The conference that once was mocked heavier than new Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty now has the right to laugh a little at the once-mighty West.
The Eastern Conference of the NHL has produced the last three Stanley Cup champions, after the West claimed the previous four and 13 of the previous 19.
Does the Western Conference still have better quality from top to bottom than the East? Probably. But not like it once did. It used to be that NHL betting fans could only name one or two real contenders for the Stanley Cup from the East - New Jersey, maybe the Bruins or Lightning - and stop there. Not anymore.
This outlook isn’t for the grand prize, but for the Eastern crown itself, and there are a lot of quality teams from which to choose. I’m here, as a guy who has covered the NHL for nearly 25 years, to tell you where to place your bets and where to not do that.
The first thing you don’t want to do is believe there will be a repeat champion again. Unlike the Pittsburgh Penguins of the previous two years, the Washington Capitals just don’t have the personnel to win two in a row.
The Stanley Cup hangover is real. There’s a reason why only one team in 20 years has won two in a row. The Capitals have been hung over since the final horn sounded in Vegas. Just look at a few YouTube videos for proof of that.
Hey, no problem with living it up - Caps players and fans certainly deserve to after many years of bitter playoff frustration.
But they’ll start the season without a key part of their team -- Tom Wilson -- because of suspension. They lost their coach (Barry Trotz), too, to the New York Islanders. At +600 with Karamba, the smart money already has moved away from the Caps to even win the East.
At +650 with Karamba, Pittsburgh is a steal of a play. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin remain dominant at center, and they want to win their fourth Cup each. Matt Murray is a young goalie who has won two Cups, and Mike Sullivan is a coach who always keeps finding ways to motivate players.
A few of Pittsburgh’s players are older (Crosby is 31 now, so is Malkin), so a couple of things favor players like them who play for Eastern teams: They know how to pace themselves physically, and their bodies are less taxed come playoff time than Midwest and West teams.
Eastern players can often sleep in their own beds on nights of road games. It sometimes makes a difference, strength coaches will tell you, in the end.
Crosby, a three-time champion, has that inner drive to want to win an obscene number of Cups. In the modern era, four Cups would qualify as obscene. Bet on him and the Pens at +650 to make it to the Cup with Karamba.
The Tampa Bay Lightning is actually the team picked to win the Presidents’ Trophy, given to the team with the most points in the regular season.
Tampa Bay retains a very strong roster, with stars such as Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov. The franchise suffered a bit of a jolt, though, when GM Steve Yzerman stepped down this summer, although he’ll stay on in an advisory role.
The Lightning are probably the best team of the last five years to not have won a Stanley Cup. The window is still very much open. But it’s getting a bit smaller. That should make Lightning players a bit more desperate for that Cup.
And as the saying goes in hockey, a desperate team is the most dangerous team. Take the Lightning at +400 with 888Sport.
Mockable new mascot aside, the Philadelphia Flyers are no joke. Especially when it comes to offensive firepower.
Philly probably has the deepest group of forwards now in the league, led by Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier. You’re gonna have to take the over a lot of nights on the Flyers, as their defense and goaltending remain worrisome.
Another important factor to keep in mind: Philadelphia, according to CapFriendly, is $10.2 million under that salary cap of $79.5 million (wow, have times changed; the upper limit of the cap was $39 million after the canceled season of 2004-05).
Come trade deadline time, the Flyers figure to have some good maneuverability to go shopping for that stud defender or goalie. You can back the Flyers at +1100 with Karamba.
At +400, the Toronto Maple Leafs are getting the same line as the Lightning. That’s buying far too much into the summer signing of John Tavares.
No doubt he makes the Maple Leafs a better team just with his presence, but Toronto doesn’t have enough defense or goaltending to win anything just yet. They are $12.2 million under the salary cap of $79.5 million, however.
Only two other teams (Carolina and New Jersey) have more cap space. They can go shopping at the deadline with that kind of space. But the Leafs are still just a teaser play at this point. Another year or two? Yeah, they might just win everything. But not yet.