The new NHL season is almost upon us and, as with many other tournaments across the sporting world, NHL 2020-21 has had to adapt due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Here we look at the season ahead and the changes to the new NHL season format that have had to be implemented and provide a betting guide.
What has been decided is to have four new divisions, with shortened 56-game schedules and 116 consecutive nights of NHL games.
The regular season usually consists of two conferences (Eastern and Western), but ongoing issues with the coronavirus has led the NHL to divide the league into four divisions instead (Central, East, North and West).
For this year, four teams from each division will make the postseason. The top four teams from each division will qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs and will then play in the first two rounds of the postseason (1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3). The teams that advance from the four divisions are then reseeded by points in a 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3 format to decide who plays in the Stanley Cup final.
NHL 2020-21 Futures Stanley Cup Betting
The early favorites in the outright betting to win the Stanley Cup 2020-21 are the defending title holders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights.
There will also be plenty of support for the likes of the Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals.
2021 Stanley Cup Champion
The Central Division features Carolina Hurricanes; Chicago Blackhawks; Columbus Blue Jackets; Dallas Stars; Detroit Red Wings; Florida Panthers; Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning are the defending Stanley Cup champions and considered one of the favorites for the trophy again this season. They are also favorites to win the Central Division, despite having Nikita Kucherov ruled out for the season.
That’s an enormous loss for any team but, due to the fact that the Bolts can still call upon the likes of high caliber stars such as Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy, it’s one they should be able to overcome.
The Hurricanes and the Blue Jackets could provide the biggest challenges to the Lightning in the Division, although in a shortened season and in these unique circumstances it would be foolish to rule out any team.
2021 Central Division Winner
The East Division features Boston Bruins; Buffalo Sabres; New Jersey Devils; New York Islanders; New York Rangers; Philadelphia Flyers; Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.
The East Division looks very competitive, with little to choose between six teams in the futures betting odds to win it.
The Bruins are the marginal favorite to finish top with the online sportsbooks, but the Flyers and the Capitals could both provide a stern challenge to Boston at the top of the Division and, with Alex Ovechkin up for a new deal this summer, he could have all the incentive required to fire Washington to top spot.
2021 East Division Winner
The North Division features Calgary Flames; Edmonton Oilers; Montreal Canadiens; Ottawa Senators; Toronto Maple Leafs; Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets.
The North Division is an all-Canadian affair, which of course means that there will be four Canadian teams heading to the playoffs.
It is now 28 years since the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Los Angeles Kings to win the 1993 Stanley Cup and no Canadian team has won the championship since.
The Leafs are the favorites to win the North Division with the sportsbooks and they certainly have the roster to achieve that. They remain the only Original Six team to not win a Stanley Cup since expansion began in 1967.
The Oilers have missed the playoffs in 13 of the past 14 seasons, but with Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl leading the way and a number of new players on the roster, they should be capable of improving on that statistic and could be a value wager to finish at the top of the Division.
2021 North Division Winner
The West Division features Anaheim Ducks; Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche; Los Angeles Kings; Minnesota Wild; San Jose Sharks; St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights.
The West Division looks likely to be a race between the Avalanche, Golden Knights and Blues to finish in top spot, with all three also seen as serious contenders to win the Stanley Cup trophy itself.
The Blues could prove to be the value bet to win the West Division as the marginal outsiders of the three teams, particularly having signed one of the top scorers on the free-agent market, Mike Hoffman.
2021 West Division Winner
Frequently Asked Questions
Originally planned to start in October 2020, the season has had to be rescheduled and is now (further pandemic-related delays notwithstanding) tentatively scheduled to run from January 13 to May 08, 2021.
The pandemic has also necessitated changes to the regular season format, largely due to the Covid-19 travel restrictions imposed by the Canadian government.
The changes to the calendar as a result of the pandemic mean that instead of the typical 82-game regular season, this year will see a reduction to 56 games.
Another consequence is that the usual Eastern and Western Conferences, featuring the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions (Eastern) and the Central and Pacific Divisions (Western), has given way to a new format in which the teams have been realigned into four new divisions (which we are assured is for this season only):
All teams will only play their divisional opponents in the regular season. The Canadian teams in the North Division (which has seven teams) will play each other nine or 10 times, while every other team will face their divisional opponents eight times.
As things stand, the playoffs are tentatively scheduled to run with a 16-team format featuring the top four teams from each division. All the playoff rounds will be decided on a best-of-seven basis.
The first two rounds of the playoffs will be played on a divisional basis, with the first-placed team in each division playing the fourth-placed team and the second-placed team playing the third-placed team.
The winners of each of these series will then play each other in the second round, after which the four Divisional winning teams will then advance to the third round (or Stanley Cup Semifinals).
These Semifinals will be re-seeded based on each team’s regular season points.
Barring any further Covid-19 interruptions, it’s expected that the Stanley Cup should be take place around mid-July.
This season will, due to the new divisional format, also be unique in that there is every possibility that the Stanley Cup Final will not be a straight contest between one team from the Eastern Conference against one from the Western Conference.
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic led to the season being suspended indefinitely on March 12, 2020.
In May, the NHL and National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) agreed to a framework for the resumption of play. The remainder of the regular season was cancelled, with the top 12 teams in each conference (by points percentage) competing in a modified and expanded Stanley Cup playoffs.
The season finally ended on September 28, 2020, with the Tampa Bay Lightning defeating the Dallas Stars 4-2 in the Stanley Cup Final series.
Factors to take into consideration when staking any money on the Stanley Cup outright market are the shortened regular season, the lack of any preseason games, the condensed schedule and the probable absence of fans at games in any great number for much, if not all, of the season.
The fact that two of the three Stanley Cup favorites, the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights, are both drawn together in the Central Division suggests it could be wise to avoid both in Stanley Cup outright betting.
On that basis, the Tampa Bay Lightning look like they could be worth backing to retain the title although, with so much uncertainty surrounding how the season will unfold, a speculative wager on an outsider is also worth considering. The Edmonton Oilers could be one such team.