2021 NHL Stanley Cup Predictions, Best Bets and Futures Odds: Golden Knights ready to reach royal heights

Goaltender Robin Lehner will hope to be part of a Stanley Cup-winning Vegas Golden Knights team this season.
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Chris Rivers

NHL· 1 year ago

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A self-confessed sports nut who has managed to turn his passion into a career, resulting in the last 15 years being spent covering a wide variety of sports for numerous media outlets. You can find me writing mainly about the NFL and NHL here on Pickswise, with a bit of soccer on the side. One of the rarest of breeds: an actual LA Chargers fan.

The puck drops on the new NHL season in less than a week and teams are currently being put through their paces at shortened training camps ahead of what will be a unique 2021 campaign.

There will be very little time for teams to feel their way into the year with the regular season reduced to 56 games as a result of the delayed start. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia get the honor of contesting the curtain-raiser on Wednesday, January 13, with the regular season expected to wrap up on May 8.

A 16-team, best-of-seven, four-round playoff format will then run into July, so get set for a jam-packed seven months in the race for the Stanley Cup.

NHL title favorites: Can Lightning strike twice?

Tampa Bay Lightning (+950)

Last year’s Stanley Cup was decided in the NHL’s bubble with Tampa Bay eventually emerging victorious as they beat the Dallas Stars in six to collect the franchise’s second title.

The Lightning are third in the Stanley Cup betting at +950 to repeat but will have to do it without 2019 MVP Nikita Kucherov, who has been ruled out for at least the regular season after hip surgery.

The Russian led the team with 34 points in the bubble and while his absence offers a bit of relief to a cap-strapped Tampa Bay, he will likely prove impossible to replace. The good news for the Lightning is that the rest of the core of their team remains intact, while skipper Steven Stamkos is fully fit after operating in a limited capacity in the playoffs.

They did have to take a cap hit by bidding farewell to defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk (Anaheim Ducks) and Zach Bogosian (Toronto Maple Leafs) so will need some younger members of the squad to step up in that regard.

Colorado Avalanche (+700)

Ahead of the reigning champions in the outright market are the Colorado Avalanche, who are the +700 favorites. With the exception of the goaltending department, where doubts remain over the injury-prone Philipp Grubauer, the Avs look stacked from top to bottom.

Colorado added forward Brandon Saad and defenseman Devon Toews via trades during the off-season to further compliment their roster, resisting the temptation to cause a splash as they instead focused on resigning those players who have been key depth pieces.

Leading this talented bunch is arguably the best player in the NHL right now, Nathan McKinnon, who scored 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) in 69 games last season as he finished runner-up in the Hart Trophy. He is certainly a difference-maker on a team that has threatened to mount a Stanley Cup run in recent years, only to fall short.

Colorado arguably have the best player in the NHL this season in Nathan McKinnon.

Vegas Golden Knights (+850)

Despite having salary cap issues, the Golden Knights are all-in on another Stanley Cup bid, having reached the Western Conference finals last year.

They landed top free agent Alex Pietrangelo in the off-season and have two starting-caliber goaltenders on their roster in Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner. The big question for the Golden Knights is at center, where William Karlsson will be leaned on heavily after Paul Stastny was traded away. Vegas found the going tough on offense towards the end of their playoff run and will need to prove they can break down elite opposition once the season begins.

NHL underdogs: Can Philly fly high?

Philadelphia Flyers (+1600)

The Flyers finished the regular season with the fourth-best points percentage in the Eastern Conference as they caught fire at the start of 2020. They eventually came up short in seven games against the New York Islanders in the playoffs but there is a lot to like about this team.

They have the top young goalie in the NHL in Carter Hart, plenty of strength in depth, and should welcome back key pieces from lengthy lay-offs, including forward duo Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick. The knock against the Flyers is they lack elite-level talent, with the exception of Sean Couturier but this team has enough young players, coupled with veteran Claude Giroux to mount a serious cup quest.

Carolina Hurricanes (+1900)

Before the divisions were realigned, we highlighted the potential of the Hurricanes, and their odds to win the Stanley Cup have since been cut. This is a young team that should benefit from a truncated season and from playing in a Central Division that will keep them sharp but is ultimately winnable.

Forwards Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov look like being stars of this franchise for years to come and management have put their faith in this emerging squad, making minimal changes in the off-season. Concerns remain over the goaltending situation with Petr Mrázek and James Reimer as the one-two combo, but the ceiling is high for this team.

Calgary Flames (+3200)

One team that doesn’t have goalie concerns are the Flames, who landed Jacob Markstrom in free agency to seemingly solidify that position for the long-term. Markstrom will have another former Canuck playing ahead of him after Calgary brought in Christopher Tanev to improve the defense and that could prove a shrewd addition.

The forward group remains largely unchanged in the hope Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan can get back to their best following sub-par 2019-20 seasons. The all-Canadian North Division will provide the proving ground for a Calgary team that is only two years removed from finishing the regular season as the No.1 team in the west. Recency bias goes against the Flames but they could prove plenty wrong if Gaudreau and company can get back into their stride.

NHL Prediction and Best Bet

NHL champion: Vegas Golden Knights (+850)

This franchise has known nothing but playoff hockey in its very brief time in the NHL and ownership seems entirely committed to delivering a Stanley Cup. With salary cap issues likely to bite soon, their window is closing fast but they look to have all the tools at their disposal to succeed. They upgraded the goaltending position by adding Lehner in February, while Pietrangelo should dominant the blue line and they are stacked up with quality on the wings.

Questions over their depth at center are valid but this is a team that should score goals. They led the NHL in shots attempt percentage last season, while they finished 13th in goals per game average and had a top-10 power-play unit that will only improve now Pietrangelo in on board. All the metrics suggest this is a Stanley Cup team in waiting.

Alex Pietrangelo was the big off-season acquisition for the Golden Knights.

Best value bet: St. Louis Blues (+1800)

The St. Louis Blues were arguably the team to suffer the most from hockey’s shutdown in March having been sat atop the Western Conference at the time. They subsequently crashed and burned in the NHL bubble but the 2018-19 Stanley Cup champions can put that behind them this season. The loss of Pietrangelo is significant but they splashed the cash to get Torey Krug in the hope of replacing him.

Krug should help to keep the Blues defense tight having allowed the fewest shots per game during the regular season, with goaltender Jordan Binnington proving to be a safe pair of hands in the net. The big hope for the Blues is that Vladimir Tarasenko can return to full fitness this year having only played 10 times last season. St. Louis coped admirably without Tarasenko, skipper Ryan O’Reilly finishing the year as the top points scorer, and if the Russian can get healthy it pushes a Blues team in soft West Division into the Stanley Cup picture.

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