NHL 2021-22 Stanley Cup Sleeper Picks: Our Favorite Longshot Bets
Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Elias Pettersson, Jacob Markstrom
The 2021-22 NHL season is set to get underway on Tuesday, Oct. 12 when the Tampa Bay Lightning take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Before the puck drops, our hockey staff will highlight their favorite bets across the board. We’ve already discussed the Calder, Vezina and Hart Trophy markets, but today we’ll shift focus to an exercise in hope: Finding a Stanley Cup Longshot.
Calgary Flames (+4500 @ DraftKings)
Where most of the hockey world sees a distinctly average team, I see opportunity.
The Calgary Flames are flying under the radar quite a bit heading into the postseason. They are 45-1 to win the Stanley Cup, have an over/under of 92.5 points and are -135 to make the postseason. In other words, oddsmakers also see Darryl Sutter’s Flames as a team on the playoff bubble.
After missing the playoffs in a wide-open North Division last season and bowing out meekly in the bubble the previous summer, it’s easy to see why folks aren’t paying much attention to the Flames. However, there are a few reasons to take a deeper dive into this team, starting with how they finished under new (old) head coach Darryl Sutter.
The Flames went 15-16-1 under Sutter and were firmly out of the playoff picture down the stretch, but their underlying metrics improved with the 2-time Stanley Cup winner behind the bench. Calgary maintained a 56% expected goals rate and a 57.1% high-danger chance rate in Sutter’s 32-game stint, putting them third-best in both metrics during that period.
Sutter seemed to get the team on the same page, especially on defense as the Flames went from allowing 2.14 xG and 10.43 high-danger chances per 60 minutes in their first 24 games to conceding just 1.77 xG and 7.57 high-danger chances per hour under Sutter.
Playing a rigid defensive style may not be en vogue or easy on the eye, but it could suit the Flames since they should be able to produce enough offense to make good defensive numbers stick. That’s because Sutter has a deep top-9 that has a couple of potential headliners in Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane.
I say potential headliners because nearly everyone in the Flames’ top-6 had a roller-coaster season in 2021. There were flashes, especially when Gaudreau played with Tkachuk and Lindholm, but there were also some struggles.
There’s solid promise for a unit that features Blake Coleman as a middle-6 winger and Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund as middle-6 pivots, so a high-quality season from Calgary may not feel like that much of a surprise when push comes to shove.
While the forward group is deep and has high-end talent, Calgary’s defense is murkier. Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev each had breakout seasons in 2021, but with Mark Giordano gone both players will face tougher roles as more will be demanded of them. If they click in a top-pairing role, the Flames should be in good shape as it will take some pressure off the middle-pairing, which features two slick puck-movers in Rasmus Andersson and Juuso Valimaki.
When betting on a longshot you’re banking on potential to be fulfilled and both Andersson and Valimaki have the chance to be productive second-line defensemen right now. The problem is that Valimaki is only 22 and Andersson struggled mightily last season, so there’s a plausible scenario where this pairing goes downhill fast. Considering that Andersson was well on his way to being a surefire top-4 defenseman prior to last season, I am happy to bet on a bounce-back and hope for the best. That will be a common theme with this team.
Like every team in the NHL, Calgary will only go as far as its goaltending takes it. After years of putting together rag-tag goaltending tandems with stop-gap measures like Mike Smith, Cam Talbot and Jonas Hiller, the Flames invested pretty heavily in the position before last season by signing Jacob Markstrom to a hefty contract.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Markstrom was a bit Jekyll-and-Hyde in his first season with the Flames, so it’s hard to tell what kind of goalie Calgary should expect over the next six months. Markstrom’s ceiling is quite high, but he can be quite ordinary at times. With the inexperienced Dan Vladar behind him, there are some questions to be asked of this duo.
However, there are also reasons to be confident. Markstrom was one of the best in the NHL at the position not too long ago and Vladar’s AHL numbers sparkle. Once again, this situation can play out in a number of different ways.
