Avalanche vs. Wild NHL Opening Night Pick – January 19th

After far too long of a layoff due to a ridiculous lockout, hockey fans can finally rejoice on Saturday as the NHL returns to an arena near you with thirteen games on the slate to wet your betting appetite!

Colorado Avalanche (+120) @ Minnesota Wild (-140) 

One of the more intriguing off-seasons this past summer belonged to the upstart Minnesota Wild franchise. The Wild made quite the splash in signing two prominent American free agents, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The pair agreed to massive contracts and in turn expectations are now sky-high in Minnesota. This is a group that has been poor the past few seasons, but armed with the likes of Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu, star rookie Mikael Granlund, the Wild are primed for big things in 2013.

They’ll start off their season in front of their faithful fans on home ice and will take on a Colorado side devoid of one of their best two-way players in Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly remains a lockout casualty, currently playing in Russia as a result of a contract dispute with the Avs. Though the Avalanche are a young and emerging squad, this will be a tough first game without one of their top talents in O’Reilly. The Avs will be walking into a hornet’s nest of excitement Saturday night, and the Minnesota crowd will be in a frenzied state usher in a new era of Wild hockey.

Expect Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to control the game and make their presence felt from the opening face-off. The depth of the Wild attack should wear down a relatively weak and inexperienced back-end for Colorado and that should be the difference. Look for the Wild to return to the playoffs this season, and winning these key divisional match-ups early on against lesser teams like Colorado will be paramount to their success. Look for the Wild to feed off their boisterous crowd, en route to a convincing opening night victory.

PICK = Wild (-140)

Since it is opening night and we’re all pumped about the return of NHL action, here are four bonus wagers you should consider for your Saturday evenings. While I can’t always promise up to four bonus picks each and every night, I think the situation dictates it. We all missed hockey, and we’re glad it’s finally back.

Bonus Pick #1 – Penguins (-115) Hockey kicks off early with a 3:00 PM EST matinee between Pennsylvania rivals the Penguins and the Flyers. Look for Sid the Kid & Co. to get revenge on Philly for last year’s early playoff exit. The Flyers will be without Danny Briere for this contest and their defense won’t be able to match-up against Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin.

Bonus Pick #2 – Blackhawks (+105) The Blackhawks will look on Saturday afternoon as the L.A. Kings put last year’s Cup banner into the rafters. That’s where the fun will stop for the Kings though as the hungry Blackhawks will remind L.A. they too are among the class of the West. No Anze Kopitar or Willie Mitchell are huge losses for Los Angeles, and look for them to struggle in the early goings of the season. Cup hangovers do happen.

Bonus Pick #3 – Hurricanes (+115) The Panthers were one of the NHL’s biggest overachievers in 2011-2012 and expect huge regression in 2013. Their goaltending remains very questionable, and taking on a well-coached Carolina squad primed for a new era will not be easy. The Canes made key off-season acquisitions, including picking up Eric Staal and Alex Semin. Look for those two players to propel Carolina to the Southeast Division crown, and their quest will begin Saturday with a big victory over a divisional rival.

Bonus Pick #4 – Maple Leafs (+125) The fourth and final pick for Saturday evening comes in arguably the sport’s best rivalry. Leafs vs. Habs on Hockey Night in Canada, it doesn’t get any better. While it would be nice if these teams played like they used to in the glory days, the Leafs explosive group of forwards should give a weak and vulnerable Canadiens’ defense fits throughout this contest. Montreal is missing their star defender PK Subban and they’ll struggle heavily without him. Mikhail Grabovski often haunts his old team in the Bell Centre, and expect a big outing from the Belorussian. Toronto won’t be great this season, but the road value is a good call on opening night between two fairly evenly matched squads.