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Lightning Open as Faves to Win the Atlantic

Possibly the worst division in hockey last year, the Atlantic could be on the up and up with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning both looking like Stanley Cup contenders.

The odds over at BetOnline have the aforementioned Bolts as favorites to win the Atlantic at +250 with the Canadiens (+350), Leafs (+375), Bruins (+700), Senators (+800), Sabres (+1400) and Red Wings (+2500) slotting in behind them.

Missing the playoffs last year by just one point, the Bolts really felt the loss of their captain Steven Stamkos and that’s fair – he’s by far Tampa’s best forward. The now 27-year-old centerman has been extremely unlucky with injuries throughout his career but when he’s healthy, he’s a Hart Trophy candidate and I expect him to be in that conversation come the end of the 2017-18 season.

If Andrei Vasilevskiy can excel in his role as the starting netminder in Tampa after putting together a fine .917 save percentage in 47 games in 2016-17, the Lightning will win this division. They have a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman in Victor Hedman and Stamkos’ supporting forwards are some of the best in the NHL.

Toronto, though, is a team that’s on a drastic rise and that could supplant the Lightning as the best team in the Atlantic in the near future if not as soon as this season. In order for that to happen, the Leafs will need to progress quickly at the blue line after giving up 242 goals last campaign. Only the Red Wings and Devils gave up more than the Leafs in the Eastern Conference and they finished 14th and 16th in the East respectively.

The Habs may be second in the odds to take the Atlantic but this is a team on the verge of regression. Marc Bergevin has assembled one of the biggest, slowest groups of d-men I’ve ever seen and he let a lot of offense walk away when he failed to re-sign Alex Radulov.

Unless Carey Price stands on his head after hitting the lottery with an eight-year deal worth $84 million, the Canadiens could easily miss the playoffs.

Atlantic Division Futures

Odds as of September 20 at BetOnline

  • Tampa Bay Lightning +275
  • Montreal Canadiens +350
  • Toronto Maple Leafs +375
  • Boston Bruins +700
  • Ottawa Senators +800
  • Florida Panthers +900
  • Buffalo Sabres +1400
  • Detroit Red Wings +2500

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The greatest need for the Montreal Canadiens is scoring and, interestingly enough, they didn’t address that deficit at the deadline. Montreal scored just 1.8 goals per game in the month of February but Claude Julien seems to be slowly turning the ship in the right direction elsewhere. The Canadiens have gone 3-0 SU in their last three games and like the rest of the teams currently on top of their respective divisions, the Habs are heavy favorites to win theirs.

Following the deadline, Bovada has updated odds for the NHL’s division races and they’ve listed just three teams – the Canadiens (-275), Senators (+400) and Bruins (+500) – in the Atlantic.

Carey Price and the Habs sit six points clear of Ottawa for the lead in the Atlantic and although that may seem like an insurmountable number, the Senators have three games in hand over the Canadiens and can make up every single one of those points in the three games they have remaining against Montreal.

The Sens are 2-0 against the Canadiens this season and with around 18 games left for Les Habitants to choke away their shaky lead, I’ll absolutely take a flyer on the Senators at 4/1.  

Atlantic Division Futures

Odds as of March 2 at Bovada

  • Montreal Canadiens -275
  • Ottawa Senators +400
  • Boston Bruins +500

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In what could be the worst division in hockey, the Montreal Canadiens hold a nine-point lead and it’s starting to look like they’ll run away with things. Even with Carey Price in one of the worst slumps of his career and four of their key forwards out with various injuries, the Habs keep on winning and are one of only two teams in the Atlantic to be at or above .500.

With those things in mind, Bet365 has given them -650 odds to take the division with the Senators their closest competition at a lofty +1150. A possible warning sign that the Canadiens are ready for a regression was the embarrassing 7-1 defeat they suffered at the hands of the Wild in which Price wore every single goal. Although it would be tough for anyone to catch Montreal now, the Sens have three games in hand over the Habs and could give them a run for their money when Craig Anderson returns from his leave of absence.

If the Sens want to make a serious bid for the Atlantic, they’ll have to make hay while the sun is shining. As mentioned, the Canadiens are banged up and Ottawa is just getting healthy and will play five of its next 10 games against opponents within the division. This is an important slate for Guy Boucher’s young roster and if he manages to coach his team to 15 of the possible 20 points over that span, Ottawa will be sitting pretty.

At the start of the year, many had Tampa making up one half of their Stanley Cup final. A brutal injury to Steven Stamkos put a major dagger in those hopes and it looks like the fallout may be too much for the remnants of the Lightning to overcome. Outside of Stammer, Tampa still has one of the best, most well-rounded rosters in the Eastern Conference so it’s baffling to me how badly the Bolts have played without their captain.

My prediction is that the Lightning put it together and make a run but fall just a bit short. If you’re in the betting game simply for the excitement factor, +2200 is not a bad price for the team that lost to the Penguins in the Eastern Conference final last year.

Atlantic Division Futures

Odds as of January 13 at Bet365

  • Montreal Canadiens -650
  • Ottawa Senators +1150
  • Boston Bruins +1600
  • Toronto Maple Leafs +1600
  • Florida Panthers +2000
  • Tampa Bay Lightning +2200
  • Buffalo Sabres +12500
  • Detroit Red Wings +22500

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The World Cup has, if nothing else, gotten me really excited for the upcoming NHL season and it must be doing the same for others as we already have NHL division futures up at sportsbooks! There is definitely some value out there as a couple of teams jump off the page as potential underdog picks.

Tampa Bay has opened as the favorite at online shop Bovada to take the Atlantic division despite their relatively disappointing regular season last year that saw them fade down the stretch and finish second in the division to the upstart Panthers, who have opened with some surprising value at +400.

Florida won’t just be showcasing their new jerseys and logo this season, they will have a serious chance to compete for end of the season hardware and are my favorite sleepers with the current value they are offering across all betting markets. Sasha Barkov has emerged as a clear No. 1 center, breaking out last season with 59 points in just 66 games, and Roberto Luongo still has some gas in the tank. The Panthers have a solid system under head coach Gerard Gallant that allowed the seventh-fewest goals in the NHL last year while scoring the eighth-most.

The Canadiens are comeback candidates this season as they welcome back Carey Price from injury. When Price was last healthy for a full season, the Canadiens finished the regular season with the second-most points in the league and edged the Lightning for first in the Atlantic division. It was clear last season how bad Montreal can be without their superstar goalie so their +700 odds to take the division hang largely on No. 31.

Atlantic Division Futures

Odds as of September 15 at Bovada

  • Tampa Bay Lightning +130
  • Florida Panthers +400
  • Boston Bruins +650
  • Detroit Red Wings +700
  • Montreal Canadiens +700
  • Buffalo Sabres +1500
  • Ottawa Senators +1500
  • Toronto Maple Leafs +1500