A week ago, you might have been tempted to back the following four NHL teams as your picks to win the 2022-23 Stanley Cup.
Each of the following teams, while thus far avoiding drastic NHL betting lines’ shifts, have either regressed or stood pat still thanks to an unfortunate, even hapless first week of the free-agency window.
4. New York Islanders +3000
Whether you love or loathe him, Lou Lamoriello is a hockey man through and through. The Islanders’ general manager and president of hockey operations has seen it all during his lifelong devotion to the game.
Lamoriello is mysteriously in a holding pattern where the Islanders are concerned, leading many to think he has some bewildering trick up his sleeves. The Islanders have made no moves since the free-agency market opened on July 13. That won’t cut it for a team that finished 20th last season.
Solid up front, particularly down the middle, the Islanders are hoping for miracles from Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Even with those three capable centers, nobody on the Islanders broke the 60-point barrier last season. Like a bartender at happy hour in the busiest bar on Broadway, they need urgent support. Whether it is coming is about as clear as the Delhi skyline.
It’s thought the Islanders initially approached Johnny Gaudreau. That, however, led to nothing more than murmurs and conjecture. He apparently has an affinity for Blue Jackets, though I’ve never personally seen him wear one.
Avoid the Islanders on the futures market until Lamoriello pulls a complementary winger or two from his seemingly idle hat.
3. Minnesota Wild +1800
The Minnesota Wild were a dynamic, threatening team complemented by solid goaltending entering the 2021-22 playoffs. However, while Minnesota hasn’t endured an off-season as catastrophic as Calgary’s, Bill Guerin hasn’t exactly fortified their Stanley Cup chances.
Marc-Andre Fleury turns 38 a month after the season starts, leading one to wonder if he can still perform at the level the Wild require for a deep postseason run. Luckily, they have a solid one-two punch, as Cam Talbot will invariably be handed a bulk of the workload.
Losing 85-point man and last season’s second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to the Los Angeles Kings is equivalent to being blindsided by a bull running at full tilt. Logic suggests that Fiala’s departure will hardest hit Kirill Kaprizov. Yet, despite Fiala’s move to the Kings, Kaprizov is somehow holding on to his joint-fifth +1400 Hart Trophy favorite status.
Thankfully for Wild fans, they haven’t been as inactive as the Islanders. But, unfortunately, the Wild’s signings – Brandon Baddock, Steven Fogarty, Nic Petan, Andrej Sustr – haven’t in the slightest improved their chances of winning the Stanley Cup.
2. Vegas Golden Knights +1400
News flash: Vegas doesn’t know how to handle its money. Well, at least the Golden Knights aren’t gambling it away, right? Even that isn’t true, as Vegas committed to Jack Eichel, who earns $10 million per year for the next five years. That’s equivalent to a $50 million gamble, so maybe the hockey team does take after the millions who visit its city annually.
For what it’s worth, I think the Eichel gamble will pay off. Once back to full fitness, the 25-year-old is one of the league’s elite centers. If Eichel can source his pre-injury form next season, the Golden Knights could live up to their +1400 sixth favorites’ status.
However, the Golden Knights will feel the impact of losing Max Pacioretty to Carolina. Vegas received future considerations in return, which amounts to a bag of pucks and a whole bunch of nothing, at least in the short term. Pacioretty, a point per game player, has not been replaced and probably won’t be. In addition, the Golden Knights are about $1.5 million in the red, leaving absolutely no cap space to acquire new assets.
Goaltending is the other major concern for Vegas. Robin Lehner isn’t an elite puck stopper no matter how hard he tries to become one. Rookie netminder Logan Thompson performed exquisitely in Lehner’s absence last season and appears to be the team’s future between the pipes. However, the 25-year-old isn’t ready to backstop the Golden Knights to a Stanley Cup crown in the coming season.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs +800
The Toronto Maple Leafs are the second favorites to win the 2022-23 Stanley Cup. Make no mistake, they are built to win right now, and they have the talent to do so. Stacked offensively and led by league MVP Auston Matthews, the Maple Leafs won’t have any trouble bulging the twine.
The primary concern, like in Vegas, is between the pipes. The Maple Leafs lost starting netminder Jack Campbell to the Edmonton Oilers.
While Campbell is an unproven commodity in the playoffs, he was coming into his own as a Maple Leaf. He got the better of Andrei Vasilevskiy on three occasions in the first round and needed his team to score just one overtime goal to defeat the two-time Stanley Cup netminder. Oh, what could have been, an adage all too familiar to Maple Leafs fans.
Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas has put his job on the line with the risky signing of Matthew Murray. As a result, the Maple Leafs are on the hook for the final two years of his four-year, $25 million contract. Murray won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Pens in 2016 and 2017, but has endured numerous career-altering injuries since.
The 28-year-old has never played more than 50 games in his seven NHL seasons. He didn’t make it to the 30-game plateau in either season with Ottawa. That’s a gargantuan gamble for Dubas and the Maple Leafs.
They also acquired Ilya Samsonov from the Caps on a one-year, $1.8 million contract. Samsonov will slot in as the team’s backup if things go well where Murray is concerned. Samsonov is entering his fourth NHL season and has a woeful 1-6 record in the postseason. Not exactly numbers that instill confidence in a franchise looking for their first Stanley Cup in 55 years.
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