2021 NHL Season Betting: North and East Division Breakdowns & Predictions

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The Tampa Bay Lightning lifted the Stanley Cup less than four months ago, but it sure feels like a long time since we last saw NHL hockey.

That’s especially true for the fanbases of the seven non-playoff teams as their wait to see their teams again was a good 10 months at this point. Hopefully, your patience can be rewarded.

Your investment into some NHL betting futures could provide a handsome reward, as well.

BetOnline has all the NHL futures one could possibly handle at this point, many of which will expire to puck drop on Wednesday night.

That said, we’re going to be focusing on the only thing that matters: wins and losses. Or, in other words, the final regular-season standings.

Before we get into who could win it all, let’s map out the league the North and the East realigned divisions, odds for each team and predictions on who should take home the divisional ‘W’ as well as a value team to overcome some steeper odds to be crowned a division champion this season!

North Division Odds & Breakdown

  • Toronto Maple Leafs (+125)
  • Montreal Canadiens (+450)
  • Edmonton Oilers (+475)
  • Calgary Flames (+525)
  • Vancouver Canucks (+550)
  • Winnipeg Jets (+550)
  • Ottawa Senators (+2500)

Toronto Maple Leafs (+125)

Clearly unsatisfied with four consecutive early postseason exits, Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas shook up his roster this offseason, seemingly solving his most glaring needs in the process.

From a grit and physicality standpoint, Duybas added a pair of rugged veterans in Wayne Simmonds and Zach Bogosian. The right side of the team’s blueline has been the most maligned aspect of their roster in recent seasons, and Dubas was quick to address such a need on the open market via a four-year deal with former Calgary Flame T.J. Brodie before adding Bogozian shortly thereafter.

Add in the likes of Joe Thornton, Jimmy Vesey, Alexander Barabanov, Nicholas Robertson and Mikko Lehtonen and we’re looking at the deepest Maple Leafs team we’ve seen in some time.

Montreal Canadiens (+450)

Montreal CanadiensThe Canadiens’ front office had themselves a busy offseason as well, likely setting themselves up for some heated battle with the rival Maple Leafs near or at the top of the North division.

GM Marc Bergevin traded Max Domi to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Josh Anderson, added Tyler Toffoli on a bargain four-year deal in free agency and traded for Joel Edmundson and backup goaltender Jake Allen.

Add in top prospect Alexander Romanov and the result is a deeper back end — one that should be able to improve on their 19th-ranked overall defense from last season — and a new-look top-nine built around a pair of young centers in Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. If those two youngsters can hold their own, the Canadiens’ offense should be in business.

Edmonton Oilers (+475)

The Oilers enjoyed a quality regular season before being bounced in the qualifying round by the heavy underdog Chicago Blackhawks.

The Oilers appear to have gained some much-desired secondary scoring in Kyle Turris, Dominik Kahun and the returning Jesse Puljujarvi, but the question marks are going to begin on the back end.

The team was dealt a major blow with the news that No. 1 defenseman Oscar Klefbom will miss the entirety of the season, putting major pressure on Darnell Nurse, Adam Larsson, Kris Russell and newcomer Tyson Barrie to hold down the fort.

If that defensive unit can’t do the job, it’s unlikely they’ll be bailed out by the returning goaltending tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith, so look for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to once again carry this Oilers team as far as they go.

Calgary Flames (+525)

Calgary FlamesIt’s rare to see a rivalry gain steam before the season even begins, but there could be a dandy brewing between a couple of western Canadian clubs.

The Flames’ top two acquisitions this offseason — goaltender Jacob Markstrom and defenseman Chris Tanev — both came at the expense of the rival Canucks who also lost depth scorer Josh Leivo to the Flames as well.

It would appear Calgary will simply replace Brodie with Tanev and look for the continued maturation of Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson and top prospect Jusso Valimaki to carry their defense in front of the Markstrom/David Rittich goaltending duo.

With the addition of Leivo along with some other depth wingers such as Dominik Simon, the Flames should be afforded two above-average scoring lines, but look for much of the pressure to fall on the shoulder of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau as it could be the long-time duo’s last kick at the can before changes are made.

Vancouver Canucks (+550)

The loss of their No. 1 goaltender and a top-four defender directly to a competitor stings, and I would assume the offense feels the loss of Toffoli more than some may think after a productive stretch following a trade deadline deal from the L.A. Kings a season ago.

