Of course, the NHL may have meant any pair across the history of the league or any combination of defensemen to ever play the game. But taking the question literally and applying it to the league today, the answer is an easy one; Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock.
New York Islanders Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock and the best D-pair
Islanders fans already know the Pelech-Pulock duo as elite. We’ve seen the pair grow from prospects to the NHL’ers they are today. We’ve seen Barry Trotz takes what were already strong players and mold them into top pair elite level defensemen.
And look, that last point isn’t anecdotal. The Pelech-Pulock pair is elite.
In 2020-21, the duo held the best xGF% for any defensive pair that played 500+ minutes at 5on5. According to MoneyPuck, the Pelech-Pulock duo he’s a 62.7 xGF%. Which was over four percentage points better than the next duo (Rangers Lindgren-Fox).
To put that spread into perspective the next biggest percentage point gap between two pairs is 2.1%. Pelech and Pulock’s spread is twice as high over the second-best defensive pair in the NHL.
And I put the cap at 500 minutes. Pelech and Pulock have 770 minutes of playing time (at 5on5).
The two are head-and-shoulders better than the field. There’s no question. Of course, Colorado fans might point to a Cale Makar-Devon Toews pair being quite strong (and they aren’t wrong), but that duo has 367 minutes of 5on5 time. Nearly half of what Pelech and Pulock have.
So, the answer to “what defensive pair is the best in the NHL” is Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. And it’s not even close. End of discussion.