NHL Power Rankings: Holiday Wish List Edition

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) celebrates his goal against the Colorado Avalanche with goaltender Jack Campbell (36). (Nathan Denette/CP)

It's been a heavy week of news with a sudden rise in COVID cases, more game postponements and real questions and concern over Olympic involvement. The NHL returned to stricter protocols on Wednesday, similar to last year, and in Ontario arena capacities have been cut in half. Who knows where this goes next.

Eight days away from the Christmas break on the schedule, what we really wish for is health and happiness for all -- and that we eventually come out the other side of this together.

In the face of these challenges, the games go on, with no real discussion about pausing all 32 teams. So the Power Rankings continue, with teams ranked from strongest to weakest, factoring in recent results. And this time of year everyone is wishing for something, so what is each NHL team asking for? That's our theme on Dec. 16.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (18-6-4)
No, it's not too much to wish for a third Stanley Cup in a row. The Lightning are as complete a team as ever. They've been without Nikita Kucherov since early October and since Brayden Point was added to the injury list as well, the Lightning have run a 9-2-1 record.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs (20-8-2)
Wishing for playoff wins, no 4-1 leads, and avoiding the Boston Bruins. There is a ton going for the Leafs right now as they've settled in, the power play is clicking, and Jack Campbell sustains a Vezina-esque start. But we all know this season only matters come playoff time, so any wish has to do with finally finding success there.

3. New York Rangers (19-7-3)
They have an elite forward in Artemi Panarin, a Norris winner on defence with Adam Fox and an early Vezina favourite in net with Igor Shesterkin. When the younger pieces come along, this thing may really take off. All we need is a wishful spark from first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere, or second overall pick Kaapo Kakko.

4. Colorado Avalanche (17-7-2)
Could be that Devon Toews makes Team Canada's Olympic roster, or that Nazem Kadri doesn't price himself out of town. But how about an historical wish? Cale Makar has 13 goals in 23 games, enough to sit tied for 15th among all players in goal scoring. He's pacing extremely well and, if he can keep it up, could become the third defenceman in history to score 40 goals in a season (joining Paul Coffey and Bobby Orr). Is the record 48 goals for a defenceman within reach? We can wish.

5. Minnesota Wild (19-8-1)
Wishing a contract extension is coming soon for Dean Evason. The head coach first took over on an interim basis in 2019-20, just before the pandemic pause, starting 8-4-0 and losing in the qualifying round of the bubble playoffs. Then he signed a two-year pact to drop the interim tag and it's been all rosy since. The Wild were one of the best surprises last season, with a faster and more fun game thanks to a few younger players taking on bigger roles, and have continued in 2021-22 sitting atop the Central. Cap challenges lie ahead, but Evason has had nothing but good results since taking over and deserves the commitment.

6. Carolina Hurricanes (19-7-1)
In some circles 'The Michigan', or lacrosse-style goal, is referred to as 'The Svechnikov', but these days Anaheim's Trevor Zegras is leading the "fancy goal" conversation. Svechnikov has scored the lacrosse goal twice and attempted it other times. Wishing he gets another one soon and the unique goal attempts become something of a competition in the league.

7. Washington Capitals (17-5-7)
Fifty, no, 60 goals for Alex Ovechkin. Who isn't rooting for him to break Wayne Gretzky's all-time goals record at this point? Ovechkin is second in the league with 20 goals in 28 games this season and he continues to amaze at 36 years old. It'd be a heck of a thing to see him finish with the goal totals of a superstar 10 years his junior.

8. Florida Panthers (18-6-4)
This was supposed to be the year Spencer Knight started to grab hold of the starting job, but he has struggled big time. He has a 3.42 GAA and .892 save percentage, which comes out of nowhere given his track record. He allowed eight goals against Ottawa last time out. The Panthers are wishing he settles in and finds himself again because they'll need some wins from Knight in 2022 and, perhaps, even in the playoffs. As good as Sergei Bobrovsky has been this year in a bounce back campaign, he has allowed 23 goals in his past eight starts.

9. St. Louis Blues (16-8-5)
In the short-term, the Blues are wishing Vladimir Tarasenko finds his scoring touch again. A strong start was followed by a 10-game goalless drought, but he has scored twice in his past five. In the longer term, a strong goal scoring run could lead to the completion of Tarasenko's trade request, and a happy return for St. Louis.

