After more than a half-year of waiting, the NHL regular season has concluded. It’s time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they’re set to be as unpredictable as ever.
The Eastern Conference will have its behemoth in the Tampa Bay Lightning. The defending champion Washington Capitals and 2nd-seeded Boston Bruins will also have their say on that side of the bracket. Perhaps that core in Pittsburgh has another run in them too.
But it’s clear who the favorite is on that side of things. As for the Western Conference, it’s a completely different story.
The Calgary Flames ended up with the most points in the West. But it was the lowest number (107) by any No. 1 seed in the conference since 1995-96. That’s not including the strike-shortened season of 2012-13.
And though they are a significant favorite to win the Western Conference, there are four other teams that reached at least 99 points. On this side of the bracket, it seems almost nothing is guaranteed.
That’s where a great value bet comes in. I’ll be breaking down exactly why there is a hot team you should be considering a wager on. And this team is not one of the favorites, according to the odds on the top NHL betting sites.
So first, let me go over why the favorites won’t be going to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Case Against the Favorites
Calgary Flames: 107 Points, +250
The Flames are no doubt one of the quicker teams in the league with great, youthful top-line talent.
Johnny Gaudreau and (hopefully healthy) Sean Monahan are two bona fide stars. They’re half of the four 25-and-under forwards who lead the scoring for the Flames.
The other two are:
- Elias Lindholm was a huge pickup for them in the offseason Dougie Hamilton trade with Carolina.
- Matthew Tkachuk has brought a rare mixture of toughness and shooting precision.
Throw in the likely Norris Trophy (best defenseman) winner in veteran Mark Giordano, and this seems like a complete team.
But the offensive production does have a sudden drop-off after this core group. And even if they do have 11 players with double-digit goals, signifying fair amounts of depth, that’s not where their problems lie.
Those issues would be in net.
Calgary’s David Rittich and Mike Smith have split time over the year. Some of that has to do with resting the 36-year-old Smith. It also has to do with neither being able to lock down regular duties.
Smith’s -12.65 GSAA (goals saved above average) is dreadful. With a .898 save percentage, he’s easily put together one of the worst years of his career. And though Rittich is having a better stretch now, he still ranks 29th in save percentage out of goalies with at least 30 starts.
He’s league-average at best, and I don’t think that’s going to be good enough against a hot team in a seven-game setting.
Nashville Predators: 100 Points, +500
I can’t blame anyone for throwing money on the Preds. I had them as my Western Conference champion to begin the season and didn’t want to budge.
But as stubborn as I might be, there were clear reasons to abort my prediction.
But the 19th-best offensive output isn’t going to do the trick.
Having to put guys like Wayne Simmonds and Brian Boyle on your power play is something from 2015. And having exactly one 30-goal scorer (Viktor Arvidsson) is going to be problematic when they run into a wall with scoring.
Calgary has Gaudreau and Monahan to pull them out of scoring slumps. San Jose has an assortment of forwards to do the same. But what does Nashville have?
Their depth is still better than with most teams, but the majority of that is on defense. Filip Forsberg would’ve had 30-35 goals with a full season, but he was one of the three core pieces that missed significant time with injury this year.
Nashville will have to once again rely on plenty of offense from the blueline.
They’ll also hope Pekka Rinne is much stronger than he was this time last year in net. Taking more nights off in the regular season should keep him fresh. In seven of his last eight starts, he’s only given up two goals or less.
So it really comes down to how much you trust their offense. And with no one over 70 points (Forsberg and Arvidsson weren’t even on pace for it), it’s difficult to commit to them.
The Case Against Other Contenders
Winnipeg Jets: 99 Points, +600
There’s been quite a bit said about this Jets team during the second-half. Not a lot of it was positive either.
And while I think they’re a threat in the West, they did blow their Central Division lead. They also lost five of their last seven just before the playoffs and are a pedestrian 13-14-3 over the last five weeks.
Thankfully, Mark Scheifele continued his progression (38 goals, 84 points) and Blake Wheeler is still creating ample amounts of offense at 32. Because Patrik Laine, after an incredible goal-scoring run last season, suffered a large dip in his scoring production.
Overall, the young winger had 20 fewer points, was 14 goals short of his ’17-’18 campaign and finished with an abysmal minus-24 on a 99-point team. The most horrendous stat of them all is his one goal in the last 19 games. Luckily, his puck distribution and other elements of his game have improved.
Even for as good as Scheifele’s played, he only has nine points in the last 16 games. 34-goal-scorer Kyle Connor has three points in the last six. Wheeler had three in the final 10 contests, and this is a winger who had 91 total points.
Forget that their goals against are smack-dab in the middle of the league. Never mind that they’re crossing their fingers that top-four D-man Josh Morrissey will stay healthy, or the fact goalie Connor Hellebuyck has regressed to giving up 2.9 goals-per-game.
It’s the lack of power from their offensive stars that should steer people away from Winnipeg.
San Jose Sharks: 101 Points, +600
San Jose looked like the complete team a couple of months ago. They were fighting Calgary for the top spot in the Western Conference, had all the scoring they needed, and two generational talents on D.
