Pre-Free Agency Western Conference 2019 Stanley Cup Futures Odds

Heading into the 2018-2019 NHL season, I believe the best teams in the league reside in the Eastern Conference. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to give you my thoughts on both the Central and Pacific divisions, because there is one team I really like. And as of this writing, John Tavares could still land in Dallas or San Jose, which would change things significantly. Let’s dive right in.

Pre-Free Agency Central Division 2019 Stanley Cup Futures Odds

Nashville and Winnipeg are at the head of the class in the Central division. Both teams have strong lineups throughout, and are going to return almost all of their key players. If Winnipeg manages to re-sign Paul Stastny, their forward group will again be one of the most daunting in the entire NHL.

Nashville is similarly intimidating along their blueline. You won’t find many objections declaring the Predators D core the best in the league. With the way the NHL playoffs are set up with divisional matchups in rounds one and two, the Predators and Jets have a very good chance of meeting in the playoffs for consecutive years. Both are excellent bets to finish atop the regular season standings and challenge for the first Stanley Cup in either franchise’s history.

Here are the odds on each of the Pacific division teams to win the Stanley Cup in 2019, taken from Sports Interaction:

  • Winnipeg Jets +1000
  • Nashville Predators +1000
  • Chicago Blackhawks +2500
  • Dallas Stars +2500
  • Minnesota Wild +3000
  • St Louis Blues +3500
  • Colorado Avalanche +4000

After what I would consider a clear 1-2 in the pecking order things get muddier. The betting public seems to agree based on early line movements. Chicago has gone from +2200 to +2500, Dallas from +3000 to +2500, Minnesota from +3300 to +3000 and St. Louis from +3000 to +3500.

The main reason for the shifts probably has to do with John Tavares taking a free agency meeting with Dallas. It’s unlikely that he ends up there in my opinion, but pricing it in until a decision is made makes sense. Personally I like the upside of Dallas, even without Tavares, because of their top end talent, bolstered by the return of Valeri Nichushkin from the KHL. A top five first line in the NHL and a powerplay that boasts lethal skaters at each position make Dallas a viable option in the futures market. It might be worth waiting until the Tavares news is official and potentially getting them closer to their opening number.

Meanwhile in Chicago, the dynasty is now over. They may find a way to sneak into the playoffs if Corey Crawford returns to health, but even that is uncertain. If the plan is for Cam Ward to fill those shoes, which has been rumored, the Blackhawks are in for a rude awakening. For a team that was lauded for years for their asset management things have changed considerably. Michal Kempny was traded at the 2018 trade deadline for a 3rd round pick and was a very useful piece for the Washington Capitals in their Stanley Cup run. At the other end of the spectrum their loyalty to Brent Seabrook is really starting to take its toll. With six years remaining on his  eight year deal, he will be an albatross barely worthy of third pairing minutes. The Kempny trade is by no means an earth shattering mistake, but rather a symptom of the inability to identify and quantify defencemen within the organization.

When the Hawks were winning cups they were cultivating young talent, getting the most out of them, and then trading them before all the tread was off the tires. Once you fall in love with aging pieces and pay for past performance instead of future performance, you’re standing at the door of mediocrity. That’s where Chicago finds themselves now.

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Minnesota and St. Louis are similar in their makeup, and at their ceiling. Neither team has impressive upside, and neither is a candidate to bottom out in the race for a top draft pick in 2019. They are both destined to have unimpressive regular seasons, potentially capped off by an early exit in the playoffs.

Vladimir Tarasenko is the closest either team has to a true superstar, but trading Paul Stastny to the divisional rival Jets at the trade deadline takes away their best playmaker.

In Minnesota, new GM Paul Fenton finds himself with a team butting up against the salary cap with Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba still to sign. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter remained signed for all of eternity (okay, until 2024-2025) at matching cap hits of $7.5 million. Fenton may be a new face making decisions, but his options are limited with the contracts former GM Chuck Fletcher agreed to in recent years.

Last year’s Cinderella story in the Central division was the Colorado Avalanche. They traded away one of their best players in Matt Duchene for future assets, and despite that then went on to make the playoffs, after an impressive second half. That would be a story worthy of headlines. Unfortunately for the Avs, their run was overshadowed by the improbable run a little further west, by the Vegas Golden Knights. Winning two games in what would eventually be a six game series vs the Nashville Predators is an impressive accomplishment.

This year they don’t represent great value at +4000 heading into the season, but they do warrant keeping an eye on as the season progresses. As soon as 2019-2020 they could supplant the Predators and Jets atop the division, especially if the first round pick they acquired from Ottawa in the Duchene deal ends up in the top three, which is not far fetched considering the dumpster fire Eugene Melnyk is supervising there.

