The Favorites: Pittsburgh Penguins +500, Chicago Blackhawks +550, Boston Bruins +800
There are three teams that are inside of 10-1 on the NHL odds and those are the Penguins, Blackhawks and Bruins. In short, I don’t like any of them for the following reasons.
Pittsburgh Penguins: While they have an excellent offense – probably the best in the league – they also have some serious issues in net. Marc-Andre Fleury has given up 43 goals in his last 10 playoff games and was pulled last season. Backup Tomas Vokoun is out indefinitely (blood clot surgery). This team just isn’t worth the price tag given their flaws.
Boston Bruins: I’m just not sure about their offense. They were helped out by an easy draw in the playoffs, getting the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round (and nearly losing), the New York Rangers in the second and the Penguins in the third, who they swept. I’m not sure that their offense is that improved.
The Next Tier: St. Louis Blues +1200, Los Angeles Kings +1200, Detroit Red Wings +1400
In my opinion, these are the three best value plays for your sports picks. Here are the reasons why:
St. Louis Blues: The Blues have made an ascent to the top of the NHL in recent seasons. Under Ken Hitchcock, this team has become physical, smart and extremely good from a defensive perspective. All they really need to get over the hump is some offense. We’ve seen teams like them in recent seasons – Boston last season, Los Angeles two years ago – catch fire and do enough at the offensive end to support the defense. The Blues have arguably the best trio of goaltenders and the best blue line. If their young offensive weapons can develop a little bit or if they can acquire a couple of pieces at the trade deadline, this team will be a Cup contender.
Los Angeles Kings: Last year, the Kings couldn’t come close to repeating but this is still a very dangerous team. Goaltender Jonathan Quick is one of the best in the game, the defensive corps is strong and the offense has potential to be better. If a young player like Tyler Toffoli can step up and boost the top six forwards, this team will again have enough scoring to be a serious factor.
Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings move to the Eastern Conference and that should really help them out with their traveling. On top of that, this is a very talented unit that Mike Babcock has at his fingertips. Remember, this team pushed the champion Chicago Blackhawks to the brink last season and that was with a number of young contributors. Now they’ve added some key pieces like Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson, which make them quite dangers. At 14-1, this is my pick to win the Stanley Cup.
A Longshot: Philadelphia Flyers +2500, New Jersey Devils +4000
As far as longshots go, I’m tempted to sprinkle a little bit of money on the Flyers. At this time last season, the Flyers were one of the Stanley Cup favorites. After a bad lockout-shortened season, everyone is throwing them under the bus. The bottom line is that this team should be able to score goals as they normally do. And if either Ray Emery or Steve Mason can be somewhat serviceable in net, they’ll be a problem in the Eastern Conference. This is a veteran team who should be back in the playoff mix and possibly more.
As for the Devils, what a gift this team is at 40-1. I would play all sorts of props on them to make the playoffs as it’s quite likely. Sure, they lost Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson but they actually have more depth as a team now. They brought in Jaromir Jagr, Damien Brunner, Rostislav Olesz, Ryan Clowe and Michael Ryder. They still have holdovers like Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique and Patrik Elias. That’s a pretty good frontlines. On top of that, they acquired Cory Schneider, which probably gives them the best one-two tandem in net with Martin Brodeur. This is a well-coached, veteran team. Although the Kovalchuk retirement sent shockwaves through the league, this is in fact a much better team than they were last season.