Three NHL teams to watch out for in the 2021 season: Hurricanes can storm into contention

Carolina center Sebastian Aho top-scored with 38 regular season goals for the Canes last season.
Photo of Chris Rivers

Chris Rivers

NHL · 1 year ago

Show Bio

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 new NHL season is beginning to slowly take shape with ESPN reporting a start date of January 13th has been penciled in by officials. There are still several more obstacles to overcome before we hit the ice with the number of games and, perhaps most significantly, the potential realignment of divisions, yet to be decided.

Even with those issues still lingering, it appears we are slowly moving towards a new season and a return to action for the first time since the Tampa Bay Lightning were crowned Stanley Cup champions in August.

The Lightning appear well set to put up a staunch defense of their title and are +950 to retain on FanDuel Sportsbook, with the Colorado Avalanche the +750 favorites. Those two teams, alongside the likes of the Vegas Golden Knights, Boston Bruins, and Toronto Maple Leafs, are some of the more obvious sides likely to contend for the Stanley Cup this year, but who are those teams who could spring a surprise?

It’s not unusual to get a big-price winner of The Cup, with 2019 champions St. Louis starting out at odds of +4000, so it pays to consider all options heading into the season. We have picked out three teams who could shake things up when the season does get underway.

Carolina Hurricanes +2200

Carolina has been quiet in the off-season with no notable additions to a squad that will have been disappointed to have exited the playoffs in the first round. As it was in 2019, it was the Boston Bruins who finished the Canes’ campaign, although unlike the sweep in the previous year’s Eastern Conference finals, this was a much more competitive series.

This young Carolina team took another step forward in 2020 and with two years of playoff experience now in the bank, they look a threat. Forwards Sebastian Aho, 23, and Andrei Svechnikov, 20, are still to hit their prime but are already putting up big numbers, combing for 127 points and 62 goals last year. They lead a very deep forward group which has been boosted by the addition of Jesper Fast, while the defense has the potential to be a top-five unit if Dougie Hamilton can stay healthy.

That defense needs to be elite to protect the one-two goalie tandem of Petr Mrázek and James Reimer, which is where the major concerns lie with the Hurricanes. Mrazek had a .905 save percentage last year, ranked a respectable 16th in the NHL, but that masks some indifferent form as he blew hot and cold at times.

A shortened season might benefit Mrazek, Reimer, and the rest of this young team though as any hot-streak could see them blast through the regular season and potentially deep into the playoffs.

Calgary Flames +2900

Another team that could benefit from the campaign being truncated is Calgary, who have peaked too soon in years gone by. Last season, they lost in the first round of the playoffs to eventual Western Conference champions Dallas Stars in six games with top-line duo Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan proving slightly disappointing in that series.

Gaudreau posted a career-low 58 points in 70 games last year, a huge drop off from the 99 points he had the season before but hopes are high he can bounce back given his previous numbers. Should the 27-year-old rediscover his mojo then this offense can certainly improve on the 210 goals they managed last season, especially if Matthew Tkachuk can maintain his fine form.

While the forward group has remained largely unchanged, GM Brad Treliving has performed major surgery on Calgary’s blue line and goalie options. The biggest addition to the squad is Jacob Markstrom, who swaps Vancouver for Calgary after signing a six-year contract and is a plug-in No.1 having finished last season with a .918 save percentage, fourth highest in the league.

The biggest unknown about the Flames this year is in defense with big-hitters T.J. Brodie and Erik Gustafsson amongst five defensemen to depart. Another former Canuck, Christopher Tanev, is the biggest addition to that group and it is fair to speculate on how Calgary’s defense will perform given all the changes.

However, should that group come together, this team is more than capable of a playoff run.

Buffalo Sabres +4100

The Sabres are currently on the longest active playoff drought in the NHL, having missed the postseason for a ninth year last season. This prompted star center Jack Eichel to call on the powers-that-be to make Buffalo more competitive, and he looks to have got his wish.

A change in GM with Kevyn Adams replacing Jason Botterill was the first step, Adams wasting little time in putting his stamp on the team by pulling off the shock acquisition of the offseason when landing Taylor Hall. The 2018 Hart Trophy winner had 16 goals and 36 assists in 65 games for the Devils and Coyotes last year but given his previous accomplishments and with a career average of .89-points-per-games, Hall’s presence is enough to raise the stock of any franchise.

The Sabres then picked up veteran center Eric Staal, joining an already talented forward group led by Eichel and well supported by Sam Reinhart, Jeff Skinner, and Victor Olofsson, who all scored at least 20 goals last season.

