NHL Stanley Cup futures: Analyzing the top championship favorites

The NHL has reached the final month of its regular season, meaning the most wonderful tournament in professional sports — at least in this hockey fanatic’s perspective — is nearly here.

While the Stanley Cup playoffs are known for their unpredictability and dramatic swerves, there are some established betting favorites as the season heads into its final weeks.

Here’s a look at the five favorites, the likelihood of each of them winning the Cup, and some alternative ways to profit from their playoff journeys.

Colorado Avalanche

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Current Stanley Cup odds: +380 (Caesars)

The Avalanche are heavy favorites in all facets of NHL futures betting. They’re +130 to advance to the Stanley Cup Final out of the Western Conference — BetMGM reports that nearly 50% of the handle on the Western Conference champion has been placed on the Avs. Their Stanley Cup Final odds have improved from +600 at the start of the season when they were also the favorite. BetMGM says 32.3% of the handle for the Stanley Cup winner belongs to the Avalanche.

But being the best regular-season team in the Western Conference doesn’t portend much of anything for the postseason. The last team to lead the West in points and advance to the Stanley Cup Final was the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks, in a lockout-shortened 48-game season. The last time a team accomplished it in a full 82-game season was the Vancouver Canucks in 2010-11. Maybe the Avalanche are due. Or maybe not.

Florida Panthers

Current Stanley Cup odds: +550 Caesars

It’s still stunning to think that a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff round since 1996 has the second-lowest odds to win the Stanley Cup. I think it says more about the state of the Eastern Conference than anything else. The Panthers aren’t just the best offensive team in the NHL this season — their 4.12 goals per game make them the highest-scoring team in the NHL since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins (4.41). They defend pretty well, too: 2.90 goals against per game, putting them just outside of the top 10.

The Cats added Flyers star, Claude Giroux, at the trade deadline, which only fueled their status as conference favorites — they’re now +240 to win the East. But his addition and that of defenseman Ben Chiarot speaks to the only reservation we have with the Panthers: lack of playoff proof of concept for the majority of their players. Well, that and reliable goaltending.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Current Stanley Cup odds: +900 Caesars

The Lightning opened at +750 at the start of the season and account for just 6.4% of the handle on Stanley Cup champions at BetMGM. While this speaks to the enormity of the challenge of their attempt to three-peat as NHL champions, it still feels like the Lightning might be a little undervalued here. They’re a proven commodity, while other teams are still waiting for their breakthrough. It might seem like there are a lot of miles on these players after two straight championship runs, but those wins came after truncated regular seasons. Getting them at +900 when their conference championship odds are at +400? There’s value there.

Calgary Flames

Current Stanley Cup odds: +900 Caesars

The Flames are the clear second choice in the West behind the Avalanche, hauling in 18.6% of the handle for Western Conference champion according to BetMGM. It’s pretty easy to understand why: They’re seventh in team offense, second in team defense, and are analytically superior to the Avalanche in everything from puck possession to share of scoring chances to expected goals percentage. Coach Darryl Sutter won two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings and has a team in Calgary that can match their grinding defensive style even if there’s no Drew Doughty on their defense.

Carolina Hurricanes

Current Stanley Cup odds: +1000 Caesars

The Hurricanes are the best defensive team in the NHL (2.35 goals against per game) and a respectable ninth in goals per game. They’ve got an outstanding coach in Rod Brind’Amour, forwards who can score, and a strong defense corps in front of goalie Frederik Andersen, who, it should be noted, has a career save percentage of .916 in the playoffs. They’re a solid team in almost every facet. They could breakthrough to win the conference (+450), but are they missing that veteran forward to push them over the top, whom the Panthers may have acquired in Giroux?

One interesting wager that involves the Hurricanes: BetMGM offers a prop on which division will produce the Stanley Cup champion. The Metropolitan (+360) gets you the Canes, Penguins, Rangers, and Capitals in an Eastern Conference that’s a bit more wide open than the odds would indicate.

Beyond the chalk, we remain intrigued by the Minnesota Wild (+1800) to win the Stanley Cup, now that Marc-Andre Fleury appears to have plugged their goaltending hole.

Vegas Golden Knights

According to Chris Otto’s numbers, the Golden Knights’ games have gone over 1.5 goals in the third period in 13 straight games, the longest streak in the league. The Knights are 15th in the league in third-period goals (78) but are 23rd in third-period defense (82 goals). There’s no denying the streak, which continued when they blew a two-goal third-period lead to the Canucks on Sunday night. But we’ll say this is a Trick, as the return of goalie Robin Lehner and some healthy players, this month should get the Knights back to their defensive ways late in games. They were the third-best defensive team in the third period last season.

St. Louis Blues puck line

The best team on the puck line this season? The St. Louis Blues, winning at a 60.3% clip. They hit on the puck line in four straight games and six of their last nine games. The Blues are a “tweener” this season: Good enough to be heavily favored against non-playoff teams but not always a betting favorite against teams in the playoffs or on the bubble. Case in point: In their last four covers, three were as an underdog. We’ll say this is a Trend, thanks in no small part to a team offense that ranks fifth in the NHL (3.57) and keeps them in games — especially late in games, as the Blues have the third-best third-period offense.

Kirill Kaprizov shot props

The Minnesota Wild star didn’t register a shot on goal against the Washington Capitals on Sunday night, the first time all season he didn’t register one in a game. Social media was filled with stunned prop bettors, no doubt still smarting from his game on Saturday night at Carolina, when he registered three shots on a 3.5 shot over/under. Ah, but therein lies the secret: Those games were on the road, where Kirill the Thrill averages 9.79 shots per 60 minutes in all situations. At home, that average jumps to 13.11 shots per 60! In the 31 games, he’s registered four more shots on goal, 20 have been in Minnesota. This, friends is a Trend. The Wild have eight more home games. Get on it!

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