NHL Mid-Season Betting Report
Who will win the Stanley Cup in 2014? As we move beyond the halfway point of the NHL season, today NHL expert John Marks shares his thoughts on the NHL season so far.
Now that every team has played at least 41 games in the 2013/2014 NHL season, I felt it would be a good time to assess who is performing well, who is performing badly, and who may surprise from the middle of the pack. I will breakdown each division and offer my thoughts on how things are shaping as we move forward into the second half of the season.
Before we look across the divisions, there are some interesting league trends worthy of noting. The first is that the Western conference is far superior top to bottom than the Eastern conference. In league wide point standings, 10 of the top 15 teams are from the Western conference as well as 4 of the top 5. As of January 8, Western teams are 139-73-37 versus the East.
Only 5 Eastern teams have earned more than 50 points: Pittsburgh 65, Boston 58, Tampa Bay 56 , Montreal 55 and Philadelphia 50. The Western conference has 4 teams past the 60 point mark: Anaheim 69, Chicago 67, St Louis 65, and San Jose 60. Only Boston and Pittsburgh would seem to give the East a puncher’s chance in a Stanley Cup Final. At this stage it is hard to imagine that the Cup would not be raised by a Western conference team. Which one? Let’s now look at the divisions and which team's are primed to represent their conferences in the playoffs.
In my early season report I predicted this would be a very competitive division. However, it doesn’t appear so with these numbers. Pittsburgh would have to suffer key injuries to lose a 17 point lead. They have had the injury bug somewhat and just recently went through a stretch where they had 5 defensive players out. Malkin has also been out for a couple of games. During that time they won 8 of 10 games! That is not good news for the teams below them in the division.
Philadelphia is a team that has improved of late. This has been accomplished despite a dismal start to the season in which they switched head coaches 3 games into the season. They could not light the lamp for the first 15 to 20 games but have discovered their confidence in attack. They might be reaching their ceiling though because Mason and Emery are proving long term inconsistent in net.
The Washington Capitals are spiralling down of late, losers in 6 of their last 7 games. This is despite having the leading goal scorer in the NHL in Alex Ovechkin. Take him out of the mix and this would be a very poor team. Braden Holtby has been very inconsistent, with in my opinion, concentration and focus issues, and may be losing the starter status to newcomer Grubauer. All in all not the way Adam Oates had it drawn up especially the way they closed the regular season last year. They may not even make the post season if they don’t right the ship soon. If they don’t make it in, the other 4 squads in the 4-7 positions in the standings are only 4 points back. All in all, only Pittsburgh makes sense for making a deep run towards the Cup.
This division appears on the surface to be competitive but in reality Boston seems to be in command. They have been very stingy on defense giving up only 94 goals, tied for the best in the league with Los Angeles. They are +32 in goal differential. Hard not to see them finish on top in spite of their short lead on points.
Montreal has been somewhat inconsistent so far but have gone 17-8 their last 25 games starting November 10th. They started the season playing .500 hockey and will go as far as Carey Price will take them (2.22 GAA and .928 SV%). Tampa Bay are sitting right there only 4 points behind Boston which is a huge surprise considering the events that have transpired so far this season. Steven Stamkos went down with a broken leg after playing in 17 games. He scored 14 goals and had 9 assists before being put on IR. Martin St Louis has picked up the torch putting up 38 points to date. Another huge factor for Tampa’s success is the outstanding net minding of Ben Bishop (22-5-3 with 1.86 GAA and .935 SV%). Bishop is day to day with an upper body injury which will be crucial for their chances moving forward while Stamkos should return after the Olympic break. This team may be able to give teams fits come April and May with their depth on display so far this season.
The rest of this division is not putting any fear into the rest of the league. Detroit has pieces missing and can’t rely on former steady performers like Jimmy Howard. Wings are 6-10-7 at home which has been their bread and butter in years past. Meanwhile, Toronto and Ottawa may improve but both teams have a penchant for giving up too many goals. Buffalo has been easily the worst team league wide coming in at only 28 points in 42 games, averaging only 1.76 GPG on offense while giving up 2.8 GA on defense. Certainly a formula for finishing in the league basement.
