It’s time for another “Five Alive” poll, ranking the Top 5 NHL teams for you. This Top 5 poll isn’t necessarily going to match your typical rankings around hockey media circles. We of course will have the best-playing teams in there but also maybe teams that can get you more value for your money. We’re just more than 40 percent done with the 2018-19 season and while some of the usual or expected suspects are still in Five Alive, we’ve got a return visitor and two new teams making their debut. So without further ado, let’s get into our new Five Alive poll!
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Just let this sink in for a bit: Heading into the holiday break (December 24-26) the Lightning had not lost in regulation in December and not tasted defeat since a 3-1 loss to the Ducks on November 27. They also aren’t beating cupcake teams either! Boston, Calgary, Buffalo and Toronto are among the teams that have been struck by the Lightning on this 11-0-1 run Tampa Bay will look to continue Thursday when they host the Flyers. The Bolts appear headed for their fourth Eastern Conference Final in five seasons and likely their second Stanley Cup Final in that span. Is this the season they finally get over the hump? The Bolts came into the season at +700 to win their second Stanley Cup and are now +600.
2. Winnipeg Jets
When the Winnipeg Jets fell to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games in the Western Conference Final last spring, there was a general consensus among many in and around the NHL that they would be back there in 2019 and have a solid chance to make the Stanley Cup Final. The Jets had a bumpy start to this season but they’ve recovered nicely and entered the holiday break at the top of the Western Conference. Their rugged, heavy but skilled style is built for the dog days of the season that have arrived and furthermore for the playoffs. The Jets looked poised to make it back to the Conference Final and become the first Canadian team to advance to the Stanley Cup Final since he Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games in the 2011 Final. The Jets’ recent run has them down to +800 to win their first Cup, from the preseason +1000.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
Besides the incredible month the Lightning are having and the Jets taking off, the other reason the Toronto Maple Leafs have fallen down to the third spot here is their Achilles heel, their blue line. That was on full display earlier in December when they struggled through a 1-1-2 run before righting the ship with three straight wins heading into the break. Yes some may have pointed to a lack of team toughness after they were rag-dolled by the Bruins in a 6-3 loss at Boston on December 8, but the overall team defense is still an issue and it all begins on blue line that only seems to think offense. Make no mistake, the Leafs are an offensive juggernaut resembling the Oilers dynasty of the 1980s but this team can’t rely on Freddie Andersen to bail them out every game, because, well simply put, he’s not Grant Fuhr! GM Kyle Dubas needs to add some stay-at-home grit on the blue line if he wants this team to truly compete in the playoffs. The Leafs preseason odds of winning their first Cup since 1967 were +650 and that hasn’t changed much as they were +700 heading into the break.
4. Calgary Flames
Much like the Jets, the Calgary Flames have seemingly found their spark and that’s bad news for a very tight Western Conference playoff race. The Flames took a 7-3-1 December record into the holiday break and finally seem to have solved their Achilles heel, goaltending. Mike Smith is not quite as consistent as they need him to be but he has improved as the season has gone on. The main reason is that the Flames have found a legit 1A or 1B, depending on how you see it right now, in goalie David Rittich. Rittich has proven to be more than just a backup and it has helped the rest of the team find its game. The Flames have a solid top four on D led by Norris Trophy candidate Mark Giordano, and their top six with the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm can hang with the best of them! Calgary came into the season at +2500 to win the Cup and are now +1600. Still a solid value pick.
5. Washington Capitals/San Jose Sharks
We realize this is a top 5, but both the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks played well enough since our last Five Alive to make the cut here, and since it’s the Christmas season, we just couldn’t leave one of them out in the cold! The truth is, both of these teams, who many had contending for the Stanley Cup, have been hot enough to survive in the cold.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals are starting to look a lot like the team that somehow caught everyone off guard last spring when they won their first Cup, and their captain and 2018 Conn Smythe winner Alex Ovechkin is once again leading the way. Ovechkin recently had a 17-game point streak (17 goals, 2 hat tricks and 6 assists) snapped. He was an absolute beast during that run and someone should pattern whatever he used to avoid a Cup hangover ASAP! The Caps came into the season at +1400 to hoist the Cup and are now down to +1200.
After acquiring two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson just before the season started, the Sharks were an en vogue pick to win the Stanley Cup at +1200. But after a rough first quarter of the season, they dropped off. With their recent play and likelihood they will contend, they’re a great value pick right now at +1800.