NHL Western Conference Champion Odds: Who Will Make the Stanley Cup Finals out of the West?

NHL Western Conference Championship odds and predictions. As the NHL regular season winds down, it's time to analyze the futures odds for which Western Conference team will make the finals.
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NHL Western Conference Champion Odds: Who Will Make the Stanley Cup Finals out of the West?

The Western Conference is fairly top-heavy, much more so than the East. The Colorado Avalanche just clinched the top spot in the conference with their league-leading 55th win of the season; they are the heavy favorites to represent the West in the Stanley Cup Finals. In the Pacific Division, the Calgary Flames are well-poised to take the division crown. After those two, though, the conference appears to be a jumbled mess of teams who have been unable to distance themselves from the pack. Does anyone have the capacity to knock off Colorado? In my opinion, only Calgary can. Here's why the Flames are a better bet, value-wise, to make the finals than other team in the conference.

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Calgary Flames to win the Western Conference @ +400 (Bet $100 to win $400)

In terms of odds, the Flames trail the Avalanche (+140) by a sizeable margin. After them, the teams with the next highest odds are the Wild and Golden Knights at +950 (via FanDuel). In other words, the sportsbooks believe that the Western Conference is all but a two-horse race between Calgary and Colorado. The question is: how big should the gap between those two teams be? According to my model, which has been successful in its (albeit limited) use as a betting tool, these teams should be close to one another.

Even-Strength Excellence

The key to Calgary's emergence as a cup contender has been their dominance at even strength. According to MoneyPuck, their 5v5 expected goals share this season is 55.81%, which ranks third in the NHL. This means that they tend to generate more high-quality offense than their opposition, which is a recipe for winning. Colorado, notably, ranks eighth in this category with a 52.7% xGF%.

One thing to consider when predicting whether or not a team will continue to excel is their consistency (or lack thereof) in the past. The Flames have proven themselves to be among the league's most consistently good teams—their expected goals differential has remained on an upward trajectory throughout the year. We can attribute that to the steady leadership of Darryl Sutter, who has transformed the Flames since taking the reins in the middle of last season. His teams have never failed to produce top-notch results, analytically and otherwise.

Elite Special Teams

Sometimes, however, it does grow difficult to generate offense in the playoffs at even strength. The playoffs are played at a faster tempo than games in the regular season, with defenders playing tighter to the man and willing to step in front of any shot. In the games and series where neither team can break through at 5v5, special teams play a vital role in determining which team advances and which team begins booking tee times.

In terms of special teams, the Flames will have an edge against all but a few other squads. Their power play scores on 23.5% of its opportunities, which ranks ninth in the league. However, the unit ranks third in terms of xGF/60, which suggests that they may have been, overall, unlucky. If that is indeed the case, we can expect the Flames' power play to see some positive regression, meaning that their conversion rate will rise.

The Flames also have an elite penalty kill. The unit ranks fifth with a kill rate of 83.9%, trailing only the Hurricanes, Penguins, Sharks, and Islanders. Calgary has only allowed one power play goal in their last five games, which might indicate that their penalty kill is further improving. Whether or not that is the case, their strong PK will be an asset in the playoffs.

Requisite Star Power

Looking back at the teams that have won it all over the past decade-plus, one common denominator is that all of them had superstar forwards who delivered in the clutch. The Blackhawks, who won three championships in six years, had Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane at their peaks. The back-to-back Penguins had Crosby and Malkin. The back-to-back Lightning had Kucherov and Point (and Stamkos for one of the two runs). Even the 2019 Blues, who shocked the world by making a miracle run to the cup, had Ryan O'Reilly (who was playing at an elite level—23 points in 26 playoff games) and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Luckily for the Flames, their lineup boasts a dynamic trio of forwards who have ascended to stardom. Johnny Gaudreau, who has 36 goals and 69 assists for 105 points in 75 games, will receive Hart consideration for the league's most valuable player. Matthew Tkachuk, the heart and soul of the team, has 96 points in 75 games. Elias Lindholm has enjoyed a breakout season with 39 goals and 39 assists. All three have smashed their previous career-highs for points in a season, and there are still seven games to go.

Road to the Conference Finals

There's also a strong case to be made that the Flames will have an easier path to the conference finals than the Avalanche will. Starting with the first round, there is an outside chance that Vegas squeaks into the second wildcard spot to face Colorado. If last year was any indication, that would be a nightmare first round matchup for the Avs, especially with the Golden Knights' lineup gradually getting healthier.

If Calgary advances to the second round, they will play the winner of the two-vs-three series in the Pacific division. That series is likely to be Edmonton vs. Los Angeles, both of whom rank lower in my power ratings than either of Colorado's potential second round opponents (Minnesota and St. Louis). Colorado is better than any team they might face in the first two rounds, but they have a tougher path than most realize. We've certainly seen bigger upsets before.

Final Thoughts

There are, of course, no locks (or anything close to them) when it comes to making futures bets like this one. It's all about finding spots of value, and this is one of those. The Flames, simply put, should be priced higher than they currently are. Calgary is also at +900 to win the cup, which is a solid bet in and of itself. I'm staying off of that because of the East's strength—whichever team makes it out will be battle-tested beyond belief. I feel comfortable saying that the winner of the West is highly likely to be either the Flames or the Avalanche, so I'll take the former at a nice discount.

Western Conference Champion Pick

2 units - Flames to win the Western Conference @ +400 (Bet $100 to win $400)

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Jason Yamaguchi is an avid New York sports fan. He has a proven record of providing +EV bets by combining traditional handicapping tactics with advanced statistics. You can follow him on Twitter @TopMoneyPicks to view all of his bets, including NFL, NHL, and MLB picks.

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