2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Betting Options And Dark Horses To Watch

Written By Nolan Bianchi on May 13, 2021 - Last Updated on December 8, 2023
Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 Preview

You’ve got to love Stanley Cup Playoffs hockey. The thrill of victory, the sting of defeat … and the liberation of no longer having to decide whether you want to double down on your Detroit Red Wings fandom, or hedge your disappointment by going with the other side.

Detroit’s season ended Saturday, but there are still plenty of ways to get in on the action. The challenge, of course, is figuring out which bet is best for you.

Hedging your Red Wings disappointment

The Colorado Avalanche (+450 odds to hoist the Cup), Toronto Maple Leafs (+700), Carolina Hurricanes (+700), Tampa Bay Lightning (+800) and Boston Bruins (+1100) make up five of the top six teams among DraftKings Sportsbook’s Stanley Cup futures odds as of Thursday. That grouping can force a lifelong Wings fan into some difficult choices.

Be it current Central division annoyances, hated rivals from yesteryear or Original Six foes, the Wings have a beef with all of those teams for one reason or another. The Las Vegas Golden Knights (+550) have the second-best odds out of any team in the NHL, but they’re not even favored to come out of their own division.

Bah, humbug.

Sports betting tends to divide the heart and brain, but in this case, maybe that’s all right. If you truly think one of these teams will take home the Cup, then what’s the harm in making a little money off your pain?

Success is said to be the best form of revenge — and winning money on a rival’s Stanley Cup win qualifies.

Breaking down the West wing

That being said, the laws of Hockeytown might prevent us from specifically encouraging a bet on the Avs. Plus, they don’t hold great value at +450 anyway, especially when they’ve got go through Vegas just to get out of their division.

But Colorado is popular outside of Michigan, according to BetMGM Sportsbook, owning 26.1% of bets placed by bettors everywhere. Inside the state, not so much: BetMGM’s data shows that Vegas (+550) has overtaken Colorado as the favorite in the Mitten — and given how important goaltending is in the playoffs, one might be inclined to give the edge to Vegas.

The Avs and Golden Knights are both nasty, but it’s hard to pick a Stanley Cup winner between the two.

Central Division weather club

The defending Cup champion Lightning are (allegedly) getting Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos back, and goaltender Andrei Vaslivsky is playing as well as ever. They have the biggest “Oh, yeah. Duh” betting potential out of anybody on the board, should they go on to repeat.

But they’ve also got a tough in-state opponent waiting in Round 1.

Out of the front-runners, the most digestible for a Wings fan is Carolina — and some of the data backs that up. For example, 29.17% of the money coming from Michigan on PointsBet is on the Hurricanes, and for good reason: The sportsbook is offering the Hurricanes at +900.

Carolina was the first team in the NHL to clinch its respective division, doing so over the heavily favored, defending champion Lightning. They’re healthy. It has one of, if not the best, one-two punch at goaltender this season in rookie Alex Nedeljkovic (.932 save%) and former Red Wing Petr Mrazek (.923), if it can hold up under the pressure.

They have a number of young stars that are easy to root for, including Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, younger brother of Red Wings prospect Evgeny Svechnikov.

Ghosts of Stanley Cup Playoffs past

The Maple Leafs haven’t won a series since 2004, and haven’t won the Stanley Cup Playoffs chase since 1967.

With their best odds coming at +700 through a majority of books, that’s a tough sell.

But they also hadn’t won their division since 2000, and they cruised through the North to snap that streak. Auston Matthews firmly cemented himself as one of the best in the game, scoring 40 goals through 50 outings. This team has immense firepower and depth, making them an attractive wager despite the noise.

Drawing the Montreal Canadiens as the Round 1 opponent certainly doesn’t help the anxiousness, but this team is too good to just keep failing forever.

… Or are they?

Been there, done that

Eastern Division foes Boston, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals have a lot in common.

Each team sports one of the best players in the world, has won the Stanley Cup Playoffs with their current core and added a scoring winger at the deadline. That division is going to be the toughest to predict, especially with the New York Islanders lurking — more on that later — but at least one of them is going to reach a conference final. So, take your pick (or maybe two) and just let it ride.

FanDuel is offering Boston and Pittsburgh at +1300, and DraftKings is giving you the Capitals at +1700. There is some conflict with betting Washington: As the Caps climb the mountain, so does the first-round draft pick the Wings got from Washington in the Anthony Mantha deal.

Maybe place a future on them for the 2022 playoffs, instead, eh?

Defense wins championships

The Islanders and Jets are an interesting choice for one reason: Defense wins championships. The Islanders had the league’s second-best goals-against average (2.31) this season with Barry Trotz’s defense-first mentality.

