The Tampa Bay Lightning are the undisputed favorite to win the Stanley Cup this year at +200. Last year, the Bolts were quite heavily favored but fell to the eventual champions, the Washington Capitals, in the Eastern Conference Finals, but after a near-immaculate regular season, there’s little doubt that they will go all the way this season.
Most bettors are steering away from the other contenders in the Eastern Conference because of the threat from the Lightning, but the immense strength of Tampa Bay has created a grand opportunity in backing a Stanley Cup winner from the Western Conference.
The Lightning is so heavily favored to go all the way this season that the next closest competitors in the odds are the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames, both at +950. Tampa Bay looks set to demolish any team in their conference to book their ticket to the Finals, and then they will meet the best that the Western Conference has to offer. Some bookmakers include the option for you to bet on a Stanley Cup outright winner each-way, meaning that long as the team makes it to the Finals, you’ll win money.
Better still, most of these outright offerings with each-way deliver at half odds. So, even if you pick the shortest Western odds of the Flames at +950 to win the Stanley Cup, they make it to Finals, and get crushed 4-0 in the series, you’d still get a +425 return on your stake – more than twice as good as the odds on the Lightning to win outright.
There is, of course, the added benefit that outside of the certainty of a Western team meeting an Eastern team in the finals, anything can happen and upsets often occur in the playoffs. You may end up cashing in at full odds if the Bolts choke once again en route to the Cup.
Let’s delve into the Western Conference contenders and see which teams are favored to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals to land the each-way outright bets.
St. Louis Blues are on the warpath
Since the All-Star break at the end of January, only two teams have earned more points that the St. Louis Blues: Boston and Tampa Bay. The Blues have battled their way from near obscurity to earn 41 points in 27 games to all but guarantee a divisional playoff place. Over this period, the closest divisional playoff place team in the Western Conference to the Blues’ record is the San Jose Sharks with 30 points in 24 games, with the wild card-placing Dallas Stars earning 32 points in 27 games.
The surge of St. Louis has coincided with superstar Vladimir Tarasenko finding form, scoring 12 goals and 28 points in 22 games, Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn stepping up to command their top-six lines, and rookie Jordan Binnington emerging as the starter with 16 wins, a 0.933 save percentage and an absurdly good 1.79 goals against average through 19 starts.
Form and morale can be major factors for teams in the postseason, and it may just carry the Blues to the Western Conference Finals, for which they are +700 to win.
San Jose Sharks have gone all-in this year
Already boasting the likes of Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Evander Kane, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Martin Jones, the Sharks went out and added megastar Erik Karlsson in the summer and then padded with a top-six-caliber goal scorer in Gustav Nyquist. Add to these stars the ever-improving Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, sturdy defensemen Justin Braun and Brenden Dillion, and you have an incredibly menacing team.
Some people worry about San Jose’s goals against column this season, citing a lack of game-winning performances from Martin Jones as the problem. However, while he’s consistent enough to bolster his team, Jones doesn’t go all-out during the regular season, saving his best for the postseason. With a combined playoffs stat line of 0.926 save percentage, 2.12 goals against average, 22 wins, and six shutouts with the Sharks across three campaigns, it’s clear that Jones becomes elite when it matters the most.
Head coach Peter DeBoer took the Sharks to their first ever Finals in 2016 at his first time of asking and is set to do so again this year. They’ll most likely have to face the Flames in the second round after getting revenge on the Golden Knights in the first round, but the Sharks certainly have the star power, postseason experience and coach to pull through and get to the Stanley Cup Finals.
At +1300 to win the Stanley Cup, the San Jose Sharks are one of the top contenders to meet the best of the Eastern Conference for the second time in three years.
The Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, and the Calgary Flames are also worth considering, but the Sharks and Blues just seem to be going in the right direction to make it to the Finals this year.