The NHL®’s Most Iconic Line Combinations
The National Hockey League® is known for its high-flying offense, and for its memorable lines — shifts of a team’s center and wings, who often boast some of the sport’s most colorful nicknames. By any name, these groups of forwards have propelled the league, from the New York Rangers’ Bread Line of the 1920s to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ HBK Line of 2016. While a multitude of lines could qualify for this list, here are some that particularly stand out.
The Finnish Sandwich – Edmonton Oilers (1983-1988)
Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky led this line, flanked on the wings by Jari Kurri and Esa Tikkanen. Kurri and Tikkanen both were from Finland, lending the line its unique nickname. Gretzky was a star from the moment the Oilers drafted him in 1979, the franchise’s first season in the NHL®. Kurri joined Gretzky on the same line a year later, but it wasn’t until Tikkanen joined the team in 1983 that the Oilers’ success fully blossomed. In this line’s first year together, the Oilers dominated the league. They broke the NHL® record for most goals by one team in a season, won 57 games, and Gretzky led the league with 205 points. The Oilers stormed through the playoffs too, winning the first Stanley Cup® Championship in franchise history. They would go on to win four Stanley Cups in the span of five years, one of the best runs by any team in league history.
The Nitro Line – Boston Bruins (1967-1975)
The explosive lineup of Phil Esposito, Wayne Cashman, and Ken Hodge led the Boston Bruins to becoming one of the most dominant teams of their era. They won two Stanley Cup® Championships — in the 1969-70 and 1971-72 seasons — and made the playoffs in every season the Nitro Line was together. The Bruins acquired Esposito and Hodge in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks before the 1967 season, a trade that turned out to be heavily lopsided in the Bruins’ favor. Esposito developed into the best scorer of his era, and in 1969 became the first player in NHL® history to record 100 points in a season. Esposito went on to have his No. 7 jersey retired by the Bruins and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984.
The Production Line – Detroit Red Wings (1947-1952)
There are several iterations of this line, which established Gordie Howe as one of the greatest players of all time for the Detroit Red Wings. The original version of the Production Line occurred from 1947 to 1952, with Howe at right wing and Ted Lindsay at left flanking center Sid Abel, continuing into the late ’60s with Alex Delvecchio replacing Abel and Frank Mahovlich replacing Lindsay. All five of these players would be inducted into both the Hockey Hall of Fame and, in 2017, the 100 NHL® Greatest Players list. The Red Wings won four Stanley Cup® Championships from 1950 to 1955, but their greatest achievement may be the 1-2-3 finish in points by Abel, Lindsay, and Howe in the 1949-50 season, a feat that has not been repeated since.
The Sky Line – Pittsburgh Penguins (1990-1994)
Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr were arguably the most electric duo of their era, and adding Kevin Stevens made this one of the most feared lines in the league. This trio produced instant results, leading the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup® Championships — the first Stanley Cups in Penguins history — in their first two seasons together. The line’s dominance was cut short when Lemieux was forced to take a one-year leave of absence from hockey to be treated for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and Penguins traded Stevens the next year. The line might have been short-lived, but it was one of the most dominant in the league.
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