Following a tremendous regular season, the Washington Capitals are the top seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Not surprisingly, the Caps are a heavy betting favorite (18/5) to win the cup.
However, just one President’s Trophy-winning squad has hoisted the cup in the last seven seasons (Chicago 2013), and three of the last four winners have been seeded fourth or lower.
With that in mind, let’s consider a few options that present some value in hockey’s second season. Note that we tend to like team’s at the bottom of both sides of the bracket since it appears they have the easier road to the conference finals.
Anaheim Ducks (33/4)
While the Ducks and Kings have similar odds, Anaheim faces Nashville in the first round, while LA takes on much more difficult San Jose. Should the two Southern California sides meet in the Western semis, Anaheim will have home-ice advantage. The standings got flipped over the weekend when the Ducks won twice and the Kings blew a three-goal lead against Winnipeg at home.
Anaheim were among the hottest teams in the league to close the year, while the Kings are scuffling. Whether you think offense or defense wins championships, there’s something to like with this Ducks team. They surrendered the fewest goals in the league during the regular season and led the league in both powerplay and penalty kill percentage.
The Ducks began the year 1-7-2, but October was a long time ago. They are playing well and have a great chance to get out of their quarter of the draw. Top top it all off, they have an experienced nucleus that’s already won a cup.
Florida Panthers (16/1)
The Panthers probably have the easiest path in the league to the semis, contending with the Islanders (21/1), the Stamkos-less Lightning (21/1), and the Red Wings (37/1) for a spot in the Eastern Conference finals. Florida doesn’t have the superstars of conference rivals Pittsburgh and Washington, but that’s helped keep their line low.
The team finished third in the Eastern Conference in goal differential and even survived a period without top scorer Aleksander Barkov. With a healthy Barkov, the Panthers are well positioned to make a run.
New York Islanders (21/1)
The top of the East bracket has Washington, Pittsburgh, and the Rangers. They’re all playoff tested squads with big names and short odds. If the Panthers don’t emerge from the bottom half, the Isles have a great shot.
New York won six of nine down the stretch and, like the Ducks, are excellent on the PK. They were also able to rest key players at the end of the year and will come into their series with Florida fresh. Star forward John Tavares didn’t have his best season in the league, but nobody would be surprised if he put New York on his back and went on a deep run through the postseason.
(Photo credit: Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)