The NHL season is here.
The longest of the four major North American sports is upon us, and all eyes will be on whether the Colorado Avalanche can repeat as Stanley Cup champions. The Avs needed just 20 games to claim the trophy a year ago and return largely the same core.
The Avs were the preseason favorites in 2021-22 but will enter this season with the proverbial bulls-eye on their back. There is no shortage of powerful clubs looking to knock them off and raise a banner in their home arena.
Here’s a glimpse at the preseason NHL playoff chase in the Eastern and Western Conferences.
Odds To Make NHL Playoffs
Hockey playoff odds are current as of Thursday, Oct. 6, at 3 p.m. ET and courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.
- Colorado Avalanche (-3000)
- Toronto Maple Leafs (-1000)
- Florida Panthers (-700)
- Tampa Bay Lightning (-700)
- Calgary Flames (-600)
- Carolina Hurricanes (-600)
- Edmonton Oilers (-600)
- Minnesota Wild (-430)
- Pittsburgh Penguins (-430)
- Vegas Golden Knights (-270)
- New York Rangers(-260)
- Los Angeles Kings (-205)
- St. Louis Blues (-192)
- Nashville Predators (-182)
- Boston Bruins (-174)
- Washington Capitals (-172)
- Dallas Stars (-142)
- New York Islanders (-112)
- Vancouver Canucks (-112)
- Winnipeg Jets (+150)
- New Jersey Devils (+180)
- Ottawa Senators (+200)
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The Avalanche are the defending champions and will bring back most of the roster that finally ascended to the summit in 2022. Colorado has made the postseason in five straight seasons under coach Jared Bednar and features arguably the league’s best gamebreaker in Nathan MacKinnon and defenseman in Cale Makar, the 2022 Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, the NHL’s bridesmaid since 1967, come in next with a loaded roster that includes reigning Hart Trophy winner Auston Matthews, then Atlantic Division rivals the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers follow them. Tampa Bay has represented the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup final in three straight seasons.
The New York Rangers, runners-up to Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference, and Edmonton Oilers, who were swept by Colorado in the Western Conference final in 2022, each also remain among the favorites to get back to the postseason it their respective conference.
The Vegas Golden Knights missed the playoffs for the first time in their five-year existence last season after an injury-plagued campaign, but led by Jack Eichel, Mark Stone and first-year coach Bruce Cassidy, oddsmakers feel they shouldn’t make it two straight years outside the field.
NHL Division Favorites
Atlantic: Toronto Maple Leafs (+180)
The Maple Leafs hold the longest series-win drought in the NHL — they’re the lone club to fail to advance in the postseason in the “new NHL" or since the 2004-05 NHL lockout — yet are the favorites to win the East and on the short list of favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup.
Toronto has been planning the parade for years, ever since Matthews, linemate Mitch Marner and No. 1 defenseman Morgan Rielly and Co. started annually reaching the postseason. Still, I am loathe to bet the Leafs to win anything in the postseason until I see them win a playoff round.
Even regular-season success hasn’t been founded. Toronto has only finished atop its division once since 2000 — in the makeshift North Division in the COVID-affected year of 2020-21. Sharing a division with the powerful Panthers (+230) and Lightning (+260), plus the Bruins (+1000) who always seem to be a thorn in Toronto’s side, the Maple Leafs will have plenty of competition for the top spot in their division.
Metropolitan: Carolina Hurricanes (+200)
I love the Hurricanes. I love their stars, Sebastian Aho, Jaccob Slavin and Frederik Andersen in goal. I love their offseason additions, notably Brent Burns and Max Pacioretty. I love their coach Rod Brind’Amour. I love Whalers Night and the Storm Surge and all the other fun elements the team activates on a night-in, night-out basis.
I love Carolina to win the Cup. Betting the Canes to win their division, which they’ve done two straight seasons, feels like free money especially since the Metro has only gotten older and slower since the season ended.
Central: Colorado Avalanche (-150)
The only minus-money favorite in the sport is justified mainly due to the fact the Avs are loaded, and the Central Division features two of the worst teams in hockey in the Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes.
With all due respect to the Minnesota Wild (+400) and Nashville Predators (+1000), there is no justifiable reason to think Colorado won’t finish atop the standings at season’s end.
Pacific: Calgary Flames (+220)
The Flames offseason was a roller coaster. Calgary watched star forward Johnny Gaudreau walk in free agency to Columbus then traded breakout winger Matthew Tkachuk to Florida, which was bad. But Calagry acquired Jonathan Huberdeau from the Panthers, along with gem defenseman Mackenzie Weegar, then signed center Nazem Kadri, which was good.
- Read up on the latest 2023 Hart Trophy Odds and picks.
Calgary is still well-coached by Darryl Sutter, and Weegar should provide stability on the Flames’ blue line, which was torched in the playoffs by Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers in the second round, plus goalie Jacob Markstrom (NHL-high 9 shutouts in 2021-22) is solid. The Oilers (+250) are still good on paper, and the Golden Knights (+410) should rebound, but Calgary is the favorite at the moment.
