The NHL is on an extended break for the Sochi Winter Olympics, and the pause in the season couldn’t have come at a worse time for some squads, while others welcomed the break for a much-needed respite to the grueling rigors of the season. Teams like Chicago, St. Louis and Pittsburgh were dominating the schedule and would welcome the postseason if it started tomorrow. Other teams like Los Angeles and Anaheim were stuck in extended losing streaks and may hope that three weeks away from the ice will bring a renewed sense of urgency to the season once play resumes.
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The Olympic break is also an excellent opportunity for bettors to examine the Stanley Cup title odds and perhaps jump on a few solid lines before the playoffs begin in April. Let’s take a closer look at the title odds for a few of the top teams in the NHL and figure out which, if any, have the most value to wager on with our 2014 NHL Stanley Cup predictions. All odds come from Sportsbook.ag
Chicago Blackhawks: +500—there seems to be a new, hot team of the week on some sort of streak every time we blink. However, Chicago remains near or at the top of the Western Conference standings week-in and week-out. The Blackhawks are the best offensive squad in the league, but their 13th-ranked defense may be a liability once the playoffs roll around. Wagering on Chicago at +500 is a decent proposition—the only issue with the bet is that the NHL hasn’t seen a back-to-back title winner since the Detroit Red Wings in the late 90s.
St. Louis Blues: +500—the Blues may be the scariest squad in a Western Conference full of scary squads. The team has a dominant offense that is ranked second in goals scored with 3.3, but it also plays a tough and intimidating style of defense on the other side of the puck. St. Louis is ranked third in goals allowed with 2.3, and that is not even mentioning its pair of ridiculously efficient goaltenders, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, both of whom have a better than .915 save percentage.
Anaheim Ducks: +500—winning 18 of 19 games will catapult any team up the Stanley cup title odds picture. When Anaheim is playing at the top of its game, the team may be the best squad in the entire NHL. The Ducks are big and tough, but they can also play a fast-paced, high-scoring game as well. Anaheim’s biggest issue is inconsistency. After going on its epic 18- of-19-game winning streak, the team lost six of its next 11 games and also went through a stretch earlier in the year where it lost eight of 11 games.
Pittsburgh Penguins: +550:--the Penguins seem to be out for blood after last year’s disappointing exit in the Eastern Conference finals—a sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins. Pittsburgh is being led by another excellent year from Sidney Crosby and is showing solid value at +550, simply because the team will have an easier road through the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference.
Boston Bruins: +800
San Jose Sharks: +900
Los Angeles Kings: +1500
Colorado Avalanche: +2000
The NHL as a whole is loaded with talented teams this season, which is probably what the league desperately needed after last year’s lockout-shortened season. There are no less than eight teams that have a realistic shot at making a deep playoff run and winning a Stanley Cup title, and that number might creep even higher once the postseason begins. The Boston Bruins are a monster defensively and have been riding the stellar year from starting goaltender Tuukka Rask, who is allowing only 2.11 goals per game with a .928 save percentage.
Los Angeles, San Jose and Colorado are all squads with solid defense and excellent offense that could make some noise in the playoffs. The only issue with their odds is that the Western Conference is as deep as it’s ever been, and making a finals appearance will probably be a war for whoever comes out of the West.
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Read more articles by George Monroy