Before every NHL season, Las Vegas sportsbooks release the betting odds for every NHL team to win the Stanley Cup. The 2014-15 edition can be found here. While those odds are for which teams will win the cup, they also offer insight about which teams they think will be the worst. This year, being the worst team is actually an enviable spot because it gives the team the best chance to win the lottery, and draft Connor McDavid. McDavid is already being talked about as the best prospect since Sidney Crosby, and has the ability to turn a franchise around by himself.
Which team will have the chance to draft Connor McDavid? Let’s see what Vegas thinks…
Calgary Flames (200/1 chances of winning Stanley Cup, tied 30th/30): The fourth worst team in the league last year comes in as one of the leaders for McDavid. The Flames were 8th worst in goals for, and 7th worst in goals against last year. They lost their leading goalscorer, Mike Cammalleri, to the Devils in free agency.
A look through their forward corps shows that this team is going to have problems scoring goals. They have a surplus of middle six forwards, but are severely lacking in elite offensive talent.
There are a number of young players with very high ceilings like Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and possibly Sam Bennett that will be on the roster. However, they are all a few years away from reaching their potential.
On defense, GM Brad Treliving thought it would be a good idea to give Deryk Engelland nearly $3M/year. That says a lot about the quality of their defense.
The new starter, Jonas Hiller, mustered just a .911 save percentage and 2.48 GAA last year playing for one of the best teams in the league in the Ducks. Those numbers are sure to balloon playing behind this Calgary team.
If McDavid were to land in Calgary, it would give the Flames the best young center depth in the league with McDavid, Monahan, and Bennett.
Buffalo Sabres (200/1 chances of winning Stanley Cup, tied 30th/30): The Sabres were far and away the worst team in the NHL in 2013-14. They scored 39 fewer goals than the next-worst team, were the worst even strength team in the league, and let up the 6th most goals despite Ryan Miller posting a .923 save percentage.
In Buffalo, things very well may get worse before they can get better. GM Tim Murray did try to address the scoring issues by bringing in Matt Moulson and Brian Gionta through free agency, but the forwards are still sorely lacking in top end talent. There are plenty of talented prospects in the pipeline, but like Calgary, they are a few years away from being impact players.
Similar to the forwards, the defense has a number of exciting young players that make the future look bright. It is possible that Jake McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, and Mark Pysyk all see extended time on the blueline this year. However, they have just 111 combined games of NHL experience between them.
Goaltending is going to be the biggest problem for the Sabres. There is a large step down in quality from Ryan Miller to Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth. Enroth has never been a starting goaltender, and Neuvirth has been a disappointment since his one year as the starter in Washington in 2010-11. Neither sticks out as an ideal candidate to be a #1 goaltender.
A center tandem of Sam Reinhart and Connor McDavid would strike fear into the opponents of the Sabres for years to come.
A Close Second
Carolina Hurricanes (100/1 chances of winning Stanley Cup, tied 28th/30): Things were already looking tough for the Hurricanes, but they got even worse with the news that Jordan Staal fractured his leg. Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2005-06, the Hurricanes have made the playoffs just once. They’ve been stuck as a bubble team for the last 5 years, finishing between 9th-13th in the conference every year.
Could this be the year everything unravels for the Canes? They have top-end talent at forward with Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Alexander Semin, and Jordan Staal (when he returns from injury). Despite that talent, the Canes scored the 7th fewest goals in the league last year. If the Canes are to avoid being in the basement, they need their star forwards to play like star forwards.
Other than young stud Justin Faulk, the Hurricanes defense leaves a lot to be desired. Andrej Sekera had a career year last year, but had been an average bottom pairing defenseman the rest of his career. A pair of 33 year olds, John-Michael Liles and Ron Hainsey, will round out an underwhelming top 4.
Cam Ward is paid as an elite goaltender, but he hasn’t played like one in a long time. Anton Khudobin, who played significantly better than Ward last year, is the backup and will be breathing down Ward’s neck if Ward falters.
The Hurricanes are not in dire need of a center right now with the Staal brothers occupying the top six, but if they get the chance to draft Connor McDavid, they will take him.
Winnipeg Jets (100/1 chances of winning Stanley Cup, tied 28th/30): Similar to the Canes, the Jets have been stuck between playoff team and perennial lottery team the past three years. Their offense was the definition of average in 2013-14, finishing 15th out of 30 teams in goals for. Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little produced like 1st line forwards last year, but do not stick out as franchise cornerstones at forward. With Dustin Byfuglien moving to forward, and Evander Kane claiming he can pot 50 goals this year, maybe this is the year the Jets’ offense explodes.
The reason Byfuglien moved to forward was because the Jets have great depth on defense. Jacob Trouba is one of the best young defensemen in the league, and Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian are very strong top four options.
The Achilles heel of this Jets team is their goaltending. Ondrej Pavelec is universally regarded as one of the worst starting goalies in the league. He’s posted a save percentage above .910 once in his NHL career. His backup, Michael Hutchinson, posted strong numbers in the AHL last year and was good in limited NHL action. However, one would prefer to have a proven NHL backup if Pavelec is the starter.
More than any other team listed, the Jets badly need a player like McDavid. Mark Scheifele is a good player, but McDavid would be the franchise center the Jets have been looking for.
New Jersey Devils (60/1 chances of winning Stanley Cup, 19th/30): With an average age of 31.2 years, the Devils are the oldest team in the NHL by nearly 2 years. Not only are they old, but they are old in key positions. Their two leading scorers from last year, Elias and Jagr, are 38 and 42 respectively. Their top 3 defensemen in time on ice from last year are 31, 37, and 38 years old.
No team in the NHL is as vulnerable to the decline of their players due to age. The Devils already struggled to score goals last year (4th worst in the league). They were able to get by because Cory Schneider was a wall in net, leading the league in goals-against-average among goalies that played at least half of their team’s games. If Schneider were to get hurt for any extended period of time, the Devils would be in a world of trouble.
Who Will Get Connor McDavid?
My money is on the Buffalo Sabres. The dropoff in abilities from Ryan Miller to Enroth and Neuvirth is significant. Combined with the amount of youth that could be patrolling the Sabres blueline this year, the fans of Buffalo could be in for a long season.
Bill Schoeninger is a Philadelphia Flyers writer and current Boston University student studying business. Coming to THW from Hometown Hockey, Bill follows and writes about the Flyers, Boston University Terriers, and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @BSchoeninger17