Pre-Free Agency Pacific Division 2019 Stanley Cup Futures Odds

As we said about the Washington Capitals in our 2018-2019 NHL Eastern Conference futures odds rundown, it’s hard to knock a team that just made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. But I have zero confidence betting on the Vegas Golden Knights at an opening line of +1000.

For starters, it could be argued that Vegas’ magical run to the cup finals was powered by the fairy tale seasons of William Karlsson and Marc-Andre Fleury. Karlsson, who had never scored more than nine goals in a season, bulged twine 43 times on a 23.4 shooting percentage. Meanwhile, Fleury had the best season of his career, sporting a .927 save percentage (well above his career average of .914). If you normalize the performance of these two players, which continued throughout the playoff run, it’s unlikely the Golden Knights reach the finals.

To make matters worse, Vegas has already missed out on John Carlson, Ilya Kovalchuk and John Tavares, some of the only available free agents who could’ve helped the team spend some of their ample salary cap space. Bringing back key contributors James Neal and David Perron could help them remain competitive, but there’s no guarantee that’ll happen. Despite their success, the Vegas Golden Knights aren’t in the same category as similarly priced teams like Toronto, Tampa Bay, Boston, Nashville and Winnipeg.

Here are the odds on each of the Pacific division teams to win the Stanley Cup in 2019, taken from Sports Interaction:

  • Vegas Golden Knights +1000
  • Edmonton Oilers +1800
  • San Jose Sharks +1800
  • Anaheim Ducks +2500
  • Calgary Flames +3000
  • Los Angeles Kings +3000
  • Vancouver Canucks +8000
  • Arizona Coyotes +8000

I can’t decide whether Oilers Nation is lucky. On one hand, the Edmonton Oilers are Connor McDavid’s team, and Connor McDavid is perhaps the only player in the NHL who might be able to win the Stanley Cup with a weak supporting cast.

However, the Edmonton Oilers are also helmed by Peter Chiarelli who, after a series of misguided moves highlighted by trading Taylor Hall straight up for Adam Larsson, has proven only one thing: he has absolutely no idea how to build a team around Connor McDavid. Until management changes in Edmonton, I want a better price than +1800 on McDavid to do it solo.

If you’re looking for a bet at +1800, I like the San Jose Sharks much better than Edmonton (sorry, Oilers Nation). San Jose’s chances of landing John Tavares is no doubt factored in, but if they do get him – and they’re more likely than Dallas – the odds will almost certainly drop to +1000 or lower. At +1800 and without Tavares, the Sharks are still a decent bet, so book now and hold on for the ride.

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In the mid range, I’m not itching to lay money on any of the Anaheim Ducks (+2500), Los Angeles Kings (+3000) or Calgary Flames (+3000). If I had to pick one, it’d be the Kings, if only because their window is clearly now, which they’ve confirmed by signing and already-old Ilya Kovalchuk.

The Ducks, another aging team, are going to have a hard time carrying the weight of Corey Perry’s contract – which still has three years remaining. With Calgary, who actually have a lot of good players and could be good, it’s just so hard to get on board after they opened up the off season by trading arguably their best defenseman in Dougie Hamilton for a seemingly paltry return. It feels wrong to bet on teams you don’t have confidence in to make smart moves.

Speaking of teams making smart moves, I hereby declare Friday, June 29 Vancouver Canucks Grit Day. On this glorious day, Jim Benning and friends were heavily linked to both Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel, two third or fourth liners who will absolutely not help the team win. Instead, they’ll set the franchise back yet again, because you know they’re going to get too much money for too many years.

Last but not least, the Arizona Coyotes come in at +8000. Currently, those are the same odds on the Buffalo Sabres, and if I’m picking one of the two, it’s the Coyotes. They seem to have a smart management group in place, so you can (mostly) rely on them making smart moves. Arizona’s off-season got started nicely when they stole a good scoring winger in Alex Galchenyuk from Montreal in exchange for an underwhelming Max Domi. It’s not a high confidence comment, but there’s a chance Arizona could luck their way into a sliver of a chance given their poor division.

And that concludes our thoughts on the NHL’s Western Conference teams, at least as they currently stand. Obviously, a lot can and will change in the next week. To be completely honest, other than John Tavares, there aren’t many game-changing guys available in free agency. Our list of high confidence NHL future bets – Toronto, Tampa Bay and Nashville – is therefore pretty narrow. But hopefully we’ve also given you a few things to think about as far as darkhorses go because as the Washington Capitals taught us, anything can happen!

JD McNamara is the founder of Content Aces (so he writes a lot of things for the Internet). He also enjoys poker, sports, film, science fiction, and is a huge fan of the Toronto Blue Jays.