Oddsmakers have already weighed in with their Stanley Cup favorites for the 2021-22 season. In their view the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights are the favorites to win it all.
Yet, betting odds don’t mean too much when teams hit the ice. Here are the top five teams that will be hard to eliminate in the postseason. One of them is likely destined to win Lord Stanley’s trophy when it’s all said and done.
1. Florida Panthers: Hear the Cats roar!
The Florida Panthers finished ahead of the Lightning in the regular season but were eliminated by the eventual Champs in the playoffs. This offseason they made some excellent decisions and it could pay off with the Cup high overhead.
Re-signing Sam Bennett, Carter Verhaeghe, Anthony Duclair and Brandon Montour were no-brainers, but acquiring Sam Reinhart from the dysfunctional Buffalo Sabres gives them even more offensive punch. Adding Joe Thornton’s veteran savvy to go with the overflowing collection of in-their-prime players was a smart move too.
Aleksander Barkov is obviously going to need to put up a Conn Smythe performance in order to get them over the top. Of course, Barkov won’t be going it alone as Jonathan Huberdeau will play a big role. A healthy Aaron Ekblad on defense could get them over the top.
Their biggest question is in goal. Can Spencer Knight overtake Sergei Bobrovsky? Can Bobrovsky and his $10M cap hit return to form? If either one happens, Florida could be your Stanley Cup Champions in 2022.
2. Colorado Avalanche: Is it now or never?
The Avalanche are the favorite at BetMGM (+500), Bovada (+500), DraftKings (+500), PointsBet (+550) and FanDuel (+650). Colorado won the Presidents’ Trophy for posting the best regular-season record last season before falling to Vegas in the second round of the postseason.
This summer, the Avs have been doing housekeeping and plugging holes. Starting goalie — and Vezina Trophy finalist — Philipp Grubauer departed via free agency, as did Brandon Saad, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Patrik Nemeth. The Avalanche acquired goalie Darcy Kuemper and signed free agents Darren Helm and Ryan Murray as replacements.
The Avs still boast high-end talent in their prime led by Nathan MacKinnon. They also locked up two of their own key players in Cale Makar and captain Gabriel Landeskog. A first place finish should be no problem for this team.
For all that skill, is Keumper really the answer in goal or is another move coming? Goaltending is important, but the Avs are so stacked that even capable goaltending could win them a championship.
3. Vegas Golden Knights: Will an easy division be a blessing or a curse
The Golden Knights, who matched the Avalanche with 82 regular-season points, lost to the Canadiens in the playoff semifinals. Vegas is listed at +550 at PointsBet, +600 at Bovada, +650 at BetMGM, +750 at FanDuel and +800 on DraftKings.
After reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season of 2018, the Golden Knights have been a contender but keep falling short in big part due to a lack of offensive firepower.
To bolster the attack, they traded away face-of-the-franchise goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to clear up cap space — with forwards Tomas Nosek, Cody Glass and Ryan Reaves and defenseman Nick Holden also departing — and added Evgenii Dadonov, Brett Howden, Mattias Janmark and Nolan Patrick.
They still boast Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, and Alex Pietrangelo, making Vegas easily the class of the division.
The big question is if playing in a weak Pacific will help or hurt once the unforgiving playoffs begin.
4. New York Islanders: Built for postseason play
The Islanders are the division’s best-built team for playoffs. They cleared needed salary-cap space by trading away Nick Leddy and Andrew Ladd and having Jordan Eberle claimed by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, which was key to re-signing defensemen Adam Pelech to an eight year-contract extension.
The Islanders will be much the same team that lost to the Lightning in seven games in the semifinal round once signing restricted free agents Ilya Sorokin and Anthony Beauvillier and inking unrestricted free-agents Kyle Palmieri, and Casey Cizikis.
Zach Parise, who has ties to Islanders general manager Lou Lamoirello from their days in New Jersey has already said he has a deal in place that has yet to be made official.
The biggest issue for the Islanders will be health as they play in the toughest (and meanest) division in hockey. The Metropolitan Division boast other contenders in the Penguins, Capitals, and Hurricanes. On top of that, the up and coming Rangers, Flyers, and Devils are physical contests. Same for the Blue Jackets who return to the division.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning: Three-peat?
The two-time champs re-signed Brayden Point, after shedding salary by letting Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow and David Savard leave via free-agency, losing Yanni Gourde to the expansion Seattle Kraken and trading Tyler Johnson to Chicago.
The Lightning remain contenders having added forwards Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and backup goalie Brian Elliott.
While none of the additions will have folks jumping out of their seats, Tampa is loaded with talent and knows how to win.
Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy are four of the best players in the world and they’re all on the same team.
-Field Level Media contributed to this report.