The NHL playoffs commence Monday with 16 teams vying to win the Stanley Cup, which has been captured the past two seasons by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The first-round brackets were finally solidified in the final game of the season late Friday night when Arizona rallied from a 4-0 deficit to defeat Nashville 5-4 and keep the Predators from leapfrogging Dallas for the first wild card in the West.
One thing for sure, though, don’t overvalue the favorites and don’t automatically scoff at the chances of teams with low seeds when making futures bets.
For example, none of the past eight Presidents’ Trophy winners (best regular-season record) has won the title or even reached the finals. In two of the past three seasons, that regular-season kingpin was ousted in the first round.
The most startling recent ouster occurred in 2019 when Tampa Bay, which had 128 points, the most in the league the past 44 years, was swept in the first round by Columbus, which had 98.
On the other hand, the Los Angeles Kings won the title 10 seasons ago from the eighth seed in the West. And, speaking of the Kings, in 1982 they pulled arguably the biggest first-round upset in playoff history when ousting Edmonton in five games (3-2) despite having 48 fewer points in the regular season than the Oilers (111-63).
Anyway, here’s what it might take for each of the playoff teams to make a run at this year’s championship, starting with the Western Conference. Odds from all sportsbooks were current as of Friday night.
Colorado Leads Western Conference Contenders
Colorado Avalanche, No. 1 seed, first in the Central (+350 at DraftKings): The Avs, who opened the season as a +500 choice to win the Cup, remain the favorite despite not having the best overall record (Florida).
The Avs do have the best home mark in hockey this season at 32-5-4 and will have home ice throughout unless they face the Panthers in the Finals.
The Avs are the highest-scoring team in the West and have standout goaltending thanks to Darcy Kuemper, an offseason acquisition from Arizona, who has the league’s fifth-best save percentage.
An early key for the Avs will be showing up and not sleep-walking through Round 1 when they face eighth-seeded Nashville.
Calgary Flames, No. 2 seed, first in Pacific (+800 at Caesars): The Flames are the league’s biggest surprise this season after opening at +4000. They romped to the division title by seven points, matching the biggest gap for any first-place team.
These odds seem a little low, but that would have a lot to do with the Flames seemingly having the easiest road to the semifinals, first facing seventh-seeded Dallas, the only team in the postseason that had a losing road record.
With a series victory, Calgary then gets the winner of the Edmonton-Los Angeles matchup, featuring the fifth and sixth seeds.
The Flames will be counting on Johnny Gaudreau to continue to be the catalyst for the offense (115 points), second best in the NHL, and for goalie Jacob Marskstrom to continue his excellent play. He finished in the top three in GAA and save percentage.
Minnesota Wild, No. 3, second in the Central (+1800 at BetMGM): These are extra sweet odds for a team that went 18-2-3 down the stretch to earn home ice against St.Louis in the first round.
It helps greatly to have last year’s Vezina Cup winner, Marc-Andre Fleury, in net after he was acquired in a late-season trade. He’s not playing like he did in years past, but since the Wild scored four-plus goals in his last seven starts, he can just be very good. Kiriil Kaprizov provided much of the offense with a team-high 47 goals. He played in all but one game and is a workhorse.
St. Louis Blues, No. 4, third in the Central (+2200 at PointsBet): The Blues were on a 14-0-2 run to close the season before losing in their final two games to Colorado and Vegas and falling just short of Minnesota to gain home ice in the opening round.
But the Blues have a chance to make noise if they continue their success against Minnesota. St. Louis was 3-0 vs. the Wild this season including two wins in OT. But with the Avs likely up next, St. Louis is unlikely to have a title run like 2019.
Edmonton Oilers, No. 5, second in the Pacific (+1800 BetMGM and Caesars): The Oilers are dangerous in that they have the 1-2 punch of league scoring leader Connor McDavid (123 points) and Leon Draisaitl (110).
Edmonton has an excellent chance to get out of the first round, having home ice against Los Angeles and going 3-1 vs. the Kings this season. And should the Flames be next, those teams split their four games. But the Oilers will need more steady goaltending.
Los Angeles Kings, No. 6, third in the Pacific (+6000 at PointsBet): L.A. was a +6000 choice to open the season and that’s where the Kings are now, the longest shot on playoff boards.
Although the Kings have the worst home mark among Western postseason qualifiers, they have the best record on the road (23-11-6), which will come in handy since they likely won’t have home ice at any time in the playoffs. But they’ve lost many of their title-winning stars in recent years and probably don’t have the moxie to make a deep run here.
