With the NHL season heading into the home stretch, we have some clarity on who’s a real contender and who isn’t. That said, plenty of key questions remain at hand for NHL betting.
Let’s take a look at five questions that may determine who wins the Stanley Cup, who makes the playoffs, and which teams can make deep runs.
Is The Leafs Goaltending Good Enough?
Due to the Leafs’ salary cap crunch, their goaltending has always been fairly haphazard. Never more so than this year. With Matt Murray coming via trade with Ottawa, and the Leafs signing Ilya Samsonov after he wasn’t given a qualifying offer by the Capitals, they had to try and find creative solutions.
Murray is sporting a respectable enough .911 save% for the season. But, since Dec. 1, he’s been at .899, which just isn’t good enough for the goalie brought in for high leverage games. Samsonov has been better – a .917 save% – but he is 1-6 lifetime in the playoffs, putting up a .907 save% in eight appearances for Washington.
With the Leafs exceedingly likely to have to play Tampa Bay in the first round again, their goaltending will be a problem. They walk into any Tampa series with the far inferior performers there. Trusting a mostly untested Samsonov or the shell of Matt Murray in a playoff series against Andrei Vasilevskiy is a disaster waiting to happen. Unless they go get a substantial upgrade, another first round exit looks imminent.
Will Either Florida Or Calgary Make The Playoffs?
The rare star for star trade in the NHL, Tkachuk for Huberdeau, seems to be a rare swing and a miss for both sides. The Panthers, fresh off a President’s Trophy in 2022, sit on the precipice of a playoff spot in the East. The Flames, 2022 Pacific Division champions, are on the outside looking in at this point.
Both teams have new coaches who haven’t gotten the most out of their talented rosters. And with big expectations on both, a massive backwards step won’t be good enough.
The Flames still sport odds to make it. But, Jacob Markstrom has had a disastrous season and the coach seems to have lost the room. On the other side, markets have begun to doubt Florida’s chances of making the playoffs (). Given they ranks 12th in the East by points%, that’s finally starting to reflect reality.
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Is This The Oilers’ Year?
Edmonton has seemingly always been the biggest question mark in the league lately. This year is no different. They still have the best player in Connor McDavid, and another top-five guy in Leon Draisaitl. But, they’ve won three playoff series in seven seasons. This year might be their chance, and at decent odds.
With six of the seven best teams by regular season record in the East, and a West marked by parity, the Oilers have the most wide open path they’ve had in the McDavid era. With McDavid the prohibitive favorite to win the Hart Trophy and be named MVP again, the Oilers have a high-end talent advantage against anyone in the West.
The problem in Edmonton is what it always is — they’re not strong enough defensively. But with McDavid already at 42 goals and 97 points, the Oilers need to eventually break through at some point. If they’re going to make their run, the year where Calgary, Colorado and St. Louis are all weakened looks like their chance.
For the future of the McDavid era, they must take advantage.
Who Makes The Big Deadline Splash?
The NHL trade deadline season has already started, with the Canucks trading Bo Horvat to the Islanders. Current expectations say we won’t see many deadline deals this year. A lot of teams spent their premium assets last deadline and therefore lack the assets to swing packages for big names.
That said, somebody will surely make a move, especially if they think their rivals will stand pat.
The wide open West means that a deadline deal could pack a big punch for someone like Los Angeles or Dallas. And out East, Carolina has an ownership group growing impatient, with a hard path ahead in the Metropolitan. Given the likely lack of firepower changing hands, whether Timo Meier and Jacob Chychrun move could upend a whole playoff series.
Is Boston Inevitable?
The overarching question of the NHL right now is how anyone can beat Boston.
But, their inevitability is overstated. Due to a variety of factors — the best teams cooling down down the stretch, opponents adding at the trade deadline, injuries, or just the variance of a seven-game series — history says that President’s Cup winners don’t usually win the Stanley Cup.
Obviously, it can happen — Colorado did it last year. But, the Bruins will have to go through one of Toronto and Tampa, plus the winner of the Metropolitan Division. That makes for a tougher path than any out West.
It’s undeniable that Boston is the best team in the league, but they’re still as long as for a reason. The NHL just doesn’t feature the inevitable juggernauts that other sports do. And regular season performance much more loosely correlates to playoff wins.