The Chicago Blackhawks were the Stanley Cup and Western Conference favorites at sportsbooks entering the season and that remains the case at about the halfway point. Here's a breakdown of each division in the West and contenders' NHL futures odds.
In my opinion this might be the best overall division in hockey, and even though the Blackhawks are -110 favorites in NHL betting to win the Central, they aren't even in first place entering Tuesday. That would be Nashville (+175 to win division), which has 60 points, two ahead of the Blackhawks and five ahead of a very good St. Louis team (+200) that might be the deepest in the NHL with eight guys having at least 25 points. Blues goalie Brian Elliott leads the NHL in goals-against average and the Predators' Pekke Rinne is No. 2. Rinne also leads the league in wins and he's your Vezina Trophy favorite right now at sportsbooks. Nashville coach Peter Laviolette is a leader for Coach of the Year honors, otherwise known as the Jack Adams Award.
This division would be even better if Colorado, Dallas and Minnesota weren't underachieving thus far. Last year the Avalanche were one of the NHL's biggest surprises under Coach Patrick Roy, finishing the regular season with 112 points and winning the Central. However, the Avs were surprised in seven games in the first round of the playoffs by Minnesota and that funk has carried over into this season.
The Stars have a Hart Trophy and Rocket Richard Trophy candidate in center Tyler Seguin. He is second in the NHL with 48 points and tied for the league lead with 26 goals. The Boston Bruins have to be kicking themselves for dealing Seguin to Dallas before the 2013-14 season. Offense isn't the Stars' problem, it's in net as they are 27th in goals-against allowed at 3.3 per game. Kari Lehtonen (17-9-7, 2.91 GAA) hasn't been great and backup Anders Linback (1-6-0, 4.26 GAA) has been terrible.
Minnesota might be the West's most disappointing team and last in the Central. There have been four head coaches fired so far in Ottawa's Paul MacLean, Edmonton's Dallas Eakins, New Jersey's Peter DeBoer and, most recently, Toronto's Randy Carlyle. Some believe the Wild's Mike Yeo will be next. Minnesota entered Tuesday having lost 11 of its past 13 games. Its problem also is in next as the team ranks 24th in goals-against average with Darcy Keumper and Niklas Backstrom.
This is the only division race that isn't particularly close right now with the Anaheim Ducks holding a 10-point leading entering Tuesday over the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings -- those two play Saturday at Staples Center. Are the Ducks doing this somewhat with mirrors? Their plus-3 goals differential is by far the worst of any current division leader. For example, Nashville is plus-32. The Ducks are the biggest division favorites on NHL odds at -275.
The Kings are +500 at sportsbooks to win the Pacific, but they may fall further behind because of the loss of two players indefinitely: rookie Tanner Pearson (12 goals) has a fractured fibula and Tyler Toffoli (12 goals as well) is dealing with mononucleosis. The Kings reportedly are shopping disappointing center Mike Richards (five goals, minus-9 rating), but his salary makes Richards nearly impossible to move.
If you are looking for a team that might soon waive the white flag on the season it could be San Jose as the Sharks (49 points) reportedly are pondering putting goalie Antti Niemi and winger Patrick Marleau on the market. Niemi is 16-11-4 but his 2.61 GAA is the worst on the team. Marleau has just seven goals and is minus-9.
The team with the fewest points in the NHL is Edmonton, and the Oilers are worth betting against every game going forward at sportsbooks. They want to finish with the worst record as that guarantees a Top-2 draft spot and the 2015 draft has two potential franchise players in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
NHL Free Picks: The Blackhawks are +200 on NHL odds to win the West and +400 to win the Stanley Cup. When Chicago plays its best, there's no team close to it so the Hawks remain the NHL pick. They also lead the NHL in goals differential, which is usually the best indicator of what the best team is.