2021 NHL Season Preview: Our 3 Favorite Bets to Win the Stanley Cup

2021 NHL Season Preview: Our 3 Favorite Bets to Win the Stanley Cup article feature image
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Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Sebastian Aho

The race for the Stanley Cup is about to commence and for the next six months, bettors will get to endure the ups, downs, highs and lows that only betting on a bunch of blokes skating after vulcanized rubber can bring. We can’t promise it will be fun nor can we promise it will be enjoyable, but this adventure will not be boring.

Here are our favorite Stanley Cup Futures ahead of Opening Night:

Michael Leboff: Carolina Hurricanes (+2200)

The Carolina Hurricanes are a Stanley Cup contender. I’d put them right behind the three favorites (Colorado, Tampa Bay, Vegas) and ahead of teams like Washington, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. If Toronto weren’t in the easiest division in the NHL, I’d have Carolina ahead of the Leafs, too.

The Central Division won’t be a cakewalk, but the Hurricanes can hang with the Lightning and are a leap better than Columbus, Nashville, Dallas and Florida. A lot of folks may see this as Tampa’s race to lose, but I think this is a two-horse race and I would be surprised if it’s a blowout.

The Hurricanes have everything you look for in a contender. They have a handful of talismanic forwards, a strong group of centers, a true No. 1 defenseman backed up by a strong supporting cast and decent goaltending.

Overall, the Hurricanes played like a solid, but not exemplary team in 2019/20. They had the fifth-best xGD per 60 and were 11th in 5-on-5 goal differential per hour. However, a deeper look revealed a very distinct line of demarcation in the Hurricanes’ season: When No. 1 defenseman and Norris Trophy candidate Dougie Hamilton was injured. With Hamilton, the Hurricanes played to a near-elite level. When he was out, they faded into mediocrity.

Stat With Hamilton (47 games) Without Hamilton (21 games)
xGF/60 2.79 2.68
xGA/60 2.43 2.68
xGF% 53.4% 50%
GF/60 2.46 3.02
GA/60 2.34 2.95
GF% 51.2% 50.6%

Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin  give Carolina one of the best pairings in the NHL, so it’s not a huge deal that the rest of the Canes’ blueline leaves a bit to be desired. Brett Pesce, Haydn Fleury, Jake Gardiner and Brady Skjei won’t win you many games, but they’re not an issue.

Where the Hurricanes do have impressive depth is up front. Like on defense, Carolina has a copybook top line featuring Sebastian Aho in between Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen. Svechnikov and Aho could both be interesting bets for an end-of-season award — I especially like the former to lead the league in goals — while Teravainen is a fine facilitator for two shoot-happy linemates.

Vincent Trocheck, Jordan Staal, Morgan Geekie and Jordan Martinook give the Canes reliable depth down the middle, though Trocheck figures to be the difference-maker. If Trocheck can re-discover his form after a down season, this group could be a steamroller because there are plenty of secondary-scoring options on the edges with Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Dzingel and Martin Necas, while the Hurricanes also brought in a great two-way forward in Jesper Fast to play alongside Staal on the team’s shutdown line.

The Hurricanes thrive in high-event contests and when they’re off that could put some stress on the goaltenders, but the James Reimer-Petr Mrazek tandem seems to be working for them. Reimer and Mrazek combined for a +11.07 GSAx in the regular season and The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn rates Carolina’s goaltending as the seventh-best unit in the NHL.

With a handful of star forwards, one of the NHL’s best defensemen and enough depth to survive some bad breaks, the Canes have all the makings of a contender. The market just hasn’t caught up to that, yet.

Pete Truszkowski: Nashville Predators (+3000)

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The Nashville Predators have been one of the more successful teams in the NHL during the past half-decade. They’ve made the playoffs for six straight seasons and even represented the Western Conference in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

The 2019-20 season could register as a disappointment for the Predators based on their previous success, but it can be easily explained. Pekka Rinne posted an .895 save percentage for the season, well below his career average of .917. Rinne will either regain his form or lose his crease to Juuse Saros, which he did in the playoffs last season.

Nashville was a solid albeit unspectacular possession team through the duration of the 2019-20 season, finishing with a 50.95% shot attempt rate and 50.92% share of expected goals.

Nashville’s path to improvement is obvious. The goaltending is first and foremost. Rinne could rebound, Saros could get more of the workload, or both could happen. They will also expect more from Matt Duchene, who is entering his second season with the Predators. During his first season, he barely eclipsed 40 points, which is well below his average career totals. In addition, Viktor Arvidsson scored just 14 goals this past season after scoring 94 in the previous three seasons combined.

Nashville will play in the Central Division, which greatly increases its chance of success. The division contains two teams which are blatantly rebuilding and don’t expect to win: the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks. Even the top two teams in the division will be without their most important players for long stretches. Tampa Bay will be without Nikita Kucherov, while Dallas will be without goaltender Ben Bishop.

At 30-1, I see the Predators as a team that provides value. With their current division setup, I see them as a playoff team. They have high-level talent that can help them make a run. This team has had success recently and the path to a championship isn’t always linear.

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Sam Hitchcock: Colorado Avalanche to win the Stanley Cup (+700)

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Betting a team at +700 to win the Stanley Cup is poor value, but the truth is the NHL is more dynastic and front-loaded than most people acknowledge. The overwhelming favorite and most talented team in the NHL won last year. Applying Occam’s razor, the simplest answer to who will win the Cup this season is the choice in plain sight. The Avalanche have the lowest odds and they should, because they are best positioned to win it all. The 2019-20 Tampa Bay Lightning are a useful template for the Avs.

Surprisingly to some, the Avalanche ranked better among their peers in expected goals against per 60 minutes than they did in expected goals per 60 minutes. The same was true in high-danger chances against per hour when compared to high-danger chances generated per 60 minutes. The Lightning had the same profile: Their defense also outperformed their offense. Both squads boast high-profile stars at forward, but this overshadows the fact that their success was largely driven by team defense.

Unlike Tampa Bay, Colorado doesn’t have a goaltender of Andrei Vasilevskiy’s caliber in net. But the Avalanche’s defensive group is mobile and skilled, and it was bolstered this offseason with the addition of former New York Islanders defenseman Devon Toews. In 2019-20, Toews had the best expected goals percentage of any defenseman on the Islanders who played 35 games or more. If adding Toews were not enough, Colorado also has arguably the most pro-ready defenseman in the World Junior Championships in Bowen Byram. The Avalanche have frightening depth at defense.

But what about the goaltending? The Avalanche plan to platoon again, so both goaltenders are worth discussing. Against Dallas in the postseason, Philipp Grubauer got injured and was replaced by Pavel Francouz, who posted a -1.68 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx). Not good enough. But even in the seven games Grubauer played before his injury, he submitted a pedestrian 0.81 GSAx, which is sufficient depending on when those goals come.

When the St. Louis Blues won the Cup in 2018-2019, Jordan Binnington registered a 1.08 GSAx. So how Grubauer and Francouz play is a matter of timing. Binnington showed up when it mattered and stole games. Colorado needs that from its goaltending duo. A Vezina Trophy goaltender is not a requisite. Strength on team defense can come from the defensive group and suitable goaltending.

One underrated advantage for the Avalanche is that they have maybe the best GM in the NHL in Joe Sakic. He will have an adequate sample of games to size up his team’s weak points and can shore up its flaws at the trade deadline. The Lightning acquired forwards Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow in February, and with Yanni Gourde, they became a vaunted trio throughout the postseason for Tampa Bay.

If the Avalanche can stay healthy, they are where the smart money is. Recommending Apple and Amazon as stock picks is boring, but it pays.

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