Once again, NHL betting fans who got in on early 2022 player award futures were served a heaping helping of disappointment when the hardware was handed out during the Stanley Cup Finals. While Cale Makar rewarded loyal bettors with a narrow win after topping the Norris Trophy odds since last summer, the early favorites to claim the remainder of the league’s top awards proved to be a disappointment.
The race for the dubious distinction of being the biggest disappointment was close, but that honor has to go to Montreal Canadiens forward Cole Caufield. The fleet-footed winger played a key role in the Habs’ unlikely march to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, racking up 12 points in 20 games, and earning himself a place atop the Calder Trophy opening odds as a strong +275 favorite.
However, the Canadiens shed key members of their veteran core before kicking off this past season on a dismal run that cost Dominic Ducharme his job as a coach. As a result, Caufield quickly became a non-factor in the race to be named top rookie. The award eventually to Detroit rearguard Mortiz Seider, who had opened well back of Caufield as a +1150 bet.
Igor Shesterkin’s climb to Vezina Trophy winner also provided an example of the value that can be found among longshots in opening NHL futures odds. Shesterkin stormed onto the NHL scene, winning 10 of his first 12 games in the New York Rangers net, but received little respect from oddsmakers, who gave the early nod for the Vezina to veterans Andrei Vasilevskiy, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Philipp Grubauer, while tagging Shesterkin as a +2000 wager.
That proved to be a dream play for bettors. Shesterkin blossomed into an elite NHL goaltender last season, racking up 36 wins, six shutouts, and league-bests in goals against average (2.07) and save percentage (93.5%).
A fixture at or near the top of the Stanley Cup odds for the past three years, the Colorado Avalanche finally fulfilled their promise and lifted the Cup for the first time since 2001. Unsurprisingly, the Avs have opened as strong favorites to defend their crown in 2022-23, with odds as short as +400 with DraftKings. Is there any value in that bet?
Colorado’s championship core is poised to return largely intact, but with a couple of key exceptions. Gone is starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who wasted no time singing with the Washington Capitals as a free agent. The likelihood of center Nazem Kadri returning to the fold also looks slim, as Kadri is hitting the free agent market on the heels of a career-best 89-point campaign. Due to salary cap concerns, a return to Colorado is unlikely.
The loss of Kadri would leave a big hole in the middle that’s unlikely to be filled from within. At least not right away. However, the Avs have taken a step to fill the void left by Kuemper’s departure by acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the Rangers.
Even with the losses of Kuemper and a heart-and-soul player like Kadri, it is tough to see this team taking a big step back. While there’s some off-season roster juggling to do, Colorado’s situation is still preferable to those of division rivals Minnesota and St. Louis, both of which have had to part with key players in order to free up cap space. Meanwhile, Johnny Gaudreau’s departure from Calgary, along with the Vegas Golden Knights’ ongoing fire sale diminishes those teams’ chances to contend.
But, as is the case with NHL awards betting, chasing favorites is often a fool’s errand. However, it is safe to make an exception when it comes to wagering on a Central Division winner, with Colorado’s short -160 odds with FanDuel representing a value bet.
Yet another heartbreaking opening-round playoff series loss in seven games has not dimmed the enthusiasm of loyal sports bettors, who’ve returned the Toronto Maple Leafs to their now-traditional place among the early Stanley Cup favorites, with odds of +1000 with PointsBet and FanDuel.
But are the Leafs really any closer to glory than they were at the end of last season? On paper, Toronto remains one of the most highly-skilled teams in hockey. However, reviews have been mixed on their recent moves between the pipes. General manager Kyle Dubas deserves credit for correcting a mistake he made last summer when he signed oft-injured netminder Petr Mrazek, who was recently shipped off to Chicago.
There has been far less enthusiasm about his decision to let Jack Campbell leave town via free agency, and replacing him with former Senator Matt Murray and the underachieving Ilya Samsonov.
A Stanley Cup winner in Pittsburgh early in his career, the oft-injured Murray’s two seasons in Ottawa, when he won just 15 games in 47 total appearances, were his worst as a pro. Things have not gone much better for Samsonov. The former first-round pick was largely outplayed by Vitek Vanecek in the Washington net last season and wound up without a qualifying offer from the Capitals.
Leafs Nation is right to remain confident that their club can once again be a dominant force during the regular season. Indeed, with Auston Matthews leading the charge, the Leafs will be involved in plenty of entertaining, high-scoring contests. The Leafs are deservedly perched as betting favorites to win the Atlantic Division, with odds of +200 at FanDuel.
However, prudent bettors should remain cautious about backing the Buds in Stanley Cup betting, where a large and loyal fan base fuel inflated odds. However, until either Murray or Samsonov proves capable of carrying a championship squad, the best strategy come playoff time is to fade the Leafs.