Power Rankings: Why 2018 could be better for every team


We'd like to end 2017 on a positive note. Perhaps the year didn't finish the way you had hoped for your favorite hockey team, and you need something to look forward to. Or maybe things are going great and you're wondering if this good fortune is sustainable. For this week's Power Rankings -- voted on, as always, by ESPN's panel of experts -- we identified a reason for optimism in 2018 for each of the 31 franchises. That is, if all goes according to plan.

How we rank: We use a panel of voters, and these rankings reflect which teams voters think would win head-to-head matchups. Higher-ranked teams are favored over lower-ranked teams. A run of wins doesn't guarantee a jump, and a couple of losses doesn't guarantee a fall.

Previous rankings: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

Record: 26-7-2
Week 11 Ranking: No. 1

It doesn't look like anyone in the Atlantic Division can keep up with the Lightning. As long as their gaudy plus-45 goal differential doesn't deflate significantly, have faith that this team will be playing well into spring.

2. Vegas Golden Knights

Record: 24-9-2
Week 11 Ranking: No. 2

Good news if you're a fan of players on this current roster: Because of the Golden Knights' unexpected success, GM George McPhee is hamstrung. He may be forced to hand out contract extensions instead of being a seller at the trade deadline.

3. Winnipeg Jets

Record: 21-11-6
Week 11 Ranking: No. 5

This is the most balanced team coach Paul Maurice has ever had in Winnipeg. Now opponents may need to worry about a new breakout player: fourth-liner Mathieu Perreault (who may be up for a permanent promotion).

4. Nashville Predators

Record: 22-9-5
Week 11 Ranking: No. 3

If you're concerned that this team may have peaked too soon, take comfort in the fact that the Predators' early-season success came with one of the league's worst shot differentials (minus-86), but the fourth-highest shooting percentage. If they can clean up that differential, all will be swell in Smashville.

5. St. Louis Blues

Record: 23-14-2
Week 11 Ranking: No. 4

Losing Jaden Schwartz is a bummer, but St. Louis is getting some of its banged-up roster back. Patrik Berglund, who missed the first 24 games while recovering from shoulder surgery, has five goals in 14 games, including in back-to-back contests before Christmas break.

6. New Jersey Devils

Record: 22-9-5
Week 11 Ranking: No. 8

How could 2018 be even better for this overachieving bunch of youngsters? Let's see Will Butcher announce himself in the Calder Trophy race. The prized college free agent has been terrific so far, especially on offense, with 23 points in 35 games.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs

Record: 22-14-1
Week 11 Ranking: No. 12

Why do we get the feeling that Auston Matthews is about to hit his stride? In his return to the lineup against the Rangers, he was a tangible threat on every shift. One goal, one assist -- and one breakaway he probably should have converted.

8. Los Angeles Kings

Record: 22-11-4
Week 11 Ranking: No. 7

The old guns -- Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar -- are all having dynamite seasons. Imagine what could happen if Jeff Carter rejoins the mix for a late-season run.

9. Columbus Blue Jackets

Record: 22-13-3
Week 11 Ranking: No. 9

This team is talented, but for some reason the Blue Jackets are vulnerable to stinkers -- especially with a final score of 7-2. If they can sort out those issues in 2018, coach John Tortorella will be a much happier man.

10. Washington Capitals

Record: 22-13-3
Week 11 Ranking: No. 6

The Capitals surged in December to land near the top of the muddled Metropolitan Division. Maybe Alex Ovechkin's game never actually became stale -- and maybe Washington will still be a contender for the foreseeable future.

11. Boston Bruins

Record: 20-10-5
Week 11 Ranking: No. 13

The Bruins have been red-hot of late. Boston is 14-3-1 in its last 18 games. Next year can be even better if the Bruins somehow maintain this balancing act: contend for a Cup while still rebuilding.

12. New York Rangers

Record: 20-13-4
Week 11 Ranking: No. 10

New York was one of the best road teams in 2016-17 -- putting up 27 wins away from Madison Square Garden, much better than its home record. The Rangers need to duplicate that. Fourteen of of their first 21 games of 2018 will be on the road.

13. San Jose Sharks

Record: 19-11-4
Week 11 Ranking: No. 18

With all the havoc around them in the Pacific Division, the Sharks have remained steady as an above-average team. In this wacky division, that might be all it takes to get into the playoffs.

14. Dallas Stars

Record: 20-15-3
Week 11 Ranking: No. 14

Goalie Ben Bishop had a slow start in Dallas, but he has looked solid lately. The big offseason acquisition is 8-4-2 with a .920 save percentage and 2.27 GAA over his last 14 games.

