Stanley Cup Betting: 5 Reasons Why The Tampa Bay Lightning Will Win It All
For the most part, the National Hockey League standings this season look like they might have been taken from a newspaper in Bizzaro World.
Perennial bottom feeders like the New Jersey Devils and the Winnipeg Jets are sitting near the top of their conferences 5 weeks into the campaign, not to mention the expansion Vegas Golden Knights looking like a legitimate playoff threat at 11-6-1 through their first 18 games.
Meanwhile, highly-hyped teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Washington Capitals, Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks currently find themselves near the bottom of their respective divisions. Even the two-time Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins have had a rough go so far, already suffering 3 losses by 6 goals or more.
There is, however, one team that is living up to everyone’s preseason expectations: the Tampa Bay Lightning. Actually, saying that the Lightning is living up to expectations is about as gross an understatement as saying that the Arizona Coyotes are bad. Tampa’s been as dominant a team as we’ve seen in the NHL in quite some time.
In the 19 games the Lightning has played this year, they’ve earned points in 17 of them. They’re 8-1-1 at home and an even more impressive 7-1-1 away from their own rink. They boast the most potent attack in the NHL, averaging 4 goals per game, and the 2.4 goals they’re allowing per contest is the third-lowest mark in the league. Their power play is second and their penalty killing is sixth.
It’s no surprise, then, to see the Lightning installed as the clear favorite to win the 2018 Stanley Cup as we enter the second half of November. Bookmaker.eu has Tampa Bay at +580 odds to win the Cup next spring, with the Penguins (+950), St. Louis Blues (+1100) and Toronto Maple Leafs (+1100) their closest competition.
Here are 5 reasons you may want to pounce on the Lightning’s Stanley Cup futures right now, even at that modest return.
1. Steven Stamkos is Back
What’s the biggest difference between this year’s Lightning and the squad that missed the playoffs last year? two words: Steven Stamkos.
The Canadian-born sniper is back with a vengeance this season after missing the final 65 games last year due to a torn ligament in his right knee that was suffered nearly a calendar year ago. With 35 points in his first 19 games, Stamkos is on pace for more than 150 points this season. To put that into perspective, no NHL player has recorded more than 130 points in a season since 1996.
The Tampa Bay captain not only makes the Lightning’s offense stronger with the numbers he puts up, he makes his teammates better as well. Talented Russian Nikita Kucherov averaged more than a point a game playing the bulk of last season without Stamkos, but he’s been even more lethal this year with 17 goals and 16 helpers in his first 19 games.
Stamkos’ return also made disgruntled forward Jonathan Drouin expendable, and the Lightning was able to ship Drouin to Montreal for promising young defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. as a 19-year-old, earning 14 points and posting a plus-9 rating through his first 19 games.
2. They’ve Got Strong Secondary Scoring as Well
As good as Stamkos, Kucherov and linemate Vladislav Namestnikov have been, Tampa’s top forward unit has also had plenty of help putting the puck in the net.
Center Brayden Point is also in the top 40 in NHL scoring with 8 goals and 10 helpers so far, nearly a point-per-game pace. Four other Lightning players already have 4 goals or more, and roughly half of Tampa’s regular skaters (9 of 18) have reached the double-digit plateau in points.
Even better, several players on the Lightning roster have actually underachieved a bit compared to previous seasons. Tyler Johnson, who notched 72 points in 77 games three years ago, has just 9 points in 19 games this season. Ryan Callahan, a 4-time 20-goal scorer, has just 1 goal in his first 18 outings. And Chris Kunitz, author of 252 goals in his NHL career, has contributed just 2 so far this season.
To be fair to Johnson, Callahan and Kunitz, their numbers have suffered partly because they’re being asked to play a different role than in the past, when they were relied on for goal scoring. But it’s never a bad thing to have proven snipers on your roster that you don’t even need to rely on for offense.
3. Their Goaltending and Defense are Excellent as Well
Many thought the Lightning was simply giving up on the playoffs this past February when they dealt long-time star netminder Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings. But in reality, Tampa Bay was just clearing the way for its next elite goaltender.
Andrei Vasilevskiy has embraced the opportunity for more playing time in his first full season as a #1 goalie. The 23-year-old owns the best save percentage of any NHL goalie to have made more than six starts this season, stopping 93.2% of the shots he’s faced. When Tampa traded Bishop last year, Vasilevskiy was 11-13-5 with a 2.81 goals-against average. Since that deal was made, Vasilevskiy is 24-5-3, and his GAA this season is a sparkling 2.24.
Vasilevskiy also benefits from playing behind arguably the most underrated defense corps in the NHL. I’m more than 900 words into this article without even mentioning Victor Hedman, who was as this year’s Norris Trophy winner (league’s best defenseman) after finishing third in voting for that award last season. In addition to having a terrific offensive game, Hedman blocks a ton of shots and breaks up a lot of plays with his long reach.
Fellow blueliner Anton Stralman is averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time per game and leads the team with a plus-15 rating, and I’ve already mentioned the exploits of Sergachev. Having a strong group of defensemen is one reason Tampa’s forwards can put up big numbers on offense, knowing that if they get caught up ice, their blueliners and goaltender will clean up the mess.
4. They’ll Benefit Tremendously From Having Home Ice Advantage
It might surprise you to hear this, but Tampa Bay has a long history of playing really well at home. Going into this year, they’d won 45% more games at home than on the road in the previous six seasons, of any team in the NHL.
That should serve the Lightning well in the post-season, where they already look likely to enjoy home-ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. Opening each series with a pair of games at home, plus having the always pivotal Game 5 and any potential decisive Game 7 in their building might be a greater advantage for Tampa Bay than any other team in the NHL. The last time Tampa enjoyed home-ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs (2004), they won the Stanley Cup.
5. Their Competition in the Eastern Conference Looks Weak
Alright, so we’ve established that the Lightning is really, really good. One other thing that makes them a strong candidate to win the Stanley Cup this season is that there really aren’t any other teams in the East (right now, at least) that can stand up to them in a 7-game series.
The Penguins have been wildly inconsistent this year, looking like a team suffering the after-effects from 2 straight Stanley Cup runs. The Capitals, who have finished first in the NHL regular-season standings each of the past two years, are right around .500 through their first 20 games. And though the Maple Leafs are 13-7 through 20 games, their defense and goaltending don’t compare to Tampa’s, plus Toronto is a young team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004.
Is Tampa Bay A Good Bet To Win The Stanley Cup?
I know the price is pretty short on Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup futures right now, which is the problem with betting on a team to win the championship after it starts the season with a 15-2-2 record.
But I also think there might actually still be some value on the Lightning, simply because they are as good as advertised. There have been no flukes here about Tampa’s hot start. They’re winning both at home and on the road, and their +30 goal differential is nearly triple that of the next-best team in the league, the Blues (+12).
If the +580 odds on Tampa to win the Stanley Cup at Bookmaker aren’t enough to make you bite, I suggest checking out various other betting sites to see if you can get a better price. TopBet.eu, for example, had the Lightning at +750 odds as recently as Friday afternoon.
There’s still a long way to go in the 2017-18 NHL season and a lot that can still happen. (That includes another injury to Stamkos, who broke his leg in 2013 and also missed much of the 2016 playoffs due to a blood clot.)
But right now, the Lightning is in the NHL, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I’ll be jumping on TopBet’s +750 offering on Tampa Bay to win the Stanley Cup in 2018, and I’ll also look to put more on the Lightning if I see a price better than that in the near future.