- Lightning, Bruins and Leafs are at the top, with questions
- Panthers changes push them up odds list
- Are the Canadiens, Sabres and Blue Jackets undervalued?
With the NHL season a little more than two months away, it’s a good time to take a look at the odds from BetOnline for teams to win the Eastern Conference in 2020.
NHL EASTERN CONFERENCE 2019-20 ODDS
|Tampa Bay Lightning||+400|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||+700|
|New York Islanders||+1200|
|New York Rangers||+1200|
|New Jersey Devils||+1200|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||+2500|
|Detroit Red Wings||+5000|
THREE FAVORITES AT THE TOP
At the top of the list, oddsmakers continue to favor last season’s regular season champions, the Lightning, the postseason conference champions, the Bruins, and the Maple Leafs. Coincidentally, all three teams have significant restricted free agents remaining to be signed. Getting them re-signed by October is crucial to team harmony, a solid start in 2019-20 and the ability to remain among the favorites to win the conference.
Toronto forward Mitch Marner, Tampa Bay forward Brayden Point and Boston defenseman Charlie McAvoy are important parts of their teams who are still without contracts. Past history has shown that failing to get these key players signed by the start of the season is asking for trouble, as we saw a year ago when Toronto’s William Nylander signed his six-year, $45 million contract.
While his contract called for more than $10 million last season, Nylander was a big disappointment because he never got in a groove and chalked up just seven goals and 27 points in 54 games.
If Marner, Point or McAvoy follow Nylander’s example, then their team’s should fall from this group of favorites.
DANGEROUS TEAMS IN THE MIDDLE
Plenty of capable teams are waiting in the wings to supplant those aforementioned top three, and gamblers and bookmakers are showing a fondness for the much-changed Panthers, the revamped Penguins and the tougher Capitals.
Florida added two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in goal and Anton Stralman on defense. They also added Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari at forward as unrestricted free agents to give new head coach Joel Quenneville a much better lineup than his predecessor Bob Boughner.
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) July 26, 2019
Pittsburgh traded away Phil Kessel and got the younger Alex Galchenyuk in return and improved its defense by signing unrestricted free agent Brandon Tanev away from the Winnipeg Jets. As long as the Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin healthy, they will be a Cup contender.
Washington couldn’t repeat its magical Stanley Cup run of 2018, but the Capitals are still a threat despite losing Connolly to free agency, Andre Burakovsky to a trade and defenseman Brooks Orpik to retirement. Washington is up against the salary cap, but it managed to get tougher on defense by obtaining Radko Gudas from the Flyers in exchange for blue-liner Matt Niskanen.
Not far behind are the Islanders, Rangers, Devils, Flyers and Hurricanes. Under coach Barry Trotz, the Isles can again be counted on for their stingy defense. They have not had any major changes and will be looking to improve upon reaching the Eastern Conference semifinals last season.
The Rangers are rejuvenated through free agency (forward Artemi Panarin), trades (defense Jacob Trouba) and the draft (Kaapo Kakko, second overall). The Blueshirts will be better, but will they be able to make up 20 points in the standings from last season? Some optimistic betting by the numerous Rangers fans might be skewing the odds a bit.
"It’s now a new challenge ahead of me. It’s not like I made it; it’s like it’s starting again, I guess. It’s time to prove my worth and prove what I’m capable of doing."
Grab your morning ☕️ and get to know #NYR defenseman Jacob Trouba.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) July 20, 2019
New Jersey’s addition of defenseman P.K. Subban via trade, forward Jack Hughes with the first overall draft pick and free agent forward Wayne Simmonds promises improvement for the Devils. They’ll need it to lift the team from a woeful 25th in scoring last season and 26 points out of the playoffs.
Carolina’s “bunch of jerks” provide an appealing betting opportunity at +1600 and much lower than a team that made it to the conference finals deserves. Clearly, gamblers are looking at the Hurricanes’ impressive 2019 playoff run as a fluke.
REST OF THE PACK
Although they are at the bottom of the oddsmakers’ lists, the Canadiens, Sabres and Blue Jackets shouldn’t be counted out.
After losing out on Sebastian Aho when the Hurricanes matched the Canadiens’ offer sheet for the restricted free agent, the Habs are a threat to try again with any of the attractive restricted free agents still out there.
Buffalo should be better with the additions of defensemen Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju and forwards Jimmy Vesey and Marcus Johansson.
Although Columbus lost big-name free agents Bobrovsky, Panarin and Matt Duchene, the Blue Jackets still have a solid core that’s difficult to play against and young players ready to step in to those newly created openings. They also have a big amount of cap space, and general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen proved last season he isn’t afraid to take some creative risks.
Meanwhile, the Red Wings and Senators are longshots to even make the playoffs, let alone win the conference.