The NHL’s holiday break can’t come soon enough for some teams, while other clubs seem to have hit a new stride as winter officially begins. How far did the New Jersey Devils fall this week? Which Eastern Conference team surged up seven spots?
We rank all 32 teams here, and offer a reason for optimism for every fan base.
How we rank: A panel of ESPN hockey commentators, analysts, reporters and editors rates teams against one another — taking into account game results, injuries and upcoming schedule — and those results are tabulated to produce the list featured here.
Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to the most recent edition, published Dec. 16. Points paces are through Thursday’s games.
Previous ranking: 1
Points percentage: 84.38%
Next seven days: @ NJ (Dec. 23), @ OTT (Dec. 27), @ NJ (Dec. 28)
The Bruins’ unparalleled consistency has had them lording over the NHL standings since Week 1. Boston rarely turns in a bad performance, and if that continues to be the norm, then the only hope these Bruins can have left is of a long playoff run.
Previous ranking: 6
Points percentage: 72.73%
Next seven days: vs. PHI (Dec. 23), vs. CHI (Dec. 27)
The Hurricanes are surging lately with an incomparable full-team attack that shows no signs of slowing. Martin Necas and Seth Jarvis appear rejuvenated. Jordan Staal is having a moment. Carolina’s defense is terrific. When the Hurricanes bring it all together like this, it’s impossible not to have high hopes for what’s to come.
Previous ranking: 3
Points percentage: 70.59%
Next seven days: @ STL (Dec. 27), @ ARI (Dec. 29)
The Leafs lost three of their top four defensemen … and peeled off a 10-game point streak? That’s resiliency. Now TJ Brodie is back, and Morgan Rielly has resumed skating, putting Toronto closer to an ideal lineup. If the Leafs could thrive while undermanned, how hopeful is their future with a full complement of skaters?
Previous ranking: 2
Points percentage: 69.70%
Next seven days: vs. BOS (Dec. 23), vs. BOS (Dec. 28)
The Devils have their health (mostly). That hasn’t always been the case. New Jersey has been slumping in December, but as long as their best players remain available there’s ample hope for a lengthy rebound ahead by a group that proved just weeks ago it knows how to win in bunches.
Previous ranking: 7
Points percentage: 65.15%
Next seven days: @ WSH (Dec. 23), vs. MIN (Dec. 27), vs. VAN (Dec. 29)
The Jets are newly dealing with some key injuries, so what a beacon of hope to know that Nikolaj Ehlers — out since mid-October — is back on the ice following sports hernia surgery, and on track to be available early next month. Winnipeg’s next-man-up mentality just has to hold out a little longer.
Previous ranking: 4
Points percentage: 67.14%
Next seven days: vs. STL (Dec. 23), @ LA (Dec. 27), @ ANA (Dec. 28)
The Golden Knights are exceptionally good on the road. As in, they’ve lost two games in regulation all season outside the desert. Not only does Vegas have a back-half schedule loaded with away opportunities, but there’s also hope it can channel that same energy into its own building — and secure its place as one of the league’s top contenders.
Previous ranking: 9
Points percentage: 64.71%
Next seven days: vs. MTL (Dec. 23), @ NSH (Dec. 27), @ MIN (Dec. 29)
The Stars went from relying heavily on goaltender Jake Oettinger to being one of the league’s most dominant offensive squads thanks to a swell of young talents led by Jason Robertson. When the Stars can launch a balanced, tiered attack, there is hope they’ll beat anyone in their path.
Previous ranking: 5
Points percentage: 65.15%
Next seven days: @ NYI (Dec. 27), vs. DET (Dec. 28)
The Penguins are a better team with Jason Zucker, and they were hopeful a recent injury wouldn’t hold him out for long. Zucker returned even sooner than expected, and was back to being a serious offensive factor, elevating Evgeni Malkin’s line. The healthier Pittsburgh stays, the higher its hopes can climb.
Previous ranking: 8
Points percentage: 64.06%
Next seven days: vs. MTL (Dec. 28), s. NYR (Dec. 29)
The Lightning lacked confidence early this season, but that chapter is hopefully closed. Tampa Bay is being led by a red-hot Nikita Kucherov — who’s fourth in league scoring — and a rejuvenated Andrei Vasilevskiy. When the Lightning’s stars come out, they’re hard to stop.
Previous ranking: 10
Points percentage: 62.50%
Next seven days: vs. CGY (Dec. 28)
The Kraken don’t get enough credit for the top-10 offense they’ve been honing. Seattle’s hope of a first-time playoff berth rests with the likes of phenom Matty Beniers, consistent Jared McCann and multifaceted Jordan Eberle. A great run to start this season should hopefully set the Kraken up well for more second-half success.
Previous ranking: 14
Points percentage: 60.61%
Next seven days: @ WPG (Dec. 27), vs. DAL (Dec. 29)
The Wild have depth to spare these days, and it has paid off in W’s. Whether it’s Kirill Kaprizov producing another highlight-reel goal, Filip Gustavsson emerging with big saves, or Ryan Reaves setting a tone, Minnesota’s hopes of being a major player in the West look stronger than ever.
Previous ranking: 13
Points percentage: 61.43%
Next seven days: vs. WSH (Dec. 27), @ TB (Dec. 29)
New York has regained its mojo, and not a moment too soon. The Rangers have to hope the dramatic turnaround of late — which included a seven-game win streak — means their hardest struggle of the season has come and gone. Being a dominant Beast of the East is back on the table for good.
Previous ranking: 11
Points percentage: 61.29%
Next seven days: @ NSH (Dec. 23), @ ARI (Dec. 27), vs. LA (Dec. 29)
The Avalanche have Cale Makar, a multihyphenate, award-winning, top-five NHL defenseman with a heart so pure he actually declined a power play this week over a phantom hook from Mathew Barzal. What more could you hope for in the (now probable) Lady Byng front-runner?
Previous ranking: 16
Points percentage: 59.72%
Next seven days: @ ARI (Dec. 23), vs. VGK (Dec. 27), @ COL (Dec. 29)
The Kings have good reason to hope Pheonix Copley can turn things around in net. While Jonathan Quick is having a difficult season, Copley has played well in December (with a 5-1-0 record so far) and gives L.A. a great chance every night. If Copley can support Quick in finding his form post-holiday break, that’s even better.
Previous ranking: 15
Points percentage: 57.14%
Next seven days: vs. WPG (Dec. 23), @ NYR (Dec. 27), vs. OTT (Dec. 29)
The Capitals of late look more akin to the Capitals of old, with a depth of attack that hopefully keeps giving opponents fits. Erik Gustafsson’s hat trick, Nic Dowd’s career night, Charlie Lindgren stepping up and Alex Ovechkin breaking records; you name it, Washington has had it going on.
Previous ranking: 12
Points percentage: 55.88%
Next seven days: vs. FLA (Dec. 23), vs. PIT (Dec. 27), vs. CBJ (Dec. 29)
The Islanders aren’t a prolific scoring bunch, so their best hope for long-term success has rested heavily on their goaltending. And with good reason. Ilya Sorokin has been solid all season. Semyon Varlamov has played well (when healthy). If Sorokin can hold the fort now that Varlamov is sidelined by an injury, New York will hopefully have time to get its offensive support in line.
Previous ranking: 17
Points percentage: 55.88%
Next seven days: vs. VAN (Dec. 23), @ CGY (Dec. 27)
The Oilers have Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid leading the league in offense. Again. Some things rarely change and hope will always spring eternal in Edmonton when those two turn it up.
Previous ranking: 25
Points percentage: 53.13%
Next seven days: @ CBJ (Dec. 27), vs. DET (Dec. 29)
The Sabres just put together their first four-game win streak of the season, during which Tage Thompson scored five goals and nine points. Buffalo’s emerging star is top five in league scoring this season, and everything the Sabres could hope to build around for years to come.
Previous ranking: 20
Points percentage: 54.41%
Next seven days: @ ANA (Dec. 23), vs. EDM (Dec. 27), @ SEA (Dec. 28)
The Flames are benefitting from the best of Elias Lindholm lately, as he has kept their offense propped up through a challenging stretch. Every team needs that player who can lift them out of a funk, and there’s hope Lindholm’s continued excellence can be a catalyst for sustained success.
Previous ranking: 19
Points percentage: 50.00%
Next seven days: @ NYI (Dec. 23), vs. MTL (Dec. 29)
The Panthers swung for the fences in acquiring Matthew Tkachuk, and Tkachuk has delivered regular dynamic performances. Florida has to believe that the entire team will eventually feed off that energy. Speaking of good omens, the Panthers got lucky that Aleksander Barkov’s recent injury won’t keep him sidelined for long.
Previous ranking: 18
Points percentage: 54.69%
Next seven days: @ PIT (Dec. 28), @ BUF (Dec. 29)
The Red Wings are mired in a rough stretch, but reinforcements are on the way via Jakub Vrana and a hopefully reignited Dylan Larkin and Filip Hronek. Coach Derek Lalonde said Vrana — who has appeared in two games this season — brings goals, and that’s what Detroit needs. He’ll be the Red Wings’ hopeful shot in the arm.
Previous ranking: 21
Points percentage: 51.61%
Next seven days: vs. COL (Dec. 23), vs. DAL (Dec. 27)
The Predators’ hopes of a brighter offensive future have been bolstered by Cody Glass’ line with Nino Niederreiter and Tanner Jeannot. That unit (mostly) shut down Edmonton’s top skaters earlier this week, and earned positive reinforcement from coach Jon Hynes. Can the rest of Nashville’s skaters follow the Glass line’s lead?
Previous ranking: 26
Points percentage: 50.00%
Next seven days: @ VGK (Dec. 23), vs. TOR (Dec. 27), vs. CHI (Dec. 29)
The Blues have been waiting for Jordan Kyrou to find a rhythm, and there’s reason to hope that has finally happened. Kyrou netted his first career hat trick this week to cap off a four-game, 10-point run that highlighted the best aspects of his offensive game. St. Louis needs more of those contributions and has to hope Kyrou’s upper-body injury won’t be a long-term issue.
Previous ranking: 22
Points percentage: 50.00%
Next seven days: @ DAL (Dec. 23), @ TB (Dec. 28), @ FLA (Dec. 29)
The Canadiens are gaining valuable learning experience in a season that has gone better than expected. The franchise’s future hopes hinge on its young stars, and the fact Montreal has won important games, and been able to keep up with the competition, will hopefully pay dividends now and well into the team’s future.
Previous ranking: 23
Points percentage: 46.97%
Next seven days: vs. BOS (Dec. 27), @ WSH (Dec. 29)
The Senators have reason to hope Josh Norris will, in fact, return to the lineup this season following a shoulder injury — and maybe sooner than later. Coach DJ Smith said Norris will be reevaluated after the holiday break, and if Norris gains clearance that’s a massive upgrade for the Senators’ second-half hopes.
Previous ranking: 27
Points percentage: 42.65%
Next seven days: @ CAR (Dec. 23), @ SJ (Dec. 29)
The Flyers are jam-packed with young talent, from Cutter Gauthier to Tyson Foerster to Olle Lycksell and, of course, Cam York (who’s currently in the NHL lineup). Philadelphia will want a good shot at the Connor Bedard/Adam Fantilli sweepstakes, too, but there’s plenty of hope available already in its system.
Previous ranking: 24
Points percentage: 48.44%
Next seven days: @ EDM (Dec. 23), vs. SJ (Dec. 27), @ WPG (Dec. 29)
The Canucks boast a bona fide star in Elias Pettersson. Vancouver on the whole has been through just about every scenario — positive and negative — this season, and nothing should make the team feel more hopeful than how Pettersson is breaking through.
Previous ranking: 28
Points percentage: 34.38%
Next seven days: @ CHI (Dec. 23), vs. BUF (Dec. 27), @ NYI (Dec. 29)
The Blue Jackets have lost just about every major player to an injury this season except Johnny Gaudreau. As long as Gaudreau and his game-changing potential are available, Columbus has something about which to feel hopeful.
Previous ranking: 29
Points percentage: 40.32%
Next seven days: vs. LA (Dec. 23), vs. COL (Dec. 27), vs. TOR (Dec. 29)
The Coyotes could hopefully have a new state-of-the-art facility to play in by the time they’re ready to really make some noise on the ice. Look good, feel good, all good. Sometimes patience is a virtue.
Previous ranking: 31
Points percentage: 40.00%
Next seven days: @ VAN (Dec. 27), vs. PHI (Dec. 29)
The Sharks could have a top-tier trade option in Erik Karlsson who could spark a deal netting one or two important players or picks in return. That would give San Jose hope for a quick turnaround from what has been a frustrating season to date.
Previous ranking: 30
Points percentage: 29.03%
Next seven days: vs. CBJ (Dec. 23), @ CAR (Dec. 27), @ STL (Dec. 29)
The Blackhawks (and their fans) should be glued to the World Junior tournament, as Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli and more make their case to be this year’s No. 1 overall pick. Chicago has to hope it has the inside track on deciding who that will be.
Previous ranking: 32
Points percentage: 30.88%
Next seven days: vs. CGY (Dec. 23), vs. VGK (Dec. 28)
The Ducks might hope to be in the mix for that top pick in this year’s draft, where they can select Connor Bedard and potentially pair him with Mason McTavish — and those two can recreate the chemistry they’ve had internationally with Team Canada. Dream big!