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Unexpected Start to the NHL Season

In NHL action so far, teams are defying expectations, in good ways and otherwise. Bettors should play it to their advantage.

The 2021-22 NHL season is a little over two weeks old, and already teams are defying expectations. Some have been a welcome surprise (think the Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild), while others are already in crisis mode (the Vegas Golden Knights and Montreal Canadiens).

Seeing the Florida Panthers atop the Atlantic Division in October doesn’t mean they’re going to be there in January, but bettors should ride them while they’re hot.

Conversely, the two teams that battled for the Stanley Cup last year, the Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning, are off to slow starts. Again, the slump may not last throughout the NHL season, but now might be the time to take advantage of their struggles.

Let’s take a look at early-season winners and losers and some betting angles for them.


A Hot Start for Buffalo

This year, the Buffalo Sabres were projected to be one of the worst teams in this NHL season, and for good reason. Buffalo has the longest playoff drought of any team, last making the postseason in 2011. Before 2021, they were tabbed to have 69.5 points at BetMGM.

But in Buffalo’s first five games they tallied seven points. And though the Sabres seem to be cooling off a bit after winning their first three games, head coach Don Granato has them playing decent hockey.

It’s even more impressive as the team feuds with its star player, Jack Eichel. The superstar forward has a herniated disk in his neck and wants surgery to replace it. The team wants him to get fusion surgery. Eichel wants to be traded, the team can’t find a suitable deal, and the whole mess has been a huge distraction.

Still, the Sabres are plugging along, and gamblers, take notice of two betting trends. The first is that Buffalo has been the underdog in four of its first five games. Secondly, the under has been hit three of the first five games.

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Rangers Rolling in Metro Division 

You could say the New York Rangers have a bit of a chip on their shoulder. The team was projected to finish fifth out of six teams in the Metropolitan Division, and Caesars Sportsbook had them at +500 to finish on top.

First-year coach Gerard Gallant, who took the Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first year of existence, has the Rangers playing better than most expected them to.

The team was a +2500 to win the Stanley Cup and +1300 to win the Eastern Conference. They’re a long way from either, but after losing their first two games, the Rangers rattled off four straight victories. The success came despite the struggles of star forward Artemi Panarin. The 29-year-old has one goal and three assists through six games.

Gallant defended his player, however. “He’s bringing it,” the coach told reporters. “He’s making his plays. He’ll be fine.”

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Connor McDavid Sizzling 

Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid is off to a hot start this NHL season, even by his standards. Through five games, McDavid has six goals and seven assists, leading the Oilers to a first-place standing in the Pacific Division. The 24-year-old, who’s garnering comparisons to other sports superstars, is quick to downplay the accolades.

“If you’re going to make the comparison of LeBron James to me, I think we’re obviously a little bit different,” McDavid said. “He’s won countless titles and been to the finals a bunch of years, and I haven’t done any of that. I definitely have a lot to learn still, and that’s kind of where I come, that’s what I think about it.”

While McDavid’s offensive production is great for him, it’s bad for bettors. His MVP odds have dropped dramatically from the beginning of the season. McDavid began as the +200 favorite at BetRivers the first week of October. Less than a month later, he’s dropped to +155.

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Vegas Crapping Out 

There were a lot of questions for the Vegas Golden Knights going into the season. Could Robin Lehner step up as the clear No. 1 goalie? Would the power play improve? Did they have enough depth for another deep run in the playoffs?

So far, the results are mixed. Lehner has played adequately in net, but the rest of the team is spotty. The power play is once again anemic, and it’s not going to get any better with the losses of Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty to injuries.

Vegas is currently tied for last place in the Pacific Division and its over/under of 106.5 points, is strongly trending under. The team was a -1600 to make the postseason and +900 to miss out. That seems like a much better bet right now.

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Montreal in Free Fall 

Last year, the Montreal Canadiens were the feel-good story of the season. The overachievers reached the Stanley Cup Finals, the first team from Canada to do so since Vancouver in 2011.

It seems like Montreal has been brought down to earth, at least early in the season. The team lost its first five games and was the only team not to get at least a point. They snapped the winless streak last Saturday, defeating the lowly Detroit Red Wings, 6-1.

Oddsmakers gave the Canadiens a modest win total of 89.5, and they’re at +6000 to win the Atlantic Division.

Fleury: From Vezina to Cellar 

Poor Marc-Andre Fleury. He went from the 2021 Vezina Trophy winner to being traded to one of the worst teams in the league, the Chicago Blackhawks.

No surprise that Fleury’s odds to repeat as the Vezina winner have taken a hit. He began the year at +800 to win the award before the season began, but playing on a team that was winless through five games has nearly doubled his odds to +1400. Expect the line to move even higher as the season drags on.

Place a futures bet at BetMGM for the 2022 Vezina Trophy winner (odds below). New customers start with a risk-free bet, up to $1,000. If the first bet loses, you’ll get back the same amount in free bets.

2022 Vezina Trophy Winner Odds

A. Vasilevskiy +350 C. Hellebuyck +1000 I. Shesterkin +1200
D. Kuemper +1200 M-A. Fleury +1400 C. Price +1400
P. Grubauer +1600 S. Varlamov +1600 T. Demko +1600
R. Lehner +1800 J. Binnington +2000 J. Campbell +2000
J. Saros +2000 A. Nedeljkovic +2200 S. Bobrovsky +2200
F. Andersen +2200 P. Mrazek +2500 C. Driedger +2500
E. Merzlikins +2500 C. Talbot +3000 J. Gibson +3000
C. Peterson +3000 C. Hart +3000 J. Markstrom +3500
A. Khudobin +3500 A. Raanta +3500 T. Rask +4000
V. Vanececk +4000 K. Lankinen +4000 M. Smith +4000
L. Ullmark +4000 M. Blackwood +5000 T. Jarry +5000
J. Halak +8000 M. Jones +10000 D. Dubnyk +1000


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