The Winnipeg Jets are the newest member of the Western Conference while the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets cross over to the East.
You can make the case that finding value on a Western Conference team to win the Stanley Cup might be the shortest route to a winning ticket. After all, there will be just 6 teams in the West compared to 8 teams in the East that won’t qualify for the playoffs. The old adage is you can’t win it unless you’re in it. If it were that easy we would all have a life of luxury without a worry in the world. The game of life is never that easy. Short of winning the lottery, or being a beneficiary of a large sum of money via inheritance, it’s all about the work you put in to attain success.
It’s very rare in this modern era of professional team sports that a defending champion is able to keep the majority of their roster intact for the following season. Well such is the case for the Chicago Blackhawks organization. Their biggest loss may have been their inability to retain restricted free agent former backup goalie Ray Emery who signed with New Jersey in the offseason. The Hawks quickly addressed that need by signing 40 year old veteran Nikolai Khabibulin. The NHL 18-year veteran played 12 games with Edmonton last season posting a 2.55 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.
It’s very difficult to repeat as a champion in any professional team sport. As a matter of fact there have been just 2 teams who have repeated as Stanley Cup champions since the spring of 1988. The last of which was the Detroit Red wings in 1998. The betting odds are certainly stacked against the Blackhawks to accomplish the feat. In spite of it all this club is more equipped to repeat than any team over the last 15 years.
St. Louis Blues: 10-1
One of these years the Blues will get over the hump and finally win a Stanley Cup. Last year’s club had a very successful regular season campaign finishing 4th in the Western Conference. Unfortunately like many of the organization’s past good fortunes in the regular season it all came to an abrupt halt in the playoffs. The Blues squandered a 2-0 series lead with home ice advantage to boot and lost to the Los Angeles Kings in 6-games.
The Blues have the goaltending to make them a live pick to win the Stanley Cup. Both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot are capable of winning games all by themselves. The defense is experienced and rock solid. If they can find a way to get some production out of their 3rd and 4th lines then watch out.
In a related article I had just written I referred to the Boston Bruins as having collectively the best defense in the Eastern Conference. Well the same can be said for the Los Angeles Kings in the West. At 12:1 this team is an absolute terrific value. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 they advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2013. Maybe this is the year the Kings will finish in the top 4 in the Western Conference and make their lives a bit easier come playoff time. Especially considering the fact that they were an outstanding 27-5 in the regular season and playoffs combined last season on home ice. Arguably Jonathan Quick is the best goaltender on the planet heading into this season.
Former Canucks head coach Alan Vigneault was made the scapegoat after last season’s early playoff exit. He was replaced by the fiery former head man of the New York Rangers John Tortorella who endured a similar fate as Vigneault last spring. The difference between the two coaches is Tortorella captured a Stanley Cup in 2004 as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s always easier to replace a coach than it is to fire a player under contract. Especially one as large as the one possessed by goaltender Roberto Luongo. Last season Luongo once again continued the trend he’s displayed so many times throughout his career. He’s never on top of his game when it matters most. The Canucks are certainly talented enough from top to bottom. I just have a hard time pulling the trigger on a team with suspect goaltending for my futures NHL picks.
San Jose Sharks: 16-1
The Sharks had a solid season a year ago finishing 6th in the Western Conference. San Jose was able to upset Vancouver in the first round before falling to Los Angeles in the Western Conference semifinals. I am going to go out on a limb and say the Sharks will be a disappointment this season and will fail to make the playoffs.
Anaheim Ducks: 20-1
The Ducks put together a terrific regular season finishing 2nd in the Western Conference. The bad part of the story is they were upset in the 1st round of the playoffs by the 7th seeded Detroit Red Wings. I’m of the opinion this club vastly overachieved last season and was a beneficiary of a strike shortened 48-game season. I don’t see them coming close to what they attained a year ago over the course of an 82-game schedule. The Ducks will be in a battle t make the playoffs and anything more than that will be a surprise.
Edmonton Oilers: 30-1
It’s about time all of these former #1 draft choices young and old on the Oilers roster reach their full potential in the same season. If they can continue to get improved goaltending out of Devan Dubnyk this is a club that can be an absolute sleeper. They’re worth me taking a flyer on them at 30-1. You might want to consider the same.
Minnesota Wild: 40-1
The Wild organization should be very pleased by last season’s club making the playoffs. There can also is some silver lining by the fact they weren’t swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. A reasonable goal entering this season is to once again make the playoffs and win a series. Anything beyond that is an additional bonus but highly unlikely.
Winnipeg Jets: 40-1
If you’ve ever spent a night in Winnipeg you would know why all the entire population has to look forward to is their hockey team. The move to the Western Conference makes sense logistically but the results on the ice won’t be kind. The Jets will have their tee times for the nearest golf course scheduled on the morning of April 12, 2014.
Nashville Predators: 50-1
The Predators organization took a big step backwards last season finishing next to last in the Western Conference. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Save your money and keep it in your pocket if you were even considering a wager.
Dallas Stars: 50-1
The Buffalo Sabres loss is the Dallas Stars gain. Buffalo fired the longest tenured coach with one team in the NHL when Lindy Ruff was dismissed early last season. Ruff was hired by the Stars this past offseason. The former Sabres boss is a vastly underrated head coach and a master technician. I certainly am not implying you should make a wager on the Stars at 50-1. What I am saying is this will be a vastly improved team that will be in the playoff hunt when the calendar turns to April.
Colorado Avalanche: 50-1
There’s nowhere to go but up for the Avalanche after finishing dead last in the Western Conference a year ago. Unfortunately the climb up the ladder this season figures to be one that’s very slippery.
Phoenix Coyotes: 60-1
I don’t know how this city continues to have a NHL franchise. On most nights during the regular season it appears there is just friends and family in the crowd at Coyotes home games. It’s one of the toughest places for an organization to survive let alone succeed. The run to the Western Conference Finals in 2012 will be viewed as a major accomplishment the more time passes.
Calgary Flames: 200-1
Playing bingo, keno, and the lottery would all be better bets than the Flames at 200-1.