic team.
Team: New York Islanders
The New York Islanders had a very good season last year and these three players were all important in achieving the team’s playoff birth.
Moulson and Grabner are not highly touted but they have become very good NHL wingers. Grabner is one of the fastest skaters in the NHL and Moulson earned almost a point-per-game in the 2013 shortened season.
With Tavares in the middle, expect this line to dominate next season.
Key Player: John Tavares
Tavares is an outstanding offensive player. He can control a game with his puck possession skill and with the Islanders improving as a team, his numbers will get even better.
Tavares should get even more playing time this season and look for both his Corsi number and his points-per-game total to increase significantly this season.
Team: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs have turned a corner as an organization and came within a few minutes of knocking off the Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins in the 2013 playoffs.
Coach Randy Carlyle has some strong offensive players and this line could prove to be a dominant one next season. Kessel is a great scorer and while he may not be excellent in his own end, his defensive game has improved.
Lupul brings some size along with his soft hands and centre Nazem Kadri is ready to move to another level.
Key Player: Nazem Kadri
Kadri is realizing the promise that many foretold and with Tyler Bozak likely absorbing some of the minutes against other teams’ top lines, Kadri should become the Leafs top offensive centre. Kadri’s defensive game will only improve under coach Carlyle as he will expect Nazem to be good in all three zones.
Team: Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings have made some interesting offseason moves and one of those moves netted them an experienced and motivated right winger in Daniel Alfredsson. Seeing him play with the very talented Pavel Datsyuk will be a real treat for hockey fans.
If Johan Franzen can be healthy next year, this line could be one of the best in the league. Mike Babcock likes to move personnel around a lot but this group might stick together for extended periods. With Franzen parked in front and the puck skills of the other two, they should become a great combination.
Key Player: Pavel Datsyuk
Datsyuk remains one of the top three or four players in the game. He has great individual skill and plays the game with an understated intensity. Alfredsson’s best years are behind him but the Red Wings are cup contenders with his addition along with Stephen Weiss.
Look for Datsyuk to remain in the top 10 for NHL scoring and to be a superstar at the 2014 Olympics in his home country.
Team: Ottawa Senators
It is difficult to project line combinations with Paul MacLean at the helm as he likes to mix and match, but these three are likely to come together a lot next year.
This line has it all and fans should look for Spezza to be particularly motivated with his recent exclusion from Canada’s Olympic orientation camp in August. Michalek is a quiet star who can do it all and Bobby Ryan, recently acquired from the Anaheim Ducks, is a great scoring winger.
If Spezza remains healthy all season, he could be a dark horse candidate for the Art Ross Trophy in 2013-14.
Key Player: Bobby Ryan
While Bobby Ryan was a star in Anaheim, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf overshadowed him. Spezza is a star, but given the prominence of the Senators in the Ottawa sports scene, expect Ryan to blossom in Canada’s capital city.
Ryan has a great personality and should develop into an instant fan favourite in Ottawa.
Team: Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers will need this line to be dominant next year.
Yes, they have added Vinny Lecavalier, but Giroux is the offensive leader on this team. Hartnell and Voracek bring some size and physicality to the line. Hartnell has developed into one of the game’s top power forwards and no one will take liberties with Giroux with Scott at his side.
Voracek is a young player with great hands. Expect him to have a breakout season with Giroux feeding him the puck regularly.
Key Player: Claude Giroux
Giroux is a scoring machine. He is a threat to score on every shift and can distribute the puck as well as anyone in the NHL.
If the Flyers are able to rebound and be a playoff team again, the main push will have to come from Giroux and his linemates.
Team: Tampa Bay Lightning
While this line has not skated together before, the promise it holds is off the charts.
While Drouin will just be a rookie next year, this could become the most explosive line in the NHL next season. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis will be counted on as offensive leaders for the Lightning and Drouin will be able to learn from two of the most talented forwards in the world.
This line will wreak havoc in the offensive zone and their speed will allow them to hold their own in the defensive zone should they happen to lose possession.
Key Player: Steven Stamkos
Steven Stamkos is one of the top two or three snipers in the game today. He is almost unstoppable on his off wing as his one-timer is lethal.
Stamkos is in superb physical condition and should provide great leadership for the rookie, Jonathan Drouin.
Team: Vancouver Canucks
There has never been anything quite like the Sedin brothers in the NHL game. These twins have become two of the top offensive skaters in the NHL.
While they have had several right wingers over the years, Alexandre Burrows has been one of the best. When this line wins the draw in the opposing end, teams normally prepare to defend for the next minute as this line can wear down all opponents over time.
Key Player: Henrik Sedin
As the centre on this line, much begins with Henrik Sedin. Coming off a regular season that featured a Corsi number of 22.84 and 45 points, Henrik is poised to have another great year in 2013-14.
The connection between the twins is unachievable by other players, yet Burrows often seems able to read their play extremely well.
Expect Henrik and Daniel to lead the Swedish Olympic team in Sochi in 2014 as well.
Team: Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins are the deepest NHL team at the forward position. In fact, the Bruins have added a future hall of fame winger in Jarome Iginla, and he is likely to play on the second line because of the Bruins’ depth. Loui Eriksson is a quiet star who has great skill and will fit very well with Bergeron and Marchand.
Marchand receives a lot of press for some of his pest-like qualities, but his pure skills should not be discounted. He is a valuable player for the Bruins.
Key Player: Patrice Bergeron
Bergeron is a treat to watch in any game. Patrice doesn’t have the same following as Toews, but he is a complete centre. He has overcome serious injuries and his pain threshold is as high as anyone’s in the game.
He is an intelligent player who should have great chemistry with Eriksson next year.
Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins were one of the best teams in the league last year, and these three players were huge factors in their success.
While Dan Bylsma does not necessarily keep his lines together for extended periods, expect this trio to get a lot of time together next year. Chris Kunitz and Crosby have amazing chemistry and are a threat to score on most shifts.
James Neal brings size and a great release to this line. Shifts will look like a power play even in 5-on-5 situations with this group’s puck possession skills.
Key Player: Sidney Crosby
When he’s healthy, Sidney Crosby remains the most dominant offensive player in the game today.
Crosby can create something from nothing and makes everyone around him better. He’s excellent in the faceoff circle and with Kunitz and Neal as his wingers, he could top 100 points if he plays a full schedule next season.
Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Chicago has a number of players they can play together, but this line is the likeliest combination to play together next season. This line has it all: youth, speed, grit, skill and scoring ability.
Saad is the least known on this line but has been invited to the U.S. Olympic orientation camp. He just might make that team that heads to Russia. Kane is a lock to play in Sochi and is one of the top offensive players in the game.
Key Player: Jonathan Toews
Jonathan Toews is the key to this line and the leader of the 2013 Stanley Cup champions.
Toews is the most complete player in the world. He is always close to the top of the league in faceoff percentage, and his Corsi number of 26.05 in the Blackhawks playoff run was exceptional.
Toews is dominant at both ends of the ice and expect more of the same from him in 2013-14.