Fall is the best time of year if you are a sports fan. There’s the excitement of the new NFL season and, of course, the MLB playoffs, but let’s not forget about the upcoming NHL season set to begin on October 4th, i.e. today! Hey, did you hear me? I said the NHL season starts today.
Anyone? Bueller? [Insert cricket sounds.]
Hockey writer though I am, I’m not under any delusions that the NHL is the most popular game in (most American) town(s). But it does have a passionate following in certain northern states and an entire country of 40 million people a little further north. This preview is for them, even if they are just a bunch of rich white kids with ridiculous names.
The major storylines heading into the new season include:
- the Pittsburgh Penguins looking to become the first team to win three straight Stanley Cups since the Islanders in the early 80s;
- the introduction of NHL ice to Las Vegas (I fear this may give climate-change deniers some fodder);
- a few sensational youngsters aiming to turn promising starts into the ultimate prize; and
- mercifully, nothing related to Donald Trump or national anthems.
One thing we know at the outset is that the Cup won’t be heading to Vegas this season. Expansion teams generally need years to even challenge for a playoff spot, let alone win it all. But the vast majority of the other 30 teams in the league have designs on ending the Penguins’ run. Even the NFL — which goes to great lengths to create parity in its league — would be jealous of the balance that exists in the modern NHL.
Still, it’s hard not to jump on the Pens’ train knowing that Sidney Crosby is the conductor. Last year’s playoff MVP had another great season, statistically, winning the Maurice Richard trophy for most goals and continuing that dominance into the postseason. Sid was actually one-upped in the scoring race, though, by the man (boy?) labeled “the next Crosby,” Connor McDavid, who won his first Art Ross trophies.
Will he make it two straight? Will Crosby put another Stanley Cup on his already overflowing resume? As Alexander did for the NBA, let’s pontificate, preview, and predict the year ahead in the NHL, setting the odds on everything from the 2018 Stanley Cup, individual awards, and coach longevity.
2017-18 NHL ODDS
2018 Stanley Cup Futures
While the Stanley Cup is often dubbed the hardest trophy to win in sports, and the aforementioned parity in the league makes the notion of winning three straight Cups seem far-fetched, you can understand why Pittsburgh is the favorite: they have arguably the best player on the planet (Crosby), a couple more of the league’s premier forwards (Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel), a potential Vezina candidate in goal (Matt Murray), and a dynamic number one defenseman (Kris Letang) who loves to take part in the offense. They also have young talent like Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary, and Bryan Rust who could produce big points on the cheap. If there’s a recipe for three-peating in today’s NHL, that’s it.
A number of teams have the potential to dash those Pensylvania Cup dreams, and chief among them are the Edmonton Oilers. After years (decades?) of being downright awful and getting extremely lucky in the NHL draft lottery, the Oilers are no longer making this sign look ironic. If Crosby isn’t the best player in the NHL, it’s McDavid. In his first fully healthy season, he led Edmonton to their first playoff appearance since 2006. If they can get solid goaltending again from Cam Talbot and have Leon Draisaitl play the Evgeni Malkin role as second-line center, they’re a solid bet to emerge from the Western Conference.
With their young core just coming into its prime, the Oilers will have plenty more kicks at the Stanley Cup can in the years to come. The same can’t be said of the Washington Capitals, who are Stanley Cup or bust this year. Will Alex Ovechkin and company finally turn all their regular-season success into a silver engraving? Vegas has them in the top-five Cup favorites. We see things a little differently, given their track record of choking in the postseason. After losing Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, and Justin Williams to free agency, and doing little to replace them, Vegas is being a tad too nice to the Capitals.
The other teams to keep an eye out for this year are the Lightning, Predators, and Leafs. All three have compelling arguments as to why they’ll be even better than last season, and no one would be surprised to see any of them make a deep playoff run.
As we did last summer, below are our early odds to win next year’s Stanley Cup.
- Pittsburgh Penguins: 8/1
- Edmonton Oilers: 10/1
- Tampa Bay Lightning: 10/1
- Nashville Predators: 12/1
- Chicago Blackhawks: 12/1
- Anaheim Ducks: 12/1
- Dallas Stars: 14/1
- Toronto Maple Leafs: 16/1
- Washington Capitals: 16/1
- Montreal Canadiens: 18/1
- New York Rangers: 18/1
- Columbus Blue Jackets: 20/1
- Minnesota Wild: 22/1
- Los Angeles Kings: 22/1
- San Jose Sharks: 25/1
- Boston Bruins: 25/1
- Calgary Flames: 30/1
- Ottawa Senators 30/1
- St. Louis Blues: 35/1
- Florida Panthers: 40/1
- New York Islanders: 40/1
- Philadelphia Flyers: 45/1
- Winnipeg Jets: 45/1
- Buffalo Sabres: 50/1
- Carolina Hurricanes: 60/1
- Arizona Coyotes: 75/1
- Vancouver Canucks: 75/1
- Detroit Red Wings: 75/1
- Colorado Avalanche: 100/1
- New Jersey Devils: 100/1
- Vegas Golden Knights: 150/1
Odds to be first coach fired
Nobody wishes for coaches to be fired … unless you live in Philadelphia.
