The NHL has been off since February 9, as its players compete in Sochi on various Olympic teams around the world. The league will resume play on Tuesday, February 25. TheSportsNotebook is going to be running a series of articles between now and then to get us ready for the final portion of the regular season, leading into the playoffs in April. We’ll start here with a review of the Stanley Cup betting odds…
*No clear favorite has emerged. The Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Mighty Ducks are all 5-1, as the smart money is clearly tilted heavily to the Western Conference. The only Eastern Conference favorite, the Pittsburgh Penguins, are a hair behind at 11-2.
*Jonathan Quick is in goal for the U.S. Olympic team and in his NHL life, he makes the Los Angeles Kings dangerous in any postseason. The Kings are 15-1, even though they are fighting for their playoff life.
*No sporting event treats the longshots better than the NHL playoffs. I don’t know if 20-1 is a steep enough payoff to qualify as a longshot, but at the very least it moves us from legitimate challengers to dark horses. The Colorado Avalanche (20-1) and New York Rangers (22-1) are in that range.
*I’m surprise at the lack of respect for legitimate Eastern Conference contenders. The Montreal Canadiens are 35-1, in spite of being in strong position to make the playoffs. This is a team that won its division in last year’s regular season over Boston. Even allowing for the postseason flameout, it shows Montreal has talent.
*I’m even more surprised at the open dissing of the Detroit Red Wings, who sit at 50-1. Now the Red Wings are to the East what the Kings are to the West, and that’s a team fighting for their playoff life. But Detroit, like Los Angeles, would qualify if the season ended today. Detroit is a franchise with a long record of success and they were the only team to push Chicago to the edge of elimination in the 2013 NHL playoffs.
*The Toronto Maple Leafs being priced at 50-1 is less surprising, but the Leafs nearly beat Boston in last year’s playoffs and Toronto has good, young talent and depth at goalie. They’re also settled into the 4-5 spot on the playoff draw, so they should make it back.
*Seven teams in the Eastern Conference that are fighting for three playoff spots are stacked within six points of each other. As of today, the NY Rangers, Philadelphia and Detroit would make it, but Ottawa, Columbus, Carolina and New Jersey can change the game almost overnight.
*The situation in the West isn’t quite as chaotic, but there is a lot of fluidity in the race for the eight-spot. Dallas and Phoenix are tied, Vancouver and Winnipeg a point back and Nashville just four points behind.