Atlantic Division Favs Still in Florida
In the tropical climes of Florida there's a red-hot rivalry on ice. The Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning should rule the NHL Atlantic Division this year. After those two, it's kind of up in the air. But here's how they look heading into a season of NHL betting.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning finished behind the Panthers in the division last year but showed better form in the playoffs by taking out Detroit and the New York Islanders each in five games before getting bumped by the eventual Cup champion Penguins in seven.
Look for the Bolts to strike again. They re-signed everyone they needed to, including making a commitment deal with Steven Stamkos. Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov provide a good one-two punch, and Tyler Johnson and Alex Killhorn have the potential for the three in that order. With Victor Hedman and two-way defender Anton Stralman at the blue line, this is a solid, deep lineup. Ben Bishop holds down goal and now has a good backup in Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Lightning look a tad better than Florida.
The Panthers went 4-1 against the Lightning last year, which may be why they finished six points ahead of them to win the division. But the long regular season began to show on Jarimir Jagr in the playoffs, when the Cats were thumped by the Islanders in six games. Jagr, at age 44 and still a key cog in the lineup, will feel his age even more this year. The fact that Aleksander Barkov and three others also had at least 20 goals last season should help offset this. But the Panthers lost four good defenders in offseason and have only Keith Yandle to show for it in return. With Aaron Eckblad re-signed, the Panthers still will be pretty good defensively. And James Reimer is now backing up Roberto Luongo in goal. But repeating last year will be a difficult task. They should still make the playoffs.
Best of the Rest
I'm looking at Detroit, Boston and Montreal as wild cards who could go either way.
The Red Wings lost Pavel Datzyuk, but if Henrik Zetterbrg and Gustav Nyquist can pick it up this year, they'll return to postseason.
If David Backes can fall in with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron to give Boston a three-pronged attack, the Bruins will be alright.
I'm seeing Montreal as a breakthrough team, because they have some additions that should improve on last year's .500 team. They picked up Shea Weber to offset the loss of P.K. Subban, and they added winger Andrew Shaw from Chicago. That and Carey Price's clear display of return to form in the World Cup, makes the Canadiens a threat.
The Lightning and Panthers should be consistent winners, but offer little value in NHL game betting. Watch Boston and Detroit, and don't be shy in taking the Canadiens in games, particularly early in the season.
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