It’s a busy time for a sports fan, much more for someone who has serious rooting interests in the four major professional sports leagues in the US. Fortunately, the NFL season is still in its early stages and my beloved Atlanta Braves have once again choked another postseason berth away. So that’s given me enough time to study up on the National Hockey League to see how the league looks entering the 2014–2015 season.
Who’s the favorite?
It’s the usual cast of characters—or teams in this case—atop the Stanley Cup odds. No surprises there. Depending on your sportsbook, you’re going to see either the Chicago Blackhawks, the Boston Bruins or the Los Angeles Kings as the favorites. Odds for all three teams fall somewhere between 7/1 and 9/1, which suggests that this season could once again boil down to another Kings-Blackhawks Western Conference finals and the Bruins playing the next team on the list, that being the Pittsburgh Penguins. For the record, the Pens are 10/1 to win the Stanley Cup, although those odds would’ve probably been in the single digits if the team can just stay healthy for an extended period of time.
There’s some serious parity this season
It’s worth noting that outside of the four teams already mentioned, there are eight teams whose odds to win the Stanley Cup range from 12/1 to 16/1. That’s a straight up lottery right there. Of the eight, the St. Louis Blues, the Anaheim Ducks, and the New York Rangers are all stick-for-stick at 12/1 odds. Meanwhile, the Montreal Canadiens, San Jose Sharks and the Colorado Avalanche are anywhere between 14/1 and 16/1. Then there’s the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Minnesota Wild and the Detroit Red Wings at around 18/1 to 20/1 odds.
In case you’re counting, that’s almost half the league whose Stanley Cup odds are incredibly clumped together. Good luck predicting the 2014–2015 champs this early in the season.
My dark horse that isn’t or still could depending if they resign their top goal scorer
I’m bullish on the Columbus Blue Jackets this year, or at least I was until the Ryan Johansen contract situation turned messy. Now I don’t know what to make of them. They could still have a top offense if Nathan Horton remains healthy. They also have a physical defense and a goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky who is fresh off of a dominant, gold medal-winning world championship run with Russia. But Johansen’s the straw that stirs the Blue Jackets’ offense. If he signs and plays during the season, there’s tremendous value in the team’s 33/1 Stanley Cup odds. If he doesn’t, well, forget I even wrote this entire section.
And the Hart Trophy goes too…
Fearless Forecast 1: Sidney Crosby won’t win the Hart this year despite being a 3/1 favorite.
Fearless Forecast 2: Jonathan Toews (10/1) and Patrick Kane (16/1) will divide sentiment on who the real Blackhawks’ MVP is, thus leading to the potentially awkward scenario of seeing two teammates steal votes off of each other.
Fearless Forecast 3: Steven Stamkos (5/1) has a clear path to MVP but he’ll trip over Ben Bishop’s-goalie mask along the way and miss a significant part of the season…again.
Fearless Forecast 4: Ryan Getzlaf (6/1) wins the Hart Memorial Trophy.
Will a Canadian team finally win the Stanley Cup for the first time since the Montreal Canadiens won it in 1993?
For a country that has the rightful claim as the birthplace of hockey, it’s been a really long time since a Canadian team last won the Stanley Cup. That’s like England not winning the World Cup since 1966 despite claiming founding rights to the sport. Sorry, England, but you know it’s true. Of the seven teams based in Canada, the Canadiens are the strongest bet to end that drought at 16/1 odds. Decent odds.
Unfortunately, the next two teams on the list are the Vancouver Canucks at 33/1 and the Toronto Maple Leafs at 40/1. Then it gets predictably more depressing with the Ottawa Senators at 50/1, followed by the Winnipeg Jets at 66/1, the Calgary Flames at 100/1, and the Edmonton Oilers at 125/1.
In other words, no.
Who plays for and who wins the Stanley Cup?
I’m not going to get overly creative with my pick here, although I might be if somebody successfully talks me into picking the Blue Jackets to win the East. But I can’t do it without knowing Johansen’s status. So I’m picking the Boston Bruins and the Los Angeles Kings to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup in the spring.
It’s far from an original pick, but it also comes knowing that I’m picking two of the most balanced teams in the league with two of the most dominant goalies manning the pipes.
As for who wins the Cup, I think Jonathan Quick outduels Tukka Rask in Game 7 in LA to lead the Kings to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles.