New York Rangers (
+200 to win Eastern Conference)
You have to do a wide range of things in the NHL playoffs to be successful: score lots of goal, prevent lots of goals, have a killer power play…these are all things you expect to hear. But toughness is the biggest scale tipper in the NHL playoff scene and the Rangers have it in truck loads. The biggest weakness in their game is their power play, which is the fourth worst in the league but with Henrik Lundqvist in net there isn't much concern. And if you're into cosmic voodoo (which 23% of my betting psyche is), then this seems like a good year to go all-in on New York, doesn't it?
Boston Bruins (+500 to win Eastern
If you loved them last year, there are just as many reasons to love them this season. Handicpapers haven't adored their inconsistency, but they're ending the season on a strong high note after beating the Rangers 2-1. That put the Bruins at 7-3 SU in their last 10 games and they're on as much of a momentum building streak as any team in the league right now. Nothing has changed from last season, except that Tyler Seguin has more experience. Plus they have a taste for blood and gold.
Pittsburgh Penguins (+190 to win Eastern
The worry with Pittsburgh is that they're not as physical as they need to be in the playoffs, and since Sidney's return they haven't been that consistent going 6-5 SU in eleven games. They'll find their legs soon enough, and after that beware if you bet against them especially with Evgeni Malkin playing far and away his best hockey ever.
The obvious reason to go against Pittsburgh is that Sidney is one brutal hit away from going back to the shelf indefinitely. These odds are very tight, but even without Sid The Kid, this team was absolutely formidable during big stretches of the season. There won't be any buyer's remorse here no matter what happens to Crosby, but those buyers should definitely beware.
Favorite Sleeper: Washington Capitals (
+1600 to win Eastern Conference)
Listen, I know this isn't a great bet, but you have to think that Ovechkin and company have to breakout of their playoff slump eventually, right? With a $100 flier thrown their way you could reap massive profits if they do. Still, there's just as many reasons to bet on them (star studded roster) as there are to bet against them (star studded roster never performs in April).
The Rest of the East: Philadelphia +600, Buffalo +1600, New Jersey +1400, Ottawa +1800, Florida +1800
Vancouver Canucks (
+170 to win Western Conference)
You know who is hedging against this bet? The city of Vancouver! There's a damn good reason that they have the best odds in the conference, and it has everything to do with the fact that they own the best record in the entire NHL. The main difference between last year and this year is that the Canucks have depth at goaltending. You can't fault Roberto Luongo for being absolutely useless on the road in the Stanley Cup Finals last season in the Boston hosted games (ok maybe you can), but if he falters then the Nuckleheads have Corey Schneider to sit between the pipes.
Detroit Red Wings (+650 to win Western
There's simply no possible way to write a column about "favorites to win the west" without mentioning the Red Wings. The Wings have lost their footing recently, going just 3-7 SU over their last ten games, but they also are likely candidates to have home ice heading in to the first couple rounds of the playoffs. It's never a bad investment to bet on the Detroit Red Wings in NHL futures.
San Jose Sharks (
+1200 to win Western Conference)
I'm basically putting them here because I wanted to remind you that this isn't a bet to "appear in the Western Conference Finals and lose". The Sharks are the ultimate non-closer in the NHL playoffs. Throwing your money at them this year is just a waste of time.
Favorite Sleeper: St. Louis Blues (+300 to win Western
If defense wins championships, the Blues should be your pick. With only 1.86 goals allowed through this season, the Blues are the unexpected NHL stalwarts on defense in the entire league ranking first in defense. It helps when you have a goalie like Brian Elliott in net and a slew of great two-way players coming back from the injured reserve.
All that being said, there's a reason they're my sleeper pick. They haven't been this good or relevant for pretty much ten years. In fact, the last time they won a playoff series was ten seasons ago. Since then, they've made the playoffs three times and never survived the first round.
I doubt that the Blues themselves care that much about the past. They play like they believe in themselves, and if you do too then this is as worthy a bet as anyone else on the board.
The Rest of the West: Chicago +750, Nashville +700, Dallas +1800, Colorado +3500