Perhaps a middle-of-the-pack season from Calgary is the most likely scenario, but Calgary’s ceiling is seriously tempting. A lot has to go right for any team in this price range to have a chance, but if things do turn green for the Flames in the goaltending department, the potential is a lot higher than it would be for many clubs in this price range.
Vancouver Canucks (+7000 @ FanDuel)
Following a very positive 2019-20 campaign, there was plenty to be optimistic about in Vancouver. The Canucks’ young core just pushed the Golden Knights to a Game 7 in the Western Conference Semifinals after knocking off the defending champion Blues in Round 1, and they were riding high on excellent seasons from Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson and Thatcher Demko.
What a difference a year can make.
Last season, one thing after another would fall apart for the Canucks en route to a last-place finish in the North Division. All of a sudden, the promise of the previous year seemed to be gone and a number of general manager Jim Benning’s signings showed to be errors. Benning made another risky move this offseason by acquiring gifted offensive contributor Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s frightening long-term contract.
Those two will be supporting Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, who still project to be elite players in this league. I think that both will bounce back with big seasons, offering Vancouver a true No. 1 defencemen and elite centre.
I also will bet on Thatcher Demko’s upside and believe he can be an excellent starter, but this team needs to be better in front of him and new backup Jaroslav Halak, who should be an upgrade over what Braden Holtby provided the team in 2021.
When you’re talking about a longshot, there are always going to be some relatively big concerns and for Vancouver those red flags are on defense. There are some defenders showing well this preseason however, such as Jack Rathbone, and that could allow the team some room for improvement in an area that was a disaster last season.
Specifically, if the Canucks can manage to put Tyler Myers in an easier role or at least find a way to shelter him more defensively. Some sort of bounce-back from Ekman Larsson wouldn’t shock anyone either.
Garland should be a great addition to the top-six, and could break through with big numbers this year. Nils Hoglander was one of the long bright spots for the team last year, and between he and top-prospect Vasily Podkolzin, I think the Canucks have the opportunity to be deeper up-front than many are perceiving.
Altogether I think the Canucks have good reason to bounce back from a disastrous season last year, and I like a play on them to make the postseason out of the Pacific division at +175, a look on Travis Green to win the Jack Adams at +6500, as well as a small play on them at +7000 to win outright.
Vancouver Canucks (+7000)
Finishing with a worse record than the Ottawa Senators is a serious indictment of a hockey franchise. That was the position the Vancouver Canucks found themselves in at the end of the 2021 NHL season. 2021-22 brings new optimism for the Canucks, and our analysis supports that their Stanley Cup odds underestimate their chances this season.
Vancouver had an outstanding offseason, adding valuable pieces to address shortcomings from last season’s team. Goaltending was arguably their biggest positional weakness last season. Braden Holtby failed to live up to expectations in Vancouver and was bought out, paving the way for the Canucks to sign Jaroslav Halak to a one-year contract to back up Thatcher Demko.
Demko emerged as Vancouver’s primary goalie, setting a career-high with a 92.4% save percentage at even strength last season. The 25-year-old will continue his development and should improve his metrics with an improved defensive corps and new special teams coach in front of him.
The Canucks weaseled out of three bad contracts for a pair of above-average NHLers. Gone are Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, and Antoine Roussel, replaced by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Connor Garland. OEL joins a Canucks back-end that features a dangerous balance of offensive skill and defensive responsibility. Quinn Hughes and Ekman-Larsson will be the puck moving defensemen split between the top two pairs, leaving Tyler Myers, Travis Hamonic and Tucker Poolman to play the role of shutdown defensemen. Defensive responsibility will be a focus for the Canucks heading into the season, and OEL is the x-factor they needed to improve.
Offensive output was a concern for the Canucks last season, but they have a talented group of forwards who should progress after a down year. Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, and J.T. Miller have all scored at least 26 goals in a season. Tanner Pearson, Garland, and Nils Hoglander can play supporting roles, and Brand Sutter anchors a solid fourth line that makes the Canucks a dangerous team from top to bottom.
