With the NHL regular season is nearing its finale, with attention already starting to switch to the playoffs.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in some significant changes to the format and schedule of the NHL this season.
For this one unique year only, it was agreed that the regular season would begin in January (rather than October), consist of four new divisions (Central, East, North and West) and come with a shortened 56-game schedule for each team (instead of the typical 82-games).
So 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.
What about the Canadian NHL teams?
The four teams that then advance to the third round (also known as the Stanley Cup Semifinals), will be re-seeded based on regular season points.
The big question yet to be answered is if the Canadian team qualifying for the semifinals (the North Division champion) will play in their home arenas or if they will be placed in a bubble somewhere in the U.S. due to travel restrictions.
A number of teams have already confirmed their places in the postseason:
- Carolina Hurricanes (Central)
- Florida Panthers (Central)
- Tampa Bay Lightning (Central)
- Washington Capitals (East)
- Pittsburgh Penguins (East)
- Toronto Maple Leafs (North)
- Vegas Golden Knights (West)
- Colorado Avalanche (West)
- Minnesota Wild (West)
Stanley Cup Betting Odds
The betting odds to win the 2021 Stanley Cup are very competitive. As things stand, the Bovada NHL odds have Colorado Avalanche as the outright favorites to win the tournament at +450, followed by the defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes and the Vegas Golden Knights, who are available to wager on around +550 to +650 region.
2021 Stanley Cup Winner Odds
So who will win the Stanley Cup in 2021?
It could certainly be argued that the Avs and the Vegas Golden Knights are the two best teams in the NHL at present, but the fact that they are on a collision course in the West Division means that at least one of them will be eliminated before the semifinals.
With there being little to choose between these two behemoths of the NHL, it makes it incredibly difficult to predict one of these teams to win the Stanley Cup.
The Maple Leafs remain the only Original Six team not to win a Stanley Cup since expansion began in 1967, so they would unquestionably be seen as popular champions by many. In fact, no Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Los Angeles Kings in 1993.
Many pundits believe that the North Division (consisting of the seven Canadian teams) is the weakest of the four divisions, so the Maple Leafs, the Oilers (with Hart Trophy favorite Connor McDavid) or whoever prevails in the North, could theoretically struggle when faced with stronger opposition in the latter stages of the tournament.
NHL Playoffs Betting Pick
The best team to wager on could be the defending champions. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (+650 Bovada) have had to play the entire regular season without Nikita Kucherov, who was NHL MVP for the Bolts in 2019.
The good news for the Lightning is that, after undergoing hip surgery in January, Kucherov is now back in a noncontact jersey, and has also skated with the team’s taxi squad. The hope remains that he could return for the 2021 NHL playoffs.
Steven Stamkos, the team’s star center, has also been absent of late with a lower-body injury. He has 34 points in 38 games this season, with 17 goals and 17 assists, but Tampa Bay should be able to benefit from his imminent return.
If Kucherov and Stamkos are both available and healthy for the postseason, the Bolts will again be the team to beat.
NHL Playoffs odds correct at the time of writing. All betting odds are subject to change.