The Cinderella stories that we all love don’t happen often, and when they do they rarely get the cherry on top of the cake, but the stories are always remembered. Like Vegas Golden Knights in their first season reaching the Stanley Cup finals. That’s a story we won’t be forgetting anytime soon. One team from each division will have a chance to get into the Stanley Cup finals, and with that comes a chance for a surprise. The teams chosen for this section are not favorites, nor are they even real contenders on paper, but their rosters have enough juice to possibly surprise during the short season. All four will never happen, one of them getting actually close might happen, but that’s why they are the underdogs.
After careful consideration we picked one team to represent their respective division, and here they are with a short description for the “why?” -part of things, and odds added on the side.
North Division Underdog
Winnipeg Jets with odds around 23.00 - The Jets have had a somewhat quiet off-season as their roster saw very few changes. It might sound quite farfetched to see them as a contender even, but there are few spices in the mix that might turn the tables. Patrik Laine has been training harder than ever and the young Finnish sniper is looking to play the best season of his career. Paired with the returning Stastny and his good friend Ehlers on the other wing Jets do have the scoring power to challenge the big ones. Their downfall is their defensive end, as they still haven’t been able to replace the empty spots that Big Buff, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba left behind them. Niku is expected to break into the big league, which can help, and there’s also the youngster Ville Heinola waiting to get a chance to prove himself again. Getting 20+ odds for Winnipeg to reach the Stanley Cup final is fair, unlikely but fair.
If their 2nd line finds each other from the get-go, there’s a possibility that Jets surprise in the North division.
West Division Underdog
San Jose Sharks with odds around 33.00 - The San Jose Sharks are an interesting breed. They let some guys go over the break, and the only “real” addition to the lineup is the defender Fredrik Claesson who joins Sharks from the New Jersey Devils. Earlier last year they got Devan Dubnyk from Minnesota Wild which ensures that Martin Jones has a proper backup. Sharks’ core group is very solid and their blueline is among the scariest in the league with Burns and Karlsson. The West Division as a whole is very top heavy, as Avs, Vegas and Blues are the three teams that should be walking into the playoffs. After that it’s Arizona, Minnesota, Los Angeles and San Jose. Kings need a new fresh start, Minnesota is still a bit of a mess and even if Arizona has strengthened over the past couple of years, the quality and experience of San Jose pulls ahead in my books.
Again, 33.00 are very high odds, so if you believe in Sharks make sure to place the bet on a small stake.
Central Division Underdog
Florida Panthers with odds around 23.00 - The doors of the Panthers locker room have been wide open and quite a few players have switched scenery. Alexander Barkov has new linemates as Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony Duclair joins the Finn in the Panthers first line for this season. Their 2nd line center, Alexander Wennberg is accompanied by Huberdau and Patrick Hörnqvist, while Eetu Luostarinen is expected to take the 3rd line centerman position. The addition of Markus Nutivaara is also noteworthy, as the Finnish defenceman joins Panthers from Columbus. The thing is, Panthers is like sleeping giant. If Sergei Bobrovsky finds his Vezina level again, and Barkov gets some help from the rest of the team, they might surprise. Barkov is among the best centers in the world, but coach Q wasted him in front of the net on power play instead of letting him run the pp unit.
Will Barkov take his team to the playoffs and beyond? Unlikely with their roster, but a short season probably holds more than one big surprise, so who knows.
East Division Underdog
Buffalo Sabres with odds around 26.00 - Laugh all you want, but Sabres is probably the underdog with the biggest chances of surprising. They are in a tough division, but the short season will play into their favor. Looking at their stats from the previous regular season for example, they were going to the playoffs after 50 games played, and only dipped after that. They have strengthened their core with Taylor Hall which makes their offense actually look scary. If Hall and Eichel find each other and the second line with Olofsson, Staal and Reinhart plays on their expected level, Buffalo might be in for something. Don’t forget that they also have Jeff Skinner with a nine million salary in their fourth line, and on the blueline there’s Rasmus & Rasmus, Dahlin and Ristolainen. Ullmark has shown that he can be a winning NHL starter, so the soup that’s stirring in the shadows of Buffalo might be spicier than a lot of people expect.