By design, hockey is an incredibly hard sport to predict. Add to that the fact that the NHL has a wonky point system, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for madness. With that out of the way, shall we begin?
All odds provided by Pinnacle.
|Tampa Bay Lightning||102|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||95.5|
|Detroit Red Wings||77.5|
There are a few bets that jump off the page, but let’s set this thing up. As boxing promoter Bob Arum would say, "let it marinate."
The bookies seem to view this as a two-horse race, but the 2.5 point gap between the top two teams, Tampa and Montreal, is the largest of any division. While the Lightning’s number seems a shade too high with their current defensive unit, there isn’t enough of an edge to tie money up until April.
Toronto‘s past the point of surprising anyone, and last year the Leafs were an easy cash on the over, but this year it’ll take a lot more to get to their total. The Leafs are dripping with young talent and have the ability to roll three terrific lines on any given night, though their fourth line leaves something to be desired. This number seems fair, with a slight lean to the over, but there’s not enough in it. Moving on.
In the NHL, the magic number is 95. Since the league adopted the three-point game in 2005-06, only two teams, the 2010-11 Dallas Stars and 2006-07 Colorado Avalanche, have ever touched 95 and not qualified for the playoffs. Last year, the Boston Bruins and Leafs each got the last two spots in the spring fling with 95 points to their credit. Even though they did make the tournament, Boston had a weird and unlucky season in 2016-17 and probably deserved better. This line opened at 93.5 points and has already been bet up to 94, but the Bruins still feel like a pretty safe over at this number and could be the division champion at the end of this year.
On the contrary, we’ve got the pesky Ottawa Senators. The Senators, who may be without Derick Brassard to start the year, are thin up front and on defense, so if any of the stars, particularly game-changing defenseman Erik Karlsson, misses a large chunk of time they will be in trouble. Their 1-3-1 system remains hard to break down, but this team really lacks depth and the under seems a good play here.
While the Sabres and Red Wings are each hard passes here, the Panthers warrant a bit of discussion. Coming into last year, Florida was a team on the rise. Then things went wrong, and by wrong, I mean weird. The Panthers’ brass made a slew of head-scratching moves over the past year-plus, and while they have the look of a team that should be on the other side of 90 points, it’s hard to back them either way given how off the rails things have gotten in Sunrise.
|Columbus Blue Jackets||97|
|New York Rangers||95.5|
|New York Islanders||89|
|New Jersey Devils||74.5|
It may be fair to call the Metropolitan Division the toughest in not only the NHL, but all of sports. The last two years the Metro has produced a two-time Presidents’ Trophy winner in the Washington Capitals as well as the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s hard to back an over for either team, as a lot has to go right to get to those lofty point totals, but they are likely the two best teams in the league, so it goes.
Last year Columbus put together their best season ever and were rewarded with a first-round matchup with the Penguins. The NHL playoff system is whack right now, but the Blue Jackets remain a solid team with a lot of front-end talent up front, on defense and in goal. It’s a good number here and would be higher if the Blue Jackets played in a softer division.
This is the part of the article where you must be warned that the author is a New York Islanders fan. It wouldn’t be fair to let that go unwritten.
That being said, the Rangers are overrated here. They traded away one of their best players in Derek Stepan, and even with the addition of Kevin Shattenkirk (and the subtraction of Dan Girardi), the Blueshirts are a good under play. One exercise worth exploring with season totals is comparing teams with the same point total. Obviously each team plays in a different division, but it’s still worth noting that the other teams at this number are the Leafs and Sharks, both of which I have ranked much higher. Just food for thought.
In Part I of our preview series, we fell deeply in love with the Carolina Hurricanes. However, in this division the value isn’t really in the over/under here but rather in other futures like the Hurricanes making the playoffs or even doing something a bit crazy like winning the East.
The Flyers are in a weird spot. They got lucky at the lottery and were able to draft Nolan Patrick second overall, adding him to a forward corps that needed an injection of youth given the way things have been going for Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek lately. There’s some good young talent in Philly, but this team is too tough to project to feel comfortable laying a wager here.
The New York Islanders missed the playoffs by one point, but would most likely have made it to the dance if they had let go of their former coach, Jack Capuano, earlier in the season. From top to bottom, the Islanders are solid but won’t blow you away, and despite playing in the Metro, feel like a safe bet to go over 89 points.
New Jersey seems destined for another high draft pick, but with a great goalie in Cory Schneider and a game-wrecker like Taylor Hall, it’s not hard to see how the Devils can steal points here and there. As such, it’s not worth getting involved with this bunch.
|St. Louis Blues||94.5|
Of all the divisions, this is the toughest to predict. The Blackhawks are going to be good again, but they rely so heavily on their top guys that if something goes wrong it could derail their season. Nothing to see here.
