We are about to start the long and hopefully very enjoyable NHL season. We have an idea who the contenders are - it seems like there are six or eight strong contenders in each conference as things are deeper and more competitive now than they have been in a long time. At this moment, though, what I am more interested in are the teams that have the potential to outperform the expectations indicated by their futures odds. That would be a good indicator of teams that the public is not respecting enough, and that means that the teams could offer some nice value for bettors out of the gate. Here are four that could fit the bill. (Odds to win the Stanley Cup are from BetOnline):
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Dallas Stars (+2200): There are 12 teams with lower odds to win the Stanley Cup than Dallas. I really don't believe that there are 12 teams that are better than this team. In fact, I really like this team. With Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin leading the way they have an exceptional offense. They had issues last year that kept them out of the playoffs - most notably on defense and in net. They had a very good offseason in terms of addressing both needs and also added some nice veteran leadership up front in Patrick Sharp. They are going to be far from the best defensive team in the league, but they will be improved and will score enough to overcome some issues. In my eyes this is a real contender - a better team than many think.
Calgary Flames (+3000): Last year the Flames were one of the biggest surprises in the league. They looked like a contender in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes before the season, but they not only made the playoffs but also won a round. Analytics guys would tell you that the team overachieved in key ways last year. They had a very strong offseason in an attempt to overcome that, though - adding Dougie Hamilton on the blueline in a massive steal of a deal with Boston and also bringing in Michael Frolik as a free agent. They are the deepest they have been in decades, and there is a surprising amount of talent here. They also have room to move and keep getting better - they have three legitimate goaltenders on their roster and plenty of NHL-ready forwards in the system, so they could soon trade for players or prospects. This is a team that could take a solid step forward from last year. Top three in the Pacific Division is a very legitimate possibility, and I wouldn't at all be surprised to see them finish second behind the Ducks. There is more upside here than the price suggests.
Detroit Red Wings (+3300): The Red Wings have been making the playoffs every year since pretty much when dinosaurs walked the earth. With the departure of Mike Babcock, though, the narrative seems to be that the streak is going to end. I'm not buying it. There have been indications from core players that they aren't exactly heartbroken that Babcock is gone - he had been there for a long time, and it seems to have been time for a change. The new coach is outstanding, and he knows several of the players from his time coaching the AHL farm team of the Wings. The talent is solid, and they have some excellent youngsters to add to the aging veterans. The bottom part of the Eastern Conference playoff chase is going to be a war, but in my eyes the Wings are more likely in than out. That means that this price is too low and that there is value here.
Edmonton Oilers (+5000): Connor McDavid has caused a frenzy in Edmonton. Despite that, and because the team has struggled so badly for so long, the common perception is that this is not a playoff team just yet. While that could easily be the case - the Western Conference is so deep that very good teams will be left on the outside looking in. Assuming that this team will automatically be out of the playoffs, though, is not the right thing to do. There are a few reasons. First, the coaching now is better than it has been in a long time. That paid immediate dividends - they played with an intensity and attention to detail in the preseason that has been missing since Ryan Smyth was a young man. Most significantly, they were able to make some pretty bold roster decisions after the preseason - sending hot prospects Draisaitl and Nurse to the AHL for more seasoning and demoting disappointing veteran defenseman Nikita Nikitin. They have not been in the position to make moves like that for a long time and have not had the foresight and boldness in the front office to do so even if they could have afforded to do without the players. The impacts of the much-needed front office overhaul are already very obvious and are going to be felt in many ways throughout the season. The improvement this offseason was much more than just adding the best prospect of the last decade, and this team is finally poised to take a big step forward. They are playoff contenders, and that means that they offer value based on these futures odds.
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