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NHL 2018-19 Betting Preview: Sizing Up the 9 Favorites

Sep 27, 2018 2:30 PM EDT

USA Today Sports. Pictured: Brad Marchand, Nikita Kucherov, Mark Scheifele

  • The Tampa Bay Lightning (+700) are the favorites to win the Stanley Cup entering the 2018-19 season.
  • There are nine teams with odds at 12-1 or shorter entering the campaign.

The NHL drops the puck on the 2018-19 season on Oct. 3, and season-long futures have been posted for about a month, so the market has adjusted. But there are still plenty of betting opportunities out there.

This is Part IV of our futures previews. In previous previews we’ve covered longshots, fringe teams and playoff contenders.

This article will break down the nine biggest favorites at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas.

Each team on this list has odds of 12-1 or shorter. Let’s get on with the show.

>> Download The Action Network App to get real-time NHL odds, track your bets and follow all of our experts’ picks.

San Jose Sharks

  • Over/Under: 101.5 points
  • Stanley Cup odds: 12-1

The San Jose Sharks made the biggest splash of the offseason by trading for Erik Karlsson. The move jumped the Sharks from “playoff team with an outside chance” to “legitimate contender.”

Karlsson, perhaps the best defenseman in the league, joins a blueline that already sports Brent Burns. Like Karlsson, Burns is an offensive whiz and he led the entire league in shot attempts at 5v5 in 2017-18. He finished with 150 more than Alex Ovechkin, who finished second in that category.

The player who really makes this unit work is Marc-Edouard Vlasic. As good as Karlsson and Burns are offensively, Vlasic is at the same level defensively. You could make the argument that he’s the game’s premier shutdown rearguard.

Even if Brenden Dillon, Justin Braun and Joakim Ryan aren’t anything more than average, the Sharks will still have the best defense in the Western Conference, if not the entire NHL.

San Jose’s defense is clearly its strength, but the Sharks have some considerable talent up front, as well.

The ageless Joe Thornton will play set-up man in between Evander Kane and Joe Pavelski. Whether the 39-year-old center will be able to keep producing — which is to say, keep setting up Kane and Pavelski — is a big question mark.

The good news is that the Sharks are deep enough at center, with Logan Couture or even Tomas Hertl, that a steep decline from Thornton won’t sink them. Joonas Donskoi, Timo Meier and Hertl — if he’s not called upon to play center — will move up and down the lineup on the wings, and all three of them are second-line caliber players with potential to be more than that.

The bottom six could be a problem, though.

San Jose brought in Antti Suomela, a 24-year-old free agent, from the Finnish League, and it looks like he will anchor the third line in between Kevin LaBanc and either Donskoi, Meier or Melker Karlsson. LaBanc is an all-action type of winger whose good at getting shots off while Karlsson is replacement-level.

In goal is Martin Jones. The 28-year-old goaltender has made a habit of putting together average regular seasons and then turning into Ken Dryden in the playoffs.

Jones has started 60 or more games in the last three seasons and has a .919 save percentage at 5v5 so he’s not been anything special. Perhaps a smaller workload would benefit Jones in 2018-19 as the Sharks have a better-than-capable backup goalie in Aaron Dell.

San Jose’s odds were slashed from 20-1 to 12-1 (or lower at some shops) after the Karlsson trade. At this point there’s not much value left on the board.

Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Over/Under: 102.5 points
  • Stanley Cup odds: 12-1

The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t win the Stanley Cup for the first time in three seasons in 2017-18 but they were still among the best teams in the NHL.

Even with Pittsburgh’s best players sitting on the wrong side of 30, it’s likely that the Penguins contend for the Metropolitan Division crown and possibly even the Eastern Conference.

The Lightning, Bruins and Maple Leafs are all better than Pittsburgh, but they have to compete in the same division. That’s not to say the Metro is an easy ride; it’s the home of the last three Stanley Cup winners after all, but it’s definitely the softer of the two Eastern Conference divisions.

We don’t have to get too deep into the Penguins’ forwards. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are still two of the best players in the world, and with Derick Brassard filling in as the No. 3 center, Pittsburgh has one of the best spines in the league.

The right side of the lineup is also extremely strong. Patric Hornqvist will snuggle up next to Crosby, Phil Kessel will fly with Evgeni Malkin and promising youngster Daniel Sprong playing next to Brassard.

The left side doesn’t quite compare but Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust and Carl Hagelin are adequate, and that’s all you really need with these centers running the show.

The Penguins were a top-five possession team in 2017-18 with a 52.23 Corsi For (CF%) and averaged 2.66 expected goals for per 60 minutes at 5v5. They’re dynamic, quick and have a bushel of creators and a gaggle of finishers.

