What a range of fortune.
The New Jersey Devils barely missed entry. The Philadelphia Flyers, who command a passionate southern New Jersey gambling base, were hockey’s hottest team before the COVID-19 season stoppage on March 12.
And in the NHL return to play plan, it’s the Flyers who have emerged as a Stanley Cup frontrunner.
Philadelphia is guaranteed to advance past the opening round and holds futures odds of +850 at FanDuel Sportsbook. The Flyers opened at +1100 on Tuesday and represent the biggest percentage move among early FanDuel bettors.
The New York Rangers, at +4000, and the New York Islanders, +4200, barely reached the tournament and have the longest road to the Cup.
But at least they reached the dance, as the regular season was pronounced over and this new format will provide a league champion. It will replace the classic 16-team post-season with start dates contingent upon COVID-19 related protocols.
NHL betting at FanDuel Sportsbook
Although a couple of hub cities must be selected and the tournament probably won’t start before late July, bettors have already dropped the wagering puck.
Sportsbooks will offer 24 futures betting interests rather than the usual 16. FanDuel posted all of them moments after Tuesday’s announcement to return.
And there was immediate futures action. Besides the Flyers, the Pittsburgh Penguins moved noticeably, to +1800 from +2000.
As of Wednesday, the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning are Stanley Cup co-favorites at +600.
Next comes the Colorado Avalanche at +800 and the Vegas Knights at +850.
Stanley Cup odds: Where to find the best value
Value is everywhere.
The Washington Capitals, who captured their first Cup two years ago, are +900. The defending champion St. Louis Blues, well along on their patented second-half surge before the shutdown, are +1100.
The Dallas Stars were +1500 and the Pittsburgh Penguins at +1800.
The most remote teams on the board are the Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens, both +10000 (100-1).
DraftKings NHL odds: Flyers are still frontrunners
At DraftKings, Tampa Bay has emerged as the Cup favorite of +650. Boston follows at +700. The Flyers are +1000.
The Rangers and Islanders are in the longshots pack, +4000, and the Chicago Blackhawks have the most remote odds, 75-1.
Like all sports in the COVID-19 Comeback Age, betting has an interesting twist. Especially with futures. There won’t be a home-ice advantage, per se.
But teams will get comfortable playing in the same arena for several games.
The devil is in the details…
Fans of the New Jersey Devils are, of course, frustrated, as the team missed the cutoff to participate by a mere couple of games.
This was truly a case of bad luck. The Devils, at 28-29-12 for 68 points in 69 games, completed two fewer contests than the final team selected.
The Montreal Canadiens, 31-31-9 for 71 points, played 71 of the 82 scheduled contests and finished with a percentage of .500 to gain the final tournament berth.
Under normal tie-breaking procedures, the teams would play the same number of games and the Devils would have the chance to surpass the Canadiens in winning percentage.
But this is light years away from normal.
The cutoff had to appear somewhere to salvage a season halted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Devils nonetheless exceeded seasonal expectations. They enjoyed a 6-2-2 streak before the break. They were easily going to hurdle the previous season total of 72 points and most likely fall short of a playoff berth had the season played out.
Flyers putting it together
Further down the New Jersey Turnpike, the Flyers are enormously popular with southern NJ sports bettors.
They enjoyed a rebirth season with improved defense and the subtle inspiration of new coach Alain Vigneault.
Philadelphia sizzled before the break, ripping off a 9-1 tear and looking like an elite Cup contender. Vigneault, who guided the Rangers to the Stanley Cup finals in 2014, has been a perfect fit for this team.
Philadelphia was on pace to exceed 100 points and had already shattered its 82-point mark from last year.
This is a team on the rise. Philadelphia started the season at higher than 30-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup at all major sportsbooks. That has been reduced to single digits at FanDuel.
The Flyers looked poised to join Boston and Tampa Bay as a top Eastern Conference team before the break.
At worst, the Flyers are a player or two away from being a Stanley Cup winner. At best, this could be the year.
Their late-season surge was rewarded. The Flyers reached the opening round-robin tier as the fourth-seeded team and are guaranteed to advance into another round.
Philly has the fourth seed behind Boston, Tampa Bay, and Washington. The four teams will play a round-robin of three games to determine seeding for the next round.
If clubs finish with the same record in the round-robin, ties go to the highest-seeded team.
Rangers and Islanders in the qualifying round
The four round-robin teams then meet the four survivors from the following qualifying round, which involves both the Rangers and Islanders:
NHL Best-of-five qualifying round
#5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #12 Montreal Canadiens
#6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. #11 New York Rangers
#7 New York Islanders vs. #10 Florida Panthers
#8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. #9 Columbus Blue Jackets
The Rangers and Islanders were scuffling for playoff spots, jumping in and out, before the break.
The Islanders, with 80 points, were slightly under-achieving from a 103-point 2018-19 season. The Rangers, with 79, had already eclipsed last year’s total of 78 points and still had 12 games left.
The round-robin teams and qualifying round survivors comprise the eight teams in each conference that move on. St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas received the Western Conference top seeds.