When it comes to the Eastern Conference, there certainly isn’t a shortage of contenders. Last season the East had five teams crack the 100-point threshold, four of which came from the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division. Whether or not the Metro remains as dominant this season as it did last, this seems to be a rather wide open division again this season with many teams capable of taking it down.
When looking at the Eastern Conference as it stands today, there is one clear powerhouse team that stands out in the form of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa currently sits with 26 points through 16 games, six points clear of the next closest teams in Pittsburgh and Toronto. With that in mind, the Lightning currently sit with +395 odds to win the Eastern Conference. If you were to throw down on the Lightning at these odds, we certainly wouldn’t blame you for it as they appear to be the real deal. However, we all know the regular season standings mean very little once the playoffs begin, so let’s take a look at a trio of teams whose odds carry plenty of value when it comes to taking down the Eastern Conference.
Columbus Blue Jackets (+690)
John Tortorella’s team surprised their way to a whopping 108 points last season before being disposed of by the future Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in five games in round one. The Blue jackets largely carry the same roster this season as they did a year ago, with the one major change being the offseason swap of the outgoing Brandon Saad to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Russian superstar Artemi Panarin. While the Blue Jackets boast a balanced team that is capable of producing offense while sporting a very solid group of defenders led by soon-to-be superstar Seth Jones, Columbus has exactly what can carry a team through the playoffs and that is a superstar goaltender. Sergei Bobrovsky took down his second career Vezina Trophy last season and was a major reason for the Jackets’ 32-point improvement from the previous season. The man they call ‘Bob’ posted a .931 Sv% and a 2.06 GAA last season, but hasn’t been quite as sharp this time around with a still-solid .921 Sv% and 2.38 GAA. Nonetheless, there is little doubt that if this guy is hot Columbus is a very dangerous team. While the Blue Jackets’ special teams are out of sorts at the moment with a 10.4% power play (31st) and an 80% penalty kill (18th), their 53.7% Corsi% is the fourth best in the NHL. With a balanced team from head to toe the Blue Jackets are a very good bet to play postseason hockey again this season and will be a tough team to take care of once they do.
Ottawa Senators (+1500)
Let’s not forget that the Ottawa Senators were one goal or one lucky bounce away from taking down the Eastern Conference last season and taking on the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Finals. They were eliminated in overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final by the Penguins but made it much closer than anyone could have imagined. Superstar Erik Karlsson was a big reason why as he put on full display why some consider him the MVP of the league as he carried and willed his team deep into the postseason with some of the most impactful playoff hockey from an individual player we have seen in quite some time. With Karlsson once again healthy and playing a special brand of hockey, don’t count out the Sens. GM Pierre Dorion certainly isn’t as he recently pulled the trigger on a blockbuster three-way trade that brought star centerman Matt Duchene to Canada’s capital. It came at the cost of Kyle Turris who had a nice playoff run himself last season, but Duchene is more of a game breaker with his speed and shiftiness, assets that come up big come playoff time. The Senators boast a solid crop of forwards now led by Duchene, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Bobby Ryan and Derick Brassard, but their quietest asset is in goal. Craig Anderson continues to go about his business as one of the most underrated goaltenders in the NHL. While Anderson sports a rather unspectacular .896 Sv% and .313 GAA in the early going this season, he posted a stout .926 Sv% and 2.28 GAA in the regular season last year and a .922 Sv% and a 2.34 GAA in the playoffs. Head coach Guy Boucher has his team playing well early this season and don’t be surprised to see the Senators right in the thick of the playoff picture come season’s end. As they’ve shown us, all you have to do is get into the dance and anything can happen.
New York Islanders (+1800)
If it weren’t for a horrific start to their season last year, the Islanders would have easily been a playoff team, instead missing out by a single point when it was all said and done. Led by the Hart-Trophy like play of John Tavares, the Islanders are turning some heads early on this season. They have been deadly on home ice with a 5-0-1 record and 4.43 goals per game at the Barclay’s Center, and their special teams have been rather impressive as well with a 21.2% power play (9th) and 82% penalty kill (12th). The offseason swap of Ryan Strome in exchange for Jordan Eberle has been a fruitful one for GM Garth Snow as Eberle has tallied five goals and 12 points in 15 games for the Isles compared to Strome’s two goals and five points in 14 games for the Edmonton Oilers. The Islanders back end isn’t their strong point, but Nick Leddy, Calvin de Haan and Johnny Boychuk are capable defenders and inexperienced NHLers like Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech have held their own as they are a combined +7 on the season. Let’s also not forget about the emergence of rookie Mathew Barzal who has thrown his name in the Calder Trophy hat with 14 points through his first 15 games of the season. The Islanders boast one of the top fourth lines in the NHL as Nikolay Kulemin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck are one of the toughest checking fourth lines in the league and aren’t afraid to chip in offensively with six goals between the three so far this season. Add in capable veterans like Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera and you have a deeper group of forwards than some may think. The biggest questions mark(s) on this team is in goal where Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss have shared duties almost equally with Halak receiving eight starts and Greiss getting seven nods through 15 games. Halak has been the better of the two so far, but still sports an uninspiring .906 Sv% and 2.82 GAA on the campaign. Don’t be surprised to see Snow gauge the goalie market should his team be knocking on the door come trade deadline day. Nonetheless, if you are looking for some extreme value we believe the Islanders are the best bet to crack the postseason picture and surprise some teams once they do.