The Western Conference had four teams crack the 100-point barrier last season and while it should be a competitive conference again this year, one division has reigned supreme in the early going. The Pacific Division was led by the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers last season, but overall this has shown to be a weak division in the early stages of this season while the Central Division appears to be deep and competitive.
The Blues are the team that has come out of the gates with a blistering 12-3-1 start and they lead the way right now with +500 odds, but the Kings are also off to a hot start with a 11-2-2 mark and sit with +550 odds to take down the West. While it’s completely logical to take either of these squads at their current odds, let’s go ahead and identify three teams who carry some more value and have the ability to make a deep postseason run this season.
Dallas Stars (+990)
At the time of this writing the Stars sit on the playoff bubble, but we find it very hard to believe that this team won’t be in the postseason picture come season’s end. As mentioned, the Central Division is one tough cookie but the way the Stars are built they are more than capable of a postseason spot and subsequent run. Dallas GM Jim Nill managed to address his team’s biggest need in the offseason by signing free agent goaltender Ben Bishop to six-year contract to solidify a crease that has been in turmoil for several years. After Dallas goaltending combined for a league-worst .893 save percentage last season, this team finally has a solid goaltender in Bishop who has stumbled lately, but should be fine over the long haul. Dallas also solidified their depth up front with the offseason acquisitions of Alexander Radulov and Martin Hanzal while grabbing a very steady and reliable defender in Marc Methot. While these moves haven’t paid immediate dividends, the NHL regular season is a marathon and not a sprint. The Stars haven’t received the secondary scoring they had hoped for quite yet, but the big guns are in fine form and have the Stars currently ranked first in the NHL with a 31.8% clip with the man advantage. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are both among the NHL scoring leaders, and when the Stars do end up receiving their secondary scoring, that is when the team will take off. The Stars’ defense has been fairly solid so far, ranking 14th with 2.87 goals against per game and overall the team ranks ninth with a 51.8% Corsi% for the season. Make no mistake, this Stars’ team will be in the thick of the Central Division race as the season moves forward.
Edmonton Oilers (+990)
They are off to a terrible start and need a turnaround rather quickly to avoid a lost season, but if you’re betting against Connor McDavid, we simply cannot help you. While Edmonton is just 5-8-1 through their first 14 games and sit second last in the Western Conference at the time of this writing, they are just five points out of a playoff spot with 68 games yet to play. Besides, signs of positive regression for Todd Mclellan’s club are aplenty. First, they rank second in the NHL with a 55.1% Corsi%, indicating they are dominating the possession game more than everyone else in the league save for, interestingly, the Carolina Hurricanes. Second, they currently sit with, by far, the worst team shooting percentage in the league at 6.2%, more than 3% lower than their 9.5% mark from a season ago. This is important because they currently rank third with 36.9 shots per game and first with 40.1 shots per game at home. They are outshooting their opponents by an average of 8.6 shots per game on home ice but currently own a 3-6-0 record at Rogers Place despite outplaying their opponents thoroughly. Better days lie ahead for Cam Talbot as well as he has played to a .909 Sv% and a 2.99 GAA in 13 games this season. Even if Talbot isn’t going to match his excellent play from a season ago, the Oilers just need him to be steady to get into the postseason picture. Edmonton has also dealt with an injury to Leon Draisaitl and haven’t had top pairing defenseman Andrej Sekera with him all season, so some better health moving forward will benefit this club too. The Oilers are going to go on a run very soon and you would be wise to snatch them up while their odds still hold value.
Winnipeg Jets (+1500)
Don’t look now but a Jets team that has never had trouble scoring is actually getting some rock-solid goaltending for a change. Despite the Jets going out and bringing in veteran Steve Mason to solidify the crease in Winnipeg, it’s been Connor Hellebuyck that has stole the show and the crease from his counterpart. After 11 games played, Hellebuyck has posted a marvelous 2.12 GAA and a .936 Sv%, both of which are top-four numbers among NHL netminders. Goaltending is all this team needed to be a competitor. The Jets’ offense ranked seventh last season with an even three goals per game, but they ranked 27th with 3.11 goals against per game while their goalies handed them a .900 save percentage, good for 28th overall. This season, the Jets’ offense ranks 11th with 3.29 goals per game and their power play currently sits fourth overall at 23.9%. They have an impressive and youthful group of top six forwards, a group that includes Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers to complement productive veterans Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little. Dustin Byfuglien continues to be a workhorse on the back end while Jacob Trouba continues his development as a number two and possibly a future number one rear guard. Winnipeg is an impressive 4-1-2 on the road this season, but if you recall a couple years ago they had the loudest building in the NHL playoffs. They play in one of the smallest NHL venues at Bell MTS Place, and when it gets packed, it gets rowdy and their home ice advantage is very evident. If the Jets continue to get solid (and possibly elite) goaltending they are going to be a force to be reckoned with and one you will not want to face in a seven-game playoff series.