Then they turned into a dumpster fire that lost seven in a row. After a stretch of seven points in 12 games, the Sharks definitely backed their way into the postseason.
And not once during that stretch did they score less than two goals in a game. They still had Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, two former Norris winners, in the lineup for the most part too. So what gives?
Well, goalie Martin Jones gives. He gives a lot of easy goals to his opponents. So many that his -23.35 GSAA is 66th out 67 qualifying goalies. Unfortunately, the only other playoff goalie who is close to him in terms of such futility is his backup, Aaron Dell.
The Sharks have four 30-goal scorers led by Joe Pavelski and plenty of veteran leadership (Pavelski, Karlsson, Burns, Joe Thornton). Yet, despite some fair playoff history, it doesn’t appear Jones will improve much this spring.
And no matter how much firepower a team possesses, giving up 3.92 goals-per-game like they have over the last 13 isn’t getting a team anywhere.
Vegas Golden Knights: 93 Points, +600
VGK’s stock has seen a pretty big shot in the arm in recent days on MyBookie.
Golden Knights’ bettors are banking on the struggles of the Sharks to give their team an easier first-round matchup. There also might be a little hope that they’ll regain last year’s magic that won them the West.
But the facts are these: Vegas has lost seven of their last eight. They have a goaltender who may not be healthy. And their scoring has slowed down considerably.
Their last seven games saw their top-three scorers go without a multi-point game. Paul Stasny has had to pick up a lot of the slack as of late. And while he has been the key cog on offense for the Golden Knights, this team needs Jonathan Marchessault to get back on track.
This is a team that will rely on the impressive forward depth the expansion draft gave them. Possessing five 20-goal scorers shows that they have several sources to light the lamp with.
But it seems Marchessault is the only one who can “take over” a series. Maybe William Karlsson, but he hasn’t had the same effect this season.
And now there’s concern over whether Marc-Andre Fleury is going to be able to stay healthy in net. This is after the lower-body injury he suffered a couple of weeks ago.
This isn’t a team to doubt lightly, especially after what they did last year. But this isn’t the same juggernaut dressed as an underdog like last season either. This team finished only two points above the league average after all.
They have one top-eight line (according to Daily Faceoff’s stats) compared to the rest of the league (first line vs other first lines, second line vs second lines, etc.) and one top-eight defensive pairing.
That leaves them as a quality opponent everywhere but a dominant one nowhere.
Don’t Fall for the Longshots
I figured I’d give a quick word on two other teams, the Dallas Stars (+1200) and the Colorado Avalanche (+1300).
While this would be the year for a lower seed to get through to the Finals, these teams aren’t particularly well-rounded at all.
Dallas hasn’t had a scoring touch all year. Though Ben Bishop’s resurgence as a goaltender has been fun to watch, an offense 29th in goals won’t cut it in the playoffs. Even if they do have the second-best goals against.
10 of their last 15 games came against non-playoff clubs, and that helped them considerably. A 20-19-4 record against playoff teams was decent, but this is a long shot with very little value, even at +1200.
As for the Avalanche, they will likely give Calgary a run for their money. Especially with that incredible top line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. But if even one of them comes out flat, this series won’t go more than five games.
That leaves you with one team to bet on for an incredible value.
The Value Pick of the Western Conference: St. Louis Blues
It may not come as much of a surprise that the St. Louis Blues are my dark horse pick. It is, however, amazing to think this team’s odds are behind five other Western Conference teams.
The Blues hit a series of rough patches to start the season. It certainly took a while for all the new additions they’d made to gel into a playoff team. But it always seemed the talent was there for them to go deep into the postseason.
Then they caught fire.
There was an 11-game win streak that brought them straight back into the thick of things. They stretched that out to finish the season on a 24-6-4 run.
Here are the point totals for them in that time period compared to the five teams with better odds:
Those comparisons aren’t anywhere close. In fact, the Blues only finished two points behind the record-tying Lightning in that span of time. And they did it all while securing nine of ten points against the teams above.
They’ve gotten steady, top-line production from Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly. These guys have been major scoring threats for a while now and can be trusted down the stretch. St. Louis also boasts an incredible 13 skaters with double-digit goals this year, so depth is not an issue.
Brayden Schenn regaining his scoring touch and having points in 20 of his last 28 games will be huge as well. Though the Blues are only 15th in scoring, most of that is due to the horrible beginning to the season.
Their goals against are 6th-best thanks to a top-eight first and third pairing on defense.
So why after all this would the Blues be at such a value?
It could be because there’s no superstar on the team, though Tarasenko is close to being just that, as is O’Reilly. But the real reason is probably because of the enigma that is Jordan Binnington.
Since the beginning of the great 34-game stretch, the goalie has started 24 games. He has more one-goal games or shutouts (eight) than he has games where he’s given up three or more goals (seven). That and his overall 1.89 GAA are both incredible stats.
But considering Binnington’s past involves him spending more time in the minor leagues than in the NHL, everyone is waiting for him to crumble. But with eight wins in his last nine games, it’s starting to look like he may ride this wave for at least the rest of the season.
And a hot goalie is always worth latching onto in the playoffs. Especially with such a hot team around him