Could the high-scoring Tampa Bay Lighting go back-to-back after winning it all a year ago? Will the Colorado Avalanche live up to their status as prohibitive favorites to win it all in 2021?
Could both top Stanley Cup title contenders get beat out for a berth in the finals by a handful of other top title contenders like Washington, Philadelphia, Vegas or Dallas?
With the 2020-21 NHL season steamrolling into a new week of action, it’s time for some really early NHL betting predictions. Let’s get started in the Central Division with the defending champs so you can start planning ahead your bets and place them against their NHL Playoff odds!
Early Betting Predictions for NHL 2021 Playoffs
Central Division Playoff Participants
- Tampa Bay
Analysis: In the newly formed Central Division, two teams look like easy picks to reach the playoffs in 2021. The defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning are off to a 3-1 start while ranking fifth in scoring (3.8 gpg) and 10th in goals allowed (2.5 gpg). Dallas (2-0) has only played two games, including Sunday’s 3-2 win over Nashville but I have to believe the defending Western Conference champs are going to easily be in the mix to make another deep playoff run.
Florida (2-0-0), Columbus (2-2-2), Carolina (2-1-1) and Nashville (2-2-0) will all be in the mix to get the final two playoff spots in this division with the Blue Jackets and Panthers being my picks to get it done. Columbus recently acquired former Winnipeg star Patrik Laine and his presence alone will make a huge difference for a Columbus offense that ranks 25th in scoring. Tampa Bay is a division-best +5 in scoring differential.
East Division Playoff Participants
- NY Islanders
Analysis: The East Division looks like the best in the NHL this season to me and really, I don’t think it’s even close. I’m going with a playoff quartet that features Washington (3-0-3), Boston (3-1-1), Philadelphia (3-2-1) and the New York Islanders (3-2-0), but the fact of the matter is that either Pittsburgh (4-2-0) or New Jersey (3-1-1) could get in with the Penguins being the more likely choice to me. Boston is a division-high +5 in scoring differential, but six teams have winning records in the East heading into the new week.
North Division Playoff Participants
Analysis: Montreal (4-0-1) has scored an NHL-best 29 goals and ranks third in scoring (4.8 gpg) and 16th in goals allowed (2.8 gpg). Toronto (5-2-0) is ranked 12th in scoring (3.2 gpg) and 16th in goals allowed 92.8 gpg), but I’m expecting the always-explosive Leafs to pick up the pace in the scoring department at some point. Winnipeg (4-1-0) has looked great through five games while ranking fourth in scoring (3.8 gpg) and 12th in goals allowed (2.6 gpg). I’ve got Calgary getting the fourth and final playoff spot in this division, but it could go to a talent-laden, but oft-underachieving Edmonton (2-4-0) team.West Division Playoff Participants
- St. Louis
Analysis: The West is almost as loaded as the East, except the drop-off after the top four is fairly significant. 2020 Western Conference finalist Vegas has looked fantastic in going 4-1 over its first five games. The Golden Knights have been rock-solid at both ends of the ice in ranking seventh in scoring (3.6 gpg) and eighth in goals allowed (2.4 gpg). Six players have already recorded at least two goals for the suddenly explosive Knights.
2019 champion St. Louis is off to a solid 3-1-1 start despite sitting at -3 in goal scoring differential. Stanley Cup prohibitive favorite Colorado is 3-3-0 after six games including Sunday’s humbling 3-1 loss against Anaheim. However, it has been Minnesota (4-1-0) that has been the biggest surprise out west in the early going. The Wild rank a modest 14th in scoring (3.0 gpg), but 10th in goals allowed (2.5 gpg). Vegas is sitting at +7 in goal scoring differential while Minnesota is at +5.
They’re On The Bubble
Analysis: Pittsburgh is currently ahead of Philly, Boston and the New York Islanders, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sidney Crosby and company reach the playoffs. Carolina (3-2-1), Nashville (2-2-0), Anaheim (2-2-2) and Edmonton (2-4-0) look like sure-fire ‘bubble’ teams that will hover somewhere around .500 at best all season.
On The Outside Looking In
- Ottawa (1-3-1)
- NY Rangers (1-3-1)
- Detroit (2-4-0)
- Chicago (2-3-1)
- Vancouver (2-5)
- Arizona (2-3-1)
- LA Kings (1-2-2)
- Buffalo (2-3-1)
Analysis: Ottawa is a mess defensively in allowing 4.0 goals per game (29th). The New York Rangers could challenge, but they don’t look like anything special at all in scoring and allowing an identical 2.8 goals per game. Detroit ranks 30th in scoring (2.0 gpg) while Vancouver ranks dead last in goals allowed (4.7 gpg). Arizona is scoring and allowing an identical 3.4 goals per game while the LA Kings are doing the same in putting up and allowing 3.3 goals per game. Last, but not least, Buffalo is averaging 2.8 goals per game (17th) while allowing 3.0 goals per contest defensively (18th).
I’ve got four teams in an all-out street brawl for the final two spots in the Stanley Cup finals. As it currently stands, I’m going with Tampa Bay, Boston, Montreal and Vegas.
Looking Like Stanley Cup Finalists!
The defending champs make consecutive Stanley Cup Finals appearances, opposite a Vegas franchise that has two first place finishes in its three-year existence to go along with one Stanley Cup finals appearance and a Western Conference finals appearance last season.