It's pretty much a given, that the top players on each team, receive the most ice time. Usually, the top defensive pairing will log about 25 minutes each night at the minimum, while the forwards on the top line will usually play between 20 and 22 minutes a game.
However, because of various circumstances (injuries, poor performance, coaching strategy, etc.) the top lines for each squad will not have the top 3 forwards on by default.
Let's take a look around the National Hockey League, and see where the top lines for all 30 clubs would rank. Keep in mind that line combinations could change every shift, let alone a game, so I'll try my best to take into consideration where the team currently stands in terms of its lineup.
Dustin Penner - Shawn Horcoff - Fernando Pisani
If Dustin Penner is your one and only staple on your top line, well then, you have a problem. Not a knock on Penner’s game, but he is more of a complementary player, not somebody that can carry your top line.
The injury to Ales Hemsky of course made a huge difference, as he was the only surefire RW on the roster that had some scoring potential.
Pisani and Nilsson are nothing more than 3rd/4th line players, while Horcoff is best suited as a #2 pivot. Sam Gagner will eventually grow into a top-line role, unless the Oilers land Taylor Hall at the draft.
With Jordan Eberle also coming next season, chances are this is the only time that you will see Edmonton at the bottom of this kind of list in the future.
Kyle Okposo - John Tavares - Matt Moulson
Yes, this line isn’t together anymore, but this was the best trio that have played for the Isles all season. Okposo continues to produce, while Moulson has slowed down as expected.
Tavares has gone into a major slump. Josh Bailey and Rob Schremp also saw some time on the top line, but couldn’t stick.
Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak with whomever
The Leafs are in rebuilding mode, and although GM Brian Burke has addressed the goaltending and blueline issues with the acquisitions of Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Dion Phaneuf, he needs to do some work up front with the forward group.
The best line that Toronto had all year was Kessel playing with Matt Stajan and Alex Ponikarovsky, but those two players were traded to Calgary and Pittsburgh respectively.
Bozak was called up after Stajan was moved, and has actually fit in really well with Kessel.
Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolia Kulemin and Niklas Hagman also saw time on the first line, and it’s possible that Luca Caputi might see some time in the next few weeks, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
Marco Sturm - Patrice Bergeron - Mark Recchi
Surprised? I know I am. After being one of the better offensive teams last season, the Bruins are the worst in the league at scoring goals this season.
A lot of that has to do with injuries, as Marc Savard and Milan Lucic have missed considerable time this year.
However, by default, this is the top line for the B’s, and the only one that might have a shot at producing decent totals down the stretch.
Last year’s trio of David Krejci, Michael Ryder, and Blake Wheeler have absolutely bombed this year.
Andrew Brunette - Mikko Koivu - Antti Miettinen
For better or for worse, this line has pretty much remained intact all season, one of the rare teams to have done that.
Of course, everybody is aware of the type of skill level that Mikko Koivu possesses, and Brunette has been a solid winger playing a top-six role for several seasons now, but the weak point is Miettinen.
How is a guy who has never scored more than 44 points, and just recently set a career-high with a whopping 16 goals on the first line?
Again, as I mentioned earlier, it’s a chemistry thing. Although Martin Havlat makes a boatload of cash, he just didn’t work well with Koivu, which is why Miettinen is there.
Bryan Little - Nik Antropov - Maxim Afinogenov
Yes, it’s a little strange to not see Ilya Kovalchuk’s name when you look at the top line for the Thrashers, but he was in Little’s spot just before he was dealt to the Devils last month.
Little had thrived last season, and now gets a chance to rekindle his goalscoring touch with some extra ice time.
Of course, John Anderson has also shook up his lines often, so Rich Peverley and now Niclas Bergfors have also seen time on the top unit.
Paul Kariya - David Backes - TJ Oshie
After taking forever to get something going, the Blues seem to have come alive in the last few weeks, and still have an outside chance at the playoffs.
All year, the offense has been stagnant, and that could be traced back to the non-emergence of a #1 line.
Brad Boyes, David Perron, and Andy McDonald have all seen a lot of time on the top unit as well, but the current trio is where the scoring has come from.
Thomas Vanek - Derek Roy - Drew Stafford
There is no way this line should be ranked so low, no way....but it is……why? Because this trio has been one of the biggest underachieving groups this season in the NHL.
Roy and Vanek are capable of getting 80 points, but for whatever reason, just haven’t gotten things going. Stafford has struggled as well, and has even been a healthy scratch a few times.
