NHL Betting: Eastern Conference Favorites & Sleeper Picks

David Lawrence

Sunday, September 1, 2013 1:52 PM GMT

Sunday, Sep. 1, 2013 1:52 PM GMT

The Eastern Conference has been a bit of a wild card in recent years. Here’s a look at the favorites and a couple of sleepers in the East for 2013.

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Teams like the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders have gone from worst to (near) first overnight while teams like the Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers have dropped like a rock in the standings. All that means is that there’s plenty of parity.

People making their sports picks should note that Boston and Pittsburgh are again favored because those are two consistent teams but realistically, a number of teams have a good shot. Anything can happen.

Examining Favorites: Pittsburgh Penguins (+240), Boston Bruins (+500)

The two favorites in the East are the two teams that won the conference in the regular season (Pittsburgh) and playoffs (Boston).

As long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are healthy, the NHL odds will always reflect the Pens as an East favorite. Considering the type of years that the supporting cast like James Neal and Chris Kunitz had, it’s hard to argue with that. The Pens are going to score at a very healthy rate and it’s going to be hard for opponents to keep up.

What keeps the Pens from being a wise investment with your NHL picks for the Stanley Cup is that goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has fallen flat on his face in each of the last two playoffs. He’s been absolutely atrocious and cost the team their shot at winning a Cup.

Boston is second in line on the odds and they’ll be met with far more skepticism. They traded away young sniper Tyler Seguin in a blockbuster trade and then signed Jarome Iginla. Truth-be-told, they should be a better team than last year – especially after developing so many of their young blue liners in the playoffs – but bettors just don’t trust them as much as they do the Pens. In my opinion, the Bruins might actually be the better bet: they execute well, have better goaltending and might just have more scoring than they did a season ago.

Examining Sleepers: Philadelphia Flyers (+1400), Toronto Maple Leafs (+1200)

How about taking a shot with the Philadelphia Flyers? Sounds a bit crazy considering they missed the playoffs last year, right? The truth is that the Flyers had an off year. They still field one of the best offenses in the NHL with Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier and now Vincent Lecavalier. On top of that, they added Ray Emery to the goaltending mix and if either he or Steve Mason are even reasonably respectable, this will be a playoff team. Considering they are typically among the favorites, this is good value at 14-to-1.

Meanwhile, Toronto could be a nice sleeper pick too. They’re a young team but they did a lot of growing up down the stretch of the season. Between goaltenders James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier, they have two excellent prospects that could emerge into No. 1’s. Reimer has already proven that he can be that at times. The Leafs blue line is decent and they boosted their weakest position this offseason via free agency: the center position. They added David Clarkson, Dave Bolland and re-signed Tyler Bozak. Maybe – just maybe – Toronto is in position to compete seriously in the playoffs. After all, they did nearly beat the Bruins in the first round, who went on to win the East.

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