Over/Under: 7 NHL Underdogs to Bet on Winning Trophies This Season

Franklin Steele@SteeleOnIceFeatured Columnist IIIOctober 18, 2021

Over/Under: 7 NHL Underdogs to Bet on Winning Trophies This Season

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    This is the NHL betting post for people who feel like bragging rights just aren't enough. For those who need a bag to go along with their I-told-you-sos.

    The house usually wins when it comes to sports betting, and there's a reason for thatYet each year, gambling becomes more and more ingrained with sports in North America. Long gone are the days when your office fantasy league is the only thing you can put money on as the regular season unfolds. For instance, earlier this year, Arizona made it legal to bet on sports games via mobile apps.

    Sure, one could always to to Las Vegas to place their bets, but doing so from the comfort of your own couch is largely becoming easier. As of now, it's legal to place online bets in 18 states, according to Jim Sergent of USA Today. Even more eye-popping is the number of Americans who say they plan to bet on NFL games this season.

    Joseph Spector of the Journal News reported that 45 million Americans said that they plan to bet on pro football this season. The NHL will punch in at a fraction of the more popular NFL, but it's clear that betting on games and outcomes is firmly a part of sports' DNA.

    There's just too much money to be made across the board.

    Safe bettors will keep their exposure to risk low. That isn't what we're here to examine today. If you want to bet money on Connor McDavid to win the scoring race, we won't try to stop you. There are other players in the league we think represent opportunities for larger returns, however.

Patrik Laine: +5000 to Win Rocket Richard Trophy

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    DraftKings has Auston Matthews listed as the favorite to win the NHL's goal-scoring title at +350 (wager $100 to win $350). It's tough to argue against that possible outcome. He's arguably the game's best finisher, someone capable of scoring from just about anywhere in the offensive zone regardless of coverage or the goalie who's trying to stop him.

    Opportunity means a lot in hockey, however, especially when it comes to betting on and playing the fantasy version of the sport. That's why fantasy gurus spend so much time keeping up with who is on the power play and who isn't.

    It represents opportunity.

    And Patrik Laine is going to have every opportunity to score a ton of goals for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season. Looking at the roster, the Jackets don't have another high-end finisher. Plus, they are doing everything they can to make sure he doesn't repeat a disastrous 2020-21.

    In the offseason, Columbus swapped out triggerman Cam Atkinson for one of the best playmaking wings in the league in Jakub Voracek. While the preseason doesn't count for anything, Laine and Voracek showed signs of clicking at a high level.

    We're only a year and a half or so removed from believing that Laine was going to be one of the NHL's best finishers for the next decade-plus. Last season was tough, but it isn't like he's suddenly forgotten how to shoot. To quote the player himself: "It's still in there."

    If you want to take a flier on the Rocket Richard winner, give Laine a hard look. From 2017-18 to 2019-20, only 10 players scored more goals than the 23-year-old sniper.

Sergei Bobrovsky: +2500 to Win Vezina Trophy

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    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Sergei Bobrovsky hasn't been worth the $70 million commitment that the Florida Panthers made to him in the summer of 2019. Looking back at how strong the netminder was during his time in Columbus, though, it isn't too difficult to understand why the Panthers signed the netminder to a seven-year pact.

    Over his final three seasons with the Blue Jackets, Bob received votes for both the Hart Trophy and Vezina Trophy, preventing 55.7 more goals than the average backstop would have over that same time frame.

    Things haven't gone quite as swimmingly in Florida. The two-time Vezina winner lost his starting job to Chris Driedger last year but still posted better numbers than he did during his first year with the Panthers. His -1.9 GSAA was much better than the -14.9 that he recorded in 2019-20.

    And did we learn nothing from Marc-Andre Fleury's Vezina-winning season at the age of 36? It could be argued that Bobrovsky has even more of an ability to dominate games than Flower, and while the odds aren't exactly in his favor, that's why we like the bet here.

    The Panthers are a team on the rise, Driedger is now with the Seattle Kraken and Florida needs some semblance of the old Bobrovsky to return. If one or two of the favorites falls off track (when has that ever happened to a top netminder?), then backing the 33-year-old at +2500 could turn out to be a solid underdog bet.

Andrei Vasilevskiy: +3000 to Win Hart Trophy

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    Scott Audette/Getty Images

    This bet would obviously clash with the Bobrovsky-Vezina bid. But we're looking for value moves across the board, and nothing is stopping someone from making both of these wagers.

    Andrei Vasilevskiy is the runaway favorite to win the Vezina Trophy at +380. No one else is all that close, and that matches the perception that the Tampa Bay Lightning netminder is heads and shoulders above the rest of the league's netminders.

    As such, we think that betting on the 27-year-old at +3000 to win his first Hart Trophy could be a smart play. Only two goalies have won the award since 2000, so it clearly takes a special kind of season for a non-skater to win the Hart.

    With Connor McDavid already doing Connor McDavid things and the Lightning looking a little sleepy to start 2021-22, this bet might not look good early. And like all the other rolls of the dice we'll recommend here, the underdog would need a little help from the outside to pay out.

    An injury or cold streak could be just enough to put Vasilevskiy in position to win the MVP award. The Lightning aren't quite as good as they were a year ago. They are still an outstanding team, but that perception could help Vasilevskiy when it comes time for PWHA to vote. He got a little love from voters last season.

