NHL Preview: The Top 10 Lines Going into the 2011-2012 NHL Season
NHL general managers spend a number of long nights trying to put together the strongest and deepest rosters they can. Once they have their players they then need to place them with the right partners and create their lines.
The best lines cause matchup problems for opposing teams. They can score at will and consistently put pressure on the opposing goaltender.
Every team will need more than one good line to win the Stanley Cup, but if you don’t have a good top line to start with, you will struggle.
Looking ahead to the 2011-2012 NHL season, there has been some interesting player movement that has created some new and intriguing lines. How do these newly created lines match up with the already established top lines?
Here is a look at the top 10 lines going into the season.
Now, these lines are how they are projected today. Coaches will tweak lines within a game or a season to find the right mix, but this is what they should look like when the season kicks off.
What is your top line?
10. Los Angeles Kings: Simon Gagne-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown
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The Kings have one of the league’s yet-to-be discovered superstars in Anze Kopitar. Kopitar has been quietly putting up great years out West and is primed for another.
Dustin Brown is a consistent goal-scorer who will push 30 goals again this year.
The Kings went out and brought in Simon Gagne from Philadelphia to hopefully add some scoring to Kopitar’s other wing. He should benefit from Kopitar playing next to him.
Kopitar is the straw that stirs this line and the Kings, and no doubt hockey fans on both coasts, will know him well this year.
9. New York Rangers: Brandon Dubinsky-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik
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The Rangers won the Brad Richards sweepstakes this offseason and are hoping that sliding him into their top line will improve their stock in the Eastern Conference.
Marian Gaborik is one of the best snipers in the league but has had a hard time staying healthy. If he can avoid injury again this year, he could be in for a huge year with Richards as his center.
Brandon Dubinsky is another young player who has been improving each year he’s been in the NHL. Like Gaborik, he should benefit from a player like Brad Richards leading this top line.
Will the addition of Richards be enough for the Rangers to challenge in the East?
8. Boston Bruins: Milan Lucic-Patrice Bergeron-Nathan Horton
The Bruins' top line was dynamite during last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs and appear to be ready for another stellar season.
Bergeron is an underrated superstar, and Milan Lucic’s stock is on the rise. Horton is a gritty player who can also find the back of the net.
As good as Bergeron is, Milan Lucic is the player to watch here. He’s big, physical and has good hands. A perfect match for the playmaking abilities of Bergeron.
These three took off in the playoffs and finding that chemistry again will be key as the Bruins attempt to defend their Stanley Cup.
7. Detroit Red Wings: Johan Franzen-Pavel Datsyuk-Dan Cleary
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The Detroit Red Wings plan to winning has always been the incredible depth that they stock up on. So, while their top line doesn’t boast three Art Ross or Hart candidates, they are still one of the top lines in the NHL.
Pavel Datsyuk is as good as anyone and simply is a winner.
This line can score and shut down your top line.
Who do you match up against them? Your top line and risk having them stopped, or your defensive line, which will allow the rest of the Red Wings to light you up?
Datsyuk, Franzen and Cleary cause other teams to have headaches and are the reason that you can never count the Red Wings out of a game.
6. Chicago Blackhawks: Andrew Brunette-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
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Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are two of the best young players in the NHL. It is easy to forget that they are still in their early 20s when you look at their resumes.
The two are the heart of the Blackhawks and make up the core of their top line. Toews is an intense center who already has a great two-way game. He should win multiple Selke awards before he is done playing.
Kane has tremendous speed and great hands. He is the wild to Toews' seriousness, and they make a deadly combination.
The Blackhawks brought in Andrew Brunette from the Wild this season to play on the other wing. He should match up well with the two youngsters.
Make no mistake, Toews is the key to this line.
He has already shown tremendous leadership, defensive skills and a strong, burning desire to win. There is no doubt that this line will have the Blackhawks in the thick of things this season and for many more to follow.