The Canucks are just one season removed from making a solid postseason run to Game 7 of the conference semifinals. Their metrics need to improve, but they have the right players to put on the ice to see their metrics progress in 2021-22. Vancouver sits with +7000 odds to win the Stanley Cup at FanDuel Sportsbook, and those odds will only go down throughout the season.
Philadelphia Flyers (+4000 @ DraftKings)
After an aggressive roster re-tool by general manager Chuck Fletcher, the Philadelphia Flyers are going into the 2021-22 season with ‘something to prove,’ as their new team T-shirts declare.
That mission could pay off for bettors who back the Flyers for their first Stanley Cup win since 1975.
Overhauling the league’s worst defense from last season, Fletcher spent big to bring in reliable Ryan Ellis and bruising Rasmus Ristolainen, then added a dash of veteran flair with power-play puck-mover Keith Yandle. Up front, he added veterans with character in Cam Atkinson, Derick Brassard and Nate Thompson.
Among the returning players, captain Claude Giroux is one season away from unrestricted free agency, looking to show that he deserves another tidy ticket. Joel Farabee has broken out offensively, a rare bright spot from last season. Oskar Lindblom looks like he’s back to his old self, now more than one year cancer-free, while Travis Konecny and Carter Hart should bounce back from their sub-par campaigns under the shadow of Covid-19.
In the Stanley Cup Final eight times since joining the league in 1967, the Flyers are second only to the Montreal Canadiens in appearances over that timeframe (12 appearances, 10 wins). But since the last trip to the Final in 2010, Philadelphia has won just three playoff series.
Since 2012, though, the team has been consistently inconsistent — making the playoffs one season, then missing the next. Since last year was a flop, they’re now set to rebound again.
The Metropolitan Division is in transition. Past Cup-winners in Pittsburgh and Washington are aging while the Hurricanes, Rangers and Devils are trying to join the Islanders as contenders.
Put the Flyers in that group as well. With a deeper roster at all positions and a chip on their shoulder after last year’s debacle, they’ll surprise some people this season.
Winnipeg Jets (+4500 @ DraftKings)
The Jets were something of a mess last season, riding the roller coaster of terrible defense, zero fan support and roster drama to a substandard season. Still, the Jets stunned the Edmonton Oilers in the first round and were essentially done in by a red-hot team and Mark Scheifele’s unfortunate suspension.
But the full cast is back for a new year, and with training camp to acclimate and build chemistry, Winnipeg looks scary. For starters, they’re well-coached, led by the incomparable Paul Maurice. They have a roster full of offensive talent — led by Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers and midseason acquisition Pierre-Luc Dubois — and arguably the best goalie in the game in Connor Hellebuyck.
Hellebuyck has faced the most high-danger chances of any goalie over the past three seasons — which coincides with a cavalcade of defensive exits as Winnipeg lost Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Dmitry Kulikov from the team that went to the Western Conference Final in 2018. But the Jets finally addressed their blue line this offseason, acquiring Nate Schmidt from the Vancouver Canucks.
Schmidt is the type of defenseman Winnipeg has been lacking, a minutes-eater who can play all situations and properly slot the rest of the Jets’ blue line. Winnipeg is Schmidt’s third team in as many seasons — he was a cap casualty in Vegas who offloaded him to make space for Alex Pietrangelo. Schmidt had a down year in Vancouver, finishing with just 15 points and the fifth-most giveaways in the NHL, but at 30 years old still has a lot of fuel in the tank.
Winnipeg should have no trouble reaching the playoffs in the Central Division, which is where it can unleash its secret weapon: The White Out. Canada Life Centre is among the most difficult buildings to play as a road team, and Winnipeggers are particularly pent up since they haven’t been able to attend a Jets game since March 9, 2020.
Will all that result in the Stanley Cup heading to Winnipeg? Maybe. Maybe not. But at 45/1, they’re worth your longshot bet.