Well, in case you were wondering about it, the NHL playoff bracket this season is relatively straight-forward, at least for the first two rounds of play. Everything continues to be self-contained, within each division, which means that, for instance, a team will not be crossing over from the Central Division to play a team from the East Division.
Instead, what happens is that four teams from each division will get in. The #1 team will play the #4 team and the #2 and #3 teams will clash, with those winners facing each other for the division title.
This is all in the best-of-seven format.
Then things change a little. The four division winners, who would constitute the semi-finalists, are re-seeded in the order of their regular season point totals. And again, on that basis you'll have #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs.#3.
So when you look at the futures betting to win the Stanley Cup, this has to be taken into consideration. Acknowledging that these divisions are not all of equal strength, it is entirely possible that the two best NHL teams could meet in the semi-finals and not necessarily in the finals.
Latest 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Futures Odds
Let's go through a rundown of the futures prices on the teams that were still alive as of the conclusion of Wednesday play, with a description of where they are, how they've done and what they have to do.
Colorado Avalanche (+450)
Although they are the favorites to win the Cup, they are not in the driver's seat in their own division. The Avs are four points behind Vegas with five games left for them to play, and they have a game in hand. They actually could get caught by Minnesota and wind up in third place.
Toronto Maple Leafs (+550)
The Leafs are six points ahead of Edmonton in the North, which is generally regarded to be the weakest of the four divisions. So with four games left, while the Oilers have five, they really haven't clinched the #1 seed.
Vegas Golden Knights (+550)
They are the leaders in the West, but there is still some hockey left to play. Colorado, for instance, has played only 51 games, so they have five left, and Vegas has to play four more times.
Tampa Bay Lightning (+600)
They are tied with Florida for second in the Central, but with a game in hand. Could they catch Carolina, which is three points ahead? With three games left for both, we wouldn't bet on it.
Carolina Hurricanes (+600)
They're closing fast, with a five-game winning streak. The 'Canes are 20-3-4 at home, while the Lightning is 21-6, so who gets that higher seed can mean something in the event they meet in the Central final.
Washington Capitals (+800)
The Caps are tied with Pittsburgh atop the East, but they have a game in hand. What bodes well for Washington is that they have won 19 of 28 road games, so they won't be helpless even if they don't get the #1 seed.
Boston Bruins (+800)
It is conceivable, we suppose, that the Bruins could make a mad dash and capture the #1 seed in the East. But what they may want to worry about more is beating out the Islanders for #3, although ultimately it wouldn't give them an easier first-round opponent.
Pittsburgh Penguins (+900)
Let's see what happens in the remaining games. But if I was Pittsburgh, in the first round, I would rather play the Islanders, a weak road team, than the Bruins, who are potential trouble.
New York Islanders (+1350)
If they don't beat out Boston, they're going into the playoffs having to win on the road, something they've done only eleven times in 27 tries.
Florida Panthers (+1550)
There are two games left, both against Tampa Bay, which will decide who is second and who is third in the East. And that's a difference-maker. On that basis, Florida provides better value than the Islanders.
Minnesota Wild (+1550)
If you like this team, even with its poor power play (18.3%), this might be a time to jump on them, because it is very conceivable that they could beat out Colorado for #2 in the West, and they had a 5-3 advantage over Vegas in their season series.
Edmonton Oilers (+1700)
They could still win the West, we suppose, but at the very worst they will host a first-round series against either Winnipeg or Montreal (in all probability).
St. Louis Blues (+2000)
With a six-point lead over Arizona, they appear to be the #4 West seed.
Nashville Predators (+3500)
They are four points ahead of Dallas for #4 in the Central, and the Stars have three games left.
Winnipeg Jets (+3500)
They've clinched a playoff berth. They'll be either the third or fourth seed in the North, depending on how the Jets and Montreal do in their four remaining games.
Montreal Canadiens (+4500)
Dallas Stars (+5600)
A glimmer of hope, but that's all. They'll almost certainly have to beat Tampa Bay (a team they've lost six of seven to) and then beat Chicago twice to be alive.
All of the following teams are at 300-1 (+30000):
Los Angeles Kings
None of those four teams have been mathematically eliminated yet. The most unusual case is in Vancouver, where the Canucks got hit hard by the coronavirus and still have nine games left to play, seven of them on the road. With only 41 points (four more than Buffalo), they'll likely have to win all of them to have any chance at making the 16-team playoff field. Having lost each of their last six games, well, you can figure it out.
I've thought for a while that Colorado is the best team. But if you look at all of this and ask yourself where you might be getting the best price, what about Carolina (+600)? After all, the Hurricanes have the inside track to have the most points in the NHL, which would give them home ice throughout. At that point their 20-3-4 home record (where they've outscored opponents 93-54) looms large.
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