5. Anaheim Ducks: Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
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The Ducks' top line toils in some obscurity. Playing on the west coast in a non-traditional hockey market, they don’t get the publicity that their skill deserves.
And this despite a Stanley Cup, Hart Trophy and Olympic Gold medal on their top line's resume.
Getzlaf has long been one of the best centers in the NHL, and last year Corey Perry cashed in on Getzlaf’s playmaking to the tune of 50 goals and a Hart Trophy.
Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan are still young and should lead the Ducks for years to come. With this line, the Ducks are always a threat to make the playoffs.
Once there, they could jump up and bite a team that may not be ready for them.
4. Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Alex Semin
The Capitals' top line could very easily end up as the league’s best. We all thought that last year as well, but the three players, along with the rest of the team, were inconsistent all season.
The potential is there, but will they reach the top level this season?
All three players are highly skilled, can make plays and score from anywhere.
One of the keys might be Semin.
He was called out in the press by an ex-teammate as not caring and there have been some trade whispers circling around the league. Losing Semin would hurt this line as they are as dangerous a trio as there is in the league.
There seems to be a lot of question marks around this team and this line. Along with the Semin rumors and trash talk there has been speculation as to Ovechkin's weight and questions to how serious he takes the game.
Is this all speculation or a truth that will be the downfall for the Capitals? Was last year a fluke? Can this line lead the Capitals to the finals?
All these questions will be answered this season.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning: Ryan Malone-Steve Stamkos-Martin St. Louis
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The Lightning are an exciting team and should look to make more noise again in 2011. They are led by a dynamic line featuring a budding goal-scoring star in Stamkos and one of the most underrated players in the league in Martin St. Louis.
St. Louis is tough and consistent and a perfect player to match up with the young Stamkos. Both players pushed the 100-point mark this past year and should do so again.
Ryan Malone plays the other wing and provides the two scorers with a physical grit that makes this line deadly.
The Lightning made sure that Stamkos was staying in Tampa Bay by re-signing him to a contract this summer. With that they have ensured them one of the NHL's top-scoring lines for this year and the near future.
For a team that fell just shy of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals last season, that is great news. For Tampa Bay fans, hopefully this line can lead the team to that next step.
2. San Jose Sharks: Patrick Marleau-Joe Thornton-Martin Havlat
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The Sharks' top line has been among the league's best for several years now. Headed by Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, the Sharks have been near or at the top of the league's standings and look to be right there again this season.
Martin Havlat comes over to San Jose this season to replace the much maligned Dany Heatley. Havlat was able to pot 22 goals last year for a punch-less Wild team.
He should get more chances with Thornton’s playmaking at center.
Thornton and Marleau have become the faces of the San Jose Sharks franchise. Marleau answered some questions about his diminishing skills by scoring 37 goals last year. There is no reason to believe he won’t put up similar numbers again.
Joe Thornton is one of the better playmakers in the league and with the two snipers on his wings, this line will be potent again in 2011.
The only thing this line has to prove is that they can do it in the postseason. They've been close the past two years and stand a great chance getting over that hump this year.
1. Vancouver Canucks: Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows
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The Canucks' top line won't win any league-wide popularity contests as they seem to be hated by everyone. They have been branded as divers, biters and pretty much blamed for every bad thing in the world.
Being hated usually comes with the territory of being great, and this season will probably bring on more of the same.
Despite their reputation, it is hard to argue with the accomplishments of this line. They have won the past two Art Ross Trophies, they have won a Hart Trophy and feature two guys who can put up 30 goals.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin make this line go. Henrik, the extraordinary playmaker and Daniel, the sniper.
Alex Burrows has been a good fit for the Sedins since joining this line three seasons ago. He has a knack for getting to the net and usually buries the great chances he sees.
The only thing this line has not done is be consistent in the playoffs. Once they do that, they should take their place amongst the better lines in the NHL history.