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NHL Futures: Best Bet for Western Conference Winner (21-22)

by September 1, 2021

As the summer begins to wind down, NHL training camps are just around the corner, so we can start to shift our focus to the 2021-22 regular season. With league expansion and free agency winding down, we have an idea of each team’s makeup. With the return of regular divisional structures, let’s analyze our best bet to win the Western Conference Championship.

Odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook

Check out our consensus NHL futures odds across all US sportsbooks >>

After a surprising first-round sweep of the Edmonton Oilers, the Winnipeg Jets fell in the second round of the 2020-21 playoffs to the Montreal Canadiens – the eventual Western Conference Champions. Huh? Yeah, I know, weird.

Their early playoff exit was disheartening, but it marked an improvement over their loss in the qualifying round last year.

Getting swept by the ‘Habs wasn’t ideal, but this team has plenty to build on. Especially after two savvy defensive additions this offseason. Let’s look at their offseason moves:

Key Additions: C Riley Nash, D Brenden Dillon, D Nate Schmidt, G Eric Comrie 

Key Losses: G Laurent Brossoit, C Mathieu Perreault, C Nate Thompson, D Derek Forbort

Losing Perreault is a slight blow to their bottom-six, but they have quite a few youngsters ready to make the jump from the minors. Brossoit was an experienced and reliable backup goaltender, but Comrie should be serviceable in his place. Also, it isn’t like starter Connor Hellebuyck has to sit that often.

Otherwise, there are no other losses to lament.

The team’s general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, filled the biggest hole on the roster by bringing in defensemen Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt. Winnipeg gave up the 12-most shots against last season, and they ranked in the bottom half of the league with a CF% of 48.3. They also gave up the third-most expected goals against, despite finishing 10th-best in goals against because of Hellebuyck.

Dillon is a defensive stalwart, and Schmidt will boost puck movement from the backend. Considering they only gave up draft picks and no prospects, it was shrewd of Winnipeg to bring in these two.

Also, Hellebuyck even had a “down year” last season.

2019-20:

  • GAA: 2.57
  • SV%: .922
  • GSAA: 22.4

2020-21:

  • GAA: 2.58
  • SV%: .916
  • GSAA: 11.0

While his goals against and save percentages looked similar, his GSAA dropped by 11.4. With an improved defense in front of him, we should expect numbers closer to two years ago, which is scary for his Central Division foes.

Let’s analyze the team’s advanced statistics from the 2020-21 regular season and league rank below:

Numbers courtesy of Evolving-Hockey 

  • CF%: 48.3 – #18
  • xGF%: 46.87 – #23
  • GF/60: 2.41 – #12
  • GA/60: 2.23 – #20
  • xGF/60: 2.2 – #20
  • xGA/60: 2.5 – #25

Analytically, this team does not grade out well. However, due to their high-end offensive and goaltending talent, they can outperform their metrics every year. That’s another reason to take a hybrid approach when analyzing hockey.

This team finished 12th in league scoring last season with 3.04 goals per game. Kyle Connor was on pace for over 40 goals, and both Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers scored 21. With Pierre Luc-Dubois finally settled into their system, this team boasts exceptional offensive depth.   

If their defensive play improves like it should, look for Winnipeg to make a deep playoff run.

Pick: Winnipeg Jets (+2000)

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Jordan Anderson is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Jordan, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @Jordan_A03.

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