NHL's 20 Best Defensive Pairings Ever

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IFebruary 29, 2012

NHL's 20 Best Defensive Pairings Ever

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    With the NHL trade deadline in the rear-view mirror, fans are left holding their breath during an 18-to-21-game sprint to the finish. The rosters are set, and people can now debate which team has the best depth at certain positions.

    But with everyone's eyes on the moves made in Nashville, clearly, the Predators are hoping to cash in on the best pair of defensemen in the game today before Shea Weber and Ryan Suter hit free agency. Clearly, the Preds are going for broke this year in hopes that they can convince both of their superstar defensemen to stay around.

    Looking back through history, there have been some incredible tandems. Are Weber and Suter among the best ever? Let's take a look back at the 20 best defensive pairings ever.

20. Tim Horton and Allan Stanley, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Tim Horton's career might not have been as long as most fans would have liked, but he's in the Hall of Fame because he was a fantastic d-man.

    During his time next to Allan Stanley, the Leafs had an outstanding blue line that gave opponents fits.

19. Larry Murphy and Paul Coffey, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    A couple of all-time greats skated together on back-to-back Stanley Cup championship teams in Pittsburgh.

    Those Pens teams were loaded with Hall of Famers, but Murphy and Coffey were a couple of big reasons for the two rings.

18. Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens, New Jersey Devils

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    These two Hall of Famers got together on the great Devils championship teams and were, like Murphy and Coffey, a fortress in front of Brodeur.

    They were big and smart and played the game on the edge, creating a lot of sleepless nights for opposing coaches.

17. Ray Bourque and Rob Blake, Colorado Avalanche

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    Our third pair in a row that achieved their goal of winning the Stanley Cup, Bourque and Blake, were fantastic for the Avs.

    When fans look back at the incredible talent on the blue line in those epic games between the Avs and Red Wings before the lockout, it's amazing to think how many future Hall of Famers were on the ice...and that Nicklas Lidstrom is still playing.

16. Brian Leetch and James Patrick, New York Rangers

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    Leetch might not have to pay for a meal the rest of his life in New York City, and there's a good reason for that.

    While he was patrolling the blue line for the Rangers, everyone in Madison Square Garden could confidently assume Leetch would handle his business.

15. Chris Chelios and Gary Suter, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Chelios and Suter were a couple of the more physical defensemen in the NHL while they were together on the really talented Chicago teams of the early and mid-1990s.

    Chelios won a Norris Trophy with Suter by his side and while wearing the "C" for his hometown Blackhawks, but didn't win a Cup again until he was in Detroit.

14. Rod Langway and Greg Theberge, Washington Capitals

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    Langway found great personal success after leaving Montreal for Washington in 1982.

    While with the Caps and Theberge, Langway won consecutive Norris trophies in 1983 and 1984, and these two posted strong numbers while skating in DC.

13. Borje Salming and Ian Turnbull, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Salming broke the mold of Scandinavian players being soft, bringing a tough, hard-nosed approach to the blue line in Toronto that led to a spot in the Hall of Fame.

    He and Turnbull also put up some impressive offensive numbers while playing together.

12. Jacques Laperriere and J.C. Tremblay, Montreal Canadiens

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    How about five Stanley Cup championships and one Norris Trophy for Laperriere while patrolling the back end in Montreal!

    These two were one of the dominant tandems of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Tremblay split for the WHA in 1972, but while they were together, these two were fantastic.

11. Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis, St. Louis Blues

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    They weren't on the same roster very long, but Pronger and MacInnis captured back-to-back Norris trophies in St. Louis in 1999 and 2000, respectively.

    Two Hall of Famers, one at the end of his career and the other in his mid-20s, they were scary together for the Blues.

10. Ray Bourque and Glen Wesley, Boston Bruins

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    Boston is a city that loves heroes, and not many have been loved as much as Ray Bourque.

    From the emotional ceremony where he gave Phil Esposito his number back to ultimately leaving to chase a Cup in Colorado, he was a consummate professional who won a Calder Trophy and five Norris trophies with the Bruins.

9. Larry Robinson and Guy Lapointe, Montreal Canadiens

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    Robinson and Bourque almost had their respective resumes reversed.

    While Bourque had one Cup and five Norris trophies, Robinson had two Norris trophies and six Cups. With Lapointe, the back end for the Habs may have never been so solid as it was when Robinson was handling business.

8. Doug Wilson and Bob Murray, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Do those names ring a bell? They should—they're now rival general managers (Wilson in San Jose and Murray in Anaheim).

    But in the 1980s, the combination of Wilson and Murray was one of the best in the NHL. Wilson won a Norris Trophy in 1982, and together, the two combined to play more games for one team than almost any pair in league history.

7. Denis and Jean Potvin, New York Islanders

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    Consider that in 1975-76, the Potvins were both in the Islanders' top three in scoring, combining to record 170 points. Denis, the more accomplished of the two, won three Norris trophies in four years in the late 1970s before being part of the incredible four-straight Cups with the Isles in the early 1980s.

    And based on this photograph, they could have been best friends with Ron Burgundy.

6. Pierre Pilote and Moose Vasko, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Pilote is one of the most underrated defensemen in history, mostly because his best years were between the Doug Harvey Era and the Bobby Orr Era. But after Harvey, Pilote won three straight Norris trophies (1963-65).

    Vasko and Pilote were in many ways one of the first blue-line pairs to mirror what is the trend today. Pilote was a one of the first great puck-moving defensemen, and Vasko (listed at 6'2" and 200 lbs.) was an imposing force in the mid-1960s.

5. Paul Coffey and Charlie Huddy, Edmonton Oilers

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    The great Oilers teams of the 1980s were loaded with superstars and Hall of Famers at every position, and the blue line was no different.

    Coffey won two Norris trophies in the middle part of the decade with the Oilers, and earned three rings while in Edmonton. But, like everyone else on those great teams, he left town to find more success elsewhere.

4. Eddie Shore and George Owen, Boston Bruins

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    Shore was one of the first superstars in the NHL, earning his fame by beating opponents both on the scoreboard and with his fists.

    One of the most feared players in history, there weren't many players that Shore wouldn't fight. He played before there was a Norris Trophy, but he did win the Hart Trophy four times in the mid-1930s and led the Bruins to two championships.

3. Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, Detroit Red Wings

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    Rafalski wasn't by Lidstrom's side for all seven, but four years together did include one Cup championship, another trip to the Finals and one Norris Trophy.

    They were playing a different game, in a different era, than any of the other pairs on this list, and were able to be as dominant as any tandem since the lockout.

2. Bobby Orr and [Anyone], Boston Bruins

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    Here's what modern hockey fans outside of Boston need to know about the reality of this selection: Between 1967-68 and 1974-75, Bobby Orr won eight consecutive Norris trophies. Orr also won the 1972 Conn Smythe and is the greatest defenseman to ever play the game.

    He was so good in his prime that almost anyone could have been skating next to him and look like an All-Star.

1. Doug Harvey and Tom Johnson, Montreal Canadiens

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    Harvey was the first gold standard in the NHL for defensemen, setting the bar extremely high for future generations during his time with the Habs.

    After Red Kelly won the first Norris Trophy, Harvey won seven of the next eight awards between 1955-62; the only person to win the award during that stretch other than Harvey was his teammate, Johnson, in 1959. They also won six Stanley Cups together.


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