15. New York Islanders

Record: 20-13-4
Week 11 Ranking: No. 15

The Islanders are coming home to Long Island. Fans rejoiced at the end of 2017 when the Belmont Park stadium project was finally approved. It's a good omen for the team's next order of business: retaining John Tavares.

16. Minnesota Wild

Record: 19-15-3
Week 11 ranking: No. 17

The Wild have endured 87 total man-games lost. Zach Parise's impending debut will be a relief, and hopefully Nino Niederreiter isn't sidelined long. If only this team could get everyone on the ice at the same time, it would be decent.

17. Chicago Blackhawks

Record: 17-13-5
Week 11 Ranking: No. 11

Next year will be better if both of the Blackhawks' top two lines are scary again. Patrick Kane's second line is doing just fine; he's thriving without Artemi Panarin. The Jonathan Toews trio? Plenty of room for improvement there.

18. Anaheim Ducks

Record: 16-14-8
Week 11 Ranking: No. 19

It's remarkable that Anaheim has cobbled together any success considering it has the most man-games lost to injury. A bright spot: Ryan Kesler (offseason hip surgery) has finally returned.

19. Pittsburgh Penguins

Record: 19-16-3
Week 11 Ranking: No. 16

Let's be honest: 2017 couldn't have ended any worse for the defending champs. Any chance to start the calendar year fresh has to be an improvement.

20. Montreal Canadiens

Record: 16-17-4
Week 11 Ranking: No. 23

Things are looking up in Montreal because the early panic alarms turned out to be premature: Carey Price has not regressed. He's still really, really good.

21. Edmonton Oilers

Record: 17-18-2
Week 11 Ranking: No. 22

Oilers fans have to feel better about how their team has played of late. After a horrid start, Edmonton won four in a row heading into the league's three-day Christmas break and, suddenly, is within playoff striking distance.

22. Philadelphia Flyers

Record: 15-13-8
Week 11 Ranking: No. 21

Oh, how Philadelphia streaked to begin this season. The next year could be better if the Flyers keep playing like they have following their 10-game losing streak (without enduring another 10-game losing streak).

23. Calgary Flames

Record: 18-15-3
Week 11 Ranking: No. 20

Sam Bennett is finding his groove. After going pointless in his first 15 games, the highest pick in franchise history has 15 points in his last 21 appearances, an important development.

24. Carolina Hurricanes

Record: 17-12-7
Week 11 Ranking: No. 24

The Hurricanes are staying in Raleigh, despite an ownership change. That's a good sign. Now the Canes just need to find stability in net. Scott Darling didn't live up to his billing as a No. 1 goaltender; maybe Cam Ward can steady this ship.

25. Colorado Avalanche

Record: 17-16-3
Week 11 Ranking: No. 26

There's a ton of promise on Colorado's blue line, with youngsters Chris Bigras, Samuel Girard, Anton Lindholm, Andrei Mironov -- plus prospects Cale Makar and Conor Timmins, who are playing for Team Canada in the world junior championships.

26. Vancouver Canucks

Record: 15-17-5
Week 11 Ranking: No. 27

Brock Boeser is reason alone to feel optimism about this team. He's already the first Canucks rookie to score 20 goals since Daniel Sedin. Pavel Bure's rookie marks for goals (34) and points (60) are well within reach.

27. Florida Panthers

Record: 15-16-5
Week 11 Ranking: No. 29

The Panthers seem excited about Nick Bjugstad, so perhaps we should be too. It looks like he'll be staying on Florida's top line for a while, alongside Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.

28. Ottawa Senators

Record: 11-16-8
Week 11 Ranking: No. 28

Here's how the Senators can start 2018 on the right foot: silence all the drama surrounding Erik Karlsson, secure the captain to a long-term deal and get the owner to stop making public threats about moving the franchise.

29. Detroit Red Wings

Record: 13-16-7
Week 11 Ranking: No. 25

The future can be bright in Detroit -- once the Red Wings finally fully commit to a rebuild. Spin zone to their troublesome start: the Wings will be sellers at the deadline, which should kick-start the process.

30. Buffalo Sabres

Record: 9-20-8
Week 11 Ranking: No. 30

For a peek at the future in Buffalo, tune into this week's world junior championships. Nineteen-year-old Casey Mittelstadt (the No. 8 overall pick by Buffalo in the 2017 NHL draft) is the star of a stacked Team USA.

31. Arizona Coyotes

Record: 9-25-5
Week 11 Ranking: No. 31

To begin the season, Antti Raanta was hampered by injuries. In 2018, he can still prove he is a solid No. 1 goalie worth trading for.