This article is part of our Handicapping the NHL series.
Exactly when the 2020-21 campaign will begin remains a mystery, but with the bulk of the big-name free agents already signed for next season, it's as good a time as any to look at next year's early playoff odds courtesy of BetMGM.
The Favorite – Colorado Avalanche +350
It's easy to see why the Avs are the favorite when you consider they took the Stars to a Game 7 overtime in the 2020 Western Conference finals. The team still features elite studs in Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog and has added a 20-goal scorer in Bradon Saad via a trade with the Hawks. On the back end, Colorado may be icing the best blue line in the league with Calder Trophy winner Cale Makar and fellow youngsters Ryan Graves and Samuel Girard leading the way. The team also brought in former-Islander Devon Toews via trade. That list doesn't even include 2019 fourth-overall pick Bowen Byram, who figures to push for a spot on the 23-man roster in training camp. If there is a weak point on the Avs' roster, it is no doubt its goaltending situation, as Pavel Francouz and Philipp Grubauer are expected to continue to split the workload in 2020-21.
Best of the Rest – Golden Knights +400 / Blues +650
These two teams will be linked throughout the 2020-21 season after St. Louis watched long-time blueliner Alex Pietrangelo join the Golden Knights in free agency. The Blues weren't silent on the market once they found themselves without Pietrangelo, as they went out and got Torey Krug. Any delays in the NHL's start date will only serve to benefit St. Louis as it awaits the eventual return of Vladimir Tarasneko from shoulder surgery.
In order to add to their blue line, Vegas needed to shed some cap space which meant losing their second-line center Paul Stastny, though Cody Glass should be a suitable replacement. Otherwise, the team's forward complement remains mostly intact, which should allow the Golden Knights to score at near the same 3.16 goal per game rate as they did in 2019-20. The Knights will also benefit from having an elite pairing of starting netminders between the pipes in Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury. If the league does go with a condensed schedule this year, having two starting-caliber netminders could be a luxury unmatched by other NHL clubs.
AJ's Preferred Long Shot – Vancouver Canucks +1400
Free agency hasn't done Vancouver any favors, as it saw a potential trade for Oliver Ekman-Larsson fall apart and the departures of Tyler Toffoli, Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher and Jacob Markstrom. Still, the organization has a core of youngsters in Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser who are all capable of racking up points. Additionally, the addition of Stanley Cup champion Braden Holtby can't be overstated both on the ice and in the locker room. If the Canucks can find somebody to take Loui Eriksson and his $6 million cap hit, they could put themselves in a position to add at the trade deadline.
The Favorite – Tampa Bay Lightning +400
The team that lifted Lord Stanley's Cup hasn't undergone any significant changes with the exception of the departure of Kevin Shattenkirk from its blue line. Still, the Lightning face significant cap constraints that will require them to move Tyler Johnson, at least. Tampa was able to secure their postseason success largely without the assistance of Steven Stamkos (lower body), who figures to be healthy and available for the start of the 2020-21 campaign. An already formidable offense will be bolstered by having Vezina Trophy candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy standing guard in the crease.
Best of the Rest – Bruins +600 / Flyers +650
The fact that Boston sits second on this list comes as a bit of surprise considering the team lost Torey Krug in free agency and will likely be without David Pastrnak (hip) and Brad Marchand (groin) for the opening of the season. Free agency acquisition Craig Smith will likely be tasked with trying to fill the gap in Pastrnak's absence, though he is far from the same level of goal-scorer.
It's been a quiet free agency period for Philadelphia, as the club's single major acquisition was defender Erik Gustafsson on a one-year deal. The blueliner has a 60-point campaign under his belt but managed a meager 29 points in 66 appearances last year. Still, the team will once again be icing elite offensive producers in Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek with youngster Carter Hart between the pipes.
AJ's Preferred Long Shot – Montreal Canadiens +2800
Unlike the Bruins and Flyers, it has been a busy offseason for the Habs. The club traded away Max Domi for Josh Anderson, brought in Joel Edmundson and Jake Allen in separate deals with St. Louis and signed Tyler Toffoli to a four-year, $17 million deal. Improvements to both the forward and defense complements may finally allow the team to capitalize on having one of the best netminders in the league in Carey Price. It's hard to imagine the Habs won't improve upon their lowly 2.30 goals per game rate from 2019-20 (eighth lowest in the NHL).
Stanley Cup Champion
The Favorites – Avalanche +800 / Golden Knights +850
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the odds from BetMGM is the fact that the two primary favorites both come from the Western Conference. It also shouldn't come as a surprise when you consider the Eastern Conference has long been considered the tougher of the two, which is further emphasized by the fact that six of the top-nine odds-on-favorites hail from the East. Of course, this all could get tossed out if the rumored "Canadian Division" ends up resulting in a shake-up of both the divisions and conferences.
AJ's Preferred Long Shot – Oilers +2200
Looking at my two conference long-shots, the Canucks and Canadiens come in at +3500 and +5000, respectively. As another option, the Oilers will continue to have plenty of money bet on them as long as they continue to feature Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The offense has never been a problem for the Oilers, yet they still added Kyle Turris on an extremely discounted one-year deal after the center was bought out by Nashville. On the blue line, Edmonton landed Tyson Barrie in free agency, who should help bolster the No. 2 power-play unit and could challenge for a spot with the first group as well. The problem for Edmonton is between the pipes, as the organization missed out on several reported targets including Matt Murray and Jacob Markstrom this offseason.