Back in mid-April, I posted an article recommending one Stanley Cup futures bet from each NHL division. Now with three of the four division titles wrapped up and just one semi-final spot left to be decided, let's take a look back and see how those bets are shaping up.
April's breakdowns in italics.
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.
Well, at least they upset the Oilers in an improbable first round sweep. Things didn't go well from the outset of the Jets second round series against Montreal as an ill-advised hit by Mark Scheifele late in Game 1 loomed large after he was suspended for the rest of the series. The window of opportunity may be closing on this era of Jets hockey. You have to wonder whether Paul Maurice's days are numbered behind the bench although management seems to indicate otherwise. At 18-1 I would still make this bet again as the North Division was wide open, as the Canadiens can attest.
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.
I'm more than happy to hold this ticket even as the Islanders face a tall task in the form of a revenge date with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the semi-final round. New York didn't prove to be much more than a speedbump on Tampa's way to the title last year. I do think the Isles have caught lightning in a bottle (no pun intended) offensively in these playoffs and could give the Bolts a more legitimate run this year. We know all about their defensive prowess under the guidance of head coach Barry Trotz but if they can keep an attacking mindset like they did against the Bruins they could prove to be a tough out.
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.
Another year, another bitter playoff disappointment for the Canes. At 12-1 they were certainly worth a shot, rolling the dice that the Lightning might get upset in the opening round. There's no real shame in losing to the defending Stanley Cup champs although the disappearing act pulled by the Canes offense on home ice was something to behold. Carolina is likely still a piece of two away from becoming a true championship contender, perhaps between the pipes where the duo of Mrazek and Ndeljkovic disappointed.
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.
The Knights are currently one win away from securing a mouth-watering semi-final matchup against the upstart Canadiens. Whoever wins the Knights-Avalanche series will be heavy favorites against the Habs. If it's the Knights, that potential 8-1 return would look awfully good. After a slow start to the postseason, Vegas has rounded into form at both ends of the rink against the juggernaut Avs and in my opinion could go toe-to-toe with any of the other three remaining teams.