The 2021-22 NHL season starts next week. So, it's time for my preseason forecast of the eventual Stanley Cup champion. This has become one of my popular columns, in large part due to the spectacular success I've enjoyed on my futures predictions over the years. Last year, we hit the basketball "daily-double" with Baylor (at 12-1 odds) and the Milwaukee Bucks (at 13-2 odds) winning their respective championships. And that was the 2nd straight NCAA Basketball season we cashed our preseason ticket, as we had Virginia (at 22-1 odds) in the 2019 season! Also in 2019, I predicted the Washington Nationals (at 18-1 odds), and followed that up in 2020 with the Los Angeles Dodgers (at 4-1 odds). But, to show I can be dead wrong on occasion, I fell way short with my 2021 MLB prediction on the Minnesota Twins (at 22-1 odds). Still, I've hit three of the last five MLB futures, as I also had the Houston Astros in 2017 (at 10-1 odds). And other winners have been the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020 (at 7-1 odds), the San Antonio Spurs (2014, 14-1 odds; 1999, 11-2 odds), Golden State Warriors (2016, 5-1 odds; 2018, -160 odds), and Green Bay Packers (2011, 10-1 odds).
For this upcoming hockey season, I'm going to turn to a team which has had nothing but heartbreak over the last 54 seasons: the Toronto Maple Leafs. But the current odds are quite attractive, as I just took them yesterday at 15-1 odds at William Hill Sportsbook in Las Vegas. And they're also 14-1 currently at BetAnySports.eu.
The Maple Leafs may have finally found their man in goal. After a variety of goaltenders led to some pretty mediocre net-minding numbers over the past several years -- annual team GAA of 2.77, 2.84, and 3.04 leading up to last season -- the Leafs turned to veteran Jack Campbell in the latter part of last season with very good results. Campbell was brought on at the end of the short 2020 season, but he became the Leafs full-time goalie in the final quarter of last season and posted a 17-3-2 record with a sparkling 2.15 GAA and .921 saves pct. The Leafs are comfortable enough with Campbell being their guy going forward that they let Frederik Andersen go to the Hurricanes by way of free agency in July. The Leafs and Canes basically swapped net-minders as Petr Mrazek comes to Toronto from Carolina and will serve primarily as Campbell's back-up.
The Leafs' offense didn't see very many changes in the off-season and that's a good thing for a team that finished sixth in Scoring last season with 184 goals in 55 games. There will be Salary Cap challenges going forward NEXT season, but this is not a team that is trying to build for later. This is a team which believes it has the talent to win it all this season. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares all return to lead the offense that should be better than it was a year ago. Young Defenseman Rasmus Sandin (Toronto's first round pick in 2018) should be ready to break out on the blue line with substantially more ice time. If he does, then the Leafs' defense could be much improved. The window of opportunity is open for the Leafs to win their first Cup since 1967, but it could close quickly after this season given their Cap situation. Take Toronto at 15-1 odds to win the 2022 Stanley Cup. As always, good luck...Al McMordie.