The NHL is back in less than a month now for its 105th season with Tuesday, October 12 being Opening Night and two games before things skate into full swing that Wednesday and Thursday. Let’s look at the Central Division in the third of our four divisional odds previews which will see the NHL returning to its previous alignment.
The Avalanche (-205 to win the Central Division, BetOnline.ag) are solid favorites to win the Central Division, and with the second-best overall Record in the NHL last
Season (39-13-4) and tied with VGK for the most points (82 points) and such poor competition, no case can really be made for any of the other seven teams.
Colorado (+250 to win Western Conference) finished with the best Home Record (22-4-2) in the NHL last season but Colorado was eliminated in the Playoffs in the Second Round, losing four straight to VGK after taking a quick 2-0 series lead.
The Avalanche outscored the Blues and VGK 27-10 in winning their first 6 Postseason games before completely hitting a wall on June 4 in Las Vegas and then losing four in a row in a series between two of the best teams in the NHL.
Star Nathan MacKinnon (65 points) and the Avalanche (197 GF-133 GA) look to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals this season, so another showdown with Vegas again in the Playoffs is a very distinct possibility.
With Mikko Rantanen (66 points), MacKinnon (6/1 to win Hart Trophy), Gabriel Landeskog (52 points), Andre Burakovsky (44 points) Cale Makar (44 points), GM Joe Sakic and Colorado have enough offensive firepower (3.52 GPG).
Colorado did suffer an offseason blow, losing Goalie Philipp Grubaeur (30-9-1, 1.95 GAA) to the Seattle Kraken in the Expansion Draft, so expect the Avalanche’s third-best 2.36 GAA to go up some this season with Darcy Kuemper (10-11-3, 2.56 GAA) slated as the new starter after being acquired from the Coyotes.
MacKinnon, Rantanen (16/1 to win Hart Trophy) and the Avs ranked No. 8 on both the Power Play (22.7%) and the Penalty Kill (83.1%) with Defenseman Makar (+450 to win Norris Trophy; 28/1 to win Hart Trophy)—whose brother Taylor was selected by the Avalanche in the NHL Entry Draft—a big reason why.
With questions about Kuemper in net, Head Coach Jared Bednar and the Avalanche (Regular Season Point Total 110½ points, Over/Under -115) may not be quite as strong as they were last season but this paltry Central Division should be a cakewalk and Colorado is still one of the best four teams in the NHL.
Minnesota Wild Preview
The Wild (7/1 to win the Central Division) are the second odds favorites in the Central Division but far from good with Minnesota (12/1 to win Western Conference) ending 35-16-5 record with a +21 GD (181 GF-160 GA) last season.
Feasting on the likes of the Coyotes, Kings, Sharks and the Not So Mighty Ducks in the temporary West Division, the Wild won 18 more games than they lost and is the big reason the record looks so appetizing.
Against Arizona (7-1), San José (5-3), Los Angeles (6-2) and Anaheim (7-1) in 2020-21, Kirill Kaprokov (40/1 to win Hart Trophy) and the Wild (36-12-8, 179 GF-136 GA, +43 GD) went a combined 25-7.Although the Wild (3.21 GPG) went an impressive 20-3-5 at Home at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota was a less than average No. 16 in GAA (2.84), No. 24 on the Power Play (17.6%) and finished No. 12 on the Penalty Kill (80.7%).
TNT will be the home of the @NHL’s marquee outdoor games this season: ❄️ 2022 Discover NHL Winter Classic (Jan. 1) ❄️ 2022 Navy Federal Credit Union NHL Stadium Series (Feb. 26) ❄️ 2022 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic (Mar. 13)
The Wild (12/1 to win Western Conference) will play host to the 2022 NHL Winter Classic at Target Field in Minneapolis on January 1 (TNT) in an outdoor game that had to be postponed a year because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Minnesota was led in scoring by Kaprokov (51 points), Kevin Fiala (40 points), Mats Zuccarello (35 points), Jordan Greenway (32 points), Joel Erikkson Ek (30 points), Marcus Foligno (26 points) and Nick Bonino (26 points).