The Canucks filled the holes of the departures with the likes of Branden Holtby in goal as well as Nate Schmidt and Travis Hamonic to the right side of their blueline. The story isn’t as pretty upfront as they’ll desperately need some secondary scoring from the likes of Tanner Pearon, rookie Nils Hoslander and Jake Viratanen once the latter returns from whatever is ailing him to this point.

That said, the Canucks are certainly wide regarded as a club set to regress after a surprising run to the brink of the Western Conference Final last season.

Winnipeg Jets (+550)

JetsAs the odds are telling us, this all-Canadian North division could be extremely tight, so don’t write off the Jets.

Man are expecting another goal-scoring explosion from Patrik Laine following an offseason chock-full of trade rumors, and Laine is just one piece of a top-six also featuring Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Eheler and Paul Stastny. That’s one of the best top-six forward groups in the league.

While netminder Connor Hellebucyk is the league’s reigning Vezina Trophy winner, the problem is in between him and the Jets’ top six. In other words, the bottom-six forward group and a blueline that produced some of the worst advanced metrics in hockey last season.

In many ways, the Jets’ 2021 season could come down to whether or not that defense corps is able to improve, or it will require another gargantuan effort from Hellebuyck to even sniff the playoff picture.

Ottawa Senators (+2500)

Full credit to the Senators’ front office that added elite prospects in the draft as well as some proven veterans held to their forward group. They even added their new No. 1 netminder in Matt Murray for only a third-round pick in a cost-cutting move from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Murray has had two subpar seasons over his last three and should be under siege this season behind perhaps the worst-looking blueline in the NHL.

The Senators should score more, but the problem in finishing second-last last season was on the blueline where they ranked 30th in overall defense. Given the lack of improvement to that specific group and it’s easy to envision another last-place divisional season for the Senators this time around.

North Division Predictions

Division Winner – Toronto Maple Leafs (+125)

I have a feeling it won’t be as easy as the odds may indicate, but after shedding the powerhouse Lightning and Boston Bruins from the Atlantic Division, the Maple Leafs finally enter a season as the team to beat, and for good reason.

Toronto Maple LeafsThe GM has certainly done his job in addressing the team’s biggest needs, and the success of this team will likely to come down to how the new-look blueline fares.

After all, offense hasn’t been a problem after a third-place finish in that department a season ago while the Maple Leafs also rank third in offense since Rocket Richard favorite Auston Matthews entered the league.

Frederik Andersen regressed to a .909 Sv% after posting a figure between .917 and .919 in each of his last four seasons, but he’s entering a contract year and professional athletes tend to be at their best when money is the motivator.

Again, that leaves us to a blueline that by all means should be better, and a pair of new assistant coaches in Paul MacLean and Manny Malhotra will have a big say in whether that comes to fruition.

At the end of the day, the best bet is to take the team that should win the division, and leave the long-shots for the value department.

Value Pick – Calgary Flames (+525)

I highlighted the Markstrom and Tanev signings as key for this Calgary roster, but to me they’re a good bet for additional reasons as well.

The Flames finished hot on offense last season, salvaging a 20th offensive ranking in a season that was mostly full of inconsistent scoring. While that may be the headline entering this season, keep in mind this Flames core led the team to a share of second in offense just two seasons ago.

That core of Monahan, Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm should vastly improve this season while Leivo, Simon and Dillon Dube are players that help shift Lindholm to a second-line center role. Add in the trickle down effect of Mikael Backlund moving into a third-line center role and the Flames’ offensive attack should be much more balanced as a result.

With less work this season, 1B goaltending option David Rittich should be more consistent and I don’t view this Flames blueline as anything but sturdy if Tanev can stay healthy.

Add it up and I’m giving the Flames the best chance to pull off the upset of the heavily-favored Maple Leafs, if there is one to be had, of course.

East Division Odds & Breakdown

  • Boston Bruins (+250)
  • Philadelphia Flyers (+400)
  • New York Islanders (+450)
  • Pittsburgh Penguins (+450)
  • Washington Capitals (+450)
  • New York Rangers (+750)
  • Buffalo Sabres (+1200)
  • New Jersey Devils (+1400)

Boston Bruins (+250)

Boston BruinsThis Bruins team already has a different feel after the loss of a couple long-time defensemen on the open market.

Of course, the team’s captain for the previous 14 years Zdeno Chara signed with the Washington Capitals while power play anchor Torey Krug took his talents to St. Louis. The team will also face at least the first three weeks of the season without sniper David Pastrnak who continues to rehab from offseason hip surgery.

The team added depth scoring in Craig Smith and also acquired right winger Ondrej Kase from the Anaheim Ducks at last season’s trade deadline, so they’re at least equipped to stay above water on the right side.

