- The NHL's elite have separated themselves this season, but the second-tier teams aren't that far behind.
Take a look past the top tier of Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Toronto and what you'll find are a bunch of teams having sneakily good seasons. Bet you didn't realize just how dangerous the Islanders' offense is. Did you know how good Los Angeles is on defense?
All of that makes things interesting. After the top tier, there are 14 teams—Nashville to Chicago on this list—that have legitimate shots at doing something like winning at least a round in the playoffs. That's 17 really good teams in the NHL. For all the talk about just how bad Arizona and Buffalo have been, the quality of play at the top of the NHL is better than ever.
Here's how we see teams stacking up in the NHL, from 31-1 (stats and records through Monday's games):
31. Arizona Coyotes
Last week: 31 (—)
Nothing's changed—they’re still struggling, especially now that Clayton Keller has cooled off.
30. Buffalo Sabres
Last week: 30 (—)
Probably time to start thinking about who they can get for Evander Kane—could be a nice return, too.
29. Florida Panthers
Last week: 29 (—)
James Reimer made some really good saves and also gave up four goals to the Rangers. He might be pressed into service if Roberto Luongo’s injury on Monday proves to be bad.
28. Ottawa Senators
Last week: 24 (-4)
Still nothing from Matt Duchene. Buyer's remorse? Probably too soon to tell.
27. Edmonton Oilers
Last week: 28 (+1)
Not having Cam Talbot (IR, undisclosed injury) in net makes a bad situation worse. Is it time for Peter Chiarelli to start selling some veterans and looking forward to 2018-19?
26. Philadelphia Flyers
Last week: 25 (-1)
A bunch of tough OT losses in a row, but now, despite Ron Hextall’s reassurances, you have to worry about coach Dave Hakstol's job status.
25. Carolina Hurricanes
Last week: 26 (+1)
This team is a nightly roller coaster ride, and a bottom-third power play and penalty kill aren’t helping matters. They’re piling on the shots but not connecting on nearly enough of them.
24. Detroit Red Wings
Last week: 17 (-7)
Things are falling off the rails here, and that was before giving up 10 goals to Montreal. Is it time to blow things up and start over?
23. Anaheim Ducks
Last week: 21 (-2)
How much of a boost will Adam Henrique give them? We’re not sure yet. But he instantly improves their depth down the middle with Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler still shelved by injuries.
22. Colorado Avalanche
Last week: 22 (—)
Good for them for staying with it. There are plenty of offensive building blocks to be excited about.
21. Boston Bruins
Last week: 23 (+2)
Good win against Tampa Bay, as there are some good signs for Tuukka Rask. He's still the best option in net.
20. Montreal Canadiens
Last week: 27 (+7)
Don't look now, but Montreal isn't as bad! That's not to say the Habs are playing well, but they’ve strung together nice wins against Columbus and Detroit. It sure is good having Carey Price back and healthy.
19. Minnesota Wild
Last week: 18 (-1)
Losing Jared Spurgeon, arguably their most consistent player, is a huge blow. It continues to be such a tough year on the health front, even with Zach Parise resuming skating.
18. Vancouver Canucks
Last week: 20 (+2)
All hail Brock Boeser, who is starting to run away with the Calder. Really bummed for Derek Dorsett, who retired due to back issues. He was off to one of his best starts this season.
17. Chicago Blackhawks
Last week: 16 (-1)
Corey Crawford's injury is a potentially huge blow. The netminder had been playing some of the best hockey of his career and keeping the Blackhawks in contention.
16. New York Rangers
Last week: 14 (-2)
Mike Zibanejad's concussion is a big blow. He was their best offensive player, by far. His absence tests the Rangers' already poor center depth.
15. San Jose Sharks
Last week: 15 (—)
It's time to talk about Brent Burns. A pedestrian season from a player who has been so good the past few years. Have all the minutes got to him? And he's still playing over 25:00 per game.
14. Washington Capitals
Last week: 11 (-3)
A beguiling team, because Holtby is better than this and so is much offense. And yet, they're stringing together wins. Like so many others, there's another level.
13. Calgary Flames
Last week: 12 (-1)
Johnny Gaudreau deserves early Hart talk, but there's such a drop-off after him and Sean Monahan, and they're not a good enough defensive team to compensate.
12. Dallas Stars
Last week: 19 (+7)
Another sneaky team: the Stars have a really good defense. Plus there's another level for Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn to get to. Watch out for Dallas.
11. Vegas Golden Knights
Last week: 7 (-4)
We're seeing Vegas slip slightly, and you have to wonder where they would be with a healthy Marc-Andre Fleury. Malcolm Subban has been pretty good since the return from injury, but Fleury would provide a more stabilizing influence on the team.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins
Last week: 13 (+3)
With Matt Murray out indefinitely, it’s Tristan Jarry’s net to lose. Stopping 65 of 67 in two starts against the struggling Sabres was a good way to start off.
9. New York Islanders
Last week: 10 (+1)
Josh Bailey and John Tavares might be second-best duo in the NHL right now—there's no way anybody guessed that entering the season.
8. New Jersey Devils
Last week: 5 (-3)
We'll see how the Sami Vatanen trade shakes out, although it gives them a legitimate top-pair defenseman. Think sending Adam Henrique to Anaheim opens up more time for Nico Hischier.
7. Winnipeg Jets
Last week: 4 (-3)
Quietly, Tyler Myers is having a nice season. The bueliner is playing 20 minutes a game with 14 points and is a plus-seven. While the offense gets the attention, the defense is holding it down, too.
6. Los Angeles Kings
Last week: 9 (+2)
Tanner Pearson, where are you? Trevor Lewis, same question. With the way the defense is playing, even a slight boost in depth scoring could be the difference.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets
Last week: 8 (+3)
Sneakily good again, but like any John Tortorella team, there’s just not enough offense. The Jackets are last in power play percentage (9.3%) and 20th in goals per game.
4. Nashville Predators
Last week: 6 (+2)
They’re the hottest team in hockey, even if they've cooled off a bit. Give it a few weeks and Nashville might be at the top of this list. Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson are heating up.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
Last week: 3 (—)
While Mitch Marner is going through a sophomore slump of sorts, the Leafs have to be thrilled by the play of summer free agent signing Patrick Marleau and his necessary secondary scoring.
2. St. Louis Blues
Last week: 1 (-1)
Not a good loss against Anaheim, and we'd like to see special teams play pick up. But how can you complain when Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn are driving the team the way they are? With Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues might have one of the more well-rounded offenses in the league.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Last week: 2 (+1)
The Bolts’ offense is on fire, their special teams are great and Andrei Vasilevskiy is a Vezina candidate. Fun question: Can Nikita Kucherov score 50 in 50? Our gut says no, but it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility.