For months, we've spent time comparing the best of the best in the NHL, and we've done so because there have consistently been at least three teams worthy of unofficial Presidents' Trophy consideration.
The trophy, of course, is given only to the best team of the regular season, but if you watched hockey from October to December, you know that it was all but impossible to separate top dogs like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators and Toronto Maple Leafs. Those are three legitimate Stanley Cup contenders we're talking about, and all three flashed utter dominance at different times. Throw in more underrated producers like the Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets, and you've got one muddy but competitive group.
Now, however, we're finally ready to proclaim a far-and-away No. 1. It's the Lightning.
Tampa Bay has been atop our NHL power rankings for a bit now, but as the holidays approach, they've turned on the jets. As Nashville endures maybe its toughest stretch of the season, a 5-5 run with a recent loss to the hot Calgary Flames, it's clear as ever that no team is a true match for Tampa. The Maple Leafs probably have equal upside now that Auston Matthews and William Nylander are both back in the fold, and this season's first two months have proven that plenty of other contenders could eventually arise.
But there is no doubt about it here in mid-December. The Lightning are the team to beat. And good luck trying.
|For a while, there might've been three or four reasonable No. 1s on this list. Now? No one beats Tampa. Their offense is a thing of beauty.||--||15-4-0|
|If Auston Matthews can stay on the ice, look out. He and William Nylander rejoining the bunch was as explosive as predicted.||--||18-4-0|
|Shutout vs. Edmonton aside, they've been phenomenal. If Mike Smith stays on the right track, they can be considered serious contenders out of the Pacific.||4||10-11-0|
|Would we trust them to beat the Flames in a playoff series? You bet. That's why, despite the slight slide, they're still among the NHL's best.||1||10-12-0|
|Very similar numbers to the Flames. They're quietly sneaking their way back to the top of the standings. And their offense is far from quiet.||1||14-7-0|
|Was giving up seven goals vs. Tampa a sign of defensive change that needs to come, or a mirage caused solely by a typical Lightning strike?||2||12-7-0|
|They're back, baby. And T.J. Oshie will be, too.||1||13-5-0|
|Jack Eichel is still doing work, but they might not be able to afford a huge December slip-up.||3||6-11-0|
|Finally, we're getting some steady glimpses at their good side. They could still stand to get better (or stay consistent) on the road.||4||8-10-0|
|We'll keep saying this until it doesn't apply: Anything that keeps them afloat in their tough division during the injury spree is a gift.||1||12-5-0|
|They are awesome at home. If the defense is truly back into shape, they've got the pieces to make a run. The top-line talent, remember, is there.||1||6-7-0|
|One of our biggest risers, they're getting more and more dominance in goal, and they're also proving clutch with a ton of close-knit victories. Maybe we wrote them off too early.||7||6-12-0|
|Forget the slow start. Forget the Jonathan Marchessault slump. The Knights are surging, and they still own that Las Vegas ice.||2||14-4-0|
|Two and a half months into the season and we're still talking about Sergei Bobrovsky the roller coaster. He should be fine, but how much time do they have to waste?||5||9-10-0|
|And just like that, they're still alive. Talk about a streaky, underrated scrapper, this unit.||2||10-6-0|
|Three wins in their last 10 games is not ideal. And yet their numbers aren't horrendous even after a 7-2 embarrassment. Come on, Bruce!||4||12-7-0|
|We want to believe they've turned a corner. And Ken Hitchcock is partly why. Let's see if they can carry momentum into the new year.||6||14-11-0|
|The Pens have already been busy working the trading block, and maybe more is on the way. What's more important, though, is staying healthy and finding the energy they've been missing.||3||12-8-0|
|They're right about where they've been all year, save for a brief hot streak early on. Unless Josh Bailey clones himself, they're probably poised to stay in this spot, too.||5||12-6-0|
|They can definitely spoil some games. (See: Anaheim). But are they built to do a whole lot more than that? Probably not.||2||15-6-0|
|How many seasons running now have we been talking up Henrik Lundqvist and then lamenting that he can't do this alone?||5||8-9-0|
|For maybe the third year in a row, there seems to be more interest in whether this team could finally be relocated than whether this team can get right on the ice.||2||10-9-0|
|They might be able to call this whole season a success just for the fact they're neck-and-neck with the Penguins in the standings in mid-December.||1||7-15-0|
|Finally, Roberto Luongo is back. But is it too late?||1||13-4-0|
|It's like the Senators for Matt Duchene to have a remarkable start, only to end up on Injured Reserve.||1||8-16-0|
|There's no way this little streak can bring them back to their first month, right? We're still in awe at some of their younger pieces.||2||9-15-0|
|We've now (finally?) reached the stage of trying other things at goalie. With that, though, comes stuff like 7-1 losses to Winnipeg.||1||11-5-0|
|What's up with Cory Schneider? So far, this season has been quite a step back, even if some regression was expected.||1||7-9-0|
|It's pretty astounding how far they've fallen if you really think about it. This club had serious playoff aspirations not long ago.||--||13-8-0|
|We take another week to recognize Jonathan Quick, whose solid return simply cannot overshadow a slog of a start for his aging team.||--||9-8-0|
|They're 1-9 over their last 10 in case you're wondering if the coaching change has yet to spice things up.||--||12-7-0|