The most interesting aspect will the defense corps, one that could see the likes of youngsters Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril and veteran John Moore step into significant roles. The Bruins informed Chara they were moving forward with younger players, and that certainly appears to be the case.

Whether the perennial-contending Bruins stay that way this season will only be told by time, but there’s little doubt the competition gets cranked up a couple notches in this deep East division.

Philadelphia Flyers (+400)

This version of the Flyers’ roster looks a lot like last year’s club that ended up challenging the Capitals for top spot in the Metropolitan division, only to fall just short.

It’s going to be a deep offense once again, a group that will get Oskar Lindblom back after last season’s cancer diagnosis while 2016 No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick is reportedly set to return after missing all of last season with a migraine disorder.

The young/veteran tandem of Carter Hart and Brian Elliott returns once again, but it’s the blueline that suffered the biggest loss this offseason with Matt Niskanen’s retirement.

Such a move will force Philippe Myers into a big role in the team’s top four, and the Flyers added another right-shot defender in Erik Gustaffson in free agency.

There doesn’t appear to be many holes on this Flyers roster once again so look to them when hockey betting this season.

New York Islanders (+450)

IslandersIt took longer than many Islanders fans might have liked, but GM Lou Lamoriello found common ground with top-line center Mathew Barzal on a three-year contract in restricted free agency.

Even with Barzal, it’s not shaping up to be a potent Islanders offense, a group that might have to rely on young players such as Kiefer Bellows or Oliver Wahlstrom to do some secondary scoring.

The focus has been at the other end of the ice every since Barry Trotz took over two seasons ago, and will continue to be this season. It’s a back end that is largely the same one that has ranked third in Trotz’s tenure, save for the salary cap-related trade of Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche.

It’s also a back end that will welcome top goaltending prospect Ilya Sorokin, a player that posted eye-popping figures over the last five seasons in his native Russia.

Whether this Islanders low-scoring, defensive-minded team will be able to hold their own in this high-flying division remains to be seen.

Pittsburgh Penguins (+450)

Much like Dubas in Toronto, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford promised changes after another disappointing postseason result, and he delivered.

In fact, Rutherford and Dubas connected on a deal involving the speedy Kasperi Kapanen heading back to the team that took him in the first round of the 2014 draft, only to be traded to Toronto in the Phil Kessel deal.

The blueline also gained Michael Matheson in a straight-up deal to Florida for the aging Patric Hornqvist, while they bought out the contract of defenseman Jack Johnson, a lightning rod for the team’s postseason failures of late.

The trade of Murray to the Senators opens the door for Tristan Jarry to continue as the team’s undisputed No. 1 goaltender and with one of the best top-six forwards groups and an improved blueline in front of him, the Penguins appear to have one of the better well-rounded rosters in the league.

Washington Capitals (+450)

Washington CapitalsThe last of the three clubs sporting +450 odds within the east, there is some change afoot in Washington, mostly to the team’s back end.

An offense that ranked second last season is largely intact with an identical and deadly top-six, but the blueline and goaltending personnel has seen some turnover.

Michal Kempny is out for the season after tearing his Achilles’ tendon, and the team added not only Chara but former Penguin Justin Schultz in free agency. It’s also a blueline that added the reliable Brendan Dillon from San Jose last season and re-signed him this offseason.

The team also handed the No. 1 goaltending keys to 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov coming off a fine rookie year, however Henrik Lundqvist announced he will miss the season following the discovery of a heart condition that required open-heart surgery.

With the sudden change behind Samsonov, the Capitals signed veteran Craig Anderson to a professional tryout, but could opt for rookie Vitek Vanecek, the team’s 2014 second-round pick that posted a quality 2.26 GAA and .917 Sv% in the American Hockey League last season.

The uneasy situation between the pipes notwithstanding, the Capitals are once again set to be a tough out in the difficult east.

New York Rangers (+700)

It’s a good time to be a Rangers fan as the team certainly appears to be on the rise, and in a hurry.

After adding No .1 overall pick Alexis Lafrenier to a young, talented core in the 2020 draft, the Rangers’ offense shouldn’t go far from their fifth-place finish last season.

The club also has a pair of young, Russian netminders set to carry the load for the foreseeable future in Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev. Goergiev has been Lundqvist’s understudy for the last two seasons, but like Sorokin with the rival Islanders, Shesterkin posted elite KHL numbers before moving overseas last season. He went on to post a .934 Sv% in 25 AHL games before working to a .932 mark in 12 NHL contests.

