Handicapping a weird year

Jan 6, 2021 3:09 AM

Welcome back to another year of what I hope can make an annual tradition at Gaming Today.

Last year, we grouped teams into correlating tiers based on contenders, dark horses and who will be scraping the lottery. This season is going to be unique; division realignment, 56 games, the same opponents for four months. Come gather around the campfire.

Everything is likely wrong. For example, the New Jersey Devils were a team I had in the hunt at 25-1 while the Columbus Blue Jackets at 100-1 were in the lottery last year. How dare I beseech the great name of John Tortorella?

We did have one thing right: The Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning played in the Stanley Cup Final, only I had Dallas winning in seven games, so I’ll take a moral victory.

Same rules apply: We’ll throw six teams each in the Cup Contender, In The Hunt, and Dark Horses category. Last year we put three teams from each conference, but since there are no conferences this year, it’s fair game.

Teams are not listed in any particular order and odds come from Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

Cup Contenders

Colorado Avalanche (6-1): As written last week, the third time might be the charm for Colorado. Get healthy goaltending and a dangerous Nathan MacKinnon, the Avs will be a tough out in a crowded West Division.

Vegas Golden Knights (6-1): Is Alex Pietrangelo the answer to the Golden Knights’ quest for the Stanley Cup? Vegas better hope so. But the youth coming for roster spots will make this team intriguing.

Boston Bruins (14-1): Zdeno Chara is gone, which will make the Bruins weird to watch, yet Tuukka Rask is back. Boston still has the talent up top, but a big year for Rask can make things interesting in Bean Town.

Philadelphia Flyers (18-1): I trust Philly to build off a strong 2020 season and contend in the East Division. Nolan Patrick returns, which helps, and Carter Hart can only get better.

Dallas Stars (25-1): Was 2020 a one-year wonder for Dallas? Rick Bowness is now the full-time coach, a well-deserved promotion. But the scoring needs to stay consistent. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin can’t wait until the playoffs to produce.

Washington Capitals (18-1): Losing Henrik Lundqvist is awful and a tough loss for the Capitals’ backup goaltending situation. But they’re still strong as long as Alex Ovechkin is breathing. Ilya Samsonov could be a dark horse Vezina candidate  

In the Hunt

Tampa Bay Lightning (6-1): If Nikita Kucherov was playing, you best believe Tampa would be higher. I still think the Lightning will make the playoffs in a ridiculous Central Division, but it will be tough. If the Lightning hang around and this number goes higher, don’t hesitate.

Carolina Hurricanes (20-1): Long live the Storm Surge. So long as Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov remain good, so will Carolina. The goaltending remains a question mark but I’m sure David Ayres is ready in the wings.

St. Louis Blues (25-1): They lose Pietrangelo, but replace him with Torey Krug. Not a bad trade-off. The Blues still have talent up front that teams would like. Whoever backs up Jordan Binnington will be up for a tall task.

New York Islanders (30-1): They nearly rode the wave of momentum to the Stanley Cup Final, and the Islanders are expected to be back again. The contract situation with Mat Barzal remains a great unknown to which hopefully New York gets resolved soon.

Vancouver Canucks (40-1): The North Division will be a bloodbath, but experience from last year should do the Canucks some good. Thatcher Demko and Braden Holtby are a capable tandem in net, and I can’t wait to see Year 2 of Quinn Hughes.

Winnipeg Jets (80-1): I believe in the Paul Stastny effect and I believe he will make Patrik Laine very happy. Winnipeg is questionable at the back end, but Connor Hellebuyck will win the Jets a few games and Paul Maurice knows how to coach..

Dark Horses

Pittsburgh Penguins (20-1): The ship keeps rolling as long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin remain healthy. What Jim Rutherford has done the past year keeps me pessimistic, but it’s law that Pittsburgh stays a contender until further notice.

Columbus Blue Jackets (60-1): This Pierre-Luc Dubois drama has potential to be bad. Then again, this is the same team that rode contract drama of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky all the way to the greatest playoff upset in league history, so what do I know? The acquisition of Max Domi is my move to watch this year.

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Edmonton Oilers (40-1): The Oilers are weird. They went all-in at the deadline last year, got Connor McDavid reinforcements, were bounced in the qualifying round and did nothing to get better. But one wonders if Leon Draisaitl and McDavid can carry the horse across the finish line one more time.

New York Rangers (30-1): Artemi Panarin was a good signing. Lottery luck also bounced the Rangers’ way with Alexis Lafreniere landing in their lap. This is a big year for Igor Shesterkin now the top goalie in the organization. I think the Rangers are still a year or two away.

Minnesota Wild (80-1): By default, Minnesota’s on here as the fourth team coming out of the West, but Minnesota should improve greatly. Cam Talbot is a solid replacement over Devan Dubnyk.

Montreal Canadiens (30-1): Nick Suzuki is a star in the making. Carey Price gets help with Jake Allen as his backup. If Josh Anderson recovers fully from downtrodden injury luck, Montreal might be a sneaky pick in the North.

In the Lottery

Toronto Maple Leafs (10-1): I’m never trusting them again. God bless Joe Thornton.

Buffalo Sabres (80-1): I really hope Taylor Hall works, for Jack Eichel’s sake.

Nashville Predators (40-1): Still think they’re OK, but the Central is stacked.

Florida Panthers (100-1): Sergei Bobrovsky needs to play like $70 million or this team will go nowhere.

New Jersey Devils (80-1): Nowhere to go but up after a year from hell, but Jack Hughes should be better.

Arizona Coyotes (100-1): Taylor Hall did not work. What does this franchise do now?

Calgary Flames (40-1): Last year was an unmitigated playoff disaster. Hopefully Jacob Markstrom saves them.

San Jose Sharks (100-1): So much talent. Still dangerous. Still not good enough.

Los Angeles Kings (200-1): Quinton Byfield is not that far away.

Chicago Blackhawks (200-1): Things were looking up, then Kirby Dach got hurt.

Anaheim Ducks (200-1): Get those prospects ready.

Ottawa Senators (200-1): Make sure “Tim Stuetzle” is in your autocorrect dictionary. 

Detroit Red Wings (200-1): Welp.