Mar. 12, 2021
NHL Pacific Division Betting Preview
Now that the NHL season is scheduled to be a full one with their regular divisions back in check, the Pacific Division has to come in as the worst on paper from top to bottom. Of the seven Pacific teams that existed last year (welcome to the NHL Seattle), only two of them made the playoffs (Edmonton, Vegas), and only one of them won a playoff game (Vegas).
With these teams now grouped together, divisional play within the Pacific grouping will be very interesting this season as some of these teams that were at the bottom of the league last year really have nowhere to go but up.
Even if it's Vegas/Edmonton in 1st/2nd in any order in the Pacific this year as it's expected, there is still going to be a 3rd, 4th, and 5th place finisher and that's really where the fun starts from a betting perspective for this division.
Odds to win Pacific Division
Per BetMGM - Subject to Change
Vegas and Edmonton both made the playoffs last season and the pair are expected to make a return trip in the 2022 postseason.. (AP)
NHL Pacific Division Best Bets
Winner: Edmonton Oilers +400
If the Pacific Division turns out to be the two-horse race it's expected to be between Vegas and Edmonton – and it's tough to think otherwise now – I'll gladly take near 4-1 price on any team in most of those perceived head-to-head cases, and this one allows me to back the team that's got the best player in the world.
The knocks against Edmonton are always going to be what they get defensively (on the blue line and in net), where the secondary scoring is going to come from, and there is always the concern they lose Connor McDavid to injury as well. But McDavid doesn't even have to be great to dominate this league anymore as that's how high a level his baseline play has become, and with another one of the world's best players in Leon Draisaitl – former Hart and Art Ross winner – this Oilers team can rattle off some wins when these two guys really get it going.
Wins shouldn't be hard to come by either considering the state of some of these other franchises for this season, just look at their division odds. Anaheim at +25000 is favored to be the division doormat, with LA and San Jose not too far behind at +5000 respectively. San Jose's got their own in-house things to deal with involving Evander Kane this year too, something that could completely derail any shot they've got at significant improvement.
I don't believe Seattle will have anywhere near the success Vegas did as an expansion franchise, as it can be hard to remember that the expansion success Vegas had was the outlier not the norm, and even with the more favorable expansion rules to help new teams become competitive quicker, to have Seattle as the 3rd favorite (+750) for this division is a little out there in my view.
Calgary (+1000) and Vancouver (+2000) are the Canadian rivals that will be sure to test the Oilers in head-to-head meetings, but over the long haul of a full season I'm not sure either of them will show the consistency to finish ahead of Edmonton in the standings.
Which brings it back to Vegas (-160) as the favorite, finishing last year with 10 more points than Edmonton in the standings.
However, the worst team from the Canadian division (Vancouver) finished with 50 points last year, a total that was still higher than three of the teams Vegas saw on a regular basis. LA (49), San Jose (49) and Anaheim (43) were those three organizations and Vegas was 7-1 SU vs Anaheim, 6-2 SU vs LA, and 8-0 SU against San Jose.
If those results are based in Vegas being the heavy chalk for this division I'll gladly disagree with the price. One, it's going to be hard for the Golden Knights to duplicate that absurd success against these division rivals (21-3 SU) when there are going to be much trickier travel spots and things like that to deal with this season. It won't be camp out at home/hotel for half a week and get comfortable beating up on these lesser teams.
Or two, if Vegas is able to replicate a similar level of success against these teams again it suggests the Knights could be that good to deserve this favored price, or it could mean that those three California teams are just that bad again. If it's the latter, it means that Connor McDavid and this Edmonton team can have their own feast of wins this year against those California teams now that they are division rivals once again.
Chances are the team that does the most damage against those California teams this year is going to be the one to win the Pacific Division. With Vegas highly likely to regress their record in those head-to-head meetings and the Oilers getting a clean slate against them, at this price, I'll grab Edmonton in that race every time.
Left-winger Matthew Tkachuk and the Flames made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons before the 2020 shortened season. (AP)
To Make Playoffs: Calgary Flames -135
The fact that we are back to the regular divisions means that the Top 3 teams from the Pacific Division are guaranteed a playoff spot, with the potential for Wildcard spots to be up for grabs as well if they can best the teams in a similar spot over in the Central Division. Counting on a Wildcard berth probably isn't the best thing to do for any Pacific team right now, but someone's got to finish 3rd in this division and that's where it's best to start.
Calgary is the favorite here to wrap up a trip back to postseason hockey, as they've definitely got the names up front and a reliable goalie in net to make plenty of noise in this division this season. G Jacob Markstrom was brought in here to be a steady hand between the pipes for Calgary and the Flames were 22-21 SU with him in net last year, and they finished 26-30 SU overall.