The blueline will continue to develop after some ugly numbers last season, but the Rangers were able to contend for a postseason spot based on offense and goaltending. It’s a good bet they’ll get both of those in spades again this season, so mark the team’s young defense corps as the x-factor in a loaded division.

Buffalo Sabres (+1200)

Just when the Sabres were in cloud nine after signing the top free agent forward on the market in Taylor Hall, the league realigned and placed the Sabres in a division alongside some powerhouse teams.

The addition of Hall as well as addressing their center ice depth with the acquisitions of Eric Staal and Cody Eakin should help a struggling offense. Rasmus Dahlin may be ready to emerge as a Norris Trophy candidate in his third tour of duty in the NHL and Linus Ullmark showed some No. 1 potential in goal last season.

Still, it’s a mountainous climb for the Sabres in this division. Not only did they move to what is largely the Metropolitan division from year’s past, but they brought the Bruins with them.

We’ll see how long the new-look Sabres can keep their heads above water.

New Jersey Devils (+1400)

DevilsI’m surprised to see the Devils sporting odds just shy of the Sabres given the makeup of their roster.

Goals will come at a premium for these Devils as the addition of Andreas Johnsson in a trade from the Maple Leafs marks their biggest offseason addition up front. The defense added former Blue Jacket Ryan Murray in a low-risk move for Tom Fitzgerland, but their biggest blow came just days ago when goaltender Corey Crawford suddenly announced his retirement.

Coming off a stellar .917 Sv% behind a defensively-inept Chicago Blackhawks team, Crawford was set to share duties with impressive 23-year-old Mackenzie Blackwood after a couple of fine campaigns from the youngster.

Goaltending was clearly the strongest area of their roster, but with Crawford done it’s largely going to be on Blackwood’s shoulders. He’s proven up to the task so far, but the team in front of him isn’t going to be able to provide ample support for the team’s brightest light at the moment.

East Division Predictions

Division Winner – Pittsburgh Penguins

The freshest memory we have of these Penguins was a lackluster qualifying-round series with the Canadiens in which the heavily favored Penguins were disposed of in five games.

PenguinsIf you go all the way back to March, however, you’ll discover the Penguins finished just four points back of the Washington Capitals — and third overall — in the Metro despite a plethora if injuries to their best players.

Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Brian Dumoulin all missed significant time. Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, Kris Letang and Hornqvist all missed time of their own. That’s not even to mention the rash of injuries to their depth players.

Nonetheless, the Penguins came through the adversity sporting the league’s 10th-ranked offense and 12th-ranked defense. Given their ailments and the importance of the players that missed the most time, that’s a success.

The slow-footed Hornqvist is gone and replaced with the elite north-south speed of Kapanen, a far superior fit for Crosby. The second line of Jason Zucker, Malkin and Rust is better than most teams’ top line and the substitution of Matheson for Johnson is a win for the Penguins.

Add in the emergence of Marcus Pettersson and John Marino on defense, and I would expect to see defensive improvement, and keep in mind that group certainly didn’t benefit from Murray’s .899 Sv% on the season.

They’ll need to be healthy to be sure. In this division, health could make or break anyone’s chances.

However, if this team indeed benefits from improved injury fortune, they’re my pick to take down what is the best division in the league this season.

Value Pick – New York Rangers (+750)

In this division, it’s tough to label anyone a value pick given the close proximity of the odds of the top five teams. That said, if you’re looking for an upset from any of the other three, the blueshirts are your best bet at hockey betting sites this season.

If they do so, it’ll be on offense and goaltending. I highly doubt the Rangers’ high-powered attack from last season is going anywhere, and it’s easy to believe in the goaltending duo of Shesterkin and Georgiev. They’re not guaranteed to thrive against the world’s best, but I’m a Shesterkin believer already and at least the offense can pick them up on occasion, something the Islanders won’t be able to do if Sorokin falters.

The blueline will remain the biggest concern as it continues to develop. The futures of Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox, Tony DeAngelo and rookie K’Andre Miller look awfully bright, but it’s a defense that ranked 30th while allowing 34 shots per game last season and posted some suspect advanced metrics in the process. I’d be shocked if the blueline wasn’t their biggest area of weakness again this time around.

However, teams that get above-average results from their goaltending combined with a lethal offense tend to succeed. The Rangers own such a formula, now it’s time to put it to work.

James Peralta

As a recent addition to the GamblingSites.org team, James Peralta has been covering everything about casinos, sports, and laws that are specific to online gambling in Canada. James started writing about sports in 2007 during his first year at U of T Mississauga. ...

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