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LARSMONT…. After mentioning in last week’s edition of the World Wide Duluth Reader Weekly that I had studied some Stanley Cup odds at Bodog.net sports book, I told you that I didn’t agree with them and that I would come back with some of my own. Here they are, and this will be a multi-part article.
First off, unlike some hockey publications that put out their annual “prediction” editions (The Hockey News, TSN, etc.), that’s not exactly what a sports book does. In the case of a sports book, or “odds makers,” their job is to set a “betting line” that will create betting action on both sides of the line so they don’t end up with all of the wagering action on one side or the other. If the Moose Jaw Muskies were the SC favorites in this upcoming season at 5-1 to win, the worst thing that could happen to a book is for everyone to bet one way. If the result ends up in the bettors’ favor, the book could suffer heavy financial damage.
So, most betting lines are set to obtain action both ways. In addition, the betting favorites usually pay out the least if they win. With that in mind, here is what I think the “line” should look like, along with some thoughts…
LA Kings 5-1. It is tough to repeat in today’s NHL, but I think the Kings have what it takes. They didn’t experience any big off-season turnover, and they locked up UFA sniper Marian Gaborik. Plus they still have one of the top three net minders in Jonathan Quick. They also have part farmer and stand-up comic Daryl Sutter, who has come out of nowhere to become one of the top three coaches in the show right now.
Chicago Blackhawks 7-1. They still have one of the best seven- to eight-player core groups, and they gained Brad Richards, who should be motivated to get back to past form. Corey Crawford can be tough in goal when the club is doing its job in front of him.
STL Blues 8-1. With the Jaroslav Halak drama behind them, Brian Elliott and Jake Allen will be a formidable goalie duo. Coach Ken Hitchcock will push and prod this group past last season’s playoff disappointment. They lost F Vladimir Sobotka to the KHL but gained UFA F Paul Stastny. I say they are a bit ahead on that one. They also traded the slow-footed Roman Polak for the quicker, more offensive D-man Carl Gunnarson. I say the Note will be a quicker, more experienced group than last year.
Boston Bruins 19-2. The B’s lost 61 points of offense when they could not re-sign UFA Jarome Iginla. They lost a ton and a half of tough when they couldn’t hang on to Shawn Thornton. However, they still have the top fantasy-ranked goalie in the game in Tuuka Rask. The B’s are going to have to have a stellar year from him. Big Zdeno Chara is showing signs of wear and age, but the club still has enough pieces left to be the best in the Eastern Conference. One question remains, though: how deeply did the Montreal Canadiens get into the heads of this team in their series win in Beantown?
Minnesota Wild 11-1. Most hockey pundits would say that the Wild were within a break or two of ousting the Chicago Blackhawks from the playoffs last year. I would say the same thing. And they were doing it with their fifth goalie of the season. The Wild will be quicker this year with the departure of Danny Heatley, and D-man Clayton Stoner opted to sign elsewhere. However, Thomas Vanek decided to come home, and the UFA has signed on with the club. Since entering the NHL, Vanek is the eighth leading scorer in that timeframe. D-man Matt Dumba probably makes the big club, and he is fast with good hands. If Josh Harding stays healthy and returns to last fall’s form, and Nick Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper can give him adequate relief help, the Wild, with their fleet of young forwards, will continue on their upward trend.
Philadelphia Flyers 14-1. No Flyer fan am I. Can’t stand them or their usual style of play. However, when they canned coach Peter Laviolette three games into last year’s campaign and replaced him with former Flyer Craig Berube, I started to keep an eye on them. Their swoon continued forth until about the 15th or 16th tilt, and then they started to play some hockey. Claude Giroux came out of his early funk to challenge for the Art Ross, and former Calder trophy winner Steve Mason found enough of his old game between the pipes to move the team ahead. They did trade heart-and-soul guy Scott Hartnell to the CBJ, but I think they will turn some heads this year.
Dallas NorthStars 16-1. They have skill, speed, the coaching (Lindy “the Crime Dog” Ruff), the GM (Jim Nill), and strong ownership in place. They have Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Valeri Nichuskin, and picked up Jason Spezza in a deal with Ottawa. Trevor Daley and Grand Rapids’ own Alex Goligoski anchor a good backend, and if I have any reservations about this club it would be Kari Lehtonen and Anders Lindback in goal. Both are good, but do they have a deep run or two in them? Not sure, but this club is on the move…
Pittsburgh Penguins 20-1. Since winning the SC in the 2008-09 season, the Pengwah, while qualifying for the playoffs every season, have gone 4-5 in playoff series, resulting in the ousting of former GM Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma. In my opinion, the replacement of Bylsma with junior coach Mike Johnston does not bode well for the club, as well as bringing in the washed-up Jim Rutherford as Shero’s substitute. Johnston is an excellent junior coach, but this is a whole other level, and Rutherford’s best days are behind him. The club lost some valuable pieces in the off-season in Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. Yeah, they still have Sid and Geno, but as the last few years have shown, they can’t get it done without some serious help, and that help is absent from the club at this time… PEACE
NEXT WEEK: More NHL odds and predictions…
Marc Elliott is a sports opinion writer who splits his time between Minnesota and his hometown in Illinois…