The regular season is in the home stretch so now it’s time to analyze the divisional races and determine which teams are the contenders and which are the pretenders. Let’s discuss it below and peruse the NHL odds to win the 2021 Stanley Cup!
Contenders – Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins
Pretenders – New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers
East Division Winner: Boston Bruins (+1000 to win Stanley Cup)
The Capitals have the inside track on the No. 1 seed but that doesn’t mean much because if things stay the way they are then they will have to tangle with the Boston Bruins as the No. 4 seed in the East. So, what’s the big deal you might ask? Well, they are 3-4 against the B’s this season with one more dance remaining but they are 5-2 versus the Islanders, the team currently occupying the No. 3 seed.
After the deal that saw the Bruins land Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar from the Sabres and defenseman Mike Reilly from the Senators, the B’s have won six of seven. They have also found a rock between the pipes in AHL callup Jeremy Swayman. Don’t be surprised if the kid supplants what appears to be a disconnected Tuukka Rask and leads the B’s to the NHL’s Final Four.
Contenders – Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning
Pretenders – Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks
Central Division Winner: Tampa Bay Lightning (+700 to win Stanley Cup)
The Hurricanes should be able to hang onto the top spot in the division but the Lightning has two games in hand over the second-place Panthers and will likely wrest that spot away from them when these Central Division foes meet for the final two games of their respective seasons. All that means is that the Lightning will have home-ice advantage and if we look at the head-to-head home and away records between these clubs we see that it is a split right down the line with Tampa Bay 2-2 at home and 1-1 in Florida. Despite the two remaining games left between these teams, I see a probable split, and Tampa ensconced in the No. 2 spot by winning more games between now and then than Florida.
Once the postseason begins, my money is on Lightning netminder, Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is enjoying the best season of his relatively brief but illustrious NHL career. The man is an All-Star three years running, a Vezina Trophy winner, and a Stanley Cup champion. He boasts a 27-8-1 record with a 2.08 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage. One could point to Carolina’s Alex Nedeljkovic as the man with the best goals-against average but he is just coming into his own and his body of work is too small to grant the Hurricanes a jump ball between the crease with the Lightning.
Contenders – Toronto Maple Leafs
Pretenders – Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames
North Division Winner: Toronto Maple Leafs (+750 to win Stanley Cup)
First off, let me say that the NHL finally got it right this season in assembling the divisions. You have to love the all-Canadian North Division and the intrinsic rivalries it has rekindled and even amplified. Unfortunately, the current arrangement will be short-lived because the Seattle Kraken are moving in and will necessitate changes all over the board because the North only has seven teams while the other three divisions have eight.
I also believe these baseball-style two, three, and as many as five-game series have been a blast! Okay, five is a bit much but I like the concept and hope it stays. As for the North Division, the Maple Leafs will win it going away and have dominated the Jets, Oilers, and Flames by posting an identical 6-3 series mark against all three while defeating the Canadiens in four out of their six contests thus far.
But before we get too carried away with the Leafs, let’s not forget who they are…. choke artists. That’s why when the playoffs roll around, I wouldn’t even bet them with your money in my NHL picks!
Contenders –Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild
Pretenders – Arizona Coyotes, St. Louis Blues
West Division Winner: Colorado Avalanche (+450 to win Stanley Cup)
With all due respect to the Knights, the Avs have the best goalie in the league and the lowest odds at all of the best online sportsbooks. When Philipp Grubauer is on there is no one better patrolling the crease and I believe Colorado has a definite shot at taking home the hardware this season. Granted, Vegas could derail their Stanley Cup dreams in the division final and no one would be very surprised but we have to choose one team and my instincts are telling me to bet the Avalanche.
Stanley Cup Winner: Boston Bruins +1000