10. Nashville Predators (17-10-1)
A big part of Nashville's turnaround in the middle of last season, Juuse Saros is again putting up spectacular numbers (.925 save percentage, 2.24 GAA, two shutouts). There's a lot of stiff competition for the Vezina this season, but Saros got better as last season went along and if he does the same in 2022, it wouldn't be a waste to wish for him to get the award.

11. Pittsburgh Penguins (15-8-5)
This team has found a way to stay in it so far and now the return of Evgeni Malkin isn't far off. Sidney Crosby, at 34, is still producing like he's the kid and Kris Letang, also at 34, is still highly productive as well. In a season where we're seeing 36-year-old Penguins rival Alex Ovechkin turn back the clock, we're wishing Malkin returns to a similar dominant level and lifts the Penguins higher.

12. Anaheim Ducks (17-9-5)
One of the most surprisingly excellent starts in the league, Anaheim is averaging over three goals per game after finishing with the worst offence last season (2.21 goals per game). In the five-game road trip they just wrapped up the Ducks scored just 10 times though, and so are wishing their first two months are sustainable on offence. (And they did put up four on Seattle Wednesday night at home.)

13. Calgary Flames (15-7-6)
Obviously there are off-ice happenings with this team that are more important and right now good health is the primary wish with the Flames. On the ice, there was a need for another secondary scorer to support Andrew Mangiapane so Flames fans could be wishing to be trade deadline buyers to help a playoff push -- and that would be a beautiful development after the frustration of last season.

14. Vegas Golden Knights (17-11-0)
When Jack Eichel gets back into game action in 2022, we're wishful of seeing him unite with Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty on a super line. Whether we get that or not, it will be nice to have Eichel back in action and to see the impact he could have on this sleeping giant.

15. Boston Bruins (14-9-2)
Secondary scoring. They didn't get it when they wished for it last season, or the season before that, but it remains the most glaring area of need on a roster that still fancies itself a contender. Taylor Hall has just five goals in 25 games and so could help in that regard, as could Jake DeBrusk (indirectly) who has asked for a trade and may bring back a wild card to help the situation.

16. Winnipeg Jets (13-10-5)
Mark Scheifele is a bubble candidate for Team Canada's roster, and a lot of builds leave him off completely because his start hasn't been up to his usual standard. For the Jets, that means their No. 1 centre hasn't been at his best and now that winger Blake Wheeler is out for an extended period, Winnipeg really needs Scheifele to come through. He has nine points in his past six games now, so fans are wishing this is the start of him turning a corner, and re-igniting a case to be on Canada if NHLers go.

17. Edmonton Oilers (16-11-0)
Right now? Wishing for a win. More down the road this season? Wishing for an impactful trade. Whether it comes in net, on the blue line, or in the bottom six up front, the Oilers clearly need help in a few places and can't head into a playoff race without doing anything. Heck, GM Ken Holland said the team's play would decide how he approaches the trade market and though we generally take that to mean he'll buy if they win, maybe some more losses will lead to change. Can't waste another year of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

18. Los Angeles Kings (12-10-5)
Kings fans are probably hoping for meaninfgul hockey late into the season but, especially if the team slips out of the race, how about wishing for a look at Alex Turcotte and/or Quinton Byfield at the NHL level? Byfield returned from injury recently and has played two games for the AHL's Ontario Reign, where Turcotte has 10 points in 16 games. Both will be major factors in the future of this team so they won't be rushed, but can we get a glimpse?

19. Columbus Blue Jackets (14-12-1)
A 3-6-1 stretch has seen the Blue Jackets fall out of a wild card spot, which would be a surprise to get in the first place. But we don't want to see this team completely fall out of the race now. The Blue Jackets have a lot of nice pieces to build up with and are wishing they can hang around the other wild card contenders for a while so that these players are in meaningful games in February and March.

20. Detroit Red Wings (14-12-3)
It has been a wonderful start to the season for Wings fans -- their team is still alive at the Christmas break! Lucas Raymond is a Calder favourite, Moritz Seider is under the radar but there with him, and still-rookie Alex Nedeljkovic is proving a great, cheap pick up. The wish here is that all of the good from the first two months doesn't evaporate and that the movement we're seeing is perhaps indicative of the rebuild being over.

21. San Jose Sharks (15-13-1)
There's a situation percolating with Evander Kane putting up points in the AHL and gearing up for an NHL return. How or when that might happen remains unclear. The Sharks could use the offence he'd bring as they hang in the playoff race, but won't want to interrupt any team chemistry. Whether Kane is traded or seamlessly fits back in, the Sharks are wishing for an easy resolution.

22. Dallas Stars (13-11-2)
Wishing happy retirement to Ben Bishop, who announced the end of his career this week after a knee injury made a return impossible. But the current Stars team still is wishing for some goals. Ranked 24th in the league in offence, Dallas has largely been carried by their top line. Tyler Seguin has two goals in his past 13 games and Jamie Benn two in his past 10. Denis Gurianov has just four goals on the season. The Stars are good enough defensively and Jake Oettinger and Braden Holtby have done well in net, but this team remains limited by its offence and is wishing for more goals.

23. Vancouver Canucks (13-15-2)
Wishing for nightly "Bruce There It Is" chants. They're undefeated under their new head coach and while that run will end at some point, can the Canucks claw their way back to meaningful hockey? They've played more games than the other teams around them in the standings, but are only four points out right now. It'll take a heck of a finish to get there, but if the home crowd is regularly serenading the bench boss maybe it's possible?

24. Philadelphia Flyers (11-12-4)
GM Chuck Fletcher made an attempt to change his team's direction in the summer through trade and when that didn't bring results, he let go of head coach Alain Vigneault earlier this month. It's too early to determine if that's going to pay off (a current three-game winning streak is a good start) but for those wishing the trade market will get flowing again in 2022, the Flyers remain a team that could make a splash.

25. Chicago Blackhawks (11-15-2)
Marc-Andre Fleury was shocked at being moved to Chicago in the off-season, had to consider if he wanted to go, and then started the season poorly. Now, he's back in the mix for Team Canada's starting goalie and recently won his 500th career game. The Blackhawks are well out of the playoff race and so are likely to trade Fleury before the March deadline, but might Hawks fans wish the smiling Fleury stuck around and signed an extension? Because without him there's a huge hole in net -- hard to come out of a rebuild that way.

26. Ottawa Senators (9-16-1)
The Senators started poorly in the North Division last season, then became a tough beat in the latter half of the season. Similarly they started poorly this season as well and now a 5-1-0 stretch -- including back-to-back wins over Tampa and Florida -- has resumed reason for optimism. Hoping for playoffs may be aggressive, but wishing a level of success and consistency that shows progress in the rebuild would do a lot for confidence.

27. New York Islanders (7-12-5)
It's been a tough go for the Islanders so far, with an early season impacted by COVID, and the machine-like way they racked up wins the past two years has stalled. What better wish during the holiday season than for some of that magic to return in 2022? It would be great if Mathew Barzal specifically, because he's the team's offensive heartbeat, started turning it on after a slow start and maybe that's beginning to happen -- he has nine points in his past six games.

28. Seattle Kraken (10-16-3)
Philipp Grubauer was looked at as likely to continue the success he had in Colorado, and Washington before that, with the expansion Kraken, but it has not gone to plan. While Seattle has iced a good defensive team, they have the NHL's worst save percentage by a mile. Grubauer has a 3.25 GAA, .884 save percentage, and wishing to bring that back to competitive levels in 2022. If he can, we may start looking at the Kraken differently.

29. New Jersey Devils (10-12-5)
If not for an injury that interrupted the start of his season, Jack Hughes' offensive numbers would be standing out more. But with seven points in 10 games he's on a career-best pace and could top his career best 11 goals and 31 points anyway. We were all wishing for the Hughes break out season that appears to be upon us and it could make the Devils an interesting team to follow in the 2022 portion of the season.

30. Buffalo Sabres (9-15-4)
Wins would be nice, but seeing the inevitability of another season sinking to the bottom of the standings, how about wishing for Owen Power to have a monster WJC? Buffalo's most recent first overall pick is set to star for Team Canada over the holidays and a strong performance could help Sabres fans forget about the current situation again for a little while.

31. Montreal Canadiens (6-21-3)
The return of a happy and healthy Carey Price. Doesn't seem like that will happen before the Christmas break, but could we see him back in game action after that? Whenever he does return to the Bell Centre the roof is going to blow off the building.

32. Arizona Coyotes (5-21-2)
Phil Kessel's name was already on the trade block and now defenceman Jakob Chychrun's name is floating about. The Coyotes are wishing for a couple things: big returns on their best trade assets, and a place to play next season.

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