NHL Futures: Best Bets for the 2021 NHL Division Winners

Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux could be celebrating a lot for the Philadelphia Flyers 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.

This year’s NHL season will have an entirely new look after the divisions were realigned to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The shakeup has left us with the North, East, Central, and West Divisions with teams only playing other sides within their respective division.

Like a lot of life, not all things are created equal and while the East and North Divisions look like they could prove tricky to conquer given their strength in depth, the Central and West appear far more straightforward.

Make sure you check out our picks and predictions for who can win the Stanley Cup this season, but right now we’re focusing on our best bets for the divisions, starting north of the border.

North Division Best Bet

Montreal Canadiens (+460)

Canadian hockey fans will finally get their wish this year with the all-Canadian North Division, with old rivalries set to explode as the seven-strong group face-off against one another nine or 10 times.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are the strong +140 favorites to win the division but with every game likely to be competitive, there is value to be had looking elsewhere. The Edmonton Oilers look strong with Hart Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid leading the charge but could struggle without No. 1 defenseman Oscar Klefbom, who will miss the season with a shoulder injury.

A young Vancouver Canucks team also holds plenty of charm, especially after a strong showing in the playoffs last season, but a lackluster offseason has dampened enthusiasm in British Colombia. Calgary and Winnipeg are playoff candidates but might struggle to put together a division-winning run, while Ottawa is still rebuilding.

That brings us to Montreal, who were aggressive in the offseason, adding goalie Jake Allen, forwards Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli, and defenseman Joel Edmundson to bolster a young but improving roster. Allen offers the support No.1 goaltender Carey Price has been lacking for years, while Anderson is a great power forward when healthy. Throw into the mix hotshot rookies Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki, and this team has what it takes to capitalize on the momentum gained in the NHL bubble during the summer.

Montreal are hoping young center Nick Suzuki builds on his breakthrough 2019-20 season.

East Division Best Bet

Philadelphia Flyers (+400)

The East Division is arguably the most competitive of the bunch this year with six of the eight teams making the playoffs last season. Even those teams who didn’t make the postseason — the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils — are unlikely to be easy beats, especially after the Sabres added Taylor Hall this offseason.

The Boston Bruins have been installed as the +250 favorites but are worth opposing, having lost defensive stalwarts Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara, while top-line forward David Pastrnak is expected to miss the first month of the season. The Bruins could be a team slow out of the blocks and the depth of this division will make it tough to play catch-up.

The Washington Capitals at +500 are not without their claims given their form in recent regular seasons, winning the Presidents Trophy twice in the last five years, while the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders should be in and around the playoff spots. However, it is the Flyers who appear to have the edge, especially if they can build on a strong end to last season.

Philadelphia had won nine-straight before hockey came to a halt in March before returning to run a hot Islanders side close in the playoffs, eventually losing in seven. They finished the year with the fourth-best points difference in the Eastern Conference, ranking seventh in goals per game as they finally took a step in the direction after appearing lost in the wilderness in recent years.

Carter Hart is arguably the best young goalie in the NHL, posting a .914 save percentage, while the defense allowed the seventh-fewest goals on average. With forwards Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick due to return from long-term layoffs, Philadelphia appear to be trending in the right direction.

Central Division Bets Bets

Carolina Hurricanes (+400)

The Central Division is the best shuffled of the lot with three teams from the Atlantic, two from the Metro, and three from the old Central Division making up the standings. The defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning are the +140 favorites to win it but their hopes of regular-season success suffered a huge blow when superstar Nikita Kucherov was ruled out. He could return for the playoffs, keeping their hopes of retaining the holy grail alive, but losing their top points scorer leaves them vulnerable.

Last year’s Western Conference champions the Dallas Stars would have held appeal had goaltender Ben Bishop and last season’s top points score Tyler Seguin not been ruled out until April after off-season surgery.

There are things to like about Nashville and Columbus but not enough to support them with much confidence and instead, the Carolina Hurricanes look worth backing. The Canes got a break with the divisions being realigned, escaping the clutches of their Metro rivals, and can build on a largely positive 2020 season.

The defense should remain stingy having allowed the fifth-fewest scoring chances last term, while Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov have the potential to take the league by storm on offense. Carolina’s top-two are well supported with Jesper Fast added to an offense that finished 11th with a 3.19 goals per game average last season. The only question mark is the goaltending with Petr Mrazek and James Reimer returning but they have got hot at times and a shortened 56-game regular season could therefore work in their favor.

West Division Best Bets

Colorado Avalanche (+140)

The West Division contains a trio of Stanley Cup contenders but not a lot else with the Arizona Coyotes, Minnesota Wild, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and Los Angeles Kings someway behind their three rivals.

Colorado is the favorite to win the Stanley Cup this year and with good reason. Not only do the Avs possess the best player in the league in Nathan McKinnon, who scored 93 points last season, but they appear stacked from top to bottom on both defense and offense. Last year they averaged the fourth-highest number of goals on offense, despite being without Mikko Rantanen for large chunks of the season, and allowed the sixth-fewest goals.

Injuries again hindered their progress in the playoffs but they have more than enough strength in depth to cope with almost any absences, bar McKinnon, in the regular season. Any slip by Colorado would open the door to the Vegas Golden Knights, who created the biggest splash in the off-season when adding Alex Pietrangelo and they are still very much in win-now mode.

St. Louis also has the potential to contend at +550, despite their dreadful showing in the NHL bubble. The 2018-19 Stanley Cup winners were the top-ranked side in the Western Conference when the season was halted in March and should get top offensive talent Vladimir Tarasenko back soon. They brought in Torey Krug to replace Pietrangelo on the blue line and hopes are high of a strong season from the Blues.

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