The best two months on ice are about to get started as the brutally-tough road to the Stanley Cup gets underway on Wednesday. Now that the fields are set and all we can do is wait, it's a good time to look at futures odds to see which teams are - in the eyes of oddsmakers and the betting public - getting more credit than they deserve.
Heading into the playoffs is a very easy time to overrate teams. Hype and recent form can both blind the public to the realities of their lineup, their matchup, and their general readiness to perform. Here are, based on Stanley Cup futures odds at Betonline, three NHL squads that are overrated heading into the playoffs:
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New York Rangers (+500): My first complaint about this team is just that they are favored, and it's by a wide margin - the Blues are next at +800. It's silly in a year as deep and competitive as this one to have one team favored by that much. Regardless of who they are, then, it only makes sense to consider the value in better in betting against than for.
Beyond that, though, I have three concerns heading into these playoffs. The first is goalie Henrik Lundqvist. He is one of the two or three best goalies on the planet. He missed two months to injury, though, and only returned at the end of March. He has been solid since returning, and there is no reason that he couldn't be solid in these playoffs. He is just a year removed from carrying this team to the finals on his shoulders. Still, with injury being more of a concern than it normally would, it's harder to accept such a low price than it might otherwise be.
Second, the team won the Presidents' Trophy for having the best regular-season record in the league. In recent years that has not been a pathway to Stanley Cup success - only three teams in the last 11 years have made the finals after winning the Presidents' Trophy, and just two of them hoisted the Cup.
Finally, there is some concern about age in key spots of the roster. Martin St. Louis, fourth on the team in points, is 39. Leading scorer Rick Nash is only 30, but given his experience and style of play he's an old 30. Defensive stalwart Dan Boyle is 38. Combine that with a roster that largely made a run to the finals last year and has a lot of extra mileage on their legs as a result and you have a team that could prove to run out of gas as the postseason collapses - especially if they get a particularly tough opponent or two along the way.
I'm not saying a collapse is certain or perhaps even hugely likely. I'm just saying that the possibility is strong enough to make this price a very uncomfortable one.
Chicago Blackhawks (+900): The Blackhawks are the third choice to win it all - behind only the Rangers and the Blues. That is simply a result of their brand and their recent postseason success, because the facts don't justify it. The team has looked far from sharp the last two weeks, so they aren't exactly rolling into the playoffs. Patrick Kane, who has been so instrumental in the playoffs in past years, is out with a broken collarbone. He is ahead of schedule and could be back in the first or second round, but his confidence and durability will still be a question.
More significant than those concerns, though, is the path they face. They open with a series against Nashville in which they don't have home-ice. The Predators have been lousy lately, but they have excellent goaltending and potent defense - just what you want in the playoffs. Then it is either St. Louis or Minnesota - two very dangerous teams. Add in the Pacific Division winner, and it's a massive test to get to the finals - never mind to beat the deepest group the East has had in years. No value here.
Pittsburgh Penguins (+1800): The Penguins aren't exactly a favorite - their odds are tied with one team and better than just three others. Despite the relatively dismal chances the oddsmakers give them, it's hard to argue that they don't deserve to be quite less respected.
This is just not a good team right now. In fact, despite having two of the five or six best players on the planet in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, it's a fundamentally flawed one. Their backs were up against the wall over the last month of the season, yet they managed to go just 4-10-1 in their last 15 games. The chemistry isn't good. Their third and fourth lines are lousy. They have not adequately replaced the lost pieces over the last couple of years. Goaltending is always a question mark in the playoffs.
They have struggled in the postseason in recent years with much better overall lineups than this one. The odds could be twice as high here and they still wouldn't be attractive.
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