By Adrian Dater | | 5 mins
NHL 2019-20 Betting Preview: Will Lightning Break the Curse?
The Tampa Bay Lightning is the heavy favorite to win the NHL’s Presidents Trophy again. Is this really a good thing? Recent history - including the Lightning’s own - says no.
The Presidents Trophy (the team with the most points in the regular season) has become something of a curse to those who win it. Not all the time (Chicago won the trophy in 2013, and also the Stanley Cup; Detroit did in 2008, Colorado in 2001, Dallas in 1999).
But the fact is this: Of the last 11 Presidents Trophy-winning teams, just one has gone on to win the Cup. If that isn’t the best advertisement for the NHL’s “Anything can happen in the playoffs” reputation, I don’t know what is.
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Lightning A Deserving Favorite – But There’s a Darkhorse
The Lightning was supposed to stop the Presidents Trophy hex last season. They were a phenomenon, the team that tied the all-time NHL record for wins in a season (62). Their +103 goal differential was nearly twice as big as the next-best team, Calgary. They had three players (Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point) who surpassed 90 points. They had nine players who scored 40 or more points. Their starting goalie, Andrei Vasilevsky, went 39-10-4 with a .925 saves percentage.
Every hockey pundit everywhere (hand raised here) picked the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup. Then they were swept in the first round by the No. 8 Columbus Blue Jackets. Swept. In the first round.
Yet here the Bolts are again, prohibitive favorites according to the bookmakers to not only win the Cup (+750 at 888sport) but run away with the Presidents Trophy. Tampa Bay is +275 to win it at 888sport. The two teams closest to that (Boston and Toronto) are +900.
And, really, that’s probably what the numbers should look like. Tampa Bay remains the best team, on paper, in the league.
As far as Tampa Bay’s competition for the Presidents Trophy goes and a good darkhorse bet, I think the Vegas Golden Knights are a good one at +1000. After losing in the first round of the postseason themselves (some would say “after being jobbed out of the playoffs by the referees), I foresee a big season for a Golden Knights team with something to prove.
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Lightning Load Up After Crushing End to 2019
The Lightning still have all of their key players from last season. In fact, they even made a surprising couple of additions. The core of the team - Kucherov, Stamkos, Vasilevsky, Point, Victor Hedman - all are still under 30 and have plenty of good hockey left in them. Tampa Bay also acquired veterans Kevin Shattenkirk and Luke Witowski to add more depth to a defense that remains anchored by perennial Norris Trophy candidate Hedman.
There is no logical reason not to believe the Lightning won’t be another 100-plus point team. In fact, the bar has been set high by the bookies for the Lightning’s expected regular-season point total. At 888sport, the over/under is set at 112.5 points.
Should Lightning Lose More, To Win In Long Run?
Running away with the Presidents Trophy hasn’t worked out too well for teams that did it. The Lightning of last season and the Red Wings of 1995-96 hold the record for most wins, but neither made it to the Cup Finals. Washington ran away with the Presidents Trophy in 2016 and 2017, only to fail in the Eastern playoffs. Nashville ran away with it in 2018, only to lose in the second round.
Ask some longtime hockey people, and they’ll tell you they think teams that clinch the Presidents Trophy too early get complacent, that hockey teams need to be pushed at all times to keep a little fear in them. It’s hard to argue with that when you look at recent playoff history.
So, should the Lightning not emphasize winning in the regular season so much? That’s a slippery slope probably, but coach Jon Cooper has to figure out a way to keep his team sharp should it run away with the Presidents Trophy again.
If they do run away with it again, the entire media storyline for Tampa Bay will be “Are they going to choke again?” In that sense, the regular season almost doesn’t matter.