It seems like just yesterday the Tampa Bay Lightning were raising the Stanley Cup for the second straight season, but the NHL preseason is set to get underway on September 25th. This season sees the debut of the Seattle Kraken, the 32nd NHL franchise, who will host their rivals from just across the border the Vancouver Canucks on September 26th. The preseason opens with one of the oldest rivalries in professional sports when the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs go head to head.
The 2021-2022 season will also see a return to normalcy for the league, as divisions will realign to their pre-pandemic groupings. The all-Canadian division was fun while it lasted, but with travel across the borders re-opening, the NHL has decided to return to the prior four divisions. The only change is that Seattle replaces Arizona in the Pacific division, and the Coyotes will move to the Central division.
Despite winning their second straight Stanley Cup, the Lightning still trails the Colorado Avalanche as the odds-on favorites to raise Lord Stanley in 2022. Currently, the Avs top the list at +450, while Tampa Bay is right behind them at +550. Toronto comes in as the first Canadian team on the board and despite their recent playoff struggles, the Leafs are a +1100 favorite which is good for the fourth-highest odds.
Last season’s Stanley Cup runners up from Montreal are a distant +2800, and trail the Edmonton Oilers as the third-highest Canadian team. The oddsmakers once again have a top-heavy Stanley Cup futures market, with the Avalanche, the Lightning, and the Golden Knights as the only teams with lower than 10 to 1 odds to win the cup.
A couple of longer shot picks that could net a tidy profit include the New York Islanders at +2000. The Isles took Tampa Bay to the brink in the Eastern Conference Finals and were the clear second-best team in the playoffs. A Barry Trotz team is always in the mix, particularly with New York’s solid defensive core and goaltending.
The aforementioned Edmonton Oilers had a busy offseason and were determined to shore up their defense. Well, they did so in a big way by locking up Darnell Nurse with an eight-year deal, signing Cody Ceci in free agency, and adding veteran Duncan Keith via a trade. The Oilers also added two-way forward Zack Hyman in free agency, as well as re-signing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to his own eight-year deal. The big question is in goal, where Mike Smith re-upped for two more years as the team’s number one goaltender. The world-class talent is there at forward with McDavid and Draisaitl, so getting the odds at +2200 before the season starts could be a steal.
Montreal Canadiens @ Toronto Maple Leafs:
What better matchup to open the 2021-2022 NHL Preseason than the Habs and the Leafs. Toronto is no doubt still bitter about being upset in the first round of the playoffs last year, as Montreal came out on top in the seventh and deciding game. Even though this is preseason, the rivalry is always there just bubbling under the surface. With goaltender Carey Price undergoing knee surgery in the offseason, I expect the Habs to ease him into the season. Motivation is key, and the Leafs know that another disappointing season could cause a major shuffle throughout the whole organization. Bet on Toronto to come out strong and focussed, and take it to Montreal who could see a bit of a Stanley Cup Finals hangover to start the year.
Vancouver Canucks @ Seattle Kraken:
The next night sees the debut of the Seattle Kraken as they host their first-ever NHL game. The Canucks have a lot of young, top-end talent, but just have not put things together under head coach Travis Green. General Manager Jim Benning could be in the hot seat if the team gets out to another slow start this year. Benning was active this offseason, locking up Connor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson in a major trade with the Coyotes. Benning also added some depth in Jason Dickinson and re-signed Travis Hamonic and Brandon Sutter.
After a brief experiment with Braden Holtby, the Canucks reaffirmed that Thatcher Demko is indeed the goaltender of the present and future. Canucks fans will be looking to Demko to regain his form from the 2019 playoffs. The recent success of the Las Vegas Golden Knights has given fans a distorted view of NHL expansion. I wouldn’t expect the Kraken to be as successful as the Knights, especially with who they ended up within the expansion draft. Bet on Vancouver to take this game and ruin the Kraken’s historic first night in the NHL.