With the NHL season just a mere 10 days old, it’s far too early to accurately forecast how the season is set to play out. With each team having played between four and six games, the sample size simply isn’t big enough.
However, there’s an urgency to this season that comes with it having been reduced to 48 games. Consider this; we’re already one-eighth of the way through the season, so for those 30 teams taking to the ice, winning now is vitally important. There simply isn’t any margin for error this season.
It’s worth then taking a quick look at some of the early trends and surprises that could pay off when it comes to putting the green down.
Better Than Advertised?
It’s almost the law that any NHL early season review should start with a look at the league-leading Chicago Blackhawks (6-0-0, 12pts).
The Blackhawks opened the season third amongst Eastern Conference sides with 13/2 odds to win the conference. It’s no surprise that Joel Quenneville’s side is pacing the conference. What is surprising is that the Blackhawks are still unbeaten. Few expected that, and with games against Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Detroit, Chicago’s schedule has hardly been soft.
If Chicago is a surprise, then San Jose (5-0-0, 10pts) is a jaw-dropper. Considered 11/1 to lift the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl ahead of the season, the Sharks also unbeaten remain unbeaten, and high above their predicted eighth spot finish.
In the Eastern Conference, Boston (4-0-1, 9pts) was predicted to finish fourth in the conference, but is currently setting the pace, while Tampa Bay (4-1-0, 8pts) and New Jersey (3-0-1, 7pts) are hot on the Bruins’ skates. Tampa was expected to finish eighth in the East, while the Devils were predicted to finish outside the playoff positions.
Whilst it is early, as bettors you should be questioning whether these sides are better than advertised, or given a week or two, will they find themselves slipping down the table?
Early Woes or Something Worse?
At the other end of the spectrum, a number of high-profile sides gave struggled to start the season.
The most apparent of these is the New York Rangers (2-3-0, 4pts), a team that opened the season as the joint favorite to lift the Stanley Cup at the end of the season. The Manhattan side opened the season with back-to-back losses to Boston and Pittsburgh, before scoring a victory over the Bruins at home. News continues to circulate that the side is looking to bolster its lineup – any bolstering will not include Jason Arnott, who failed a medical this past week – which suggests that the Rangers may not be as good as advertised. It also means the side might be about to get even better.
Pittsburgh (3-2-0, 6pts) isn’t faring much better than the Rangers, which leave some wondering if those 4/1 odds to win the East might have been a little too short. But then again, the Penguins have played four out of five on the road to start the season. Even a short home-stand could quickly see the side make grounds.
Rounding out a trio of Atlantic Division slow-starters, Philadelphia (2-4, 4pts) has struggled in spite of being third favorite in the conference. The Flyers opened the season with 7/1 odds to lift the Prince of Wales Trophy, but currently find themselves in 13th place in the conference.
If there’s one thing that might be apparent already, it’s that the Atlantic Division could well turn into a dogfight.
Shakeup in the East?
Philadelphia isn’t the only early season pick to be struggling out East. Following Monday’s games, no fewer than five Eastern Conference sides originally picked by bookmakers to finish in a playoff spot are on the outside looking in.
Philadelphia and the Rangers are joined by Carolina (2-3, 4pts), Washington (1-3-1, 3pts), and Buffalo (2-3-0, 4pts) on the list of Eastern Conference sides currently failing to meet expectations.
Their replacements currently come in the form of the Devils, Ottawa (3-1-1, 7pts), Winnipeg (3-1-1, 7pts), Montreal (3-1-0, 6pts), and the New York Islanders (2-2-1, 5pts). That’s right; the Islanders are currently faring better than the Rangers.
The Not So Wild West
The Western Conference meanwhile has a completely different feel about it.
Seven of eight teams picked by odds makers to make the postseason ahead of the season currently reside in the top eight. Only Detroit (2-2-1, 5pts) has failed to do so – losing out to an Anaheim (3-1-0, 6pts) side that looks fairly good – and the Red Wings are only short on tiebreakers.
The bookies’ prediction that Phoenix (2-4-0, 4pts), Colorado (2-3-0, 4pts), Calgary (1-2-1, 3pts), and Columbus (2-3-1, 5pts) would finish bottom is currently holding water, although the Blue Jackets are currently avoiding that 15th-place finish most expect. Calgary lounges there at this moment in time.
Of course, all of the above is likely to change. In fact, it may well change tonight. But at this point, it’s worth considering that at least one of these unlikely stories will follow on for the rest of the season – that’s how the NHL works – so it might just be worth taking some time out to consider which team is likely to continue its winning – or losing – ways.