The NHL regular season, shortened due to an unnecessary lockout, is coming to an end this week which will determine which teams carry on into the playoffs, and which teams will get the early start on the golf course. Hockey is king in Canada, and five of Canada’s seven teams are in an excellent position to carry on into the post-season. But winning the Stanley Cup is another matter.
At the outset of the season, pundits picked the Vancouver Canucks as one of the top three teams most likely to be crowned NHL champions, and were the only Canadian team on the shortlist. But the Canucks season proved less impressive than analysts and sports bettors gave the team credit for. The power play all but evaporated, and the top offensive line was unable to showcase their playmaking strengths. Vancouver remains at the top of its division, but the Northwest, which includes the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers, was one of the weakest divisions this season. The Canucks weren’t tested against their closest opponents, which means they could be unprepared for the unpredictability of the playoffs.
In contrast, the Montreal Canadiens proved themselves the dominant team north of the border, albeit with a few sloppy games along the road. The young Habs roster makes plays, skates faster than many of their opponents, and possesses one of the strongest offensive bluelines in the league, led by star defensemen P.K. Subban. The team is in a fight with one of their archenemies, the Boston Bruins who are one of the physically strongest Stanley Cup contenders, for the top spot in the Northeast division in what is proving a showdown between speed and strength.
The Toronto Maple Leafs prepare to make the playoffs for the first time in nine years, which has Leafs nation up in arms with celebration. The Ottawa Senators, in a season that cost the team much of its depth, fought with everything left in the tank to prove despite their bruises, they are a playoff contending team. And the Winnipeg Jets, in what will be their final season playing in a division far removed from their geographic location, are fighting to make the playoffs for the first time since returning to Canada.
Hockey insiders, bookmakers, and managers of online casinos all agree that when the playoffs begin, the regular season is forgotten. Anything can change once the first playoff puck drops to the ice, which means there are no calculating bets on a winner.