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The 2021-22 NHL season is upon us, which means it’s time to preview the season and take a look at which teams are bound for greatness, and who might break your expectations.

We’re going to look at the upcoming season in a few different ways, first focusing on division winners, then breaking down which teams could win the Presidents’ Trophy and Stanley Cup, followed by a rundown of the biggest MVP candidates on an individual level.

Pacific Division

The weakest division in the NHL this season also boasts one of the league’s top Stanley Cup contenders in the Vegas Golden Knights. Oddsmakers can clearly see the situation here, so the Golden Knights payout very little as a division winner bet at just -160. The Golden Knights are so much stronger than every other team in the division that I wouldn’t advise betting against them.

The Edmonton Oilers are always an interesting team because of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but they already saw a generational season from McDavid last year, and it didn’t get them far. I think Edmonton’s chances of winning the division are far longer than their +375 odds suggest.

The Calgary Flames and Seattle Kraken are both intriguing, with Darryl Sutter being a proven coach who can squeeze blood from a stone, and the Kraken being an unknown that could surprise, but at +1000 and +750 respectively, I don’t think the payout is large enough for either team to actually win the division.

Long story short, bet on the sure thing here even if the take home isn’t large, and go with the Golden Knights.

Central Division

Like the Pacific Division, there is an abundantly clear favourite in the Central, as the Western Conference only has two real contenders that have proven their worth. The Colorado Avalanche have even shorter odds than the Golden Knights do at just -250, but they’re a safe bet to win this division.

If you’re a bit of a risk taker, the Winnipeg Jets are a huge boom or bust team with very long odds to win the division at +1400, but with a plethora of high-end scoring talent, the potential for a bounce back season from Pierre-Luc Dubois, and a revamped defensive group with the addition of Nate Schmidt and Brendan Dillon, the Jets are never an easy out.

Don’t forget they also have the best goaltender in the world in Connor Hellebuyck. The Jets’ combination of elite scoring and elite goaltending has them constantly defying expectations, and they could be a huge return if Colorado’s goaltending falters, since both Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz have struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons.

Metropolitan Division

The Metropolitan is the division with the most uncertainty, as there are no easy teams to face from top to bottom. There are six teams that could potentially win the division this year, and a seventh in the New Jersey Devils that are clearly on the rise.

The New York Rangers appear poised to take off, and the Philadelphia Flyers will be dangerous again if Carter Hart rebounds to even be an average NHL goaltender after being the league’s worst in a nightmare campaign.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Penguins will start the season without both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, with Malkin out long term, and the Carolina Hurricanes lost a Norris Trophy candidate defenceman in Dougie Hamilton. The Washington Capitals are also a factor but I think their best years as a team are behind them.

With so many good teams in this division, the most proven team actually has a decent payout to win the division. Based on their summer moves, the New York Islanders are going all out to win this year after two straight seasons losing in the third round of the playoffs. At +275, the Islanders have the same odds to win the division as Carolina, but their dependable defensive style, the return of team captain Anders Lee, and the addition of veterans looking to win like Zdeno Chara and Zach Parise push them over the edge for me.

Atlantic Division

It’s tough to bet against the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who have are priced at +210 to win the Atlantic, but even though they’re getting Nikita Kucherov back for this regular season, this team lost their entire second line to the salary cap and the expansion draft, which can’t be ignored.

The Boston Bruins also suffered losses, with Tuukka Rask’s future uncertain due to surgery and David Krejci’s retirement to go back home to the Czech Republic. The Montreal Canadiens almost imploded their team with the losses of Phillip Danault, Shea Weber, Tomas Tatar, Corey Perry, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Not to mention, they’re starting the season with injuries to Carey Price, Joel Edmundson and newcomer Mike Hoffman.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are essentially running the same roster as last season, though they’ll face stiffer competition this season than in their uncontested run to the North Division title.

The most interesting team heading into this season is actually the Florida Panthers, who finished ahead of the Lightning last season despite losing Aaron Ekblad for the stretch run. The Panthers made a huge addition over the summer in adding Sam Reinhart to their forward group, and they’ll be running with goalie of the future Spencer Knight this year. Knight has only played six NHL games, two in the playoffs, but his college career was spectacular and his showings in the NHL have been extremely strong so far.

There’s a risk in backing the Panthers with Knight and overpaid veteran Sergei Bobrovsky in goal, but at +425 in a division where the top teams have all been hurt by losing players, the Panthers are a very tempting bet.

Presidents’ Trophy

When it comes to the Presidents’ Trophy for the top point-getting team, the competition is really between two. The Eastern Conference is so much tighter at the top and in the middle than the West, which should allow both the Avalanche and Golden Knights to pile up points to a degree that other top teams won’t be able to.

The Avalanche are the odds-on favourite to win the regular season at +250, but the Golden Knights were neck and neck with them all of last season and get to play in a weaker division. Combine a weaker schedule and a better return on investment, and I’m calling Vegas the best bet to win the Presidents’ Trophy at +550.

Stanley Cup

The most difficult championship to predict in sports, the Stanley Cup is won more often by a good team that was able to stay reasonably healthy, rather than by the overall best team. However, I don’t think you’d find many people who would disagree that the Lightning have been the best team in the NHL over the last two seasons.

A third straight Stanley Cup win hasn’t been done since the Islanders won four straight in the early 1980s, so how ironic that the best value pick for winning the Stanley Cup right now is… the New York Islanders.

With Barry Trotz running the bench, the Islanders have been close to the promised land two straight seasons and no one played the Lightning harder in 2021. With a team that isn’t full of youth, the clock is running on this Islanders group to get it done in their competitive window, and they have those feel-good stories to play for in Chara and Parise.

At +1500 to win the Stanley Cup, the Islanders are arguably a top-four team in the league over the last couple years and they’re being weighted as a mid-tier playoff team. The risk is worth it on this one.