NHL Eastern Conference Odds - As at 9th January 2014
|Team||Best Odds To Win Conference||Bookmaker||Best Odds To Win Stanley Cup||Bookmaker|
Not much has changed from the end of last season with regards to the defending Cup champs Chicago. With only 8 games lost in regulation in 46 games, they remain very disciplined on defense and explosive on offense. That is a picture perfect model for success. Goalie Cory Crawford is having a solid season but the big surprise is another great performance from back up Antti Raanta. He has filled in during a stint of starts due to Crawford’s injury and has gone 11-1-3. Their top offensive line Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa have combined for 125 points. Defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have combined for 65 assists. They are certainly on the short list of true Cup contenders at the midway point of the season.
Right on their heels is the rock solid St Louis Blues. They are a league best +58 scoring differential (155 GF, 97 GA) and playing exceptionally well on special teams with a 4th best power play and 7th best penalty kill. They are averaging 3.56 GPG and giving up 2.27 GA, with the added offense a new twist for them as they have always been defensive minded under Hitchcock. This weapon, if maintained, should make them very scary for other Western teams in the post season.
Colorado is playing some very solid and steady hockey. Nothing spectacular, but very workman like. It seems that Patrick Roy’s personality has worn off on them this season. However, they need to improve if they want to play with the elite teams come April. Meanwhile, Minnesota is having some injury problems that may get the best of them in the long run. They still struggle to light the lamp on offense as in years past, but this season have not been keeping pucks out giving up 113 goals so far. Dallas got off to a slow start but have shown signs of life recently. However I am not sure they have enough weapons to compete with the top teams in the West, so a lower playoff seeding may be the ceiling for them.
Winnipeg and Nashville have far too many issues to make a dent against this level of competition. The Jets must wish they were still in East where they might be able to get a lower seeding there but in this division they are outclassed. Meanwhile, Nashville lost top goal tender Pekke Rinne who has been out for most of the season with a hip infection. They have been struggling to compete against everyone this season.
You have to like the look of the 2013-2014 Ducks. They are tied for the most wins in the league with Pittsburgh with 32 wins in 45 games and are undefeated in regulation at home this season which will be huge if they can continue this come playoff time. Meanwhile, San Jose got off to a red hot start but have had some bumps along the way. They figure to be in the thick of it come April but may find themselves coming up short. They seem to have St Louis’ number this season however with 3 wins against the Blues.
The Kings are 11 points off the pace but still have the profile of a team that can be a Cup contender. This will always happen when you give up only 91 goals in 44 games. Jonathan Quick has been limited to 17 starts due to ongoing injury concerns including the last part of December. If a team can’t score on you, chances are you’re going to win those games. Meanwhile, Vancouver has not jelled under John Tortorella. They seem to be picking it up but it may not be enough to have them rise up the ladder here in the Pacific.
Phoenix can’t seem to stop enough pucks which is reflected in their results. They are currently on a 2-4-4 run that has them falling out of contention fast. Calgary and Edmonton are all but finished this season. The Oilers had to bring back eccentric goalie Bryzgalov out of free agency retirement after losing his job in Philadelphia after last season.
NHL Western Conference Odds - As at 9th January 2014
|Team||Best Odds To Win Conference||Bookmaker||Best Odds To Win Stanley Cup||Bookmaker|
It's been a very entertaining year so far and there is still a long way to go too. We also have the Winter Olympics coming up in a month which should throw a little wrench into the league as players are either idle for 2 weeks or playing on the other side of the globe.
Speaking of which, I will posting an Olympic betting preview on the blog next month. It promises to be an excellent tournament with the best puck players on the planet representing their nations. One of my favourite events to watch and wager on outside of the NHL!
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Follow John Marks on Twitter: @NoJokeNHL