    If Vasilevskiy can dominate the NHL for a prolonged stretch of time—to an even greater degree than he already has—then a Hart Trophy could be within reach. It's a long shot, but that's kind of the point here. 

Alex Pietrangelo: +2000 to Win the Norris Trophy

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    David Becker/Getty Images

    Remember the 2000 smash hit "Forgot About Dre?" That's the kind of vibe we're getting from Alex Pietrangelo as the 2021-22 campaign gets rolling. Admittedly, we omitted him from our own top player rankings, forgetting just how good of a player the defenseman can be.

    We weren't alone in sleeping on the 31-year-old.

    According to DraftKings, nine blueliners have a better chance at winning the Norris Trophy than Pietrangelo, who is listed at +2000. It's tough to find reasons to bet against younger options like Cale Makar and Charlie McAvoy, but it also wasn't too long ago that the Vegas Golden Knights rearguard was considered one of the best in hockey at his position.

    He finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting following 2019-20, his final season as a member of the St. Louis Blues, and started to settle in toward the end of his first season in Vegas.

    COVID-19 protocols prevented Pietrangelo from having a preseason to get familiar with how the Golden Knights play last year, and he didn't start to look like himself until the end of the campaign. Once he started to click, though, he was hard to stop.

    Pietrangelo was considered the best player in Vegas' series victory over the Colorado Avalanche in last year's playoffs, and if his shots start to find the back of the net, he could be in line to win his first Norris Trophy.

Jeremy Swayman: +1200 to Win Calder Trophy

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    Jeremy Swayman wouldn't have appeared on this kind of list prior to NHL training camps opening a few months ago. The Boston Bruins signed netminder Linus Ullmark to a four-year deal worth $20 million this offseason, which is bona fide starter money in today's salary-cap landscape.

    But as the preseason wore on, Swayman continued to play well. So well, in fact, that he was Boston's starter for their first game. He had already done enough to put Ullmark on the bench.

    If the 22-year-old can at least force a time-split with Ullmark, then he could surprise people and jump into a Calder Trophy conversation that is headlined by flashy forwards such as the Montreal Canadiens' Cole Caufield and Anaheim Ducks' Trevor Zegras and Detroit Red Wings defenseman Moritz Seider.

    The last time a goalie won the Calder Trophy was in 2009, when Steve Mason did so with the Blue Jackets. He was spectacular that season, posting a 33-20-7 record to go along with 10 shutouts, and he earned votes for the Hart Trophy.

    That's a high bar for Swayman to try to clear, but this Bruins team is considerably better than the Blue Jackets were in 2009. It would be different if he were trying to steal playing time away from Tuukka Rask, but that isn't the case. At least for now.

    Boston isn't going to split the workload for the sake of it. It seems likely that the hot hand will be the one getting the starts down the stretch. If Swayman can play as well as he did a year ago (7-3-0 with a .945 save percentage), at +1200, he could make for an interesting dark-horse bet for the Calder Trophy.

Darryl Sutter: +5000 to Win Jack Adams Award

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    We've talked a lot about these trophy underdogs having a clear opportunity to do more damage than anticipated. No one is expecting Laine to push Matthews for the scoring title, but he will have every chance to do so in Columbus.

    The same goes for Darryl Sutter with the Calgary Flames. He didn't simply take over an as-is team. In the summer, general manager Brad Treliving went out of his way to secure the services of players who match the kind of coach that Sutter is.

    Blake Coleman was signed to a six-year deal as a free agent, for example.

    He wants his teams to be tough to play against; the Flames might not win every night, but the head coach will make sure that they are well-prepared and competing on a nightly basis. For a Calgary squad that maybe tried to get by on skill a bit too much in recent years, this marks a noteworthy departure.

    The Jack Adams Award is an odd one because it rarely goes to the coach of the NHL's best team. It typically goes to the bench boss who is perceived to have had the biggest impact on his team's fortunes. The Pacific Division is wide-open behind the Golden Knights.

    If the Flames can overachieve slightly and catch the Western Conference off guard, Sutter will be given a lot of credit for that. Or at least, he will take more credit than Jon Cooper would in Tampa Bay for the Lightning's successes. And he can be backed at +5000 to take home the hardware.

Nathan MacKinnon: +2500 to Win Rocket Richard Trophy

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    A new-look version of the Best Player in the World debate started developing last season, and it's gotten even more intense as awards predictions started to roll in around September. Leading the pack is that McDavid fella, widely regarded to be the top performer in the NHL as far as offense is concerned.

    Nathan MacKinnon entered the chat in 2020-21, however, and the 26-year-old could find yet another gear to his game. And his Colorado Avalanche appear to be the best team in hockey.

    His line with Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen is arguably the foremost trio in the NHL. And as Colorado takes another step forward, so too should MacKinnon. That could propel him to the top of the league's goal-scoring leaderboard.

    Over the past three seasons, only six players have found the back of the net more than the 2013 first overall pick. Colorado's top line owns the puck whenever it's out on the ice, and it stands to reason that MacKinnon could score more than 40 times in 2021-22. That would likely put him in the thick of the scoring race, especially if McDavid goes cold for the first time in two seasons.

    At +2500, he's not a favorite by any stretch—especially not with two other high-end finishers on his line. Yet MacKinnon has a competitive streak. If he wants to push for a scoring title, who's going to stop him?


    All odds appear courtesy of DraftKings and are accurate as of October 17, 2021.

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