From the outset of every NBA season, there are a handful of teams that have a legitimate chance of winning the title. The biggest “surprise” champion in the Association in recent memory was the 2011 Mavericks. Other than Dallas, the Larry O’Brien Trophy has bounced around between LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and now Steph Curry for over a decade. It’s a safe bet that whichever teams look poised to dominate the regular season will cruise come the postseason.
The NHL is a much different story. As long as you make your way into the dance, a hot goalie and/or some timely chemistry can take you to a Stanley Cup title. Just look at the 2011 Kings (who were the no. 8 seed in the Western Conference), the 2014 Kings (no. 5 in the West), the 2009 Penguins (no. 4 in the East), and the 2015 Blackhawks (no. 4 in the West). All of those teams proved that you don’t need a scorching regular season to presage playoff prowess.
That makes it a bit tougher to find value in the NHL futures market; it’s very hard to say who will get hot at the right time. But let’s give it a shot, no pun intended, now that the draft has come and gone and most of the major free agents have landed.
2017 Stanley Cup Futures
Washington Capitals: 9/1
You might have difficulty wagering on a team with a tortured playoff history, and that’s completely understandable. However, the Caps didn’t choke last year; they ran into a red-hot Pittsburgh team and fell in overtime in Game Six. Washington won the President’s Trophy last year by a wide margin and have posted 100 points in back-to-back years. The roster from last year’s tremendous regular season is mostly intact. (They traded for Lars Eller, signed Brett Connolly, and lost Jason Chimera.) With Vezina-winner Braden Holtby between the pipes, they should be considered one of the big favorites, recent playoff shortcomings notwithstanding.
Chicago Blackhawks: 12/1
The Hawks are the closest thing to a dynasty the NHL has, winning three of the last seven cups. They were bounced in the first round last year (by the Blues), but still have the core that led them to all three titles: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook. They also have supreme young talent in reigning Calder Trophy-winner Artemi Panarin.
Defenseman Brian Campbell, who was a big part of their first title, is now back in the Windy City on a one-year contract. Even though he’s 37 years old, he led rearguards with a +31 rating as a member of the Panthers last season. He’ll slot in as a top-four defenseman and will help the Hawks maintain their status as legitimate cup contenders.
San Jose Sharks: 15/1
Like the Capitals, San Jose has had postseason difficulty for most of the last decade. However, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and their supporting cast reached the Stanley Cup finals last year for the first time in franchise history. (It’s actually a bit disingenuous to say “supporting cast” since the younger Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture were the main reason the Sharks were finally able to conquer the Western Conference.)
What they lacked in 2015-16 was defensive depth and the necessary speed to keep up with the champion Penguins. They inked free agents Mikkel Boedker (a speedy winger) and David Schlemko (a journeyman blueliner), two players who will help fill those holes. Martin Jones proved he’s ready to be a number one goalie – and maybe even Vezina contender – meaning the Sharks are solid from top to bottom.
Vancouver Canucks: 100/1
Futures aren’t really fun unless you play a lottery ticket every now and again. Vancouver won their division for five straight seasons ending in 2013, and managed 101 points two years ago. They added an elite scorer by signing Loui Eriksson and he looks like a perfect fit, given the success he’s had playing with fellow Swedes Daniel and Henrik Sedin internationally. Vancouver is losing Dan Hamuis on defense, but bringing in Philip Larsen from the KHL and Erik Gudbranson from Florida. They could be joined by first-round pick Olli Juolevi, if the youngster can add some muscle in the coming months.
Depth up front was an issue last year. If Brandon Sutter can stay healthy, he, Henrik, and Bo Horvat will give the Canucks three solid centremen.
Ryan Miller did not have a great year between the pipes last season, but with improved play in front of him, he could get back to his all-world form. And backup Jakob Markstrom looks ready to take the reins if Miller struggles.
All in all, this team is a strange mix of age and youth, but could surprise if certain things go their way.
When in doubt, go with players and teams that have proven they know how to win. The Blackhawks made a minor move to improve an already outstanding roster. On paper, they’re as good as anyone in the league, and they’re a cut above when it comes to intangibles like experience.
Their early ouster last year has them at their best value (12/1) in a while. Chalk that up to recency bias because there’s no other reason the Hawks shouldn’t be cup favorites.