NHL 2021/22 Early Betting Outlook: Buy Now on Panthers, Avalanche
Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Patric Hornqvist
It has been quite the month in the NHL. The league handed out the Stanley Cup, hosted an expansion draft, welcomed a new class of young players with the 2021 Entry Draft and opened up free agency all in a matter of a few weeks.
Now that the dust has mostly settled — there are still some big dominoes out there like Jack Eichel and Vladimir Tarasenko — let’s take a look at the market for the 2021/22 NHL Season and identify a few teams that are worth buying or selling after a wild month.
Buy: Florida Panthers (+2200)
Florida took a big step forward last season, finishing second in the Central Division before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in Round 1. The Panthers proved to be a tough out for the Bolts and there are a number of reasons why I believe this Panthers group can build on their performance last year.
Florida’s biggest move of the offseason was the addition of Sam Reinhart from Buffalo. The move added a terrific piece without losing anything from an already impressive lineup. Reinhart figures to slot in behind Aleksander Barkov, giving the Panthers an elite 1-2 punch at center, something that the most recent Cup winners all had in common.
The arrival of Reinhart also gives head coach Joel Quenneville some lineup flexibility as he can slot Sam Bennett in as the third center, which is a suitable role for the 25-year-old as its hard to imagine him producing at the same clip that he did after being traded to Florida in the middle of last season. Bennett certainly is capable of playing quality minutes as a third liner though.
The Panthers already had a couple of elite forwards in Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau and now Reinhart adds to an already deep core that features a handful of terrific middle-six players who are still in their prime like Anthony Duclair and Carter Verhaeghe. The Cats also have promising young players like Owen Tippett, who showed some encouraging signs that he’s ready for a bigger role this season, and highly-touted prospect Anton Lundell to fill out their top-9. There’s very few teams that can match Florida’s forward depth player for player.
On defense, the team will welcome back Aaron Ekblad after he had his spectacular season cut short by an injury. He is set to make a full recovery before the beginning of training camp, and his return to the lineup will provide a notable boost to a D-core that did falter against Tampa Bay in last year’s postseason. Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar give Florida a wonderful top pairing, though it is fair to be a bit skeptical of the depth behind them.
No team can contend for the Stanley Cup without dynamic goaltending and this is where it gets really interesting for the Cats. Florida is banking on the sport’s top goaltending prospect, Spencer Knight, to carry water just two years removed from being drafted in the first round in 2019.
Knight posted a .925 save percentage in six starts during the regular season and stopped 93.3% of the shots he faced in two games during the postseason. It is a very small sample size, but it’s hard not to be encouraged by Knight’s first few performances and his pedigree.
Knight’s batterymate will be Sergei Bobrovsky. At this point it’s no secret that the two-time Vezina Trophy winner is overpaid, but if the 32-year-old is able to provide stable goaltending, he and Knight do have some strong potential as a tandem.
The biggest reason to be skeptical of Florida’s chances in 2021/22 is that the Panthers play in the Atlantic Division, which projects to be a gauntlet next season. Florida will be competing with fellow Stanley Cup contenders Tampa Bay, Boston and Toronto just to get into the playoffs, but even in a tough division I still project Florida to be in the 103-point range and make the postseason comfortably, with the Atlantic division sending four teams as opposed to previous years in which we have seen the Metropolitan division claim both Wildcard berths.
Sell: Edmonton Oilers +2000
This Oilers group always seems to get more credit than they deserve during the preseason betting period. Having Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on a roster will do that, I guess. Even with McDavid and Draisaitl, the Oilers just have way too many flaws to be considered a realistic Cup contender right now. And the worst part is that a lot of these problems are self-inflicted.
The Oilers came into the offseason with a few clear flaws. They needed to shore up their defense, find a stable solution in goal and add some depth in their middle six. To address the blueline Ken Holland traded for past-his-prime Duncan Keith, signed Cody Ceci and traded away Ethan Bear. Maybe Keith re-finds some of his form on a new team and playing easier minutes, but it’s hard to project Keith-Ceci as a solid second pairing.
