Philadelphia Flyers’ Claude Giroux, right, and Carter Hart celebrate after a goal by Giroux during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 5-2. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
- The 2021 NHL season is set to start January 13th, 2021 with a shortened 56-game schedule
- The Colorado Avalanche are +650 favorites heading into opening night
- Damien Cox breaks down the odds for all Stanley Cup contenders and provides his best bet below
Welcome to NHL’s new COVID world.
It’s all laid out for us now. A 56-game schedule, albeit one that’s already been impacted by the need for the defending Western Conference champion Dallas Stars to close their camp and bump back the start of their season.
That’s how it’s going to be. If you look at the NBA, postponements and COVID ineligibilities are becoming almost a nightly event. If we only knew at the start of the NHL season which team will take the protocols most seriously, and which training staff has the best chance of helping its players navigate the process, betting would be a lot easier.
But we don’t. We can also hope that by the spring vaccines will be much more available and the impact on the NHL will be reduced. Heck, the NHL hopes by then they’ll be able to start bringing people back to the rink as the Pittsburgh Steelers did on Sunday when they had 21,000 on hand to take on the Cleveland Browns.
Maybe that’s what happened to the Steelers. Stage fright.
So if we imagine the COVID cloud will be lifting to some degree by the spring – have to think positively, right? – we can at least assess Stanley Cup odds with a few more degrees of certainty. Or at least as much certainty as is possible in a league packed this tightly.
Top Contenders Stanley Cup Odds
|Tampa Bay Lightning||+750|
|Vegas Golden Knights||+800|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||+1100|
|St. Louis Blues||+2000|
Odds taken Jan. 11 at DraftKings
The Avalanche & Their Young Core
Right now, the Colorado Avalanche remain the popular pick, the team with the shortest odds to win the 2021 Stanley Cup. There’s some solid reasoning behind that.
The Avs were an exciting team last season, Nathan MacKinnon is, to some, the best player in the league and this is a team with growing depth at every position, particularly on the blueline where Cale Makar and Bowen Byram look like they could be standouts for the next decade.
But does anybody really yet imagine Phillipp Grubauer as a Cup winner? Doesn’t he still have a great deal to prove? This is also a franchise that has done little in the post-season for more than a decade and should have taken out the Stars during the summer bubble playoffs.
The Avs sure are the sexy pick right now at +667. Maybe a little too sexy. I’d like a little more evidence before going out on a limb, thanks.
The Best of The Rest
Tampa Bay, sitting just behind the Avs on SBD’s 2021 Stanley Cup odds tracker, are having to deal with a lot of roster upheaval. Yes, Steven Stamkos is back and ready to go, but Cedric Paquette and Brayden Coburn are in Ottawa, and Tyler Johnson and his $5 million cap hit landed on the waiver wire on Monday along with Luke Schenn.
The Bolts are trying to open up cap options moving forward, which suggests the team may be in a flux for a while. The absence of Nikita Kucherov for the whole season is huge.
Don’t get me wrong. The champs still have most of their key pieces, notably goalie Andrei Vasilevsky and summer standout Brayden Point. But they appear to have been weakened.
Tyler Johnson and Luke Schenn are among those placed on waivers by Tampa.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) January 11, 2021
The next two teams on the average odds tracker, Vegas (+833) and Toronto (+1100) continue to be more attractive to me, but for different reasons.
The Golden Knights strengthened the blueline with free agent Alex Pietrangelo, which shortened their odds significantly the moment the signing was announced. They are good everywhere, and deep in goal.
Peter DeBoer mentioned Alex Pietrangelo’s strong performance during last night’s scrimmage at T-Mobile Arena.
I heard Max Pacioretty also had a big night with two nice goals and a pair of assists.
Vegas’ stars coming alive as camp goes on.
— Jesse Granger (@JesseGranger_) January 10, 2021
The Leafs, meanwhile, are attracting attention because their most significant off-season move was a bump to the new North Division with the other Canadian teams. Only Winnipeg, among those teams, has taken a deep playoff run recently, while the Leafs and Edmonton Oilers are seen as teams with superb young cores still learning to win.
The Leafs look to be the class of the division. All they’ve got to do is be better than six teams that, like themselves, haven’t won the Cup since ’93.
2021 NHL Hart Trophy Odds Tracker
Don’t forget about the two teams that have come out of the west the last two years, St. Louis and Dallas. The Blues have added Torey Krug and Mike Hoffman, and a bounce-back year from Jordan Binnington could put them right there. But the loss of Pietrangelo is huge, as was the retirement of Alex Steen. Factor in Vladimir Tarasenko’s absence for at least another month and you can see why the Blues, despite their championship pedigree, are at 20-1. Be careful.
#NHL announces Dallas Stars had 6 players and 2 staff members test positive for COVID-19. Team facility is closed for a number of days.
Stars’ schedule is being reviewed, but will not begin season before Jan. 19 – meaning first 3 games (at least) have been postponed.
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) January 8, 2021
Dallas, meanwhile, has an easier division within which to work, particularly if Tampa really is weaker. At 25-1 odds, nobody seems to like the Stars right now, maybe because Tyler Seguin is out until April. Was Anton Khudobin a fluke?
We’ll find out with Ben Bishop set to miss the early part of the season. Rick Bowness made this team play better, and Denis Gurianov could take the next step this season. I like the Stars better than the Blues, particularly at long odds in a short season.
Flyers Pose Strong Value
Right now, Philadelphia looks intriguing to me. Their odds have gotten slightly longer than they were in the fall. But Carter Hart could be the game’s next great goaltender, and he’s got some experience now.
For the first time since, well, Pelle Lindbergh, Philly really has an elite goalie to lean on. The Flyers knocked out Montreal in the first round in the summer, then lost a tough seven-game series to the Islanders. This is a well-balanced team that could make a big step forward with a better power play.
The biggest strike against the Flyers is realignment dealt them a tough hand. The East Division looks tough.
Starting Wednesday, we’ll get to see how this realigned league looks.