The National Hockey League will embark upon the 2021 season on Jan. 13. To get as much of the scheduled 56-game slate completed, teams will play strictly against their division opponents.
For some, that means a lot of games against nearby opponents (like in the East division). For a team like Edmonton, though, that will include three straight games in Montreal against the Canadiens as they criss-cross Canada.
We’ve taken a look at the NHL futures markets at some of the top sportsbooks available nationwide. We also had a chance to gain insight from oddsmakers on what they’re seeing in terms of early activity.
2021 Stanley Cup odds
NHL team futures
The Colorado Avalanche will likely start the season as favorites to win the Stanley Cup. This past summer saw the talented roster play very well in the playoff bubble, only to lose on a sudden-death goal in Game 7 of the Western Conference semi-finals to Dallas.
Books have seen the Avs get a good amount of early action, given the hype around the team and with online sports betting now legal in Colorado. They’ve pushed away from the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who will attempt to defend without Nikita Kucherov, who is out for the regular season after undergoing hip surgery. That said, they do expect to get Steven Stamkos back after he missed most of the 2020 playoffs.
Working their way to second on most boards are the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas earned the top seed for the West in the seeding round-robin but lost in the conference finals to Dallas. The team has a deep roster but fans still may wonder about the goaltending situation.
Overall, the Avs remain the most popular pick. Andrew Mannino, one of the senior traders at PointsBet noted, “People generally think [the Avs are] a really solid hockey team.”
Johnny Avello, sportsbook director at DraftKings, echoed the sentiments.
“They’re a solid team all-around,” Avello said of the Avalanche. “They’ve been knocking at the door the last couple years and management’s built this into quite a formidable franchise.”
There’s a gap between that top three and the next trio – the Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Flyers. The new format puts Boston in the same division as Philly and their Mid-Atlantic rivals. This may be the toughest division in the new format and will challenge last season’s Presidents’ Trophy winners.
Surprises in store?
While the playoff bubble was less than four months ago, games are still fresh in people’s minds. Bettors are looking for value picks and there are quite a few.
Seamus Magee, one of the BetMGM Sportsbook traders, confessed to having a “soft spot” for one of the longest shots on the board this year – the LA Kings.
“They have arguably the best prospect pool they could tap into this year and tick all the analytical boxes, except for the fact that they did not shoot the puck well last year [one of the worst shooting percentages in the league],” he said. “The biggest drawback this year is that the realigned division they’ll be playing in does them no favors.”
Mannino recalled the surprise that the St. Louis Blues produced in 2019, going from bottom of the league to hoisting the Cup.
“We could see a similar run out of Carolina,” he said. After impressing in the Eastern Conference bubble, the ‘Canes shift to the Central Division, which includes both 2020 Stanley Cup finalists and four other teams that appeared in the expanded playoffs.
Avello put some praise on one of the teams in the all-Canadian North division, listing Winnipeg as a longer-odds shot.
“They got [Patrik] Laine, a couple good players, they got [goaltender Connor] Hellebuyck, they picked up Paul Stastny,” he said. “They’re just a team that has a lot of good players.”
Magee was the only trader we talked to who came up with a team to avoid: Edmonton.
“They may have a couple Hart Trophy winners on the team, but defensively, they’re one of the worst teams in the league,” he said. “I think they were exposed a little bit last year versus the Blackhawks and I don’t think the addition of Tyson Barrie is enough to solve any of the defensive issues they had last year. Also, goaltending [is] a question mark for this team.”
A caveat for bettors, perhaps a familiar one: Not all books have the same markets for NHL season-long player awards. Fox Bet doesn’t have the Hart Trophy. FanDuel doesn’t have the Art Ross (most points) or Rocket Richard (most goals) trophies on their markets.
We’ve seen analysts discuss how the big-name books have struggled to retain exclusive play from customers. Uniform offerings might help with this. Seriously, these are major awards for a Big 4 league. It’s not like carrying Mr. Pibb on store aisles for the occasional shopper seeking it.
The two big names on the MVP and scoring futures markets are the two names that will likely lead the league through the next decade. Connor McDavid, the 23-year old Oiler who has dazzled the league for years already, and Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon run one-two on the available boards. The latter’s team’s fortunes may push him past McDavid as the season progresses.
Another name getting MVP attention is Stamkos. Magee noted his book has seen significant action on the returning Tampa center.
“Even without Kucherov, the Lightning will still be very good,” Magee said. “So if healthy, Stamkos will have to pull more weight.”
While the markets have short prices on New York Ranger Artemi Panarin, following his high-scoring debut in Manhattan, Magee likes one of his teammates as a longshot on a couple markets.
“I think Mika Zibanejad is a decent bet for the Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies this year,” Magee said. “He picked up an injury early last year, and when he came back, he still finished top 5 in goals scored.”
The Calder Trophy for top rookie appears to be a battle among teammates. The Rangers will likely start the season with top overall pick Alexis Lafreniere in the lineup and Igor Shesterkin in net. Those two are the top picks across the boards.
Shesterkin enters his first full NHL season with an impressive resume earned in the KHL and international tournaments. The 25-year-old will need to prove his mettle to become the top goalie over Alexandar Georgiev, who started 36 games last season to Shesterkin’s 12 for the Blueshirts (Shesterkin started the 2019-20 season in the AHL with Hartford).
Another KHL emigre has caught the attention of Avello at DraftKings.
“The one guy I think there might be value for is Kirill Kaprizov for the Wild,” he said. “There could be some value here as the season goes on.”
Kaprizov is the entrenched third-choice and the closest in odds to the two Rangers. Following that trio is a mixed bag of players, including World Juniors standouts Dylan Cozens (Sabres) and Trevor Zegras (Ducks).
Among defensemen, a few names stand out. Nashville’s Roman Josi took the Norris Trophy for the first time. He’s second-choice currently to Tampa’s Victor Hedman and ahead of names like Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton and Washington’s John Carlson.
Interested in a longshot? Magee likes the Minnesota Wild captain Jared Spurgeon, who he cites as “coming off an incredible season.” He’ll face some impressive forwards as Minnesota moves to the West Division – which includes Vegas, Colorado, Arizona, and the West Coast teams. His prices range from 35/1 to 55/1.
For the Vezina, Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy has lower odds than 2020 trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck of Winnipeg in four of five major markets. Avello likes the Jet to repeat.
“[Hellebuyck] plays so many minutes [second in the league last year to Montreal’s Carey Price],” Avello said. “That sure helps his chances.”