The Bear trade was also a bit of a head-scratcher, though getting Warren Foegele back is a nice return. Foegele is a strong option as a third-liner, but deleting Bear from an already shallow defense is worrisome.
Holland did keep his top pairing together by re-signing Tyson Barrie, but the Barrie-Darnell Nurse duo wasn’t all that great in 2021, as they only put up good numbers when they were out there with McDavid and/or Draisaitl. Barrie is one of the more offensively-gifted rearguards in the NHL, but he still showed clear inability to suppress scoring chances against last season. This is not the type of first pairing you see on true Cup contenders.
The Oilers do have potential depth with youngsters Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg, but this defense still projects to be a bit of a mess. That could be a big issue considering Edmonton’s goaltending situation.
Mike Smith had a strong campaign in 2021, but he is 39 years old and has a history of being up and down. The biggest problem is that Smith’s projected backup, Mikko Koskinen, struggled to a -10.37 Goals Saved Above Expected in 26 appearances last season. Smith and Koskinen are both question marks and with the defense they have in front of them I am skeptical.
What Holland did do was boost the forward group. Zach Hyman is a very solid top-six winger, Derek Ryan is a great checking-line forward and Foegele is a solid play-driver that can play up and down the lineup. A lot will be asked of this group, though, and as we’ve seen during the McDavid Era, it takes more than just a couple of superstars to drag a team deep into the playoffs.
This number is an easy pass for me and I believe there will be some value in backing this team to go under their regular season points total when that line gets posted.
Buy: Colorado Avalanche +600
The Avalanche were dominant during the regular season in 2021 and there is a chance they will be even stronger this upcoming season. The Avs lost a hard-fought series to Vegas in Round 2 during the playoffs, but I don’t think that result should deter you from backing this team going forward.
The Avalanche took care of all their pressing business already this offseason by re-signing Cale Makar, Gabriel Landeskog and then trading for Darcy Kuemper to replace Philipp Grubauer in goal.
Kuemper’s stats are pretty close to what the Avalanche had with Grubauer, who signed as a free agent with the Seattle Kraken. Kuemper has had some injury concerns, but I still believe behind a roster as talented as the Avalanche’s compared to Arizona his upside could be higher than Grubauer’s.
Colorado’s three most important players, Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen, are 22, 25, and 24 years of age respectively and altogether the three are likely to get even better this season.
The Avalanche did lose a couple of key players outside of Grubauer this offseason. Ryan Graves was a solid top-four defenseman and slotted in well with Makar, while Brandon Saad and Joonas Donskoi provided scoring depth in the middle of the lineup. But Colorado brought in Ryan Murray, who has some upside if he can stay healthy, to replace Graves and the Avs have a lot of young talent (Bowen Byram, Alex Newhook) that can plug any holes that pop up.
Suggesting a bet on the Stanley Cup favorite in the summer may not seem like the most exciting play, but it is very likely that the Avs will cruise in the Central Division, so there’s a chance we don’t see a better number than this for the entire season.
Wait: Tampa Bay Lightning +650
After back-to-back Stanley Cups it seemed like the Tampa Bay Lightning would do quite a bit of re-tooling during the offseason because of salary cap constraints. While that is true to some extent, general manager Julien BriseBois did a great job of filling in the holes created by the departures of Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, Tyler Johnson and David Savard.
Gourde, Coleman and Goodrow formed a terrific third line, but the Bolts have ready-made replacements for them in Ross Colton, Mathieu Joseph and Alex Barre-Boulet. Additionally, they brought in Corey Perry, Charles Hudon and Pierre-Marc Bellemarre to provide more bottom-six depth. Defensively, Cal Foote seems like he is up to the task of picking up the minutes vacated by Savard’s departure.
What is a deterrent to a bet on the Lightning at this price, though, is the depth of the Atlantic Division. I already talked about how I believe the Panthers will be a Cup contender and the same can be said of the Bruins and Maple Leafs. Additionally, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this team sort of coast through the regular season, not unlike what we saw in 2021 when the Bolts finished third in their division before picking things up in the postseason. Therefore, I believe that waiting and looking for a better price later on in the season makes a lot of sense compared to getting on the Lightning with the current line.