The St. Louis Blues completed one of, if not the most epic comeback in NHL history to capture the first Stanley Cup in the franchise’s 52-year history.
The Blues were in the last place in league standings on January 1st but soared in the unofficial second half of the regular season to not only qualify for the playoffs but Cinderella their way into a Stanley Cup ring.
With that, the 2018-19 NHL season is complete.
Naturally, it’s time to look forward.
I have my eye on three teams that, with a productive offseason, could get their hands on Lord Stanley’s Cup, and at some super-valuable odds to boot, all of these provided by the best Stanley Cup betting sites.
Pittsburgh Penguins (+1800)
I’m not sure about you, but as long as the Penguins employ Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin down the middle as their 1-2 punch, I’m not about to rule them out.
Sure, they failed to win a game this past postseason thanks to a sweep by the upstars Islanders, but let’s get one thing straight. Game one ended in overtime. If, yes if, the Penguins win that overtime game, the entire dynamic of that series changes.
Instead, the Penguins ran into a red-hot goaltender and a team that should, by all means, regress some in 2020, but don’t quote me on that.
This Penguins team is very much still built to win now.
I don’t want to hear anything about the aforementioned Crosby or Malkin being on the decline. Crosby has the second-best odds to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP at +750 behind what is sure to be a lock with Nikita Kucherov at -1100.
Crosby hit the 100-point barrier dead-on, the first time he’s recorded 100 points in a season since 2013-14 and just the second time since 2009-10. Best of all, he missed just three games all season. He’ll be 32 by the time the NHL regular season kicks off next October, but this guy is an off-ice beast in peak physical condition. He’ll be fine.
As for Malkin, his 72 points were no doubt a disappointment, but were still an 86-point pace. He admitted his struggles, but if 86 points is a down year I can’t wait to see what the rebound year looks like. He needs to stay healthy as he’s played in more than 69 games just once over the last six seasons. He’ll be fine.
Their sixth-ranked offense looks just fine heading into next season. Phil Kessel appears to be staying put despite trade rumors swirling, and he’ll be joined by Jake Guentzel, Patric Hornqvist, Nick Bjugstad and the upstart Jared McCann whose future looks bright.
Pittsburgh will score enough goals to be dangerous, the main concern will be preventing them.
Matt Murray suffered a down first half to last season but managed to post a 2.44 GAA and .927 Sv% across 26 post All-Star games. If they get goaltending close to that level from Murray for an entire season, they are a threat to win the Metropolitan.
Whether Jim Rutherford re-tools his blueline remains to be seen, but I don’t expect much movement from their six-man group they carried in the playoffs.
Kris Letang, Jack Johnson, and Brian Dumoulin will be there. Letang and Dumoulin due to ability to Johnson due to his immovable contract. Marcus Pettersson and his dirt-cheap ap hit will also be present. Whether or not Rutherford will look to move Justin Schultz – whose skill set greatly resembles that of Letang – or the slow-footed Erik Gudbranson remains to be seen.
The blueline could likely use some work, and we know Rutherford isn’t afraid to make bold moves when he deems necessary.
At the end of the day, this remains a team few want to meet in the postseason. If Murray can play to his potential combined with the already-lethal offense, the Penguins are very much a realistic threat take win their third Stanley Cup in five years.
Florida Panthers (+2500)
Speaking of bold moves, keep an eye on the Panthers as perhaps having the most impactful offseason of any team in the league.
Before the season even hit March, it was rumored that Florida is already set to make goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky an offer he can’t refuse once unrestricted free agency opens on July 1st. Artemi Panarin also appears to be an option as Florida has plenty of cap space to work with just over $21M as per CapFriendly. Keep in mind both stars hail from Russia.
With Roberto Luongo constantly dealing with injuries at age 40 and James Reimer struggling in each of the last two seasons, the Panthers are likely the team in most need of a long-term solution in goal, and the two-time Vezina-winning Bobrovsky could be just that.
Even without a possible Panarin addition, the forward group is set with both youth and talent. At just 23 years old, Aleksander Barkov is already one of the NHL’s premier two-way centers. With 25-year-old former 31-goal man Vincent Trocheck as the second center, the Panthers have themselves a young and talented 1-2 punch down the middle.
