As we enter the New Year, there are six teams that look capable of making a run to the Cup: Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Toronto, Washington, Calgary and Nashville. Every other team below them is flawed, though we will reserve absolute judgment until the trade deadline is over. All six of these teams have electric offenses. All have good goaltending (save for the Flames, who are pretty up-and-down). All have elite defenses. With that in mind, 2019 will bring a fun ride to the finish.
31. New Jersey Devils | Record: 13–16–7 | Previous Ranking: 28
It's been rough, to say the least. How much longer does John Hynes get?
30. Los Angeles Kings | Record: 15–20–3 | Previous Ranking: 30
Wins against Winnipeg, San Jose and Vegas are all something to build on for the Kings. With Jonathan Quick starring in two of those victories, things may be gradually turning.
29. Chicago Blackhawks | Record: 14–20–6 | Previous Ranking: 31
The Blackhawks had a nice little stretch with good games there, with wins against Nashville and Colorado. It's been nice to see Dylan Strome playing well.
28. St. Louis Blues | Record: 15–16–4 | Previous Ranking: 29
In the main, Craig Berube has been a good fit as coach. The big losses—like a 7–2 drubbing against Calgary—say more about the lack of talent on the team than about Berube's influence. (The Blues avenged that loss six days later with a 3–1 win in Calgary.)
27. Ottawa Senators | Record: 15–18–4 | Previous Ranking: 24
It's not like there's much of a choice here for Ottawa, but Craig Anderson's time in net should be coming to an end.
26. Arizona Coyotes | Record: 16–19–2 | Previous Ranking: 25
Two impressive wins heading into the break against Colorado and San Jose. Hanging in there without Antti Raanta is a good sign for the Coyotes.
25. Philadelphia Flyers | Record: 15–16–5 | Previous Ranking: 26
Is Carter Hart, the savior? We've seen goalies burst onto the scene before, but he has the pedigree behind him. The Flyers have adjusted well (and quickly) with Scott Gordon behind the bench, going 3–1–1 since dropping Dave Hakstol.
24. Detroit Red Wings | Record: 15–18–6 | Previous Ranking: 23
How much would Jimmy Howard go for in the trade market? Is a first round pick too much?
23. Carolina Hurricanes | Record: 15–16–5 | Previous Ranking: 22
Sebastian Aho has been great and is a core piece to build on for the Hurricanes, who have just three wins this month. A lot of other pieces, though, should be upgraded.
22. Florida Panthers | Record: 15–14–6 | Previous Ranking: 27
Such is life for a bad team with a lot of talent—back-to-back wins against Toronto and Buffalo were great until getting blown out by the Leafs.
21. New York Rangers | Record: 15–14–7 | Previous Ranking: 21
The Rangers have needed heroic performances from Henrik Lundqvist to even stay in games. Their record is a bit deceiving right now.
20. Dallas Stars | Record: 19–16–3 | Previous Ranking: 17
Dallas might have the best group of offensive defensemen in the league. They have two of the best forwards in the game. And yet, like last year, the Stars remain mediocre.
19. Minnesota Wild | Record: 17–16–3 | Previous Ranking: 14
A rough stretch before the break, and it doesn't get much easier, with games against Winnipeg, Pittsburgh and Toronto coming up.
18. Vancouver Canucks | Record: 18–18–4 | Previous Ranking: 20
The Canucks clearly have their offensive core. Do they have their goaltender in Jacob Markstrom? That's a bit less clear.
17. Edmonton Oilers | Record: 18–16–3 | Previous Ranking: 11
That early hot streak under Ken Hitchcock is starting to fade away. The Oilers didn't look very good against St. Louis or Tampa Bay and now have four straight losses.
16. New York Islanders | Record: 18–13–4 | Previous Ranking: 18
The Isles are pretty evenly splitting the goalie workload between Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss. Who's more deserving? It’s close, but the vote here goes to Lehner.
15. Anaheim Ducks| Record: 19–15–5 | Previous Ranking: 9
Daniel Sprong was once a highly valued prospect for the Penguins, making the team briefly as an 18-year-old. He fizzled there, but is making an early impact in Anaheim, where he has five of his eight points for the season. A great, cheap pickup for Bob Murray.
14. Montreal Canadiens | Record: 19–13–5 | Previous Ranking: 16
Remember how Tomas Tatar sort of disappeared in Vegas? He's alive and well in Montreal, boasting 26 points this season.
13. Pittsburgh Penguins | Record: 19–12–6 | Previous Ranking: 19
Are the Pens the team that beat Washington on the road 2–1? Or are they the team that lost to Chicago 6–3? It’s still unclear, but Pittsburgh’s four-game winning streak is a good sign, at least.
12. Boston Bruins | Record: 20–14–4 | Previous Ranking: 12
Very quietly, David Pastrnak is having an MVP-caliber season. As the old guard winds down, it's going to be Pastrnak's team very soon.
11. Vegas Golden Knights | Record: 21–15–4 | Previous Ranking: 13
Max Pacioretty is back, which should help, but Brandon Pirri was good in his absence. Pacioretty is capable of much more than he's shown in his 19 points show.
10. San Jose Sharks | Record: 20–12–7 | Previous Ranking: 10
Back-to-back losses against Los Angeles and Arizona before the break hurt bad for the Sharks, as did losing Erik Karlsson for two games. Right now, the Sharks are just too inconsistent to get an accurate read on.
9. Colorado Avalanche | Record: 19–13–6 | Previous Ranking: 8
It was a cold December for the Avs, a fresh start in January could help. Defense is always needed.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets | Record: 22–12–3 | Previous Ranking: 15
Is this a Columbus team rounding into form? For the first time all year, Sergei Bobrovsky has put together a few consistently good performances in a row and the Blue Jackets are riding a five-game winning streak heading into a major matchup against the Maple Leafs on Friday.
7. Buffalo Sabres | Record: 21–12–5 | Previous Ranking: 7
The Sabres have gotten a bit more out of Linus Ullmark than Carter Hutton of late, but that shouldn't be a long-term trend. If it is, that might be a problem.
6. Nashville Predators | Record: 22–14–2 | Previous Ranking: 3
The Preds will get healthy, and this five-game losing streak will end. Shouldn't be a long-term concern, but for now they will drop.
5. Calgary Flames | Record: 23–12–3 | Previous Ranking: 5
The Flames entered the break on a losing streak, including a baffling loss to St. Louis, and followed it up with an impressive victory against Winnipeg on Thursday.
4. Washington Capitals | Record: 23–10–3 | Previous Ranking: 6
The play the Caps have gotten from Pheonix Copley in net has been great. He and Braden Holtby are a winning combination for Washington, which has won its last three.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs | Record: 25–10–2 | Previous Ranking: 2
Another hot team, but Toronto hasn't been tested since the loss to Tampa Bay a few weeks back. Jan. 7 against Nashville will be the first big matchup in some time, although the Blue Jackets could be a sneaky test on Friday.
2. Winnipeg Jets | Record: 24–11–2 | Previous Ranking: 4
Really a tossup between the Jets and Leafs in this spot, but Winnipeg has the advantage after that win over the Lightning, followed by the victory in San Jose.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning | Record: 29–7–2 | Previous Ranking: 1
The Lightning entered the Christmas break on a roll, and exited it with a win against Philly.