History is mostly guessing; the rest is prejudice — Will Durant
The Chicago Blackhawks are going to win the 2015-16 Stanley Cup championship. Or so Las Vegas pundits would have you believe.
Fate, of course, is a cruel mistress. The rigors of an 82-game season coupled with the drama that inevitably unfolds during the playoffs gives virtually everyone a chance at a championship. Chicago may be the natural early front-runner for this year’s crown, but their status is tenuous at best: Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Johnny Oduya, and Brad Richards headline significant turnover in the Windy City this offseason.
Each year, I take a look at Vegas odds for each NHL team to win the Cup. My goal is straightforward: determine the five teams that appear to be the most overrated, relative to their rosters, their situations and their prospects to win it all. Putting them on this list doesn’t mean they aren’t necessarily good teams or won’t have at least some success during the regular season. It simply means that in my judgment, the betting lines as of the date in question are skewed.
Until this year, a good example of a team being overrated by Las Vegas was the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks were regularly been near the top of the Vegas odds charts despite the fact that they rarely had success in the playoffs. As a result, I’ve cited them on previous iterations of this list and sure enough, they proved me right. At 45:1 this time around, it’s safe to say they won’t make this year’s final cut.
Last year’s results
How did I do with last year’s predictions? Judge for yourself:
-Dallas Stars (41-31-10, missed the playoffs)
-Tampa Bay Lightning (50-24-8, lost in the Finals)
-Minnesota Wild (46-28-8, lost in the second round of the playoffs)
-St. Louis Blues (51-24-7, lost in the opening round of the playoffs)
-San Jose Sharks (40-33-9, missed the playoffs)
Clearly, I made a bad call on the Lightning, as they came within two games of winning it all. The others were, on balance, reasonable choices. Two teams failed to qualify for the playoffs and two others experienced early exits. All had high (or relatively high) preseason odds relative to the majority of the league.
What about this upcoming season?
Possible Vegas flops for 2015-16
I’ve looked at the odds, the rosters for every team, factored in divisional and conference strengths and employed the best educated guesswork I could muster.
With all that said, the following are my five most overrated teams for the 2014-15 NHL season.
#5: Pittsburgh Penguins
Uncharacteristically, the Penguins barely snuck into the playoffs last year, finishing 43-27-12 (98 points), good for fourth in the Metropolitan division. They lost in the first round to the Rangers.
Why the Penguins are overrated. Like the Wild and Blues below, Las Vegas has the Penguins 13:1 to win it all this year. On the surface, they had a very solid offseason, acquiring Phil Kessel, and adding Nick Bonino and Eric Fehr. Losing Paul Martin may really hurt — as may Kessel’s defense.
The Penguins are probably going to be better than last year, but given their challenged depth, weakened defense and their disappointing playoff performances since winning the Cup in 2008-09, tying for the sixth best Vegas odds to win it seems a bit much.
#4: Minnesota Wild
The Wild shocked the Blues in the opening round of last year’s playoffs before being overwhelmed 4-0 in the second round by the eventual-champion Blackhawks. Their offseason transactions were relatively modest, save for signing goaltender Devan Dubnyk to a six-year, $26 million contract extension.
Why the Wild are overrated. Three words: risk of regression. Dubnyk was a Vezina candidate, but it’s hard to imagine his 1.78/.936 stat line with the Wild won’t go in the opposite direction, and perhaps considerably so. Meanwhile, their top four scorers are all on the wrong side of 30, an age where the typical NHLer begins to show signs of decline. Yes, they have plenty of young players too, including Nino Niederreiter (24 goals) and Charlie Coyle (35 points) but they lack seasoned veterans in the 26-29 age range. If Parise, Pominville, Vanek and/or Koivu begin to show their ages, the offense will not be able to recover.
Minnesota may make the playoffs again this year, but at 13:1, there’s no way they are the sixth most likely team to win the Stanley Cup.
#3: New York Rangers
The Rangers won the President’s Trophy last season with a 53-22-7 record (113 points), and then proceeded to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in the playoffs before bowing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in an epic seven-game series. Vegas has them 12:1 to win it all, fifth best in the NHL.
Why the Rangers are overrated. The Rangers made a few moves this offseason, but didn’t improve themselves as much as their key rivals. Emerson Etem has a brighter future than Carl Hagelin, but probably not next year. Jarret Stoll can win a key faceoff, but his game has been going south for years. Martin St. Louis retired. Cam Talbot is a better near-term bet than Antti Raanta or Magnus Hellberg.
With all the picks they received in various deals, the future looks good for the Blueshirts. That said, although they will make the playoffs, the Rangers are poised to take a step back next season.
#2: St. Louis Blues
The Blues are one of the most snake-bitten franchises in the league, at least over the past four seasons. St. Louis was 51-24-7 (109 points) last year, tied with Anaheim for the best record in the West. What did that get them? A first-round ousting at the hands of the Wild, that’s what. They’ve only emerged out of the opening round once since 2011-12, and that was the year they were bulldozed over by the Kings 4-0.
Why the Blues are overrated. Like the Rangers, the moves St. Louis made bolstered their future at the possible expense of the upcoming campaign. After 13 seasons in St. Louis, it may have been time for Barret Jackman and his large cap hit to go (he signed with Nashville this past summer), but he was still a steady presence out on the ice and in the locker room. Losing T.J. Oshie may hurt as well, even though the Blues got back Troy Brouwer, prospect Phoenix Copley and a third round pick.
Considering the competition got better and factoring in their abysmal playoff record, Vegas odds of 13:1 odds (tied for sixth) don’t quite seem right.
#1: Chicago Blackhawks
Heresy! How can a team that won the Cup last year and has three on their mantle over the past six seasons be overrated by Las Vegas at 13/2? Well, when said team has to deal away a sniper (Patrick Sharp) who scored 34 goals just two years ago and a young left winger (Brandon Saad) on the verge of stardom in salary cap moves, the offense could take a hit. Add in Patrick Kane’s possible legal troubles and there’s a storm brewing in the Windy City.
Why the Blackhawks are overrated. Again, Chicago has lost two — and potentially three — big pieces of its championship puzzle. They got back some very nice assets (Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin and Corey Tropp in the Saad deal alone) as well as draft picks, but the losses will still be tough to overcome. Add in the fact that no team has won back-to-back championships since the Red Wings did it in 1997 and 1998 and it would seem they are more than a little overrated.
The Blackhawks should still be good, just not 13/2 good.
Do you think I shouldn’t have included one or more of these teams? Is there another that belongs instead? Leave your thoughts below, or message me @McLaughlinWalt.
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.