- Entering the second half of the season, the Lightning have solidified their spot atop the NHL, but the fast emergence of the Golden Knights could spell an interesting Stanley Cup Final.
If things remain the same in the second half of the 2017-18 NHL season—which is asking a lot, we know—we could be considering a Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights.
How would the NHL respond to such a matchup? The league would have to enjoy the idea of Vegas making it to the final in its first season as NHL fans from all over would tune in, but two very non-traditional markets (and one team without any true star power) could make some queasy.
We here in the Power Rankings Department find it exhilarating. There's a certain cachet to New York, Los Angeles and Boston, but the success of the league depends on the development of smaller and newer markets. And given just how well the Knights are playing, a trip to the Cup Final could make a burgeoning Vegas market thrive even more.
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 ranking: 31 (-)
Hey, great win against Nashville! Doesn't change anything, other than showing Antti Raanta can be a fantastic goalie with a proper defense in front of him.
30. Buffalo Sabres
Last ranking: 30 (-)
They were competitive in the Winter Classic and in many of their recent games. Just not enough punch.
29. Ottawa Senators
Last ranking: 29 (-)
The slide continues and it's tough to watch. For all the great individual performances (like Mark Stone and Erik Karlsson), the hangover from last year is just not lifting.
28. Vancouver Canucks
Last ranking: 25 (-3)
How much worse would the Canucks be if they didn't have Brock Boeser? Or Thomas Vanek for that matter?
27. Montreal Canadiens
Last ranking: 26 (-1)
A great win against Tampa Bay and Carey Price is a super hero. Everyone else? Yeah… not so much.
26. Detroit Red Wings
Last ranking: 28 (+2)
What's more surprising: Jimmy Howard finding his game, or Petr Mrazek losing his?
25. Florida Panthers
Last ranking: 27 (+2)
Can they build on a great end to December? We'll see. Goalie James Reimer has found his game.
24. Edmonton Oilers
Last ranking: 24 (-)
Is Al Montoya the answer? Probably not, but it's certainly worth a shot.
23. Philadelphia Flyers
Last ranking: 15 (-8)
A good December doesn't change the fact that they're basically a one-line team. That line is very good—but not enough.
22. Calgary Flames
Last ranking: 21 (-1)
There's Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and then a drop. We're bummed that Jaromir Jagr isn’t working out as expected, but Calgary is probably much more concerned with Sam Bennett.
21. Pittsburgh Penguins
Last ranking: 19 (-2)
Entering the weekend, we would've said to give Tristan Jarry a chance in net. But then he gets pulled after giving up five goals on 19 shots to the Bruins. Matt Murray only had to make six saves in a period and change. Best bet might be to hope Murray finds his game.
20. Chicago Blackhawks
Last ranking: (-12)
The play of 32-year-old goalie Jeff Glass has been a nice surprise, and forward Nick Schmaltz isn’t getting enough recognition. But other than Patrick Kane, the big names seem a bit off.
19. New York Islanders
Last ranking: 18 (-1)
When will the Islanders realize they need a goalie? Both Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss have GAA's over 3.00 and save percentages under .905. With their offense, even a league-average goalie could do wonders.
18. Colorado Avalanche
Last ranking: 23 (+5)
Give the Avs a lot of credit for sticking with it and playing well. A borderline elite offense, and an improved Semyon Varlamov in net helps.
17. Anaheim Ducks
Last ranking: 22 (+5)
Things are turning around and it coincides with the returns of Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf. You have to wonder where the Ducks would be if they were healthy all season.
16. Carolina Hurricanes
Last ranking: 20 (+4)
An exciting young team that's still a year or two away. But enjoy the potential:
15. New York Rangers
Last ranking: 17 (+2)
They’ve lost five of eight, and it could've been worse if not for the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist. They’re way too inconsistent offensively and barely got past Arizona.
14. Minnesota Wild
Last ranking: 13 (-1)
Netminder Devan Dubnyk has played well in his return. Can he start to carry them on a run?
13. San Jose Sharks
Last ranking: 11 (-2)
Goalie Martin Jones continues to be a Vezina contender, and defenseman Brent Burns has picked up his play recently. Where the problem lies is up front where Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture aren't playing their part, yet.
12. Dallas Stars
Last ranking: 16 (+4)
Martin Hanzal’s return complicates Jason Spezza’s role, but finding the right one could be a big boost to the team.
11. Columbus Blue Jackets
Last ranking: 9 (-2)
Columbus reminiscent of another Tortorella team, the 2012 Rangers: A fantastic goalie, not enough offense. That Rangers team went to the Eastern Conference Finals. Can Columbus do the same?
10. Boston Bruins
Last ranking: 14 (+4)
Maybe the most surprising team in the league, given their start. Goalie Tuukka Rask is playing well, his performance against the Penguins notwithstanding. Rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy is a stud, and youngsters Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk are fun to watch.
9. Toronto Maple Leafs
Last ranking: 12 (+3)
Mitch Marner has regained his status as a playmaker and Patrick Marleau has been good. The defense, though, is a notch below elite and it’s been hurting them.
8. New Jersey Devils
Last ranking: 10 (+2)
They're in a swoon, having lost their fifth straight to the Islanders. For a team that no one thought would be this good, how they respond will be very interesting.
7. Winnipeg Jets
Last ranking: 6 (-1)
Connor Hellebuyck has only four regulation losses. He has a 2.36 goals-against average. He's becoming a franchise goalie.
6. Nashville Predators
Last ranking: 2 (-4)
We can forgive the loss to Arizona (hey, the Coyotes have to win some games). They're still a good team, and a victory in Los Angeles proves that.
5. Los Angeles Kings
Last ranking: 7 (-2)
They probably have the best team defense in the league, but really need some offense. Good luck finding anyone who had Dustin Brown tabbed as their second-leading scorer this season.
4. St. Louis Blues
Last ranking: 5 (+1)
A good win against Vegas. They're weathering the loss of Jaden Schwartz, not yet sinking.
3. Washington Capitals
Last ranking: 4 (+1)
Alex Ovechkin is quietly having a Hart Trophy-type season, which helps, but goalie Braden Holtby finding his game again has been the biggest reason for their surge.
2. Vegas Golden Knights
Last ranking: 3 (+1)
They’re the hottest team in hockey, even after a tough loss in St. Louis. The combo of Malcolm Subban and Marc-Andre Fleury gives them a great one-two punch in net.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Last ranking: (-)
They have best two forwards in the league and maybe the best goalie. Unless something crazy happens, they'll remain in this spot for the rest of the season.