With the NHL trade deadline in the rear-view mirror and the playoff picture beginning to take shape, now is a good time to lock in some Stanley Cup Futures bets.
Here's a look at one team from each of the NHL's four divisions worthy of a wager with the playoffs less than a month away.
Winnipeg Jets 18-1
While I honestly don't believe this is the year that a Canadian team hoists the cup for the first time since 1993, I will anoint the Jets as the Great White North's best hope (and best value). While the Leafs certainly possess the most talented roster, they're not settled in goal and have inexplicably proven inconsistent offensively. The Jets have an elite goaltender in Connor Hellebuyck and a roster that has remained virtually intact for a number of years. The window of opportunity is starting to close when it comes to their core of Mark Schiefele, Blake Wheeler, Nik Ehlers, etc. We've seen Winnipeg go on a deep playoff run as recently as 2018 when they reached the Western Conference Final before bowing out at the hands of a red hot Golden Knights squad. There's no team in the North Division that should intimidate the Jets and they'll be afforded a chance to fine-tune their game heading in with a playoff spot all but locked up.
New York Islanders 13-1
Despite sitting in second place in the East Division, the Islanders actually have shorter odds to win the cup than the first-place Capitals. Rightfully so, in my opinion. The Isles have played with purpose this season and have a roster built for playoff hockey with plenty of front-line talent but also enough grit to withstand a grueling seven-game series. Head coach Barry Trotz is just a couple of seasons removed from guiding the aforementioned Caps to a Stanley Cup title. He was brought to Long Island with the sole purpose of returning the Isles to glory as well. In this topsy-turvy 2021 season, why not pick a hard-luck franchise like the Isles to hoist Lord Stanley's mug.
Carolina Hurricanes 12-1
I picked the Hurricanes to go on a deep playoff run in last Summer's bubble-hockey postseason tournament and that prediction looked pretty good for a series. Unfortunately Carolina was overmatched in the second round against Boston. The 'Canes made the necessary offseason moves to chart their course back to Stanley Cup contention this year and while they're fresh off ugly back-to-back losses to the lowly Red Wings as I'm writing this, I've seen enough positives to warrant them a true championship contender. Carolina has gotten healthier lately with Petr Mrazek returning to an already solid stable of goaltenders and Vincent Trocheck providing some additional scoring depth up front. Trocheck is one of those key offseason additions I mentioned and he hasn't disappointed here in 2021, chipping in with 34 points in 32 games. The Tampa Bay Lightning will prove to be a tough obstacle but as we saw two years ago when the Bolts were swept by the eight-seeded Blue Jackets in the opening round, anything can happen in the NHL Playoffs.
Vegas Golden Knights 8-1
While the Avalanche are favorites to come out of the West Division for a reason, I'm willing to take a shot with the Golden Knights at what I consider to be a reasonable return. Vegas has proven it can go toe-to-toe with Colorado. In fact, I feel the Golden Knights even have a slight edge in terms of depth - certainly between the pipes, where the Avs are a Philip Grubauer injury away from newly-acquired journeyman Devan Dubnyk shouldering the load. Colorado has more elite talent at the top of its payroll with Nate MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen up front and phenom Cale Makar patrolling the blue line. But the Knights have proven they can win games in a variety of different ways and recently welcomed back stud offseason acquisition Alex Pietrangelo from injury. I do believe this Knights team is better than the one that reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2018 and see value backing them at the current price point.