Despite being a month or so into the 2018-19 NHL season, there is no consensus, dominant team. And that’s just how commissioner Gary Bettman wants it. Parity is one of the league’s biggest selling points, although only five franchises have won the last 10 Stanley Cups.
It’s important for NHL betting fans to note one thing when forecasting the Eastern and Western Conference title winners: The East has one more team than the West (16 to 15), so technically it’s a bit tougher to qualify for the playoffs. When the playoffs start, however, it’s an eight-team tourney in each conference.
Here are our best bets in terms of Stanley Cup betting to win each conference:
NHL Eastern Conference Best Bets
There is a good opportunity to get in on Pittsburgh before these odds get stiffer. At +700 at 888Sport, the Penguins are a strong bet. While others may be better favored right now, I am banking on Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and goalie Matt Murray to return to the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in four years.
Pittsburgh was denied a third straight Cup last spring, losing to eventual champion Washington in the second round, blowing a 3-2 series lead. Crosby already is a future Hall of Famer, but his drive is strong to be among the small circle of players to win four or more Cups.
Is Pittsburgh a little too long in the tooth, a little tired, to make it through another playoff marathon again? Not yet. Crosby is still just 31 and is a maniac for fitness.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay figures to be a fierce contender for the Eastern title. There is a lot to love about the Bolts, starting with a defense that includes Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman and an offense that has a bunch of consistent scorers, led by Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.
I just think Pittsburgh knows better what it really takes to win in the postseason. Tampa Bay has gotten close for several years, but can’t seem to get over the hump. At +325 at 888Sports, the Lightning is their favorite to win the East. But I think they come up short again, losing to the Penguins in the conference championship series.
NHL Western Conference Best Bets
Winnipeg has a young, talented, deep team that was one step away from going to the Cup Finals last spring. I think they will take that next step this time.
Winnipeg has a really deep group of forwards, led by sharpshooter Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele; a strong defense, led by veteran Dustin Byfuglien; and a very good young goalie in Connor Hellebuyck.
Paul Maurice, a former Stanley Cup winner in Carolina, is the right coach to get them there. At +550 at 888Sport, the Jets are both a good bet and a good value. You should jump on them.
San Jose Sharks
The addition of superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson brought renewed excitement to a franchise that has been close to a Cup for many years now, but hasn’t been able to win it all. His addition gives them a better chance. Brent Burns is another beast of a two-way defenseman.
The Sharks, as usual, have a bunch of talented forwards too, led by guys such as Logan Couture and the ageless Joe Thornton. Is the offense deep enough? Maybe not, but GM Doug Wilson always is active at the trade deadline, and he knows this team doesn’t have a huge window to in it all.
If he thinks his team needs another scorer by March, he’ll find one. At +550, the Sharks are a solid bet to come out of the Pacific to play the Jets. But I think Winnipeg likely takes them to play for the Stanley Cup.