In the back of the Wells Fargo Center, there is a coach’s graveyard where Dave Hakstol’s name is already being engraved on a headstone. It’s rare for a Philly coach to last longer than three years these days, and Hasktol is going into his third season and still looking for his first playoff series win. If the team doesn’t improve upon last season and make a playoff run, well … ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Who else’s bum is getting toasty?
Patience is a virtue, so they say. But winning is an even bigger one for NHL coaches, and patience is likely already wearing thin in Detroit for coach Jeff Blashill. He became the first Red Wings coach to miss the playoffs in 25 years. You can blame management for the lackluster roster Blashill is working with, but when the team gets off to a predictably slow start, it will be a lot easier to axe the coach and hope for a mid-season miracle.
If you’ve already checked out the list of favorites below, you’re probably wondering why the man who led the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cup championships in the last seven years is so high. Joel Quenneville might be one of the top coaches in the league, but there is always a shelf-life for even the greatest of coaches and that expiration date could be coming quicker than the one on the milk in your fridge. The Hawks are coming off back-to-back first-round playoff exits, including an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators last spring, and there is rumored tension between Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman. But still, the proven coach likely won’t be the first to go.
- Jeff Blashill, Detroit Red Wings: 4/1
- Dave Hakstol, Philadelphia Flyers: 17/3
- Bill Peters, Carolina Hurricanes: 17/3
- John Hynes, New Jersey Devils: 9/1
- Dave Tippett, Arizona Coyotes: 9/1
- Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals: 23/2
- Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets: 23/2
- Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks: 19/1
- Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers: 19/1
- FIELD: 25/1
Although NHL players love the mantra that “it’s a team game,” you know they keep track of their stats and set goals as far as point totals go. Or at least their agents do.
However, only a select few are in the running for a shiny trophy. Last season, Connor McDavid not only won the Hart (as we predicted) but also picked up the Art Ross and Ted Lindsay awards in a season that announced him as the league’s next unstoppable force.
Could we see a repeat of that this season? If he stays healthy, chances are extremely high that McDavid will surpass his 100-point total from last season and leave next year’s awards show with more hardware.
But don’t sleep on the other top contenders.
Remember Steven Stamkos? The Tampa Bay Lightning captain was sidelined for much of last season, but now he’s healthy and looking to remind us that he’s still one of the elite goal scorers in the league. He, Crosby, and Toronto super-sophomore Auston Matthews will all challenge McDavid for the Art Ross, Rocket Richard, and Hart trophies.
Who will take over for Matthews as the NHL’s best rookie? Nico Hischier, the first-overall pick in the 2017 draft, found a home in New Jersey and he’ll be playing alongside Taylor Hall, which could lead to some big offensive numbers. But often the Calder goes to older rookies who have been seasoned in the AHL or college ranks, meaning Boston’s Charlie McAvoy and Vancouver’s Brock Boeser deserve to be near the top.
Hart Trophy (NHL MVP)
- Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: 2/1
- Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: 4/1
- Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators: 7/1
- Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs: 9/1
- Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens: 9/1
- Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: 14/1
- Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: 16/1
- Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: 16/1
- John Tavares, New York Islanders: 25/1
- Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks: 55/1
Maurice Richard Trophy (Most Goals)
- Alex Ovechkin: 4/1
- Vladimir Tarasenko: 13/2
- Steven Stamkos: 13/2
- Patrik Laine: 15/2
- Sidney Crosby: 15/2
- Nikita Kucherov: 15/1
- Patrick Kane: 15/1
- Auston Matthews: 35/2
- Yevgeni Malkin: 35/2
- Connor McDavid: 35/2
Art Ross Trophy (Most Points)
- Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: 3/1
- Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: 4/1
- Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks: 17/3
- Niklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals: 9/1
- Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars: 15/1
- Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: 15/1
- Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars: 19/1
- Yevgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: 19/1
- Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators: 20/1
- Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: 40/1
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year)
- Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins: 3/1
- Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes: 4/1
- Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils: 4/1
- Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks: 17/3
- Nolan Patrick, Philadelphia Flyers: 17/3
Vezina Trophy (Best Goalie)
- Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens: 4/1
- Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins: 5/1
- Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals: 17/3
- Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild: 17/3
- Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets: 9/1
- Cam Talbot, Edmonton Oilers: 9/1
- Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: 25/1
- Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers: 25/1
- Jonathan Quick, L.A. Kings: 30/1
- Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins: 40/1
Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman)
- Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators: 4/1
- Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks: 5/1
- Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning: 17/3
- Roman Josi, Nashville Predators: 17/3
- Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins: 9/1 (23.33)
- P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators: 15/1
- Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks: 19/1
- Kevin Shattenkirk, New York Rangers: 20/1
- Drew Doughty, L.A. Kings: 25/1
- Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets: 30/1