Eastern Conference Favorites
Carolina Hurricanes (+500)
Toronto Maple Leafs (+500)
Florida Panthers (+550)
How could the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners get even better? Well, they did on paper, especially on offense, after acquiring Tkachuk, who is coming off a 42-goal, 104-point season, from the Flames. Plus, Florida added veteran coach Paul Maurice, who brings loads of playoff coaching experience that 2021-22 interim coach Andrew Brunette frankly did not.
The Panthers are hoping Maurice’s structure, plus their overwhelming offense of Tkachuk, superstar center Aleksander Barkov and top defenseman Aaron Ekblad produces a more playoff-style format. Florida was swept by the rival Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round last year.
Tampa Bay Lightning (+650)
The Lightning have won the Prince of Wales Trophy three straight years, and their core remains largely in tact in 2022-23. Gone to Nashville is defenseman Ryan McDonagh, but otherwise the core that won two championships and played for a third in 2022 is largely unchanged.
You can worry about fatigue, particularly with goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has played 228 games over the past three seasons including 71 in the high-stress Stanley Cup playoffs. But a bet on the Lightning to win a fourth straight conference title — something that hasn’t been done since the New York Islanders won five straight between 1980-84 — can’t be deemed a bad one.
New York Rangers (+1000)
The Rangers are largely star-driven, but their stars are among the best in hockey. Goalie Igor Shesterkin handily won the Vezina Trophy and was a finalist for the Hart as NHL MVP. Adam Fox was the 2021 Norris Trophy winner and should be on the short list of favorites for the next decade.
Chris Kreider scored 52 goals (third-most in the NHL), Artemi Panarin had 96 points (T-11th most) and Gerard Gallant was a Jack Adams finalist in 2021-22 as each road a dream season to the Eastern Conference final.
Will 2023 be the year New York gets over the hump and returns to the final? With its star-power and fledgling depth — center Vincent Trocheck was an exceptional offseason pick up — the Rangers are as good a bet as any.
Western Conference Favorites
Colorado Avalanche (+200)
Calgary Flames (+700)
Edmonton Oilers (+700)
The Oilers came just four wins shy of the Cup final a year ago and will return their star-studded top-six forward group and an arguably improved goaltending situation in Jack Campbell and Mike Smith rather than trusting Smith to carry the workload all season.
Can Edmonton get back to the Cup final for the first time with McDavid, and overall since 2006? I wouldn’t bet it.
Minnesota Wild (+850)
If you’re looking for a Western Conference upstart to crash the Colorado repeat, Minnesota has all the pieces.
Hart Trophy-caliber forward? Kirill Kaprizov. (Check)
Playoff-tested starter in goal? Marc-Andre Fleury. (Check)
Shutdown defenseman? Matt Dumba. (Check)
Solid coach? Dean Evason. (Check)
Playoff experience? Yes. Minnesota’s made the playoffs nine of the past 10 seasons.
Now it’s all about putting it all together and getting over the hump. Can the Wild do it? Yes. Will they? We’ll see.
Vegas Golden Knights (+1000)
Vegas will enter this season with the lowest expectations since its inaugural campaign, 2017-18, which also resulted in its trip to the Stanley Cup final. The Golden Knights are still loaded with Eichel, Stone and especially on defense with Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore.
There are bona fide questions in goal, especially since 2021-22 starter Robin Lehner is expected the entire season due to a hip injury, but if Vegas can shore that up there aren’t too many more talented teams.
Best NHL Playoff Bets
New Jersey Devils Make the Playoffs (+180)
The Eastern Conference top-eight may look set already, but every year there is an upstart that crashes the field. Expect it to be New Jersey this season. The Devils have a star-studded top-six in centers Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, plus wings Jesper Bratt, Andreas Johnsson and Ondrej Palat, who they signed away from Tampa Bay in free agency.
Yet, it’s in goal where New Jersey stands to make the biggest difference. Vitek Vanecek, acquired from the Washington Capitals, stands to give the Devils stability if incumbent Mackenzie Blackwood struggles or is injured again.
The Devils had 236.3 Expected Goals Against in all situations last season, according to Natural Stat Trick, yet actually surrendered 307 goals, fourth-most in the league. That should change this season.
Plus, the odds are great on this futures bet if it hits.
Vancouver Canucks Make the Playoffs (-112)
The Canucks have all the pieces in place to both make the playoffs but then go on a postseason run once they do. Vancouver has a pair of superstar forwards in Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller, the latter of which is coming off a 99-point season.
The Canucks have an awesome two-defenseman in Quinn Hughes and a really good No. 1 goalie in Thatcher Demko, who has playoff experience — he had a .985 save percentage in four postseason starts in the bubble in 2020 and almost singlehandedly carried Vancouver to the conference final.
Plus, Vancouver finally has an exceptional coach in Bruce Boudreau. The playoffs seem not only likely, but assured, especially in the top-heavy Western Conference and specifically in the Pacific Division where the Oilers and Kings should regress.
Take the odds, and trust Vancouver to get into the tournament.