NHL Offseason Betting Preview: Which Longshots Could See Their Odds Improve?

Jun 20, 2019 9:00 PM EDT
Credit:

Geoff Burke, USA Today Sports.

  • We are now entering the two most important weeks of the NHL offseason.
  • The first round of the NHL Draft takes place on Friday, June 21 and free agents can begin meeting with teams starting on June 23. Free agency officially opens on July 1.
  • Which teams can see their odds shorten over these next two weeks?

While my colleagues over in NBA land fall out of their chairs at every piece of news that hits their Twitter timeline, we here in the NHL offseason prefer a more stoic approach to things.

With the draft on Friday and the free agency meeting period beginning on June 23, let’s size up a pair of teams that could see their odds move and the players that could move them.

The Longshot to Watch

I hate the New York Rangers. As a long-suffering Islanders fan there aren’t many things that would ruin my life quite like the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup. Fortunately, the past two seasons I’ve been able to largely ignore the Rangers and focus my bitter hatred elsewhere.

Those days of leisurely loathing the Rangers from afar could be coming to an end.

Prior to the offseason I began to circulate the notion among my betting friends that I think the Blueshirts are the best current longshot on the board. I had the Rangers pegged for at least two of the big-fish free agents out there — though I thought one of them would be Erik Karlsson. Most people I spoke with thought the Rangers were still too many pieces away from contention to be interesting, even at 80-1.

Things got a little more interesting this week.

The Rangers are a big-market team in the most famous city in the universe looking to begin a new era. Because of their attractiveness as a destination, the Rangers can afford to wait out the market on other team’s hard-to-sign restricted free agents or players who are a year away from unrestricted free agency and will likely want to test the waters.

That’s why it shouldn’t surprise anybody that GM Jeff Gorton was able to acquire Trouba for pennies on the dollar. Trouba is an in-his-prime top-pair defenseman who will cost a lot of money to sign to a long-term deal. It was a terribly-kept secret that Trouba would go to the highest bidder at the end of 2019-20, so the Rangers used their leverage to wait for their chance.

While other teams were weary of handing over a bunch of assets to Winnipeg just to have Trouba walk away at the end of the season, the Rangers have the luxury of knowing that they had as good a chance as any to sign Trouba when he hit the market. Now that he is in the fold, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t sign on Broadway long term.

The addition of Trouba doesn’t make the Rangers a contender, they didn’t move off of 80-1 following the trade, and I don’t see them getting any worse this offseason. In fact, of all the longshots, I think the Rangers are the likeliest to have their number shortened.

Not only will the Rangers likely land star-in-the-making Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 pick in the NHL Draft, but they also have the cap room to take a swing at Artemi Panarin in free agency.

I wouldn’t say the Rangers are favorites to land the Russian superstar, but it’s very rare that a big-ticket free agent doesn’t at least hear the Rangers out.

Kakko and Panarin would instantly turn the Rangers from a team likely to miss the playoffs in 2019-20 to one that is not going to be 80-1 heading into the season.

The Big Fish

The two biggest free agents this summer are Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.

Panarin is a game-breaker. In all likelihood the 27-year-old Russian will immediately become his new team’s best player. Not only is Panarin a prolific producer, averaging 2.79 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, but he’s also a terrific play-driver.

Bobrovsky, who played with Panarin last season in Columbus, is also a potential franchise-changer but goaltenders are much more volatile than forwards. The 30-year-old netminder is coming off a mediocre-by-his-standards season in 2018-19, but there’s no doubting that Bobrovsky has been among the elite goaltenders in the league over the past few seasons.

No goaltender comes close to Bobrovsky’s +61.6 Goals Saved Above Average over the past three seasons and his ceiling is probably as high as any goalie’s in the league for the next season or two.

You never know with goalies, Bobrovsky’s game could fall off a cliff, but it’s more likely than not that he greatly improves the team that signs him.

The one team that is always mentioned in the Great Russian Sweepstakes is Florida. The Panthers have room to fit both players under the cap and, believe it or not, both players have indicated that they wouldn’t mind making a living as professional athletes in South Florida.

Whether or not the Panthers land Panarin, Bobrovsky or both, oddsmakers certainly are handling them with care. At 25-1 the Panthers have roughly a 3.85% chance of winning the Stanley Cup, putting them on level pegging with Nashville and Philadelphia and ahead of Dallas, Carolina, Columbus and the Islanders.

As they stand now the Panthers should probably be longer than 25-1. They aren’t a bad team and they already have one of the game’s best centers in Aleksander Barkov, but the Cats play in the toughest division in the league and have missed the postseason in each of the last three seasons.

But it’s clear that market-setters suspect the small-market Cats have something up their sleeve.

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