Lucrative NHL Futures attractive with four teams

by Vegas Writer

The Colorado Avalanche hadn't been champions of the National Hockey League for 24 hours when the conversation about next season was underway.

Moments after the final horn sounded and the Avalanche polished off the two-time champion Tampa Bay Lightning, the newly crowned champs were installed as the favorite to repeat in 2023.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers are next in line, followed by the Lightning.

None of the aforementioned were higher than 10-1 to win it, which automatically disqualifies them from my window of opportunity when talking about value.

For me, no matter the league, if I'm playing a future price, I want the biggest number I can get with a team I think can get into the playoffs and challenge.

But when it comes to the NHL, the team can sneak its way into the postseason, and I'll be just fine with a big futures ticket. After all, the No. 1 overall seed hasn't won the title in more than 10 years. And when it comes to hockey, it's generally about the hot team, with the right coach and the best goaltender.

That's why I've assembled a quartet of teams for you to consider if you're feeling froggy about the 2023 Stanley Cup and some awfully big numbers on teams that could quite possibly sneak into the postseason next spring.

NEW YORK RANGERS (20-1, courtesy DraftKings) - This is a team that got to the Eastern Conference Final under first-year coach Gerard Gallant, and left plenty on the table for them to eat next season.

It really doesn't get much better than Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin, who finished the season with a league-leading 2.07 goals-against average (among goalies with a minimum of 42 starts). Shesterkin will undoubtedly come into next season with a chip on his shoulder after being outdueled by Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy in the ECF.

The Rangers also boast high-end forwards Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider, a trio that combined for 254 points last season. Kreider ranked third in the league with 52 goals.

Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox leads the defensive corps, while up-and-coming talent Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kaako, and K'Andre Miller are all capable of breakout seasons.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS (45-1, DK) - There may not have been a more dangerous sleeper down the stretch than the Canucks, in terms of playing the spoiler against playoff-bubble teams. After firing Travis Green, the Canucks were 32-15-10 with Bruce Boudreau as bench boss. Vancouver's .649 points percentage ranked 11th in the NHL during that span, while its 2.67 goals-against average was fifth-lowest in the league. Also in that span, the Canucks had the second-best power play (26.7%) and 11th-best penalty kill (80.5%).

Star forward Elias Pettersson was a point-per-game player after the coaching change. The former Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie) winner could very easily vie for the Hart Trophy (MVP) on any given year as he continues to improve.

The Canucks are expected to make personnel changes during the offseason, the biggest being J.T. Miller getting traded. Considering we're talking about a top-tier center who tied for ninth in the NHL with 76 points once Boudreau took over, Vancouver is in position to demand someone decent in return.

With Thatcher Demko in goal, the Canucks have a legitimate No. 1 netminder who ranked sixth with his .918 save percentage during Boudreau's tenure.

Now roll all of that into the fact Vancouver plays in arguably the worst division in the NHL, and this is most certainly a sneak-into-the-postseason squad.

DALLAS STARS (45-1, DK) - There's a new bench boss in Dallas, as ousted coach Peter DeBoer leaves Las Vegas and heads to Big D with his defensive mind and tactical style of coaching.

If there is one thing we can take from DeBoer's past, it's that his teams always seem to do well during his first season at the helm (see: New Jersey Devils, San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights, to some extent). He's been to two Stanley Cup Finals, and he knows how to establish chemistry immediately.

The Stars head into next season with a No. 1 center in Roope Hintz, who was third on the team with 72 points; a budding star in winger Jason Robertson, who was second with 79 points, including a team-high 41 goals; and an elite defenseman with Miro Heiskanen, who was fifth on the team with 31 assists and led the Stars with an average on-ice time of 24:53.

In net, the Stars will have to make a decision, one that shouldn't be hard when potential franchise goalie Jake Oettinger. He played in 48 games last season and finished with a 2.53 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (60-1, DK) - There's no doubt the Flyers are rebuilding, and I'm well aware they'll do so without Claude Giroux. But incoming bench boss John Tortorella is like DeBoer, someone who can rile his players the first season and who will get the most out of his troops. Again, especially at this price, I just want to sneak them into the postseason with a big ticket and hedge my way from there.

One of the biggest offseason storylines will be whether or not the Flyers can fix Carter Hart, who is a potential No. 1 goalie. Hart will have competition in camp, as I expect Felix Sandstrom to get a chance in training camp. There's also towering Ivan Fedotov, who stands 6-foot-7 and is 205 pounds, and who could push both for playing time with a strong camp.

With plenty of time for rest and recovery since the season ended, and leading into training camp, I would think the Flyers will have Sean Couturier back healthy, along with possibly Ryan Ellis, too.

Is there a checklist for the Flyers' offseason, to even contend in their division? Absolutely. But with a new voice on the bench, and a lively vibe in a rowdy sports town, I like the odds on Philly and believe it could be another sneak-into-the-postseason squad.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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