Some will argue that Tim Connolly’s line with Jochent Hecht and Jason Pominville should be the #1 line, but Roy and Vanek are considered the main cogs of the Sabres offense.
Steve Sullivan - Jason Arnott - Martin Erat
Nobody knows what is up with Barry Trotz. He didn’t want to stick with the line that has been his most successful in the last few years, as JP Dumont has been bounced all the way down to the fourth line.
Erat, Patric Hornqvist, and David Legwand have all seen some time on the first unit, but the three that are the #1 line right now seem to be clicking.
Wojtek Wolski - Matthew Lombardi - Shane Doan
Wolski just joined this line last week, and should be the top-line LW for the rest of the season.
Before him, Peter Mueller had seen some time there, although Scottie Upshall was the main winger alongside Doan and Lombardi earlier in the year. Robert Lang also saw some time alongside the Coyotes captain.
Vaclav Prospal - Olli Jokinen - Marian Gaborik
After much hesitance, it looks like John Tortorella has decided to go with this trio as the top line. Jokinen didn’t work well with Jarome Iginla in Calgary, but perhaps he might be able to show something with Gabby.
Earlier in the year, it was Brandon Dubinsky that was centering Prospal and Gaborik, but he’s only been used sparingly now, and has played with various players as Tortorella continues to look for the right mix.
Rene Bourque - Matt Stajan - Jarome Iginla
This line was just put together last week, but already has been more productive than any other trio for the Flames this season.
Sitting just ahead of Boston in the goalscoring department, Calgary has struggled to find any kind of consistency all year, as some had even hinted in the local media that Bourque, Daymond Langkow and Nigel Dawes was the #1 line earlier in the season.
Iginla was playing with Conroy and Lundmark, while Jokinen had Glencross and Nystrom as his mates. Clearly, nothing has worked all year...until now.
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Bill Guerin
Yeah, that’s right….one of the top players in the world plays on a line that isn’t even good enough to crack the top 15, let alone the top 10 on my list.
Despite Crosby’s talents, his linemates are just not that good. The same problem exists for Evgeni Malkin, as neither superstar has ever really had talented linemates to work with.
If Marian Hossa had stayed in a Pens uniform a few years ago, then the line would probably have been a top 3 unit.
Antoine Vermette - RJ Umberger - Rick Nash
Both Vermette and Umberger play a strong two-way game, and although Huselius was a member of the top line for some time, he’s been bumped down to the 2nd and 3rd line for lack of effort.
Nash still gets to create plays with his big body, but at least he has two reliable linemates on his side.
Eventually, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Jakub Voracek, Nik Filatov, or Derek Brassard start to creep up to top-line duty in the next couple of seasons.
Jussi Jokinen - Eric Staal - Tuomu Ruutu
Eric and Tuomu are the better halves of their brothers, while Jussi has been way better than Olli this season, even though they aren’t related.
Again, just like most teams, other players have seen sufficient time on the top line, including Ray Whitney and Matt Cullen, but the current threesome have done really well together, getting the team into playoff contention.
Tomas Holmstrom - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Datsyuk has played with Henrik Zetterberg at times, and also seen Johan Franzen and Dan Cleary on his lines, but these three played well together earlier in the year.
If Zetterberg and Datsyuk stuck together, they would cause a lot of havoc, but because of their strong-two way games, both are usually placed on separate units by Mike Babcock.
Benoit Pouliot - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta
Some will argue that Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri were the top unit, and although it was true for the first half of the season, since Cammy went down with injury, it is this trio that has come to life.
Despite getting a lot of heat because of his contract, Gomez has played fantastically down the stretch for the Habs, who are trying to make a run for a playoff spot.
Michael Frolik - Stephen Weiss - David Booth
This is the current line for the Panthers, but it was really on fire in January when Nathan Horton was on the top line instead of Booth. If he returns soon from injury, then look for him to see time on the top unit once again.
Cory Stillman, Steven Reinprecht and Rotislav Olesz have all played on the top line at various points throughout the season as well.
Claude Giroux - Mike Richards - Simon Gagne
An argument could be made that Jeff Cater’s line could be the top unit, but this trio has seen the majority of ice time, and also sees a lot of time with and without the man advantage.
Giroux has the potential to be a consistent 60-point player as soon as next season. However, it's a testament to how skilled he is to be already playing with Richards and Gagne.
Ryan Smyth - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
This line was the hottest in hockey for the first six weeks of the season, until an injury knocked out Ryan Smyth, and then Justin Williams went down with a broken leg.
