A couple of days ago, I looked at some of the over/undervalued teams in the Western Conference using the latest Hockey News projections and compared them to current sportsbook odds.
Today, it's time to round out the analysis by breaking down the Eastern Conference, but to get some better context let's revisit last year's projections and see how things worked out.
Eastern Conference 2011-12
Once the Washington Capitals signed Tomas Vokoun, the consensus was the chronic underachievers of the East were finally poised to break through. THN and the sportsbooks predicted a top-two finish that never materialized. In contrast, both projected the New York Rangers to be on the playoff bubble. They essentially switched spots in the final standings.
Another team expected to make a big splash after a summer full of spending was the Buffalo Sabres. Add the Tampa Bay Lightning as a team that everybody forecasted to make the playoffs, but fell short thanks to a porous defense and shoddy goaltending. Finally, the Montreal Canadiens were ranking just inside the playoff bubble by both THN and the sportsbooks, but finished dead last in the conference.
With three projected teams missing the playoffs, three had to replace them.
The Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils all made the final eight, despite low expectations from the so-called experts. Sportsbooks were much closer with their ranking of New Jersey, but had Florida to finish in the 15 spot. THN chose the Winnipeg Jets to finish last in the East.
Overall, it was a big swing and a miss for the conference with barely any differences between the talking heads and the oddsmakers.
Just like the West, there are going to be opportunities to take advantage of, and the earlier we can recognize where the value lies the better. Let's compare how The Hockey News projections for the upcoming season compared with current sportsbook odds.
These are the current conference predictions from THN and the corresponding sportsbook rankings (based on odds to win the conference) in parentheses (odds from Bodog).
- Pittsburgh Penguins (1st +300)
- Boston Bruins (4th +750)
- Washington Capitals (6th +1200)
- New York Rangers (2nd +500)
- Philadelphia Flyers (3rd +650)
- Tampa Bay Lightning (7th +1200)
- Buffalo Sabres (8th +1200)
- Ottawa Senators (12th +2000)
- Carolina Hurricanes (5th +1100)
- Florida Panthers (13th +2000)
- New Jersey Devils (9th +1500)
- Toronto Maple Leafs (10th +1800)
- Montreal Canadiens (11th +1800)
- Winnipeg Jets (14th +3000)
- New York Islanders (15th +4000)
Hurricanes: I can understand moving the Hurricanes up the list thanks to the offseason they had, but they still leave a lot to be desired at the back end. A playoff seed is anything but certain. Look for them to be overpriced to open up the season.
Devils: Both THN and sportsbooks have New Jersey listed as missing the playoffs and you're not going to get an argument from me. They still have some firepower up front and they'll hope that guys like Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby can help fill the Zach Parise void, but there's too many questions on defense and Marty Brodeur should've retired. They could plummet further than the ninth and 10th spot. Put them on the all-fade team for 2012-13.
Lightning: One could make the argument Tampa Bay is priced where they should be. I mean it's hard to justify putting them above teams like Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York. Having said that, there isn't a whole lot that separates first from eighth these days and I'm a big Anders Lindback fan. The defense should also be improved, so don't be surprised if the Lightning make some noise at the top this year.
Senators: Ottawa is perhaps the team I'm most excited about in the East. Sportsbooks have (wrongly) priced them out of the playoffs this year and rank 12th to win the conference! They already have a nice collection of young talent to build on, but this year they'll likely add Jakob Silfverberg and Mika Zibanejad, too. Get on this team early because they are quickly rounding into a team to be reckoned with.
Panthers: THN is now on record as saying Florida was a "flash in the pan." Sportsbooks agree by pricing them near the bottom of the conference. Before you write them off, let me read a few names. Jacob Markstrom, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Quinton Howden. It's unlikely all these prospects make the lineup, but Huberdeau and Markstrom have the ability to step in and be difference makers this season. This club is going in the right direction and are nowhere near as bad as you might think.
Islanders: I live by the golden rule that there is no such thing as "locks" in sports, but I will say, emphatically, that the Islanders will not finish dead last in the East this season. GM Garth Snow has done everything in his power to turn this franchise around and make it a place players want to play. He'll likely need a new stadium (or city) before that is fully achieved, but with guys like John Tavares, Frans Nielsen, Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo up front, your future is bright. Nino Niederreiter should take a step forward and Ryan Strome could make his debut in the NHL as well. This team is finally poised to surprise some people and they'll be undervalued in the market.
I agree with THN and the books that the Buffalo Sabres will bounce back this year, but once you get past the "big four" in the conference, there is a lot of room for opinion. This is an area to focus on as the season nears.
This article is from the Free NHL Predictions blog. For more analysis, visit www.nhlpicks.brooksbets.com, and follow Bobby Brooks on Twitter the entire hockey season (if we have one) for all things NHL betting.