Despite being back-to-back Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, aren't the favourites next year. How has the NHL expansion draft, free agency and a flat salary cap affected NHL Stanley Cup odds for 2022?
As the dust begins to settle on the 2021 NHL off-season, we’re taking a look at how an expansion draft, an entry draft following a season with limited opportunities to scout players and a flat salary cap have affected Sports Interaction’s NHL Futures odds. Now that the big-name free agents have signed and the Seattle Kraken officially have a roster, let’s check out the best ‘value’, ‘darkhorse’ and ‘take-a-flyer’ picks for the 2022 Stanley Cup.
Rather than pick the favourites, we’re going through the odds and taking the best paying teams that we think could actually go all the way in 2022. The Colorado Avalanche, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights are your early favourites for the Stanley Cup, but which teams could surprise you in 2022?
Best Value Pick
The Edmonton Oilers are the Canadian team I see as having improved the most this off-season. Don’t get me wrong, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still the best Canadian team on paper. Edmonton, however, is right behind the Leafs. With an easier path to the playoffs for the Oilers, I’d take them over Toronto this year.
With new eight-year deals for Darnell Nurse and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton has locked up their core of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Nurse and Nugent-Hopkins for at least the next four seasons. Add the free agent additions of Zach Hyman and Cody Ceci, as well as the Duncan Keith trade and this is a much deeper team than a few months ago.
The main knock against the Oilers is their goaltending. Edmonton extended 39-year-old Mike Smith, who as of now is the starter, on a two-year deal. Although Smith had a good season last year, it’s far from certain he won’t start regressing rapidly. The off-season has been a goalie carousel in the league, with two of the three Vezina finalists (including the winner) playing in different uniforms next season. With no cap space, Edmonton will need to move a significant contract out and trade for a goalie, but did they miss the boat?
Believe it or not, the Oilers are in win-now mode. Hyman’s contract likely won’t look good in a few years and Keith is only signed for this upcoming season and the next one. McDavid just doesn’t seem like a player who is OK with getting swept in the first round of the playoffs. I’m expecting the Oilers’ captain to drag his team, kicking and screaming if he has to, on a deep playoff run in 2022.
Honourable Mention: New York Islanders +2000
The Isles came within a game of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2021 and look just as strong heading into 2022. Plus, we’d never count out Lou Lamoriello.
After a dramatic 2021 season, the New York Rangers are back with a new front office and coaching staff. General manager Chris Drury’s first big move was hiring Gerard Gallant. Gallant is a Jack Adams Award winning coach. He brought the Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season and he’s fresh off leading Team Canada to a gold medal at the 2021 IIHF World Championship. He’s known as someone who can develop young stars and I’d expect players like Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko to have breakout years under Gallant.
The Tom Wilson fiasco near the end of the season exposed New York’s lack of physicality. That has definitely been upgraded with the addition of Ryan Reaves. Reaves, who played under Gallant in Vegas, is a tough and physical and completely changes the dynamic of the Rangers’ bottom-six. He led the NHL in average hits per 60 minutes last season. In fact, since his first season in 2010-11, he has the third-most hits in the NHL over that time with 2,322. Reaves has made the playoffs all 10 years of his career and that streak should continue in 2021-22.
New York also added a couple of young Stanley Cup winners in Barclay Goodrow and Sammy Blais. But, one of the biggest moves has been to lock up Igor Shesterkin on a four-year contract extension. The 25-year-old goalie became the starter last season after the departure of Henrik Lundqvist. Shesterkin went 16-14-3 with a 2.62 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and two shutouts.
With the breadman, Artemi Panarin, up front, recent Norris winner Adam Fox on the back end, and plenty of young talent ready to develop, the Rangers could be primed to surprise some people next season.
Honourable Mention: Washington Capitals +2500
If they can survive the beat-down Reaves is about to give them on opening night, I think Alex Ovechkin and the Caps’ Cup window is still open, but it’s closing fast.
I had Chicago pegged as a team due for improvement even before the Marc-Andre Fleury trade. After three Stanley Cups in six years, there’s a real vibe around this group as a team that is ready for one last kick at the can.
It’s not often a team will move any major award winner in the off-season, especially the Vezina winner, but that’s exactly what happened with Fleury. The Flower is a three-time Stanley Cup winner and he’s coming off one of the best seasons of his career. He went 26-10-0 with a 1.98 GAA and .928 SV in the regular season. Fleury followed that up in the playoffs with a a 9-7-0 record, a 2.04 GAA and a .918 SV in the playoffs.
Another new face is defenceman Seth Jones. The 26-year-old instantly becomes the Blackhawks’ No. 1 defenceman and he has a chance to thrive in Chicago. Jones was the fourth overall pick out of Nashville in 2013. In 381 career NHL games, he’s scored 50 goals and 173 assists, averaging over 24 minutes per night.
Up front, Chicago brought in back-to-back Stanley Cup winner Tyler Johnson. He scored 22 points (8G, 14A) in the regular season and seven points (4G, 3A) in the playoffs. With an opportunity for a bigger role on the Blackhawks, Johnson will slot in nicely as the second or third line centre.
If captain Jonathan Toews can come back helathy this season, Chicago is another team that may be able to squeeze out one last playoff run.
Honourable Mention: Seattle Kraken +4000
Could Seattle make a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season like Vegas did a few years ago? It’s unlikely, but the Golden Knights proved expansion teams can be competitive right away, so the Kraken at least have a blueprint to follow.