The Tampa Bay Lightning and your current, reigning and defending Stanley Cup champions the Pittsburgh Penguins are the NHL betting favorites to win, respectively, the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions of the National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference. The 2017-18 regular season will start on October 4, 2017 and end on April 7, 2018. The 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs will begin a few days later, and the Stanley Cup Finals will be held in early June.
Can Lightning strike thrice?
Tampa Bay won its second, the first coming in 2002-03, and heretofore last, division title in 2003-04, the same year that they won their first and only Stanley Cup. Last season, though, the Lightning failed, by just one point, to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13, due in no small part to captain Steve Stamkos’s absence. Stamkos played just 17 games before missing the rest of the season with a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee.
A healthy Stamkos not only is, as people who bet on NHL know, a Hart trophy contender, but can also significantly boost the Lightning’s chances of winning their third Atlantic Division title. And, according to head coach Jon Cooper as quoted by the Tampa Bay Times, Stamkos is “walking around like a man on a mission.” The Canadian centre has not played since November 15, 2016. “I think we’ll obviously play in the first [exhibition game that he plays] and see how it feels and reacts,” Stamkos said. “There’s nothing quite like a game situation. You can try to simulate, but you can’t. If everything is feeling great, then yeah, it’d be nice to get out in maybe one or two more [preseason games] than I normally would to see how it’s going. But we’ll make that decision after whatever game I play first.”
Pens can win division, but do they want to?
The Penguins are favored by the NHL betting odds to win, not just the Metro division, but also a third straight Stanley Cup. Interestingly, though, the Pens, failed, the last two occasions on which they won their division – 2012-13 and 2013-14 – to go all the way or even win the Conference championship; in fact, the lost, in the latter season, in the second round of the playoffs to the Rangers. The only time, moreover, that the Penguins won both division and Stanley Cup was in 1991-92, when they played in the defunct Patrick division, which was part of the equally defunct Clarence Campbell Conference. They, conversely, won the division but lost the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007-08. Like Stamkos for the Lighting, captain and back-to-back Conn Smythe Trophy winner Sid Crosby is the centerpiece of the Penguins, and he may have found a perfect partner in crime in forward Jake Guentzel.
Johnson on Guentzel: “I think it's obvious he’s an incredible playmaker. You throw him in with guys like Sid & Sheary and it’s just unfair.” pic.twitter.com/WnoumkgPl0
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) September 21, 2017
Goaltender Matt Murray will, in the meantime, attempt to carry on Marc Andre Fleury’s legacy as well as carve a legacy of his own. The question remains, for NHL betting fans, whether the Pens can pull off the division, conference, Stanley Cup trifecta once again.