The Wild (Regular Season Point Total 97½ points, Over/Under -115) used Cam Talbot (19-8-5, 2.63 GAA) and Kaapo Kahkonen (16-8-0, 2.88 GAA) in goal last season and should again benefit from the weakness in the Western Conference.
With most of its core returning, Minnesota (12/1 to win Western Conference) should make the Playoffs but will probably again be eliminated in the Conference First Round as it was by the Golden Knights in seven tough games last season.
Dallas Stars Preview
Joe Pavelski (51 points) and the Stars (7/1 to win the Central Division) are a very average team with a +4 GD last season (158 GF-154 GA) and below .500 records both at Home (13-7-8) and on the Road (10-12-6).
Dallas (Regular Season Point Total 95½ points, Over/Under -115) was led in scoring by Jason Robertson (45 points), Roope Hintz (43 points) and Jamie Benn (35 points) and the Stars averaged 2.74 GPG.
A Dallas strength is its defense with Defenseman John Klingberg (36 points) helping the Stars rank No. 7 in the league in GAA (2.60) with Goalies Anton Khudobin (12-11-7, 2.54 GAA) and Jake Oettinger (11-8-7, 2.36) carrying the load.
And the Stars were No. 5 on the Power Play (23.6%) last season with star Pavelski (200/1 to win Hart Trophy) leading the team in Goals (25).
Playing in the 2021-22 Central Division may appeal to Dallas (14/1 to win Western Conference) more than the 2020-21 version with two-time defending champions Tampa Bay, Florida and Carolina not in its division now after last year’s Pandemic realignment anomaly.
St. Louis Blues Preview
The Blues (12/1 to win the Central Division) -1 GD last season (169 GF-170 GA) reveals a probability that St. Louis will have to fight to make the Playoffs this season and be probably eliminated in the opening round if they do.
Last season, the Blues (Regular Season Point Total 94½ points, Over/Under -115) were swept by the Avalanche in the Conference First Round, getting outscored 20-7 in the process by the Avalanche.
St. Louis (27-20-9) did go 6-2 vs the Wild last season and the Blues will be glad that the Golden Knights are now playing in the Pacific Division, but this team was weak at Home (12-11-5) at the Enterprise Center in the Gateway to the West.
David Perron (200/1 to win Hart Trophy; 58 points), Ryan O’Reilly (54 points), Brayden Schenn (36 points) and Jordan Kyrou (35 points) return but Mike Hoffman (Canadiens) is gone after being signed by the Canadiens to a three-year, $4.5 million a season deal.
St. Louis (14/1 to win Western Conference) did re-sign veteran Tyler Bozak (17 points) to a one-year, $750,000 deal.
The Blues were good on the Power Play (23.2%, #6) but Goalie Jordan Binnington (18-14-8, 2.65 GAA) doesn’t seem like the type of netminder to lead a team to the promised land
Division-mates Minnesota, Dallas, Winnipeg and Chicago all seem pretty close to being at the same level as St. Louis.
Winnipeg Jets Preview
The Jets (14/1 to win the Central Division) played in the all-Canadian North Division last season and will probably find it tougher in the Central Division with a Postseason spot likely harder to snag this time around.
Winnipeg swept Edmonton in the Conference First Round but then the Jets were swept themselves by the Canadiens, getting outscored 14-6 in the Conference Second Round by Les Habs, never holding the lead once in the all-Canadian series.
Winnipeg (Regular Season Point Total 92½ points, Over/Under -115) has Connor Hellebuyuk (24-17-3, 2.58 GAA) in goal and was No. 7 on the Power Play last season (23.0%) and will be a tough opponent when on its game.
Mark Scheifele (63 points), Kyle Connor (50 points), Blake Wheeler (46 points) and Nikolaj Ehlers (46 points) lead the scoring attack for the Jets (Regular Season Point Total 95½ points, Over/Under -115).
Simply making the Playoffs this campaign may seem like a victory for Head Coach Paul Maurice and Winnipeg (18/1 to win Western Conference) who went 13-13-2 in Manitoba at the Canada Life Centre last year. Good teams protect the Home ice.
