Maybe money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does buy success in the NHL.
The Vegas Golden Knights paid a staggering $500 million to join the NHL this season, but for that price, the league gave the team an expansion draft format that allowed it to select enough quality players to compete for a playoff spot.
In the past, expansion teams were always among the league’s worst teams. But with one-third of the 2017-18 season completed, the Golden Knights are fifth in USA TODAY’s power rankings and on a path to enjoy the league’s best expansion season.
How our list shakes out:
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos is on a pace for 119 points. His career high is 97 in 2011-12.
2. St. Louis Blues
This team has the depth to continue to thrive without injured Jaden Schwartz. Blues defensemen have 23 goals and the Blues are tied for second with 68 five-on-five goals.
3. Nashville Predators
The Predators are 13-2-2 since Nov. 3. They have scored three or more goals 16 times in those 17 games.
4. Los Angeles Kings
The surging Kings, who have an eight-game winning streak, rank 11th in scoring at 3.06 goals per game. Last season, they finished 24th at 2.42 goals per game.
5. Vegas Golden Knights
It’s almost Christmas and Vegas has the league’s sixth-best record. The offense has been the biggest surprise. The Golden Knights rank third with a 3.48 goals per game average. How do you explain William Karlsson’s 15 goals?
6. Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, 20, is on pace for a second consecutive 40-goal season and he’s making strides in all facets of his game, including in the faceoff circle, where he is winning 54.8% of draws. He is currently dealing with an injury and his availability for the next game is unknown.
7. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets have dipped from sixth in goal scoring (3.01 goals per game) last season to 22nd this season (2.76 per game). Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner, Alex Wennberg and Brandon Dubinsky are among those whose numbers are down this season.
8. Winnipeg Jets
The Jets’ just-completed 0-2-1 road trip represents their worst three-game stretch of the season. They are 10-2-1 at home and 7-6-4 on the road.
9. Washington Capitals
With four wins in a row and an 8-2 mark in their last 10, the Caps are playing more like they did last season. It’s not a coincidence that Nicklas Backstrom is finally finding his game, with five points in his past two games and 10 points in his last eight. He was reunited with Alex Ovechkin eight games ago.
10. New York Rangers
In 29 games with the Rangers, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has been a plus player nine times, a minus player nine times and an even player 11 times. He has had four multiple-point games.
11. San Jose Sharks
Defenseman Brent Burns is heating up, evidenced by his three goals, three assists and 22 shots on goal in his past three games.
12. New York Islanders
Josh Bailey leads the Islanders with 32 points and 27 assists. More than half of his assists (14) and one of his goals have come on the power play. By contrast, John Tavares has 31 points and only seven of his points have come on the power play.
13. New Jersey Devils
Sami Vatanen is minus-5, with five shots on goal, averaging 22:10 minutes per game in his first five games with the Devils
14. Pittsburgh Penguins
A few weeks ago, Sidney Crosby was sitting 79th in the NHL scoring race. But after registering seven goals and 16 points in nine games, Crosby is 15th in the race.
15. Minnesota Wild
Coach Bruce Boudreau’s offense should get a major boost when Zach Parise returns soon from back surgery. He has scored 106 goals over the past four seasons.
16. Calgary Flames
Sam Bennett, 21, seems to be taking another significant in his development. Over the past seven games, he has three goals, five assists and 24 shots on goal.
17. Boston Bruins
While we’ve all been watching the Blues, Lightning, Golden Knights and Predators, the Bruins have gone 8-2 in their last 10. They still need more goals. They rank 27th.
18. Chicago Blackhawks
After scoring one goal in his first 12 games. Rookie Alex DeBrincat has scored 11 goals in his past 18 games. With his elusiveness and quick release, he still could net 30.
19. Dallas Stars
With only 11 points in 30 games, Jason Spezza is on pace for the worst offensive season of his NHL career. He has five goals and six assists this season, after being a 50-point scorer last season.
20. Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks’ strong start is being threatened by injuries to Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi. Both will be sidelined for a few weeks.
21. Anaheim Ducks
Adam Henrique, who arrived in the Vatanen trade, has three goals and six points in his first five games in a Ducks jersey.
22. Colorado Avalanche
Alexander Kerfoot isn’t receiving much exposure because of the “wow” factor of Matthew Barzal and Brock Boeser, but he’s in the conversation for rookie of the year. The former Harvard standout is tied for third in Avalanche scoring with 21 points in 28 games.
23. Philadelphia Flyers
Jakub Voracek is having one of the most productive seasons of his NHL career. He has five three-point games this season, including two in the past eight days.
24. Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes haven’t played nearly as sharply as they hoped to play and yet they are still only six points out of playoff spot. They need goals. The ‘Canes are 0-7-3 when they score two or fewer goals.
25. Montreal Canadiens
A healthy Carey Price can’t change the reality that the Canadiens need scoring help and still tend to play sloppy defensively. The Canadiens rank 25th in goals (2.7 per game) and 21st in goals-against average (3.16)
26. Edmonton Oilers
How can you have Connor McDavid on your team and have a power play ranked 22nd?
27. Detroit Red Wings
Since Nov. 19, the Red Wings have given up four or more goals seven times in nine games. They are 1-5-3 in that span and have been outscored 43-20.
28. Florida Panthers
With goalie Roberto Luongo out with an injury, James Reimer (3.81 goals-against average) hasn’t been the answer. Are the Panthers looking for another goalie?
29. Ottawa Senators
With a 1-8-1 record in their past 10 games, the Senators have been the NHL’s most disappointing team. It’s difficult to fathom that they are essentially the same team that almost reached the Stanley Cup Final a few months back.
30. Buffalo Sabres
The only fun for Sabres fans is wondering what general manager Jason Botterill will get in return for trading Evander Kane when the time comes.
31. Arizona Coyotes
After scoring 11 goals in his first 15 games this season, talented rookie Clayton Keller has gone 17 games without a goal.