The books like the Stars for nearly a 20-point improvement from last year, and its hard to call them out for it. They’ve finally acquired a capable goalie in Ben Bishop and they added Alexander Radulov to one of the league’s best forward units. This number feels right, but a play on the over is not horrible.
Nashville‘s run to the Stanley Cup turned them into everyone’s favorite hockey team for a few months, and they are returning most of that team for 2017-18. The Preds will be without Ryan Ellis until January, but they have a solid enough defense to make up for his absence. Nothing doing.
In the middle of the pack are the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues. The Wild are above average in every facet of the game and have Bruce Boudreau, one of the league’s most consistent coaches, behind their bench. They should be right around the 96-100 point mark and are an easy team to pass on here. For the Blues, they are deep up front and have a great pair of defensemen in Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko, but there are more questions than answers here, so no thanks.
The Jets are an intriguing bunch. They have quietly assembled the makings of a great defense – even with the questionable signing of Dmitry Kulikov. Up front, there’s a ton of firepower, and Patrik Laine could be in for 50 goals as a 19-year-old this year. With him, Nik Ehlers, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler leading the way, Winnipeg could lead the league in goals scored. The only thing holding the Jets back from truly climbing the ranks is their murky goaltending situation. This offseason they brought in Steve Mason to handle the lion’s share of starts with former-goalie-of-the-future Connor Hellebuyck backing up. Mason wasn’t good last year, but has had some success in the NHL, so if one of these enigmas can put together even a decent campaign, Winnipeg can be very dangerous. The over it is.
Like with Edmonton, Colorado’s number may be a bit of an overreaction. Yes, the Avalanche failed to hit 50 points last year, and no they didn’t do much to get better, but it’s still hard to imagine the Avs won’t improve significantly this year. The Matt Duchene situation is a mess, and even though his departure will probably be for the best, it’s probably not a great idea to get involved with the Avs.
|San Jose Sharks||95.5|
|Los Angeles Kings||90|
|Vegas Golden Knights||67.5|
There’s a lot to like here, starting at the top. Edmonton is an attractive fade play. In sports betting, we talk about overreactions a lot, and this seems like a prime example of a hype train that needs its brakes to be pumped a bit. The Oilers put together one good season after a stretch of failures and while, yes, they have Connor McDavid, they also downgraded their offense by shipping out Jordan Eberle in the offseason. With McDavid, Leon Draisatl and a very good goalie in Cam Talbot, the Oilers should be good, but this number suggests they’re one of the best teams in the league. Not so fast, hit the under.
Anaheim should once again be a force in the Pacific Division, but there are some injury concerns and the Ducks aren’t getting any younger up front. Ryan Kesler will be out perhaps until the new year and Sami Vatanen is set to miss a chunk of time in the early going as well. Like the Oilers, the Ducks are a good team but this number is too high. Hop on the under.
The Sharks are really tough to get a beat on. This is still a good team with a handful of great players, but they’re perhaps past their prime as a group. There’s too much going in both directions with San Jose to warrant a play.
After years of contending for a Cup, the Kings are playing for a new coach which could lead to bounce-back campaigns for star players Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar. It’s too hard to gauge the impact that John Stevens will have behind LA’s bench, so this is easy to move on from.
Just like their neighbors, the Flames are a team on the rise. They have one of the best defensive units in the league and an already good – and still improving – offense. The problem here, and it’s a big one, is the goaltending. This summer, the Flames acquired 35-year-old Mike Smith. Smith has been a serviceable NHL goaltender for a while, but that’s it. He’s an average goalie and his backup, Eddie Lack, is coming off two horrible seasons in a row in Carolina. Goaltending is fickle and there’s a chance Smith gets hot for the season, but the situation in net screams under.
In Part II of our NHL Preview Series, we wrote a love letter to the Arizona Coyotes and already mentioned why the ‘Yotes are an over play. This already was a team on a steady trajectory, and then they added Derek Stepan, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jason Demers along with a potential breakout goaltender in Antti Raanta. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this number continue to climb as the season draws nearer.
While it takes basically everything to go right, the number for Vancouver seems a bit low, but there’s one thing to remember when sizing up a team that is likely tanking. At the deadline, the Canucks will rid themselves of whatever they can to position themselves for 2018-19 and beyond. Pass.
Finally, the Vegas Golden Knights. Nobody in their right mind can be confident in what the Knights will do this year, but hey at least it’ll be fun to find out. It’s an obvious pass, but gun to the dome, I think the Knights finish closer to 80 points than to 65.
[Photo: Ron Chenoy, USA Today]