Every year we see some nonsensical outcomes in the NHL playoffs, at least when viewed in the context of the regular season. The top regular-season squads routinely get bounced early (looking at you, 2010 Capitals) and only eight teams have won the President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same season, the last being the 2013 Blackhawks. So I can forgive Washington fans if they’re a little queasy ahead of the 2017 postseason, when their squad once again enters with the best regular-season record.
When it comes to ultimate success (i.e. winning the Cup), past playoff performance seems to be a much better omen than any regular-season superlatives. The the last four cup-winners (2016 Penguins, 2015 Blackhawks, 2014 Kings, 2013 Blackhawks) all hoisted Lord Stanley’s mug at some point between 2009 and 2012.
Will that trend continue this year? Will “been there, done that” reign supreme? Or will perennial postseason underachievers like the Capitals, Blues, and Rangers finally break through?
Here are the odds on all things playoffs (and a few things that aren’t) ahead of round one.
2017 NHL Playoff Odds
Odds to win 2016-17 Stanley Cup
- Washington Capitals: 19/4
- Chicago Blackhawks: 11/2
- Pittsburgh Penguins: 17/2
- Columbus Blue Jackets: 9/1
- Montreal Canadiens: 14/1
- Anaheim Ducks: 15/1
- Minnesota Wild: 15/1
- New York Rangers: 15/1
- Edmonton Oilers: 18/1
- San Jose Sharks: 18/1
- Boston Bruins: 25/1
- Nashville Predators: 25/1
- Calgary Flames: 30/1
- Ottawa Senators: 32/1
- St. Louis Blues: 32/1
- Toronto Maple Leafs: 35/1
Yes, I know, the Capitals have a history of falling short in the playoffs. They also have the single most complete team in hockey this year, blessed not only with skill, but great injury luck. Contending teams like Pittsburgh and Anaheim limp into the postseason without a number one defenseman, while San Jose is greatly weakened down the middle with injuries to Logan Couture and Joe Thornton. You also have clubs like Minnesota and Columbus who played some truly uninspiring hockey down the stretch.
As we write this at the outset of the playoffs, it’s hard not to like a Chicago/Washington Stanley Cup matchup. Over the course of the next two months, that confidence will get shaken, or even shattered, but that’s the beauty of the long grind to the cup: anything can happen.
Odds to meet in the 2017 Stanley Cup finals
- Washington Capitals vs Chicago Blackhawks: 6/1
- Pittsburgh Penguins vs Chicago Blackhawks: 10/1
- Columbus Blue Jackets vs Chicago Blackhawks: 11/1
- Washington Capitals vs Anaheim Ducks: 17/1
- Washington Capitals vs Minnesota Wild: 17/1
Odds to win the 2017 Conn Smythe Trophy
- Braden Holtby (Capitals): 13/1
- Alex Ovechkin (Capitals): 17/1
- Sidney Crosby (Penguins): 17/1
- Connor McDavid (Oilers): 20/1
- Jonathan Toews (Blackhawks): 20/1
- Sergei Bobrovsky (Blue Jackets): 22/1
- Patrick Kane (Blackhawks): 22/1
- Carey Price (Canadiens): 22/1
- Evgeni Malkin (Penguins): 25/1
- Ryan Suter (Wild): 25/1
Any postseason individual accolade is hard to forecast, because winners almost always come from the championship team; so you have to first pinpoint the eventual winner. (Although to give the NHL credit, five Conn Smythe winners have come from non-champs.) Then, selecting who will be the best player on the winner is especially difficult because hockey is such a team game, so many players can make a convincing argument to win over the course of the playoffs.
Since the lockout, four centers, three goalies, two wingers and two defenseman have won the Conn Smythe, and rarely were they a consensus choice to receive the award. Take for example the favored Capitals: they have an excellent goalie in Holtby, some great centers in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom, a clutch playoff performer in Justin Williams, tons of playmaking defenseman and, of course, Alex Ovechkin.
Should Washington get over the hump, any one of those players could win. But as we saw last year, if a race is close, a narrative can influence voters. Phil Kessel probably should’ve won the Conn Smythe, but because the great Sidney Crosby hadn’t won the award yet, voters flocked to him. The same could happen for Ovechkin this year.
What will be interesting to see is what will happen if the Blackhawks win again. All of their “Top 100” guys, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, have won it once, so would they start the cycle all over or give it to Corey Crawford or Brent Seabrook?
The only team I’m all but certain on is Edmonton: if they somehow win it all, the award is going to McDavid.
Odds two Canadian teams meet in the final: 40/1
Even though the odds are small, let’s still all pray against it. It would be sooo annoying.
Odds at least one Canadian team makes the finals: 7/3
Montreal and Edmonton are the likeliest candidates, but it was just a decade ago that the Oilers made an unexpected run to the finals as an eight-seed. Perhaps that underdog spirit can find its way to Calgary or Toronto this year?
Odds on which player will win a Stanley Cup first
- Connor McDavid (Oilers): 7/5
- Alex Ovechkin (Capitals): 11/4
- Auston Matthews (Leafs): 7/2
- Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers): 8/1
It’s hard to think that there won’t be some big changes made in the capital if Washington falls short of a the conference finals again. Along with potentially losing TJ Oshie, Justin Williams, Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner in free agency, management may feel pressured to make a big trade to “shake things up.” Then, there’s whatever potential punishment could befall Ovechkin if he leaves to go to the Olympics, which could hurt the Caps’ chances at building a contender. If they don’t get it this year, it probably won’t be him.
McDavid winning a Stanley Cup feels like a “when” not an “if”. The same could be said for Matthews and the young Leafs, except Toronto is a lot more cursed as a sports city. The Maple Leafs might make it to the finals in the coming years, but they’ll probably lose it on a crazy offside review.
Lundqvist’s best years are behind him, and it’s starting to feel like he can’t lead a team to a championship so much as join them for a run. If he wasn’t locked into a lengthy deal with the Rangers, he’d make for a nice mercenary for a team like Dallas or Tampa. Stuck in the Big Apple, however, the King may never get his crown.
Over/Under number of Game 7s in the 2017 playoffs: 4.5
If you cheer for the UNDER here, you’re a monster.
Over/Under number of NHL players at the 2018 Olympics: 0.5
Some owners, like Ted Leonsis, are willing to be flexible. Commissioner Gary Bettman is not. There will be harsh penalties for players who go to Pyeongchang and the teams who let them.
Over/Under points for the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18: 52.5
Odds are that the Knights will bring up the rear in their first season. On average, the last-place team in the league has totaled 57.5 points over the last five full seasons. That number is being dragged down by this year’s Avalanche (48). I expect Vegas to be worse than your average last-place team, but not that much worse. There will be some talent available in the expansion draft and there are so many loser-points on offer.
Odds to be the first captain for the Vegas Golden Knights
- Marc Methot (Senators): 8/1
- Brayden McNabb (Kings): 12/1
- Lee Stempniak (Hurricanes): 15/1
- James Neal (Predators): 15/1
- Tomas Plekanec (Canadiens): 20/1
Since we don’t know firmly who will be available, there’s not much consensus on who the Knights will take in the expansion draft. That’s why no one’s odds here are terribly short. But names like Methot, McNabb, and Stempniak are on most mock drafts. Methot, a ten-year vet who’s still near the top of his game, ticks all the traditional captaincy boxes. McNabb (26) is a little on the young side, but he might be a cornerstone of the Knights for the next decade. Giving him the C right off the bat would firmly establish him as team’s leader.
There still aren’t many European captains in the NHL, which works against Czechian (look it up) Tomas Plekanec.