The 2015/16 NHL season took a dark turn for the clubs of Canada, without a single one of the country’s seven teams making it to the playoffs. It was the first time since the 1969/70 season that the postseason had been sans Canada. But, that was merely salt in the wound for the diehard hockey nation as they hadn’t been to the Stanley Cup Finals since the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in 2011, and hadn’t won the Cup since 1993 – courtesy of the Montreal Canadiens.
Now, however, hope is bubbling up north with four, possibly even five, Canadian teams in with a good shot of not just making it to the postseason, but to also compete deep into the playoffs.
Maple Leafs lead the way according to the experts
— Zesty Maple Leafs (@zesty_TML) December 6, 2018
Source: Zesty Maple Leafs, via Twitter
Simply put, the Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to achieve a lot this season. Not only do they lead all Canadian teams in the online betting odds to win the Eastern Conference Finals at +260, which are shorter odds than any Canadian team in the Western Conference as well, but they’re also joint-favorites to win the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning. On top of this, they’ve been given an added boost to their already dominant start to the season by re-signing Canadian-born Swede William Nylander.
While the Ottawa Senators are expected to battle for the lowest possible place in the standings, the Montreal Canadiens have had a surprisingly good start to the season, going 13-10-5 through 28 games to sit in the second wild-card place. But, at +2000 to win the Eastern Conference, not much is expected of the Habs, and they’ll most likely drop out of the playoff zone before the end of the season.
The problem with the Eastern Conference for the young Toronto Maple Leafs is that they’ll most likely encounter either the very experienced Tampa Bay Lightning or Washington Capitals, which could be their undoing. This has those going for online betting Canada thinking that the Western Conference sides have an easier route to the finals, thus giving them a better chance of winning it all and more deserving of a stake.
While the Nashville Predators are stalking atop the Central Division and the San Jose Sharks are expected to breach to the peak of the Pacific Division, both teams could be susceptible to the play of the Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, or the resurgent Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs who are rated at +475, +800, and +1500 to win the conference, respectively.
Western Conference up for grabs
Point Leaders Last Two Seasons
Connor McDavid 208 points
Nikita Kucherov 185
Sidney Crosby 178
Evgeni Malkin 170
Brad Marchand 170 pic.twitter.com/bNSiJQfiVE
— Bucci Mane (@Buccigross) October 2, 2018
Source: Bucci Mane, via Twitter
Last season, the incredible tale of the Vegas Golden Knights took the Western Conference by storm, during which the Winnipeg Jets came off as the next best team. While the Golden Knights are still in with a look, there’s little doubt that they won’t be returning to the Finals this season.
The Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs were the only teams to make it to the postseason in 2017/18, with the Maple Leafs exiting in the first round and Winnipeg defeating the Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, and then succumbing to the Golden Knights in the Conference Finals. This year, if they can repeat against the still very strong Predators, they look to be Canada’s best hope of bringing home the cup.
But, for as well as the Calgary Flames are playing right now, a change in the team dynamic in Edmonton, as well as some heroics from Connor McDavid, could make the Oilers the dark horses to go all the way in 2019. Ken Hitchcock is now the head coach of the Canadian team, pulling them to a much-improved 5-2-1 record through his first eight games while trying to enforce a mentality of playing for each other rather than with each other.
If the Toronto Maple Leafs can make it past the Tampa Bay Lightning, they’ll certainly be the favorites to win the Cup. However, the Jets, Flames, and even the Oilers could find a more favorable passage to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Embed from Getty Images