The Penguins have a middle-of-the-pack defense headlined by Kris Letang.

The biggest concern for Pittsburgh is in goal. Matt Murray was supposed to cement himself as one of the league’s best goalies in 2017-18 but instead he struggled mightily in his first full season as a starter.

Murray did deal with injuries and was limited to 49 games, but in that time he posted a .904 save percentage and -11.42 Goals Saved Above Average at 5v5. He comes into this season as the 60th-best goaltender in the league according to Corsica.

The good news for the Penguins is that a lot went wrong for them in 2017-18 but they still managed to post 100 points. They finished with the third-lowest PDO (shooting percentage + save percentage) in the league which implies regression should come. This team is too good to shoot 7.3% at 5v5.

The fact that Pittsburgh, which is just a year removed from winning a second championship in a row, is coming into this season under the radar is a frightening proposition.

The market is pretty well adjusted for the Penguins heading into the season, but if they get off to a slow start like they did last season, keep an eye on their futures.

Winnipeg Jets

  • Over/Under: 105.5 points
  • Stanley Cup odds: 12-1

Last season was Winnipeg’s coming-out party and we were ready for it. A run to the Western Conference Final means the Jets won’t surprise anyone, but are they now overvalued?

This team is absolutely a contender, but there are some weaknesses here that have the potential to bring the Jets down a peg or two.

While the Jets have a top six worth dreaming about, their defense is a bit of a concern. Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba are a great first pair, but Winnipeg will have to make do with either Ben Chiarot, Tucker Poolman or Dmitry Kulikov playing as a second pair defenseman with Dustin Byfuglien.

“Big Buff” is still an offensive force, but he’s 33 now and doesn’t make life easy for his partner. Tyler Myers will likely anchor the third pair with whoever isn’t playing with Byfuglien, and that pairing will be fine, but this is supposed to be an elite team.

Connor Hellebuyck comes into this season with high expectations after he put up a sparkling .931 save percentage at 5v5 last season. The 25-year-old was awesome in 2017-18, but goalies are fickle, and he was a mess in 2016-17, posting a .918 5v5 SV% and a -8.29 GSAA. The fact that he comes into this campaign as the 18th-best goalie — according to Corsica — indicates he’s not a guarantee to post similar numbers.

This isn’t to say that Hellebuyck will flop. He could be this good, but the Jets made life easy on him last season — his expected save percentage was .929 at 5v5 — so it’ll be interesting to see how he does if the team struggles a bit defensively.

Winnipeg’s star power up front will likely carry this team and cover up its defensive blemishes. Plus the Jets have a fixable problem that can be addressed through trades.

I’m not saying I’m out on the Jets, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that they will put up 100 points in the NHL’s deepest division. I like the Under 105.5 points but expect Winnipeg to be very good again.

Boston Bruins

  • Over/Under: 102.5 points
  • Stanley Cup odds: 11-1

The Lightning, Bruins and Maple Leafs are three of the best teams in the NHL, and thanks to the league’s asinine playoff format, two of them will likely meet in the first round of the postseason. Such is life in this weird league.

The Bruins have the best line in hockey. David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are scintillating and have been since joining forces two seasons ago. For the 18-22 minutes a game this trio is on the ice, the Bruins run the game. They are incredibly tough to score against — Bergeron is the game’s best two-way center — and are just as tough to keep from scoring.

The middle six is nothing to stick your nose up at, either. David Krejci is a great second-line center, and wingers Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, David Backes and Ryan Donato are all good enough to play anywhere in the top nine. Whoever ends up as the pivot on the third line could be a weak link, but this group is terrific.

The defense is a little top heavy, but there is a lot to like. It took Charlie McAvoy one season to become one of the league’s best defensemen, and he’s got a perfect partner in Zdeno Chara. The 41-year-old’s best days are behind him, but he’s fine next to McAvoy for the time being.

Torey Krug runs the second pair and he’s as good as they come in terms of producing offense from the blueline, but his partner Brandon Carlo is middling at best. The third pair projects to be the mediocre John Moore and Kevan Miller, who is perfectly adequate for this role.

Tuukka Rask has been doing this a long time, and for the last three seasons, he’s been nothing extraordinary in the cage. He hasn’t been bad, either, he just does his job.

The Bruins made a shrewd move by bringing in Jaroslav Halak in from the Islanders. The Slovakian goalie was hung out to dry over the past two seasons on Long Island. His delta save percentage (difference between actual and expected) was +0.49 in 2017-18, meaning he actually gave the Islanders decent goaltending, all things considered.

Boston is certainly a Cup contender, but these odds reflect that. Moving on.

Washington Capitals

  • Over/Under: 97.5 points
  • Stanley Cup odds: 10-1

The reigning Stanley Cup champions are in a funny spot. Washington got the monkey off its back, but it also lost its head coach, Barry Trotz, and several of his assistants — although one of them, Todd Reirden, is now the head honcho in D.C.

A regime change after winning it all, so it goes. Outside of Trotz, the Caps return almost their entire roster to shoot for the repeat.

Alex Ovechkin leads the charge up front and he’s been running well with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson for a while now, so if ain’t broke.

Kuznetsov’s emergence as a star center has pushed Nicklas Backstrom into a second-line center role, and that’s done wonders for the Caps. He will be flanked by either Jakub Vrana or Andre Burakovsky on the left and T.J. Oshie on the right. Whoever it is, this is a fantastic top six.

The third line also shows well with Lars Eller, Brett Connolly and whoever plays between Vrana and Burakovsky.

We already knew this team had a great group of forwards, but its defense ain’t too shabby, either.

John Carlson signed a Capital-for-life extension this offseason and he headlines this unit. However, his partner Michal Kempny, showed well last season, and behind them the shutdown pair of Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov make Carlson’s life a lot easier.

The bottom pair is a problem just because of the presence of Brooks Orpik, although Christian Djoos looks like a good NHL defenseman in a small sample. Orpik’s a drag but the team still found a way to succeed with him on the ice last season.

Braden Holtby had one of the most ‘goaltending is so volatile’ seasons in 2017-18. After posting splendid numbers year after year and establishing himself as one of the game’s strongest netminders, Holtby fell off a cliff during the regular season. He was so bad (and Philipp Grubauer was so good) that he didn’t play in Washington’s first two playoff games. The Caps lost both of them.

In stepped Holtby, and the next thing you know, Ovechkin is drinking beer out of the Stanley Cup.

With Grubauer gone, Holtby will need to do better than his .907 SV% from last season to keep Washington within earshot of Pittsburgh. I like the Penguins to win the division, but in all likelihood the Capitals finish as runners-up. Another Cup isn’t out of the question, but there’s little value in the futures market here.

Nashville Predators

  • Over/Under: 106.5 points
  • Stanley Cup odds: 10-1

For the sake of uniformity, I’ve pulled all the odds for these NHL previews from the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas. But it should be noted that other books will naturally have different prices, for instance, has Nashville as the Stanley Cup favorite at +679. has Nashville at +1100, behind Winnipeg and Vegas in the West. All I’m saying is remember to shop for the best line.

Nashville is stacked on both ends of the ice, but the defense is where you need to start.

Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm could all be top-pair defensmen on just about every team, and the fact that Nashville has four potential No. 1 rearguards is impressive. Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber aren’t anything special as a third pairing, but that’s not the point.

The Preds didn’t really start to click until after the New Year, which coincided with Ellis’ return from injury. Up to that point Nashville had gone 23-10-5 and had a CF% below 50%. Once Ellis jumped back in, Nashville ripped. The Preds went 30-8-6 with a 52.4 CF% over the last three-plus months of the season.

This wonderful defense also has the luxury of playing in front of one of the league’s best goaltenders — at least he was last season — Pekka Rinne. The long-legged Finn struggled through some down years in the first half of this decade but he was good in 2016-17 and won the Vezina last season.

Rinne is almost 36 (and he is a goalie) so he could fall off without warning, but he’s backed up by Juuse Saros, which gives Nashville some breathing room.

The forwards may not be as good as the defensemen in Music City, but that doesn’t mean they are a sore spot, either.

With players such as Filip Forsberg, Kevin Fiala and Viktor Arvidsson on the wings and Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris down the middle, Nashville’s forwards should compete with those of most other teams. The bottom six leaves something to be desired, but there’s no such thing as a perfect team.

In the end, the Predators are the class of the Western Conference. The sky is the limit for this group. I think a bet at 11-1  is a fine wager.

Vegas Golden Knights

  • Over/Under: 100.5 points
  • Stanley Cup odds: 8-1

Once again, these lines come from Vegas, so they are naturally shaded a little bit toward the Knights given the betting support for the team out there. Most offshores have Vegas at 10-1 to win the Cup and the O/U at 99.5 points.

This isn’t about last season. We know what happened last season. So the question is, can it happen again?

Something pretty funny ended up happening with Vegas. After the Golden Knights’ hot start to 2017-18, everybody praised their depth. But really, the Knights are top heavy. Their first line featuring William Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault is fantastic and they beefed up their second line by adding Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty in the offseason.

