Puck drop for the 2019-20 NHL season is less than a month away and training camps have started across the league. There are still big names like Mitch Marner (Leafs), Patrick Laine (Jets), Brayden Point (Lightning), Mikko Rantanen (Avalanche), and Matthew Tkachuk (Flames) without contracts. While I expect deals to be reached for all of these players, there is no guarantee. If a holdout takes place, it will leave their respective teams with big shoes to fill.
This article will take a look at which team is the best bet to win the Eastern and Western Conference. The Eastern conference favorites are certainly more top-heavy with the Lightning, Maple Leafs, Bruins, and Capitals looking like serious contenders. The parity in the Western Conference is very strong this year, as the betting odds are extremely close between eight hockey clubs.
Tampa Bay Lightning (+275 on DraftKings Sportsbook)
It’s never exciting taking a team to win the title back-to-back, but this Lightning team is simply loaded with talent. The Lightning return Hart Trophy winner, Nikita Kucherov, former Norris trophy winner, Victor Hedman, perennial All-Star, Steven Stamkos, and Vezina winner, Andrei Vasilevskiy. They should have 92-point forward, Brayden Point, re-signed by the start of the season as well.
Tampa was flat out dominant last season as they went on to win the Eastern Conference by 21 points over the Bruins. With the same remaining core intact, expect to see them be the team to beat in the East again this year. They have young talent in (D) Mikhail Sergachev, (F) Anthony Cirelli, and (F) Mathieu Joseph — all of whom will no doubt take another step forward in their production this season.
The Washington Capitals should challenge the Lightning this year, but I have my concerns with their aging core. Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and goalie Braden Holtby are in their 30s now. The Maple Leafs traded for elite defensemen Tyson Barrie in the offseason, but lost Nazem Kadri in the deal. They lost a good defenseman in Jake Gardiner this offseason as well, and star Mitch Marner is still holding out for big money.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are extremely top-heavy after losing Phil Kessel. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will have to put their team on their backs this season. The Bruins will remain a threat, but with little improvement over the offseason, I do not expect them to leap forward.
Dallas Stars (+600 on DraftKings Sportsbook)
The West is wide open and the Dallas Stars pose a serious threat to win the conference. They had one of the best offseasons in the NHL, signing forward Joe Pavelski, former 50-goal scorer, Corey Perry, and steady D-man Andrej Sekera. Pavelski has been one of the most consistent scoring threats in the last several years, with six straight 20-goal seasons.
They already have superstars Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and Jamie Benn. They are battle tested and their experience in the playoffs will help this year. The Stars beat the Nashville Predators in the first round last year, and lost in seven games to the Stanley Cup Champion Blues.
The added depth will help with their goal scoring issues. In 2018-19, the Stars had 136 five-on-five goals — tied for 29th in the league. Their defense and goaltending situation remains strong, so they appear to be a true contender this year.
The betting favorite, the Vegas Golden Knights, may be the biggest threat to the Stars’ chances. They have arguably the deepest forward core, as all four of their lines can produce. Marc-Andre Fleury continues to be an elite goalie year-by-year and their defense is steady. However, they did not make any additions in the offseason.
The Avalanche have young superstars Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen and had a busy offseason retooling their roster. They could definitely surprise some people this year. The Predators are always in the picture and the Flames have a fast, skilled team. The West will be very fun to watch this year.