A 4-9 SU record with anyone else in net does prompt questions about Calgary's results in those games this year, but the 76% timeshare in favor of Markstrom (43 of 56 games) could even increase in Markstrom's favor with the more traditional travel schedule teams get this year (fewer back-to-backs vs same team). The Flames were better than a .500 team last year in Markstrom's starts, and given the overall drop-off in team talent in this weaker division, a record far better than that in Markstrom's games should be attainable. That should be enough to put the Flames at least in the playoff conversation until the final few weeks of the season at the very worst.
Finally, the Flames also don't come into the year with as many negatives as the other second tier teams in this division do.
Anaheim's just going to be bad, San Jose could have a fractured locker room, and Seattle is still an expansion team. I'm always going to side with the idea that the Golden Knights' success in Year 1 was the anomaly, and if I get beat with Seattle finishing 3rd as the division odds suggest, then I get beat and move on.
The Kings are a team I do believe could be the best California candidate for improvement this year, but they were still 8-16 SU against the division rivals from last year that remain division rivals this year (SJ, Vegas, Anaheim) and I'm just not sure that believing an improvement there is coming will ultimately be enough for LA to grab a playoff spot if Wild Card spots aren't the likeliest option.
Calgary's got all the pieces in their core to resemble that 2018-19 Calgary team that won this Pacific Division going away, and now that we've got our first full “normal” season slated since that season, the Flames should do enough this year to be involved in playoff hockey.
The Seattle Kraken will be the 32nd team of the NHL and the franchise isn't expected to contend in their first year. (AP)
Total Points - Over/Under Best Bets
Since these current divisions were formed for the 2013-14 season, we've had six uninterrupted regular seasons in this format.
The Pacific Division in that span has welcomed Vegas and Seattle to their fold while saying goodbye to Arizona for this season. But in those six years, no matter the placement of the specific teams each season, the Pacific Division winner has averaged 108.16 points. Those averages are followed by 103.16 points, 97.83 points, and 90 points for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place finishers from this division over the years, with the eventual basement dweller averaging just 67.16 points.
Team Total Points Odds
Per BetMGM - Subject to Change
First thing that sticks out here is the idea of this division being a two-horse race between Vegas and Edmonton again. The 2nd place finisher in this division would be Edmonton's floor in that outcome, and with that position in this division averaging 103.16 points each year, going 'over' Edmonton's sub-100 number is a must.
Last place in the division has an average number four points lower than Anaheim's division-low points total of 71.5. Funny enough, not once in those six years has the last place team in this division finished with more than 71 points too, so isolating the last place team and going 'under' is a great betting option too. Whether you believe it's Anaheim or not, that average number is two full wins below any of the posted totals. It wouldn't take much for this year to go completely off the rails for some of those projected basement dwellers either.
The 3rd and 4th place averages of 97.8 and 90 make the Calgary/Seattle coin flip discussion a tough one to confidently support either way, but if you believe one of those teams will be 5th or worse this season, a 90-point average for 4th place leaves a pretty big margin of error available for 'over' plays on teams like Vancouver, LA or San Jose that would come up and take that spot.
Which leaves Vegas as the last talking point as four of the six division winners have finished with 107 or more points. But as I outlined before, I don't think the Golden Knights record vs the California teams (21-3 SU) is going to be anywhere near repeatable this year and not having them as the division winner also means the 103 point average for 2nd place is more what I'm looking at with the Knights.
Pacific Division Point Total Picks:
Individual Awards-Players to Watch
Connor McDavid being the best player in the world means that you've got to consider him for any of the NHL awards given out at season's end, as he's the +250 favorite to win the Hart Trophy again this year.
If that were to be the case, it would be the first time since Alex Ovechkin in 2008 and 2009 where we had a repeat winner, and the first time since Wayne Gretzky rattled off eight straight Hart Trophy wins from 1980-87 that we had the winner come from the same franchise for three consecutive years – Leon Draisaitl won in 2020.
That's not the type of history I want to be up against backing a favorite at +250, even though it's hard to not believe McDavid is always going to be in the conversation and quite possibly the front runner all year. Although the logical thing to do does feel like it's putting something on McDavid and just letting the season run its course.
The Vancouver Canucks will be leaning heavily on goaltender Thatcher Demko between the pipes this season. (AP)
Vancouver's Thatcher Demko is tied with Vegas' Robin Lehner for the best odds from this division for the Vezina Trophy at +1500 respectively. The Vezina is a trophy that you'd have to go all the way back to the 1938 and 39 seasons to find the last time the same team won the award with a different goalie the second time, a scenario Lehner and Vegas find themselves in this year after shipping 2021 winner Marc-Andre Fleury to Chicago.
I'm not sure Vancouver wins enough games for Demko to get serious consideration as the only time this century that the Vezina went to a guy from a non-playoff team was when Sergei Bobrovsky won it in the strike-shortened 2012-13 season. It's an award that's basically always reserved for a goalie on a playoff team, and more often than not they come from a division winner or runner-up.
So I wouldn't expect the Vezina winner to come from out West, as I don't think Edmonton's goalie situation takes the huge leap from its current status to Vezina winner, nor does the history line up with Lehner (or any other Golden Knights goalie) in Vegas.