The hockey world was shaken by the news of former-Islanders captain John Tavares signing a huge seven-year(s)/$77 million deal with his boyhood team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tavares’ signing has since propelled the Leafs to Eastern Conference contenders overnight and have been given the best odds to win the Stanley Cup in 2018 by Vegas bookies. The expectations got a lot bigger in Toronto but how much can the pairing of Tavares and Auston Matthews realistically produce?
Great centreman are the foundation of a contending NHL team as exemplified by the past three Stanley Cup winners and will have to be a factor if Toronto is to live up to the hype given by the Tavares signing. Here are the top five centre duos going into the 2018 season.
Top 5 NHL Centre Duos of 2018
Honourable Mention: Aleksander Barkov & Vincent Trocheck – Florida Panthers
The Panthers barely missed the playoffs in 2018 but it had nothing to do with these two young studs. Barkov and Trocheck both stepped into the league at the same time and have been growing side-by-side at around the same pace over the last five seasons. Both centremen have the ability to score at will, set up linemates, help out killing penalties, and win faceoffs. They both had career years last season finishing with career highs in points – 75 for Trocheck and 78 for Barkov – while consistently pitching in on the defensive side of the puck.
Barkov might be a bit younger and have a larger frame but the two should make a consistent duo up the middle of the ice for the next half-decade. In a year’s time, the two could find their self higher up on this list depending on how they follow up 2018’s stellar showing.
5. Ryan Getzlaf & Ryan Kesler – Anaheim Ducks
Though both are passing the primes of their careers, the duo has been consistently one of the hardest to deal with since the Ducks addition of Kesler in 2014. Both are rugged old-timey centres that will use their frames to wear opponents down over a period of time and when you least expect it, snap a wrist shot bar-down and in.
Getzlaf has continued to be a premier playmaking centre since stepping into the league and had another productive season in 2018. The 13-year veteran missed significant time with a fractured Zygomatic bone but was still able to put up 61 points in 56 games. Kesler’s offensive production fell off a cliff in his last season but this was largely in part to missing 38 games due to hip surgery he required in the offseason. Despite missing the time and playing with a handful of different linemates, Kesler still had another good year killing penalties and getting under his opponent’s skin.
The duo might not have much time left playing together but the two have been part of what has made the Ducks so consistently competitive during their tenure.
4. Patrice Bergeron & David Krejci – Boston Bruins
The Bruins have been a force in the Eastern Conference basically since these two united and created perhaps the best two-way centreman duo in the NHL. Both have played their entire careers in Boston and have helped the Bruins reach two Stanley Cup Finals while capturing the title back in 2011.
Bergeron has become the prototype for a two-way centre capturing the Selke Trophy four of the last seven seasons. This is largely thanks to his incredible ability on the draw and quick hands that allow him to create turnovers everywhere on the ice. His offensive numbers aren’t usually sky high but he does his job everywhere he is needed. Krejci’s offensive production has been fairly solid over his 11-year career, consistently putting up between 50 and 70 points in each full season he has played since 2010. He no longer kills penalties but continues help on the back end. Krejci is the ideal second-line centre and could have even higher offensive numbers if he received just a few more minutes of ice time.
What makes the Bergeron/Krejci combination so fascinating is they weren’t part of a huge plan to have long-lasting centres. They were both 2nd round picks that flourished into superstars. Boston is looking to stay competitive in a division that is loaded at the top and these two should continue to produce for at least the next three years.
3. Nicklas Backstrom & Evgeny Kuznetsov – Washington Capitals
Until this past year, the duo of Backstrom and Kuznetsov didn’t look like the answer in Washington. Both were proven scorers but for whatever reason, continually came up short when it mattered most. However, they now have a ring to offset their past failures and should be keeping their doubters quiet at least until next season.
The playoff woes aside, Backstrom and Kuznetsov have put up points left, right, and centre for Washington. Backstrom has not scored less than 70 points since the lockout season and Kuznetsov has notched 77+ points in two of his last three years. Both players also rarely miss games. Over the last four seasons, the two have only combined to miss a total of 13 games between them. That ability to stay healthy, as well as score, has been what has made the Capitals such an offensive juggernaut during the time in which the two have played for Washington. The Capitals rank third in team goals for only trailing the Penguins by four goals in that period.
Before Kuznetsov, Backstrom’s line was the only line to consistently produce goals on the Capitals but since that time, Washington has become a team that can roll two lines and create mismatches depending on the opponent. If their struggles in the postseason are behind them, the duo could find themselves winning multiple Cups before moving out of Washington.
2. Auston Matthews & John Tavares – Toronto Maple Leafs
If Leafs fans weren’t excited about the potential their incredibly young team has shown over the past two seasons yet, they’re feeling the hype now. The contract signed by Tavares is a lengthy and pricey one but it should give Toronto one of the best duos down the middle of the ice for if not at least this season, the seven in which Tavares is currently pencilled into.
Between Matthews and Tavares – though on different teams – the two have 139 goals in the two years since Matthews entered the league in 2016. Both players can rifle the puck but can set up their teammates for goals as well. They both finished the 2018 season with an over a point per game average. While the two haven’t played a game as part of the same team, it is hard to imagine that one of their respective lines will consistently get the opposing teams top shutdown unit. This means that on any given night, either line will be able to have their way with their opponents and may become impossible to game plan against.
Until signing in Toronto, Tavares has had minimal help in New York and his production could hit another level as a member of the Leafs. The time spent in favourable matchups and beside each other on the powerplay could make the Matthews and Tavares duo the potential best in the NHL next season or in the very near future.
1. Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin – Pittsburgh Penguins
For the reasons in which I have just predicted Matthews and Tavares are going to be the next elite centremen duo are the same reasons why Crosby and Malkin have been so successful over the past decade. Multiple Art Ross, Conn Smythe, and Hart Trophies sit between the two players while they both climb their way up the all-time NHL record books. Picked in back-to-back years the two have helped Pittsburgh become the first team since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings to win back-to-back Stanley Cups and the first in the modern era of the NHL.
What makes the Crosby/Malkin connection so special is how they both produce similar results despite being fairly different players. Both can put the puck in the net with ease, undress defenders, and set up miracle goals but their difference comes in play style. Malkin has the ability to overpower his opponents with his size and scoring touch whereas Crosby uses his unworldly playmaking ability to break down defences and exploit even their most subtle weaknesses. At least one of the two has finished inside the top-five in league scoring every year since the 2010-11 season — both players played less than 43 games in that year. With so much raw talent it is no surprise Pittsburgh offence and powerplay totals are consistently near the top of the league every season.
Still, in their primes, there does not seem to be a limit to what the Penguins can achieve as long as they have Crosby and Malkin patrolling the centre of the ice. The two are the modern NHL’s prototype for building blocks to a successful team and will be breaking records until they are sadly split up.
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