Bertuzzday: Great things come in pairs

These duos are less Batman and Robin and more Toe Jam & Earl (two great teammates who rocked the world fairly equally)

Even though sports market individuals, just about every successful sports star needed a second banana or running mate. Joe Montana needed Jerry Rice. Michael Jordan never truly took off until the Bulls found Scottie Pippen. David Ortiz was unstoppable when Manny was being Manny.

The NHL is no different. Over the years, the league’s most exciting and successful teams typically featured some terrific combinations. Often they’re more than the sum of two players, but many of them center depend on two great athletes. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best duos past and present.

Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin and Henrik Zetterberg/Pavel Datsyuk

You only need to look back to last season’s Stanley Cup Finals to see a prime example of dynamic duos.

On one hand, there was media darling Sidney Crosby and silent assassin Evgeni Malkin. They only play on the same line sporadically – both being natural centers – but when put together the results are lethal. No doubt about it, that Penguins team had great supporting cast members but Crosby/Malkin accelerated their run to the final round sooner than most expected.

Unfortunately for Pens fans, the Zetterberg-Datsyuk combination proved even more deadly. Surely those two benefited from outstanding support players including top five all-time defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, but Zetterberg and Datsyuk showed a keen ability to shut down the Penguins great forwards while pitching in some key goals.

Joe Sakic/Peter Forsberg

Along with Patrick Roy, arguably the best goaltender in NHL history, Forsberg and Sakic were the preeminent pivot 1-2 punch back in the early part of this decade and late Nineties. With their seemingly cohesive skills (Forsberg’s cerebral playmaking and Sakic’s supreme wrist shot), you’d think they’d make ideal linemates. Instead, Forsberg made good players like Alex Tanguay and Milan Hedjuk into All-Stars while Sakic provided opposing defenses with the impossible riddle of “who do you stop?”

Forsberg’s game seemed a bit more transcendent than Sakic’s but Burnaby Joe was more dependable and was just as much of a clutch performer as Foppa. Either way the two combined for 2 Stanley Cups, a few Hart trophies and a tense rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings.


Mario Lemieux/Jaromir Jagr

It didn’t end well, but few pairings in NHL history compare to Lemieux-Jagr. With Lemieux being a center and Jagr being a right wing, the two were able to make music together for a few unforgettable seasons. And few defenses had an answer when the Penguins also lined up fellow hockey HoFer Ron Francis with the two superstars.

I’ll never forget the quirky stat that was broken once Mario Lemieux came back from retirement: at that time, Lemieux assisted on 68 of Jagr’s career goals and Jagr assisted 66 of Lemieux’s career goals. Sometimes obscure stats become downright spooky.

Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger/Scott Stevens

Niedermayer played on some of the most dominant defensive teams of the last 20 years and has up close experience with two of the sport’s most controversial hitters. However you feel about Stompy Pronger’s line-pushing intimidation and Stevens’ head hunting, their work with the smooth skating Niedermayer accounted for four Stanley Cup championships and suffocating defense.

Brian Trottier/Mike Bossy

Retrospectively overshadowed by the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers dynasty, the New York Islanders accomplished the extremely rare four-peat on the back of this stunning combination. Trottier ranks as one of the best two-way forwards in hockey history while Bossy is considered by some to be the purest goal scorer the league’s every seen.

Sadly, I was a but a twinkle in my father’s eye during this time so my only account is through the eyes of others.

Wayne Gretzky/Mark Messier or is it Wayne Gretzky/Jari Kurri?

Those Oilers teams were loaded like a Madden dynasty full of players with 99 ratings. Still, I’m a Penguins fan and plenty of ink has been spilled to praise the Great One. So, take this time to remember how great they were. Didn’t get to see much of them myself.

Bobby Hull’s balls made one of the greatest players of all-time. All mine have done is make a towel crusty.

Stan Mikita/Bobby Hull

Greatest Hockey Legends featured an illuminating piece on Stan Mikita, who for many younger fans was known only as the namesake for a Wayne’s World restaurant but clearly was much more. It’s arguable that Mikita was far superior to his famous, Archie Manning-ish counterpart in Bobby Hull. (Of course, Mikita cannot claim that a 600-goal scorer came from his balls)

Check out Pelletier’s great piece on Mikita to get some nice perspective on a forgotten great.

Phil Esposito/Bobby Orr

“Jesus saves, but Espo scores on the rebound.”

A great bumper sticker that highlighted just how beloved the Bruins once were in Beantown. Few Masser sports figures can match Bobby Orr’s greatness, but who knows if #4 Bobby Orr would’ve hoisted a single Cup if the Bruins hadn’t gotten Esposito in one of the most one-sided trades in sports history.

They didn’t like each other, but they didn’t have to. Their nicely meshing skills did all the necessary complimenting. Orr would captivate with end-to-end rushes and then get the puck to an eager Espo. A combination that was good for 2 Cups, plenty of goals and a lot of “What-ifs?” because of Orr’s sadly brief career.

Not always the best of friends, but Orr and Espo were borderline unstoppable

Some close, but not quite good enough two-somes

Paul Kariya/Teemu Selanne

Two borderline Hall of Famers who put up some pretty impressive numbers. The passage of time hurts their impact but the biggest problems are Kariya’s decline and the fact that those Ducks teams were gawd awful.

Markus Naslund/Todd Bertuzzi

It’s hard to believe that the former Canucks duo was once the next big thing. Then Bertuzzi broke Steve Moore’s neck and Naslund slid far away from elite status. Both are now on different teams, with Bertuzzi shuffling from Florida to Detroit to Anaheim to Calgary in a blindingly bad three years.

Eric Lindros/John LeClair

Their best years were too few and they ended up with no Stanley Cups. Maybe if Lindros didn’t have so many lackluster final seasons.

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