Dallas Stars, No. 7, fourth in the Central (+5000 at BetMGM):
The Stars dodged a bullet when the Predators lost to Arizona and allowed Dallas to retain its first wild card, which enabled them to avoid playing the heavily favored Avalanche in the first round. Instead, the Stars get Calgary. Considering the Stars had a -10 goal differential this season, it probably won’t matter who they play.
Nashville Predators, No. 8, fourth in the Central (+4500 at PointsBet): How can the Predators recover from their colossal collapse Friday after taking a 4-0 lead in the first seven minutes in Arizona and then losing to the conference’s worst team?
If any team deserves to be the longest shot, it’s the Predators.
Florida Panthers Will Be Tough To Tame In The East
Florida Panthers, No. 1, first in the Atlantic, Presidents’ Trophy winners (+550 at BetMGM):
The Panthers made a handsome addition to their roster at the trade deadline with the acquisition of longtime Flyers captain Claude Giroux, a winger who had 23 points for them and was a key part in the team’s recent 13-game winning streak that propelled them to their first Presidents’ Trophy.
Along with high-scoring forward Jonathan Huberdeau (115 points) and the steady goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky, another ex-Flyer, the Panthers’ +94 goal differential was the best this season even with a who-cares 10-2 loss to Montreal in the season finale. But they’re going have a difficult road to win their first Cup.
Florida will have home ice in round one against eighth-seeded Washington, but the Capitals won’t be a pushover considering they have the East’s best road record and sniper Alexander Ovechkin.
After that, either the two-time defending champs in Tampa Bay or Toronto are up next.
Carolina Hurricanes, No. 2, first in the Metropolitan (+1200 at PointsBet): The big news surrounding the Hurricanes is the injury status of one of the league’s premier goalies, Frederik Andersen, who had the league’s second-best goals-against norm (2.17) and tied for third best save percentage (.922). But he suffered a lower body injury two weeks ago and the team said there’s no timetable for his return.
Suddenly, their first-round series against seventh-seeded Boston seems like more of a tossup.
Toronto Maple Leafs, No. 3, second in the Atlantic (+1000 at BetRivers): The Leafs will be trying to end a stretch of five straight seasons of losing in the opening round but will have to get past the defending champs to do so.
At least Toronto has home ice and the league’s top goal scorer in Auston Matthews, who had 60 even despite missing three games earlier this month with an undisclosed injury.
If Toronto advances for the first time since 2004, is has a solid chance to move on even more against the Boston-Carolina survivor.
New York Rangers, No. 4, second in the Metropolitan (+1700 at PointsBet): The Rangers gave up the second fewest goals in the league thanks largely to goalie Igor Shesterkin, who had the league’s best goals-against average and save percentage. And as long as Chris Kreider (52 goals) is on the ice, the Rangers will have defenders back-pedaling.
They have an excellent chance to get past fading Pittsburgh in round one.
Tampa Bay Lightning, No. 5, third in the Atlantic (+1100 at Caesars): The Lightning opened as the league’s second favorite (+600) and wound up having to fend off Boston down the stretch to earn the division’s third seed and avoid being a wild card.
With veterans Steven Stamkos (106 points) and Victor Hedman heading the attack and former Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevski carrying a heavy workload, it’s a surprise Tampa Bay doesn’t have shorter odds.
Boston Bruins, No. 6, fourth in the Atlantic (+2000 at BetRivers): The Bruins are surely the scariest of the league’s four wild cards with 107 points. And they’ll likely get to face a Hurricanes squad in the first round missing its standout goaltender. They’d be worth a bet maybe at +3000. But having to win four straight series without home ice would be tough.
Pittsburgh Penguins, No. 7, third in the Metropolitan (+2100 at FanDuel):
With top goalie Tristan Jarry out with a broken foot for an unspecified time, the Penguins aren’t likely to be around long here. A month ago, they were 40-17-10. They then finished the season 6-9-1. Ugh.
Washington, No. 8, fourth in the Metropolitan (+4000 BetRivers): Ovechkin can’t do it all. And is he hurt? He sat out the season finale with an upper-body injury. Without a healthy Ovy, forget it.
Minnesota, at +1800, appears to offer good value among all the playoff teams in Western Conference. In the Eastern Conference, the Rangers are the most attractive option at +1700.