After a COVID-induced realignment for 2020, the NHL is back in 2021 with a regular 82 game schedule and regular divisions. Last year saw the Tampa Bay Lightning repeat as Stanley Cup Champions while Connor McDavid took home MVP awards.
Lots of changes have occurred over the off-season, including the addition of an entirely new team in the Seattle Kraken. As of writing, the Colorado Avalanche are solid favorites to lift the Stanley Cup as they sit at +400 favorites on the DraftKings Sportsbook—two-time defending champion Tampa Bay is at +700. Connor McDavid remains the heavy favorite for MVP at +200
Below, I’ll target my favorite bets from both areas for the new season.
The Hurricanes made a lot of changes over the off-season, the biggest being the departure of legit number one defenseman Dougie Hamilton in free agency. The Canes didn’t sit on their hands though, as they traded for up-an-comer Ethan Bear (a favorite of the advanced stats crowd) from the Oilers and signed the much maligned (but talented) Tony DeAngelo. Many have derided the DeAngelo signing, but he’s a player they won’t have trouble moving on from, given the short-term contract.
Despite the additions and coming off a season where they finished fourth in the league in xGF% (expected goal rate)—ahead of teams like Tampa Bay and Vegas—Carolina is just the third favorite in the Metro division. They’re returning the same forward depth up front and added an X-factor in the signing of Jesperi Kotkaniemi from Montreal. This team may not look all that different from last year (they recorded the third-most points in 2020) and if they get a rebound season from goalie Frederik Anderson, could easily challenge for top spot in a division without an elite favorite. Their price for the division win looks great at +475, and I also don’t mind dabbling on them for a conference win as they’ve got the seventh-biggest odds in a conference that could be wide open, if favorite Tampa Bay (who lost a lot of their core in free agency/expansion) regresses.
NHL goaltender is one of the most volatile positions in professional sports, but it can also be one of the most influential. Knight came in last year at the end of the season, and the 20-year-old promptly grabbed four straight wins. The Panthers then threw him to the wolves against the Lightning in the playoffs and he responded by posting a .933 save percentage and 2.06 GAA in two appearances (1-1 record). Everything we’ve seen about Knight so far suggests that he isn’t just a solid top-end prospect, but that he’s also capable of handling the mental side of being a top-flight goalie in the NHL today.
He’ll obviously be splitting at least some starts with veteran Sergei Bobrovsky, but Bobrovsky’s coming off back-to-back seasons where he’s posted save percentages under .910 and GAA of 2.90 or greater. This is Knight’s job to lose and if the Panthers end the year anywhere near the division lead, Knight will likely have played a big part. Goalies tend to get a lot of criticism when teams fail, but often get more than their fair share of credit when they succeed. If the Panthers succeed, and Knight plays over 50 games (which he’s projected to), then his chances of winning this award are far greater than the odds on offer.
The Flyers managed just 58 points in 56 games last year and had a -38 goal differential—the sixth worst in the league. They ranked about league average in xGF%, but will start the year with some serious depth concerns down the middle after losing Kevin Hayes for at least a month. The Flyers added a goalie in Martin Jones who ranked 46th out of 51 ranked goalies in save percentage (.896 SV%) and a defenseman in Rasmus Ristolainen, who has a career -163 in the plus/minus department and grades out as a complete defensive liability in most advanced stats.
Even if some of the older teams in the East fall back, Philly would likely need a massive bounce-back season from goalie Carter Hart to be competitive. Considering the injury issues they already face, I like betting them to stay out of the playoffs again in 2021-2022.
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