The 2020 NHL playoffs have only just wrapped up. Because of the interruption and delay of the season though, scheduling for the next season remains somewhat in limbo. The NHL has set a target date of Jan. 1 to resume play, which would make it just a 2021 season, presumably.
It’s never too early to prognosticate, though, particularly in Colorado, where sports betting is legal. So, let’s do some darkhorse Stanley Cup picks. And, mind you, the Avalanche won’t be a darkhorse pick. Why?
Because the Avs are THE favorites, according to the oddsmakers, as of Friday at least, to win the Cup next season. So, after free-agent day, who do I think are some good darkhorses next to the Avs, to win the next Cup? Let’s take a look:
Along with the defending champion Lightning, the Vegas Golden Knights and Boston Bruins round out what looks to be a top tier of four teams at this point, with the Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues, and Pittsburgh Penguins also in the mix.
But because these things rarely go exactly as expected, I wanted to look beyond this crop of heavyweights, and speculate as to which teams might become dark horse contenders this coming season.
Truth be told, a respectable argument could be made for a number of teams — particularly given that it’s going to be another bizarre season, and you get the feeling just about anyone could make a run by getting hot for a few weeks. Ultimately though, three teams rise to the top when I look around for stealth contenders….
Of the three teams I’m going to highlight here, the Hurricanes are actually being given the best chance by the all-knowing oddsmakers. With 2021 Stanley Cup odds already posted on Bwin , Carolina is at +2200 to win it all — just slightly longer odds than the Blues and Penguins (+1800 each). This, to me, seems about right. The Hurricanes are not quite on those upper tiers, but they’re unquestionably tough enough to make a run.
This Carolina team has been building steam for a few seasons now. The Hurricanes are young, fast, and talented, with the only real question marks being depth (somewhat due to injuries of late) and, sometimes, goaltending. And when they’re in a rhythm, these guys can scare you. Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov get the headlines, but not many teams have a core of creators to match Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen, and Dougie Hamilton.
Nashville is a difficult team to assess. But the Predators have a few things going for them that catch my attention in what could be a short (or at least bizarre) season: continuity in key spots, and some young talent ready for a shot.
In terms of continuity, the Predators should return more or less their entire defense this coming season, a group that includes the newest Norris Trophy winner, Roman Josi. Additionally, the deadly line of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, and Filip Forsberg will remain intact. These groups should get a little bit of a boost from 19-year-old Philip Tomasino, a former first-round pick who’s expected to make his mark this
Additionally, Matt Duchene will have a chance to build on a fairly encouraging (if brief) postseason performance. Again, it’s not a team that looks excellent in any one regard; the Hurricanes excite me more. But I have a sneaking suspicion the Preds will be better than people tend to think.
The aforementioned 2021 odds listings actually had Edmonton at +2200, dead even with Carolina (and a bit ahead of Nashville, which was given +3000 odds). And it’s not hard to understand why. This group had a rough series against the Blackhawks in the postseason.
In this case, it’s not particularly complicated to see what has to happen. Edmonton needs to make a few minor moves to support Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, who comprise as deadly a duo as there is in the NHL. Now, as Pro Hockey Rumors points out, this is going to be easier said than done, because GM Ken Holland doesn’t have a lot of cap space to work with. But with their top-line talent,, the addition of newly signed forward Kyle Turris and the hope for a return to form for Andreas Athanasiou (who was hurt much of last season), just a few more moves could do the trick. This is a team that can look dominant at times, and while I’m not taking those +2200 odds, I’m perfectly comfortable calling them a dark horse.