The problem is that the bottom six is pretty weak outside of Erik Haula, and players such as Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Cody Eakin and Ryan Reaves bring very little to the table on the ice.

The knock on the Knights’ defense last season was that it lacked a “big name.” It still does to some extent, but Colin Miller, Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt (who is suspended for the first 20 games this season) are each very good players in their own right.

But beyond those four, things get murky. Nick Holden and Brad Hunt are meh, while Deryk Engelland is a bit of a liability when he’s playing. As is the case with the forwards, the bottom half of the defense leaves something to be desired.

Marc-Andre Fleury was fantastic for Vegas last season but he dealt with a litany of injury issues, and it’s hard to be confident that he’s going to replicate his .931 SV% or +8.21 GSAA at 5v5 again this season.

There was so much that went right for Vegas last season. From Karlsson’s absurd 23.4 shooting percentage to Fleury standing on his head for weeks on end. Something’s gotta give.

This is still a good team, but I find it hard to believe the Knights are just as likely to go over 100 points as they are to go under. I’m playing the Under 100.5 and think Under 99.5 is fine, too.

Toronto Maple Leafs

  • Over/Under: 106.5 points
  • Stanley Cup odds: 8-1

Stanley Cups aren’t won in July, but don’t tell that to Maple Leafs fans.

The Buds made an enormous move over the summer by luring John Tavares away from the New York Islanders. (For the sake of transparency, it should be noted that the writer of this piece is an Islanders fan.)

Auston Matthews, Tavares and Nazem Kadri is an almost unimaginable 1-2-3 down the middle, and they are playing with talented wingers such as Mitch Marner, Patrick Marleau and William Nylander.

There’s not much to get into here, as the picture is pretty clear. The Leafs should score a lot of goals. The question is, will they do a good enough job preventing them?

The Buds’ defense is quirky. The left side of the defense features three very talented players in Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott, but the right side is really bad. Like really bad.

Ron Hainsey is projected to play on the top pair with Rielly and he’ll do his best to completely mitigate everything Rielly does well. The same goes for Nikita Zaitsev on the second pair with Gardiner. Dermott, who looked really good in his 37 games last season, will likely pair with Connor Carrick, who is nothing to write home about, either.

Last season the Leafs finished in the bottom five in xGA/60 and in the bottom 10 in shot attempts allowed at 5v5. Luckily, they had goaltender Frederik Andersen to bail them out, but it’s never a good idea to bet on a goalie to bail you out.

Toronto is going to score enough and drive play enough that it will comfortably make the playoffs. But this O/U is too high. Getting to 107 points in the same division as the Bruins and Lightning is a tall task and I think going Under 106.5 points is a sound bet.

Tampa Bay Lightning

  • Over/Under: 107.5 Points
  • Stanley Cup odds: 7-1

Last season I thought the Lightning would go under their high season point total. I was dead wrong.

Tampa Bay is an absolute monster, and the best may yet still come.

There are stars all over the place at Amalie Arena. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Viktor Hedman and even Ryan McDonagh (in his own way) are all so good at what they do.

Not to mention that the Bolts have some fantastic young players on the rise as well. Brayden Point is already one of the game’s best all-three-zone centers and is drawing comparisons to Boston’s Bergeron. Yanni Gourde scored 25 goals in his first NHL season. Anthony Cirelli is a breakout season waiting to happen. Perhaps the crown jewel of this “next wave” is defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. Just 20 years old, the Russian rearguard is a star in the making and could get to that level this season.

And THAT doesn’t mention Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Anton Stralman or J.T. Miller — who form the best supporting ensemble in the NHL.

Then there’s the goalie. Andrei Vasilevskiy was certainly good in 2017-18, but was he the superstar that everybody made him out to be?

The 24-year-old posted a .931 save percentage at 5v5 in 65 games last season, but his xSV% was .929, so yes he stopped what he had to, but the guys in front of him made life very easy for him. Vasilevskiy comes into this season as the No. 17 goaltender in the league, according to Corsica.

Even if Vasilevskiy is just good and not great, the Bolts have the best on-paper team in the NHL. Unfortunately, this is the NHL, and being the best team doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be hanging a banner.

The Lightning are the rightful favorite and are the most likely Stanley Cup winner. That doesn’t mean you should just go and bet them. At +700 they have an implied probability of 12.50%, which means 87.5% of the time the best team in the NHL doesn’t win the Stanley Cup.

Odds courtesy of the Westgate Superbook. Stats and data provided by CorsicaNatural Stat TrickHockey ReferenceThe Athletic and NHL.com.

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