In defense, 2018 No.1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin continues to trend towards elite status but there are some holes elsewhere on the blue line that will need filling. That defense will need to improve given the Sabres didn’t address their goaltending situation in the off-season, sticking with Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton, who have a combined save percentage of .907 over the last two seasons.

Pickswise is the home of free NBA picks and predictions. We will cover all the big offseason news before making picks for every game during the 2021 season.

Virginia Bonuses

See All
FanDuel Sportsbook


Get a $1,000 Risk-Free Bet

Sign up for a new FanDuel Sportsbook account and make your first deposit of $10+

Place your first bet up to $1,000 risk-free!

Get refunded up if you lose up to $1,000

Must be 21+. First online real money wager only. $10 first deposit required. Bonus issued as non-withdrawable free bets that expire 14 days after receipt. See full terms at



Bet $5+ On Any NFL Pre-Game ML, Get $200 If Your Bet Wins

Sign up for a new account with DraftKings Sportsbook and make your first deposit

Bet $5+ on any NFL pre-game ML

Win $200 if your team wins

Offer valid for new players only. Must be 21 years or older to play. Reward paid in site credit. Full terms available at DraftKings Sportsbook.



Get a $100 Risk-Free Bet!

Register for a new Unibet account & make a deposit

Place your first bet up to $100 risk-free!

Get refunded up if you lose up to $100

New players only. Terms & conditions apply. 21+. VA only.



Get 4x $200 In Free Bets

Sign up for a new PointsBet account

Bet up to $200 and If you lose, you get a refund

You will receive Free Bet(s) in the amount of the losing wager(s), up to $200 each for four days.

Must be 21+. Full terms are available at PointsBet.

Caesars Sportsbook


Get a $1,250 risk-free bet

Sign up for a new Caesars Sportsbook account

Place your first bet of $10 or more

If your first bet loses, you’ll receive a refund up to $1,250 from Caesars in free bets

21+. Terms and conditions apply.



Get a $1,000 Risk Free Bet

Register for a new BetMGM & deposit

Place your first bet up to $1,000 risk-free!

Get refunded up if you lose up to $1,000

21+. Terms & conditions apply.



Get Your First Bet Risk-Free Up To $500

Sign up for a new BetRivers account using promo code PICKSWISE

Make your first deposit & get up to $500 in free bets

To get $500 in free bets, wager $500

Must be 21+. Play in IA Only. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-BETS OFF



Bet $5+ on MLB and get $100 in Free Bets Instantly!

Sign up for a new account with DraftKings Sportsbook and make your first deposit

Bet $5+ on any MLB team to win their next game

Win $100 no matter what!

Offer valid for new players only. Must be 21 years or older to play. Reward paid in site credit. Full terms available at DraftKings Sportsbook.



Get 5x $100 in Free Bets With PointsBet's Second Chance

Sign up for a new PointsBet account

Make a bet of up to $100 and receive a refund if you lose

Get this offer once a day for the first 5 days you sign up

Must be 21+. Full terms are available at PointsBet.



Get a $1,000 Deposit Bonus!

Register for a new DraftKings Sportsbook account & deposit

DraftKings will match 20% of your deposit up to $1,000 total

To get a $100 bonus, deposit $500

21+. Terms & conditions apply.



Get $2,000 in Free Bets

Register for a new PointsBet account & deposit

Receive a free bet refund up to $500 if your first fixed odds bet loses

& a free bet refund up to $1,500 if your first two PointsBetting Wager loses

Must be 21+. Full terms are available at PointsBet.

Monkey Knife Fight


Claim Instant Deposit Match up to $100 + Free $5 game

Register for a Monkey Knife Fight account & deposit using promo code PICKSWISE100

Monkey Knife Fight will match your first deposit up to $100

Deposit $100 and you'll get $100 bonus + a free $5 game

18+. Terms and conditions apply. You must live in one of the states where real money DFS is legal.

Yahoo DFS


Get $25 in Site Credit With Yahoo DFS When You Deposit $5!

Register for a new account with Yahoo DFS and deposit $5+

Enter a $5 DFS contest

Upon entry, you will receive a bonus $25 in credit into your account!

21+ and new players only. Full terms available from Yahoo DFS.



Get Your First Single-Horse Win Wager Back Up to $200 if you don't win

Register for a new TVG account and make a deposit

Place your first single horse win-type bet up to $200

If your horse doesn't win you'll get a refund up to $300

21+. T&C's apply. Please gamble responsibly.



Get a $200 Sign-Up Bonus with Twinspires Racebook!

Open your account using offer code BET200

$200 bonus cash will be credited in increments of $100 for every $400 wagered

To earn the full $200 bonus players must wager $800 within 30 days

21+. Terms and conditions apply.