Since then, so many players have floated between the first, second and third lines, as Kopitar is the one staple, with Alexander Frolov, Wayne Simmonds, Dustin Brown, Brad Richardson and Ted Purcell all seeing time with him at one point or another.
With Williams returning to the lineup the other night, expect the sparks to fly again between the trio.
TJ Galiardi - Paul Stastny - Chris Stewart
Originally, the #1 line was thought to be Wojtek Wolski, Stastny and Milan Hejduk, but the veteran Hejduk went down with a knee injury, and then was on the second line to balance out the attack when he did return.
Enter Stewart has been absolutely unstoppable since getting called up in late October from his brief AHL stint.
In the last three weeks, it is now Galiardi that has moved up to the top line, and the three continue to fly and rack up the points for a surprising playoff berth.
Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Daniel Alfredsson
If it wasn’t for Michalek slumping earlier in the season,and the other two getting hurt, this line would probably be one of the top 5 lines.
Despite his age, Alfie keeps producing, and it looks like Spezza has realized that he needs to be the gamebreaker, and not being a playmaker that relies on Dany Heatley anymore.
Loui Eriksson - Brad Richards - James Neal
This trio was one of the more stellar units in the league, before Brad’s +/- got out of hand, and Neal slowed down immensely. Eriksson has been producing at a 70-point clip, while Richards is still on pace to set a career-high and top 91 points. Neal should finish with about 55 points or so.
Troy Brouwer - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
The two youngsters have been their usual self, and Brouwer was a new addition to the line, and has really picked up the pace over the last few months, with 25 goals a realistic target. If Patrick Sharp or Marian Hossa were on this line, it would be ranked higher, but their omissions means that this line will have to settle for #7 on this list.
Bobby Ryan - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
This is the one line that could be, or even should be, the best line in the NHL. All three are not even close to their prime years yet, but have already shown how dominant they can be in various situations.
However, like most teams, injuries forced head coach Randy Carlyle to move Ryan down to the second line earlier in the year, and it wasn't until late January that he was playing regularly with Getzlaf and Perry.
Either way, this line will be a fixture in discussions about top lines for years to come.
Steve Downie - Steve Stamkos - Martin St. Louis
Arguably the hottest line in hockey at the moment, and one that nobody could have imagined would be on such a roll at the beginning of the season. Yes, St. Louis is a proven scorer who is also a former Hart and Art Ross winner, but after such a rough start to his career last season, Stamkos wasn't expected to make such a jump, which he has done with a quantum leap instead.
Downie is a better version of Sean Avery, but he has been criticized the last couple of seasons for not getting his game together, but it definitely has this year. Expect Stamkos to hit the 50-goal mark, St. Louis to possibly break the 100-point barrier, and Downie continue to wreak havoc all over the ice.
Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
For some, having this line so high up on the list might not jive, but this trio has played tremendously hockey together for more than a year now, and the chemistry that the three have is one of the main reasons that the Devils have remained competitve.
Dainius Zubrus briefly saw some time on the top line, but that was just to balance out the scoring, as two players named Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias are on the second line for New Jersey (perhaps you have heard of them?)
Parise is considered by most to be the best American forward in the game, while Zajac and Langenbrunner play a strong two-way game, and complement each other really well.
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alex Burrows
Who would have ever predicted this? In the first year of multi-year contract extensions, the Sedins have been nothing short of amazing. All this with Daniel missing a good chunk of games in the early stages of the season, forcing Henrik to play without his brother for the first time ever in their NHL careers.
Alex Burrows did well last season as the third member of the line, but he's gotten even better this season. Lately, Mikael Samuelsson has been reaping the benefits of playing with the Sedins, so it really doesn't matter who is the third guy...the Canucks have one of the most dominant lines in the league.
Alexander Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Mike Knuble
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the league's leading scorer also plays on one of the best lines in the league. Having one of the best young pivots in the game in Backstrom helps, with Knuble chipping in with points here and there as the garbage man on the line.
Alexander Semin had seen some time on the top unit at the start of the year, but head coach Bruce Boudreau opted for a balanced attack, moving Semin to the second line and promoting Knuble to the top unit. It has done wonders for the Caps, who are first overall in the league standings.
Dany Heatley - Joe Thornton - Patrick Marleau
Easily the top line in hockey ,as all three Olympians have been flying all season. Marleau has already set a career high in goals, while Heatley and Thornton have developed some great chemistry as well.
When all is said and done, the trio will have combined for over 100 goals, and over 240 points for the season. Now, if only they can carry over that success into the playoffs..........
Until next time.....