By: Ryan Gilbert
More than two months after the regular season was paused due to the Coronavirus, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league’s plan to return to play if they are able to do so. Rather than resume the regular season, the NHL would return with a new 24-team format for the playoffs.
The top four teams (in terms of point percentage) in each conference would automatically make the first round of the playoffs, playing in a round-robin tournament to determine their seeding. Meanwhile, the fifth through twelfth teams will play in a best-of-five series to get into the playoffs.
This gives the top four teams in each conference a huge advantage, while the teams just outside of the top four have the risk of losing to a team that wasn’t necessarily in playoff contention back in March.
Given the risk of the extra best-of-five series, focusing on the eight teams with a “bye” would be smart for futures bets on the Stanley Cup.
Let’s look at those eight teams.
The Top Four Stanley Cup Odds
Boston Bruins (Stanley Cup Odds: +650)
The Boston Bruins came up just short last year, falling in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. This year, they are the best team in the league and the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
The Bruins boast a high-scoring offense led by David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron. They also have statistically the best goaltender tandem in the league in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak.
Tampa Bay Lightning (Stanley Cup Odds: +650)
The Tampa Bay Lightning are hoping that this year is the year that they can finally put it all together. They have been one of the best teams in the league for most of the 2010s, and that is no different this year.
Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov lead a deep group of forwards, with Victor Hedman anchoring the defense and Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes.
Colorado Avalanche (Stanley Cup Odds: +750)
The favorites in the Western Conference are the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avalanche were ravaged by injuries during the regular season, which should not be a factor if play resumes. Colorado will be at full strength with Nathan MacKinnon leading the way, and that’s a scary thing for the rest of the league.
If you want to bet on one of the top few favorites, the Avalanche provide solid value in the weaker Western Conference.
Vegas Golden Knights (Stanley Cup Odds: +800)
Right behind the Avalanche are the Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights can score with anybody and have one of the best goalie tandems in the league with Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner, who Vegas acquired at the trade deadline.
With the condensed schedule, there could be a need for both goalies to be used. That would give the Golden Knights a leg up with two goalies that are capable of being an NHL starter.
The Golden Knights came up just short two years ago, but they now have the experience and perhaps the extra punch they need to win the Stanley Cup.
The Next Four Stanley Cup Odds
Washington Capitals (Stanley Cup Odds: +900)
The Washington Capitals are looking for their second Stanley Cup in three years, and it’s not that far out of reach.
Alex Ovechkin had another fantastic season with John Carlson having a career year on defense as well. Braden Holtby isn’t what he once was, but he has experience between the pipes in big games.
Depending on their draw, the Capitals could go all the way. But they could also fall in the first round. It’s a fine line.
Philadelphia Flyers (Stanley Cup Odds: +1000)
The Philadelphia Flyers were one of the best value bets in the second half of the season. They were the best team in the league for most of the second half, but will that momentum slow down after a few months off?
The Flyers have a strong veteran core in Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Sean Couturier, as well as an up-and-coming group in Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Sanheim. Oh, they also finally have a number one goalie in Carter Hart.
At +1000, the Flyers provide good value given how they played in the second half of the season.
St. Louis Blues (Stanley Cup Odds: +1000)
The reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues are not seeing much respect from the sportsbooks. The best team in the Western Conference has the third-best odds out of the Western teams and are tied for sixth-best odds overall.
The Blues know what it takes to win a Cup and are looking to repeat. They are another good value bet at +1000.
Dallas Stars (Stanley Cup Odds: +1400)
The Dallas Stars are the clear longshot out of the eight, with odds of +1400 that are more than double the Bruins and Lightning.
The Stars aren’t what you look at and see a Stanley Cup team to be fair, but they have Ben Bishop in net who has proven that he can steal games. If Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov click up front, with John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen on the blue line, the Stars could win it all.