Chicago Blackhawks Preview
The Blackhawks (20/1 to win the Central Division) traded for talented Goalie Marc André-Fleury (VGK), sending minor league Forward Mikael Hakkarainen to Sin City in exchange for the 36-year-old future NHL Hall of Famer.
Adding Fleury might not make Chicago (Regular Season Point Total 91½ points, Over/Under -115) an instant contender, but at least it gives the team a quality guy to build around and some much-needed hope.
Captain Jonathan Toews (200/1 to win Hart Trophy ) and the Blackhawks open in Denver at Ball Arena against the Avalanche on Thursday, October 14 (TNT, 10 pm ET/7 pm PT; Avalanche -270, Blackhawks -230; Total 6 Over/Under -105).
Last season, Chicago (2.84 GPG) was 25th in GAA (3.29) and No. 28 on the Penalty Kill (76.8%) but 11th on the Power Play (21.7%), so the defense must improve for the Blackhawks (20/1 to win Western Conference) to be a contender.
Chicago (-25) was weak both on Home ice at the United Center in the Windy City (13-11-4) as well as on the Road (11-14-3) and likely won’t improve that much as a seemingly endless rebuild continues for GM Stan Bowman.
Nashville Predators Preview
The predictable Predators (40/1 to win Central Division) had a down 2020-21 season with Nashville doing fine at Home (18-10-0) but average on the Road (13-13-2) with just a +2 GD (156 GF-154 GA) when all was said and done.
Defenseman Roman Josi (33 points), Filip Forsberg (32 points), Calle Jarnkrok (28 points) and Mikael Granlund (27 points) were the leading point producers for Nashville (31-23-2) last season and all return.
The Preds (Regular Season Point Total 84½ points, Over/Under -115) biggest problems may be on the Penalty Kill (75.4, #29) and a hard schedule with eight of 10 on the road after the first four skates being at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Like St. Louis, Winnipeg and Chicago, simply making the Postseason may be enough for the Predators (33/1 to win Western Conference), Head Coach John Hynes and Carrie Underwood and the Nashville faithful.
Arizona Coyotes Preview
The Coyotes (150/1 to win Central Division) are the definite doormat of the Central Division although Arizona went 24-26-6 last season, but finished with a -23 GD (153 GF-176 GA). Expect the 2021-22 NHL Regular season to be harder.
Phil Kessel (43 points), Jake Chychrun (41 points), Clayton Keller (35 points) and Arizona (Regular Season Point Total 67½ points, Over -125) have a respectable roster, but facing so many tough teams over and over could wear this club down.
The Yotes (100/1 to win Western Conference) tried to make the Gila Bend Arena in Glendale a Sonoran Desert fortress, but the City of Glendale terminated the team’s lease after 18 years, so expect to see this franchise call Tempe home in the future.
And it will be much easier said than done making a name in the Phoenix sports market with the NBA’s Suns rising and making the NBA Finals in 2021 and the NFL’s Cardinals looking like an improved team.
Who Wins the Central Division in 2021-22?
This division has the largest odds chasm ( 900 cents) between the favorite, Colorado (-200), and the second favorite (Wild, +700) at BetOnline with the Atlantic (175 cents), Metropolitan (75 cents) and Pacific (700 cents) divisions all closer in the online hockey bookmaker’s eyes.
My pick is on the chalk Avalanche and is more a pick against the other teams in the Central with no one looking like they really have a chance to challenge Colorado.
Making the Stanley Cup Finals are a definite possibility for the Avalanche this time around and a Tampa Bay Lightning-Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup Finals matchup is currently priced at 15/1, the lowest odds on the betting board.
2020-21 NHL Central Division Winner Pick
Colorado Avalanche (-205)
Kevin Stott is a sports writer who has covered the Sports Gambling industry for over 20 years, handicapping sporting events for SportsbookReview, Gaming Today and Bleacher/Report and was an award-winning writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s View Newspapers. Stott is an avid sports bettor and a graduate of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. ...
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