Add in top-six wingers Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Frank Vatrano, who broke out with 24 goals last season – and you have yourselves plenty to work with up front. If Dale Tallon wants to build a stronger bottom six, I wouldn’t blame him, but the Panthers have admirable young, top-six talent up front.
Quality goaltending would help this defense a ton. Aaron Ekblad is a potential future Norris Trophy-winning defenseman and is still just 23 years old. Keith Yandle just set a new career-high with 62 points as the power play quarterback last season, so there’s plenty left in the tank there at 32.
Michael Matheson is a rock-solid middle-pair defenseman working on the first year of a seven-year contract extension he signed during the season next year. A mixture of a couple of young RFAs in Ian McChosen and MacKenzie Weegar, the latter of which is a good bet to get at least top-five minutes – along with Mark Pysyk and Joshua Brown will fill out the remainder of the blueline.
I would expect the Panthers to be in on the defense market whether it be via free agency or trade.
Nonetheless, with the bottom six upgrades and bottom-pair upgrades on the blueline, along with the expected Bobrovsky signing and possible Panarin signing, the Panthers are very much going to be a team to look out for next season.
Their division is a tough one alongside the Lightning, Bruins and Maple Leafs, however, I certainly see Florida is a full-blown competitor with that framework of a roster heading into next season.
With a busy offseason expected, I’m loving the odds we’re getting with the Panthers to take a surprising run at the Cup next season.
Dallas Stars (+2800)
Considering the postseason Dallas just had – losing a Game 7 overtime game to the eventual Cup champions in round two – I’m a little surprised to see their odds so far down the list, but hey, that’s just more value.
Perhaps the single biggest issue for this team is whether Ben Bishop can stay healthy enough to help carry them and if he can, can he come close to repeating the Vezina-type production he put together last season.
Bishop started just 45 games last season – tied for 22nd. However, he posted an eye-popping 1.98 GAA and .934 Sv% in those 45 starts (46 appearances) including going 10-3-0 with a 1.24 GAA and a .959 Sv% in 14 starts down the stretch. Simply unbelievable.
Despite starting just 45 games, Bishop’s seven shutouts were the third-most in the NHL.
If Bishop can stay healthy and get anywhere near that type of production next season, sign me up all day for these odds.
Despite having one of the most productive top lines in hockey, this team won on defense last season.
Dallas ranked second only to the upstart Islanders with just 2.44 goals against per game. They’ll bring back much of the same blueline as they ran with last season. John Klingberg, Esa Lindell and all-world rookie Miro Heiskanen are all 26 or under and in Heiskanen’s case, just 20 when next year begins. Veterans Roman Polak and Jamie Oleksiak are both signed through next season, so I would expect them back barring any offseason trade.
It would appear to be a very similar back end in Dallas next season. Even backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, coming off an impressive 2.57 GAA and .923 Sv% himself, is signed for next season.
That’s the good news.
The work needs to be done up front. Once again, the Stars were largely a one-line team as Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov were the vast majority of the offense on most nights. Gone is Jason Spezza to free agency, but the emergence of rookie Roope Hintz either gives them their second line center or a top-six winger.
Here’s where I would expect Dallas to be busy in the offseason. GM Jim Nill is well aware of his team’s offensive issues in the bottom nine, and they could lose Mats Zuccarello – he of 11 points in 13 playoff games – to free agency as well, although I believe Nill would look to re-sign the play-making winger.
Is Matt Duchene a nice fit in free agency to bolster the center ice position? That’s what the Stars need more than anything. They’ll also need more than zero goals in 57 games from 24-year-old Valeri Nichushkin – their 2013 10th overall pick that returned from the KHL this past season.
Regardless of how he does it, Nill needs to use his projected $12.4M cap space to improve his group up front as the back end looks set.
If he does, boy does Dallas have a real shot at a playoff run next season. They were one goal away from a date with the Sharks in the Western Conference Final last season, so with some upgrades up front, why not take another run next year?
At +2800, I’m willing to give it a go.