New York is an underdog to come out of the East, but looked like they could be the best team in that division for much of the season. Your best bet for taking the Islanders is on DraftKings at +2000.

The Winnipeg Jets, generally, weren’t great at preventing goals this year, but they’ve got the reigning Vezina Trophy winner in Walled Lake native Connor Hellebuyck. As we saw with the Dallas Stars in last year’s playoffs, sometimes a hot goalie is all you really need, and the +3500 odds that PointsBet and BetMGM offer make them a sneaky good pick.

The magic of Stanley Cup Playoffs’ No. 3 seeds

The Panthers hung in with Carolina and Tampa Bay all season. For their efforts, they are in a tier below their two division rivals.

Good for you! That’s a recipe for money-making success. Yes, defenseman Aaron Ekblad is out for the year, and that hurts a lot. But the Panthers ranked third in goals-for, and should they ride the hot hand of Chris Driedger, who ranked fifth in save percentage (.927) during the regular season.

That could be a deadly combo in the playoffs if they’re able to fill in the cracks, and for a team that had a legitimate shot to capture the Central crown, the +2000 odds on PointsBet provide solid value.

In Minnesota, the arrival of Kirill Kaprizov made the Wild fun for the first time in franchise history, and they played some pretty good hockey this season — albeit some competition at the bottom of the West was pretty questionable.

But they finished ninth in goals-against, seventh in goals-for, went 5-1-2 against Vegas and 3-5 against Colorado. Anything can happen in this tournament, and at +2500 on FanDuel, Minnesota might be as good of a true dark horse as anybody.

Who’s the best player available?

It’s of my firm belief that one of these postseasons, despite the odds, Connor McDavid is just going to buckle down and carry the Edmonton Oilers to a Stanley Cup in a way that we’ve never seen before.

This might just be that year. The Oilers finished second in the North and are miles below Toronto on the odds-sheet, despite the fact that McDavid just put up 100 points in his first 53 games of the season, and has 33 in his last 12. That’s disgusting.

With this iteration of the Oilers, there are always going to be concerns about scoring and defensive depth, and of course, goalie play. Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith combined for an .869 save percentage in last year’s 3-1 failure against Chicago in the NHL Bubble play-in round, but Smith has bounced back with a .924 in 29 starts this season.

It wouldn’t be a surprise in any way to see Edmonton come out of the North. You can get Edmonton at +2200 on FanDuel, and if there’s any part of you that just loves rooting for McDavid, this is a bet worth making.

Stanley Cup Playoffs longshots

Look, if you want to sprinkle a couple bucks on the Nashville Predators or Canadiens, or hope that the St. Louis Blues will magically flip it on come postseason in a similar way to how we described the Penguins, Caps or Bruins, nobody is going to stop you.

FanDuel is offering St. Louis at +4100, and that might be worth dropping some tokens on, but keep in mind it’ll likely have to play both Colorado and Vegas to reach a conference final, and fought for a playoff spot until the bitter end.

You can get Montreal through FanDuel at +3000. Anything can happen in the North, and the division’s goaltending as a whole has not been good.

Don’t let multiple 7-1 victories over the Red Wings this season fool you: The Predators are the least likely team to win the Cup, both via the eye test and in the sportsbooks. They’d have a similar route through the divisional rounds as St. Louis, but have none of the Cup-winning experience.

Nashville’s best odds are through FanDuel at +4100, but let’s be real: There isn’t enough money in the world that can ease the pain of having to root for those mustard uniforms going up and down the ice.

Promos and quick hits

  • The easiest short-term wagers will be on individual games, but with playoff hockey, those can be just as tough to win. The emotional charge from game-to-game is so high that it can blur the lines a bit, but you can also work that to your favor.
  • FanDuel is offering parlay insurance up to $25 if you miss just one leg of a parlay that’s five legs or more. Parlays typically don’t hold a ton of value, but they can be a fun way of taking in all the action on a particular night with little risk. The chance of winning big on a small bet is always exciting for the moment, even if it’s not likely to come through.
  • The same goes for DFS, but with all the different pool options for those games, the risk-reward proposition can be minimized greatly. DraftKings even offers a daily contest with no entry fee.
  • Most online sportsbooks will offer up a ton of interesting statistics that can help shape bets you’re less confident in, especially when it comes to props.
Photo by Dave Sandford/Pool via AP
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Nolan Bianchi

Nolan Bianchi is a Detroit-based freelance journalist covering the Lions, Red Wings and everything in between. He is the former host of the Locked On Red Wings hockey podcast, still collects sports cards, is a published playwright and is a harsh critic of sandwiches.

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