Expert NHL Betting Advice: Tampa Bay Lightning on Pace to Threaten Points Record
Starting just after I turned a year old in 1976, the Montreal Canadiens launched into a season that saw them earn 132 points. 60-8-12. A truly incredible season - one that ended with a sweep of Boston in the Stanley Cup Final. Why, aside from nostalgia for a time I experienced but can't possibly remember, do I mention that? Well, those 132 points are the NHL record for success in a season. Epic teams like the dominant Islanders, the Gretzky Oilers, and the Penguins eras of both Lemieux and Crosby have not done better - even though teams play two more games now than the Habs did back then. And now the Tampa Bay Lightning, in the midst of a season that is so good that people need to be taking note of, are almost on pace to challenge those historic Habs. They have 70 points through 44 games. Not only is that 10 points better than second-place Calgary, but it is on pace of 130.5 points. Add in an extra win somewhere along the line and Tampa can break a record that is almost as old as I am - which makes it a youthful, vibrant record. And if they can get to 136 points, then they will own the record without the asterisk that comes from playing two more games.
The shot at history isn't what ultimately fascinates me about this Tampa team. It's how good they are. They have been building towards this for a long time. The last few years they have been excellent but have not yet broken through. And while they are very deep and talented, they face some tough financial decisions coming up which will inevitably change what this team is. This is their time - the window is open. But can they step through it? And what does it mean for bettors?
Offense: The Lightning have 183 goals scored - 20 more than the second-best Sharks. The explosiveness is the most defining aspect of this team. But the offense doesn't look like you might expect. Nikita Kucherov leads the NHL in scoring. Brayden Point is sixth. Steven Stamkos is scoring well over a point a game. But after that it drops off - Tyler Johnson is fourth, but with just 33 points in 43 games. That's good and bad. Unlike teams like the Flames or Jets, this is not nearly as top-heavy a team as it could be. That means that they have strong secondary scoring. And the bad news for the rest of the league is that it seems entirely sustainable. Kucherov and Point have huge numbers, but they are extremely talented, and big numbers by offensive superstars is the theme of this season. And beyond those two, there isn't a single guy on the roster who feels like he is performing at an unsustainable level. This team is tearing things up, but also just doing what they are expected to.
Defense: When a team can score like this one can, we often see it accompanied by a disregard for defense. Think about it in any sport - the great offensive teams are virtually never the great defensive teams. Strength at one almost always makes a team allergic to the other. And I won't pretend that the Lightning are a great defensive team. But they are totally fine. The defensive talent is excellent, the starting goaltending is good - much better than the backups -- and they have decent numbers. If the playoff field was set at this moment, Tampa Bay would have allowed fewer goals than six teams in the field. So, if you can be middle-of-the-pack defensively while being outstanding on offense, and you have the talent defensively that this team has on defense with guys like Hedman, McDonagh, and Sergachev that any team would love to have, you are going to be tough to beat.
The future: This is the best team in the league, and at this point I don't think it's particularly close. I saw them play Calgary before Christmas, and it was the best game I have been to in person in a long time. It was a heavyweight fight, which took seven rounds of the shootout to settle. Tampa won that day. And as much as I like Calgary's team right now, and as close as the game was, it felt fairly obvious that Tampa would be solidly favored if the teams met for a seven-game series. And the same goes, in my eyes, for the rest of the best. The odds reflect that, too - Tampa is at +280 to win the Cup, with Toronto the second choice a distance back at +550. San Jose is third at +850, with Calgary at +950 and Winnipeg at +1000. To go all the way, they won't have an easy path, likely going through both Toronto and either Pittsburgh or Washington just to get to the Finals and then facing one of four or five elite teams in the West in the finals. That road makes it impossible to justify betting on the team to win it all at this price, but it isn't enough to shake my belief that they are the strong favorites.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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