NHL Betting: Predicting Each Division Winner for 2019-20
You could feel it for weeks, things slowly bubbling to the surface, teeming with nervous anticipation…To suggest that we are the precipice of something huge would be an understatement. That’s right folks, NHL season is back! With all due respect to whatever political and otherworldly things that are occurring, Wednesday is shaping up to be another unforgettable inauguration of the 2019-20 NHL season.
The St. Louis Blues lift the Stanley Cup banner in front of Alex Ovechkin and perennial powerhouse the Washington Capitals; The Vegas Golden Knights host the San Jose Sharks in what could be, if the stars align just right, a preview of the Western Conference finals; and the Edmonton Oilers will euthanize any hopes of post-season aspirations following another disappointing start to the season. But before we get there, we find ourselves here, with scores of wagers to be had on the futures market. What better place to start than with a breakdown of NHL Divisional winners.
You’d be doing yourself a disservice if your first thought isn’t the Tampa Bay Lightning. From top to bottom this team is loaded with talent. According to numberFire projections, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Victor Hedman are projected to have 105, 100, 87, and 55 point seasons, respectively. Similarly, Andrei Vasilevskiy is projected to lead the league with 36 wins to go along with a .925 save percentage, and 2.30 goals-against average. numberFire currently projects this skillful team to finish the season with 108.6 points, good for the top spot in the NHL, Eastern Conference, and Atlantic Division. Close behind them are Stanley Cup hopefuls, the Boston Bruins at 104.3 points, and the Toronto Maple Leafs rounding out the top three at 97.8 points.
From there, we see a steep drop-off on teams who will hope to scratch and claw (clearly a kitty reference #Panthers #foreshadowing) to a postseason berth. FanDuel is currently hanging the Lightning at -105 (implied probability 48.8%), Maple Leafs at +300 (33.3%) and Bruins at +380 (26.3%). Now I’m not discounting the Bolts chances, nor am I disparaging the numberFire projections, but with only a 4.3 difference in points and 22.5% advantage on implied probability, my money will be on the Bruins +380.
This division looks ripe for the picking and FanDuel Sportsbook tends to agree. The four favorites are all priced at +650 or better, with the longest horse in this race coming in at +1900. The Capitals lead the way at +250, the Carolina Hurricanes. and Pittsburgh Penguins are neck in neck at +320 and +350, respectively. The upstart New Jersey Devils and their revamped lineup weigh in at +650 with the Philadelphia Flyers close behind at +1000. New York Islanders +1200, New York Rangers +1400, and the Columbus Blue Jackets +1900 round out the division.
In reconciling these odds with numberFire’s projections there is a team that holds a very clear advantage – the New York Islanders. The Islanders are pegged to finish third in the division with 96 points, behind Washington (97.5) and Pittsburgh (96.6). Consider the Chicago Blackhawks and LA Kings as case studies for how fast a team’s window can close along with Barry Trotz’s regular season acumen (4th all-time winningest coach NHL history) and there’s a reason to believe in the Islanders at +1200.
There was a time not so long ago that this was the Chicago Blackhawks division to lose. As mentioned, that window seems to be closing if not already closed. numberFire projections don’t paint a good picture as the Blackhawks are projected to finish with 86.1 points, good enough for last place in the Central Division.
But enough about what’s wrong with the division and on to what’s right. There are five teams clumped together projected to earn 93.6 points or more. Nashville Predators (96.8), St. Louis (96.7) Colorado Avalanche (95.6), Dallas Stars (94.3) and Winnipeg Jets (93.6) are all expected to compete for second season hockey in April. FanDuel has these teams priced somewhat appropriately with Nashville (+300), Colorado (+340), St. Louis (+340), Dallas (+380) and Winnipeg (+650) all reasonably priced. All things considered, this does feel like a bit of a crapshoot with no clear cut favorite in numberFire projections or advantage in the implied probability. An injury, cold streak or key defenseman sitting out while he contemplates retirement (ahem Dustin Byfuglien) could be the difference between hockey and golf come April.
Philipp Grubauer has not yet proven himself as a legitimate starting goaltender which could be a barrier to the Avalanche’s team success. The Stars have had their core intact for years but haven’t been able to breakthrough and be as successful as everyone projects them to be. Let’s not forget that, despite winning the Stanley Cup, St. Louis was last in the NHL as of January 3, 2019. The Winnipeg locker room is missing key pieces with RFA Patrik Laine still without a contract, Kyle Connor late to the party and Byfuglien still unsure of his playing status for this season. That leaves us with a Nashville Predators team that always seems to be greater than the sum of its parts. They are numberFire’s projected division winner and have a very palatable price. Let’s not overthink this Preds +300.
If you haven’t gathered from the above-noted cynicism, I’m an Oilers fan. And I am this way because they have made me this way. So looking through the Pacific Division winner odds is both a fresh start/reason for optimism and a tragic reminder that the Oilers (and their 82.7 projected points) are a long way from the top.
Since breaking into the league, the Vegas Golden Knights have been the NHL’s darling. Despite the epic 3rd period collapse in Game seven versus the San Jose Sharks in last season’s playoffs, Vegas has cemented themselves as a legitimate threat. This is reflected in the futures market as FanDuel currently has them as odds on favorites to win the Pacific Division at +130.
But numberFire’s projections foretell a different story. Thanks in part to getting to beat up on teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, the Calgary Flames are projected for a Western Conference best 99.9 points. FanDuel has that same team priced at +320, ahead of the Sharks at +380, and a long way from the other also-rans in the division. As much as it pains me to say this, get on the Flames at +320.