NHL betting: What to make of the struggles of some popular favorites

·5 min read

NHL teams have played between nine and 13 games each. Let's round off and say a little under 15% of the regular season is in the books. While it's a nice sample size, the vast majority of the season still remains in front of us. We've seen teams that have surprised us in a positive way, but there have also been a few preseason favorites that haven't impressed us just yet. Is now the time to attack teams like the Avalanche, Golden Knights and Islanders in the futures market?

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche entered the season as favorites to win the Stanley Cup. They were coming off a season in which they won the President's Trophy as the league's best team during the regular season, and they looked dominant in the process.

Colorado also entered the season as a -260 favorite to win the Central Division. After a 4-5-1 start, Colorado is now +100 to win the division. They are still the favorites, but at much more palatable odds. 

A slow start isn't new for the Avalanche, they went 3-3 to open last year and they lost seven of their first 16 games. They then rattled off four different winning streaks of five-plus games and ended up the best team in the league during the regular season.

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 23: Colorado Avalanche Celebrates scoring a goal during the NHL Hockey match between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche on October 23, 2021 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Colorado Avalanche have struggled to open the season, but they should get back on track. (Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The underlying metrics suggest there's no real reason for concern. While they aren't leading the league like they did last season, they rank eighth in expected-goal rate. They've received mediocre goaltending, but I'm not worried about that with Darcy Kuemper's track record. 

Colorado has also dealt with injuries in the early part of the season. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Samuel Girard and Andre Burakovsky have all missed multiple games in the early going. 

I still think the Avalanche are the best team in the league, and I'd back Colorado to win the division at +100. Minnesota, St. Louis and Winnipeg have all gotten off to solid starts, but I see the Avalanche winning this division well over 50% of the time. 

Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights are another team that entered the season as odds-on favorites to win their division. At the start of the campaign, the Golden Knights were -165 favorites to finish on top of the Pacific Division. Currently, Vegas has +425 odds to win the division.

There are multiple reasons for the seismic shift in the odds. First and foremost, the Golden Knights have been very mediocre to open the season. Vegas has gone 6-6-0. 

It hasn't been pretty for the Golden Knights on the ice, as they aren't doing a good job of controlling possession or driving play. 

No team likes to use excuses, but the Golden Knights have plenty. Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone went out in Vegas' second game and they haven't returned. They are the Golden Knights' top two forwards and their catalysts on offense. Additionally, William Karlsson is now out with an injury as well. 

Pacioretty and Stone should be back by the end of November, and Karlsson should be back a few weeks after that. 

Additionally, the Golden Knights just acquired Jack Eichel from Buffalo. Eichel will have an operation done on his neck and is expected to return to action in 3-4 months. Eichel is a game-changing talent and the Golden Knights should have his services for the stretch run. 

Another shot to Vegas' prospects in the Pacific Division has been the start of the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. Edmonton has gone 9-1-0, while the Flames have just one regulation loss in their first 11 games. 

I do believe that the Oilers and Flames are solid teams, but they won't play at this level all season. I think that they'll compete with the Golden Knights atop the division. In a race I expect to come down to the final days of the season, I don't mind taking the value on Vegas at +425 to win the division. This has been a huge adjustment and it's probably too much. 

New York Islanders

The Islanders were preseason darlings of many. They were one of the most popular picks to win the Stanley Cup before the season. 

Preseason odds on the Islanders dropped all the way to +1400. Currently, BetMGM has the Islanders at +2200 to win the Stanley Cup.

What has changed for the Islanders since the start of the season? Not much. After opening the season with back-to-back losses, the Isles are 5-1-2 in their last eight games. 

One thing working against the Islanders has been their division. The Rangers, Flyers, Blue Jackets and Devils are all performing better than expected. The Hurricanes remain elite, and the Capitals don't look to be going anywhere either. However, the whole point of betting the Islanders is that they just need to get into the playoffs. They don't need to finish atop their division or rack up points during the regular season. This is a team built for the playoffs and will be a challenging matchup to any opponent it faces. 

There's a key factor worth noting about the Islanders. They've completed 10 games of their season-opening 13 game road trip. The Islanders, like most teams, perform better at home. They appear to have survived their early season challenging road trip and soon enough they'll play 41 of their final 69 games at home. Nice. 

If you liked the Islanders before the season, now is a good chance to double dip. You also no longer have to deal with the risk that opening with 13 straight road games could derail their season before it really begins. At 22-to-1 odds, the Isles are still a good bet to win the Cup.

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