According to sportsbooks, just two teams are left in contention for the Central Division crown and after a trade deadline that moved the needle significantly in the direction of the Minnesota Wild, it’s tough to see them giving up their lead.
Bovada has the Central leaders slotted in as the -300 favorites to finish the season on top and as it stands, the Wild hold a three-point lead and have one game in hand over the second-place Blackhawks (+200).
The Blackhawks have been streaking back up the standings, winning nine of their last 10 games, and although they may be looking like a good value play to some bettors – they’re not. Chicago still has a game left to play against the Wild, has 12 of its remaining 19 games against teams currently in playoff position and has to close out its season with three games away from the United Center.
That said, Minny doesn’t have an easy schedule either and will have to make hay during an upcoming five-game road trip. A major positive here for those looking to place a large wager on Minny’s -300 odds is that the Wild will get to end their year by playing their final four games against the Avalanche (twice), the Hurricanes and the Coyotes. Those teams all sit firmly in last place in their respective divisions and there’s little doubt that the best team in the West gets it done against the NHL’s bottom-feeders with a division title on the line.
With every other division leader holding on to a lead of six points or more at the time of writing, the race for the Central is the closest in hockey and if the ’Hawks keep winning, it could have the best finish too.
Central Division Futures
Odds as of March 3 at Bovada
- Minnesota Wild -300
- Chicago Blackhawks +200
Many expected a changing of the guard in the Central Division this season, it just wasn’t the Bruce Boudreau-coached Minnesota Wild that pundits were touting to fly their colors. With a 26-9-5 record and the best goal differential in hockey, the Wild have put the Western Conference on notice and announced that they are not just a fluff expansion team anymore.
Bookmakers are showing the Wild some serious respect and Bet365 has them as the minus-money favorite to take home the Central Division title. Since being realigned into the division, the Wild have never finished higher than fourth place but are on pace to smash the franchise record for points in a season they set back in the 2006-07 season with 104. They’ve won 15 of their last 17 games and with four in hand over the Blackhawks, it’s only a matter of time until they take the division lead.
So, how are the Wild breaking out of their mold? They’ve done it by playing the same defensive system they’ve trademarked over the last decade or so but have added an element they have not had since their team was conceived at the start of the millennium – consistent scoring. With 129 goals, the Wild are fifth in the league in that category and thanks to the stellar play of Devan Dubnyk, they haven’t been giving up many either.
As of right now, it doesn’t look like there’s a team in the division with the capability of matching the Wild – other than the ’Hawks. Nashville, Dallas and Winnipeg have all been extreme disappointments and the Avalanche stink worse than the Springfield tire fire. If Dubnyk keeps up his Vezina-worthy play, I have a hard time seeing this team finishing the year anywhere other than the top of the Central Division standings.
Chicago will stick around the race but it’s clear how their lack of depth is affecting them. Running four defensemen almost 30 minutes a game and basically rolling two lines of forwards is great for a playoff run. For an 82-game schedule – not so much. I expect the Blackhawks to make some moves at the deadline but I think this team is past the point of no return. Adding a couple pending free agents will not be nearly enough to inject life into this shallow roster. Are those vultures I see circling?
Central Division Futures
Odds as of January 13 at Bet365
- Minnesota Wild -125
- Chicago Blackhawks +110
- St. Louis Blues +1600
- Nashville Predators +4000
- Dallas Stars +6600
- Winnipeg Jets +7500
- Colorado Avalanche +400000
The Central was the toughest division in hockey last year and bookmakers like it to stay that way in the 2016-17 season. Four of the top seven Western Conference futures favorites and four of the top eight Stanley Cup futures favorites come from the Central division as three of those teams – the Blackhawks, the Stars and the Blues – all finished with over 100 points last year and the Predators narrowly missed joining that club with 96 points of their own.
Lines for division futures can be found at Bovada where you’ll find the Blackhawks sitting on top of the division, conference and Stanley Cup futures odds. They are +290 favorites to take the Central after their relatively quiet offseason, with the Stars, Preds and Blues all trailing close behind at +325.
The Hawks still have plenty of room on their roster after parting ways with the likes of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw, Dale Weise, Teuvo Teravainen and Christian Ehrhoff through trades for draft picks or free agency, but with little cap space, expect Chicago to give shots to some of the guys they drafted this year. There’s never a real rebuild when you have the core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford intact, so call this a reloading year. Chicago will compete for the division again but I think there’s better value elsewhere.
I love, repeat, love the Stars at +325. They twinkled to a division title last year with a 109-point season in which they posted the third-best goal differential in the league. This was Dallas’ first Central division title since the NHL realigned and condensed its six-division system to four and shipped the Red Wings to the Eastern Conference. The Stars’ major problem last year was their astounding ability to give up goals in bunches. They did not fill the hole at goaltender but they did sign defensive defenseman Dan Hamhuis to a two-year contract. Dallas is still in the market for an upgrade over Kari Lehtonen and if they find it, they could become Stanley Cup favorites in a hurry.
The Predators’ last six months or so has been like porn to hockey nerds. They’ve added P.K. Subban and Ryan Johansen and locked up budding superstar Filip Forsberg until 2022. I would, however, like their chances this year a whole lot better if I had any faith at all in Pekka Rinne. The 33-year-old Finn has been one of the most injury-prone goaltenders in the league over the last five seasons and showed serious regression last year with a .908 save percentage and 2.48 goals-against average. When things go south for aging goalies, they don’t often improve.
This will be a year to see what the Avalanche really have as they’ve finally gotten rid of the toxic scourge that was Patrick Roy. I don’t think they compete for hardware this season with their shaky back end but they could make for one of the most entertaining teams in the league as Nathan MacKinnon comes into his own as a genius playmaker and crafty goal scorer. Mack is my No. 1 candidate for having a breakout year for all you fantasy hockey players out there.
Here’s the rest of the odds:
Central Division Futures
Odds as of September 22 at Bovada
- Chicago Blackhawks +290
- St. Louis Blues +325
- Nashville Predators +325
- Dallas Stars +325
- Minnesota Wild +900
- Winnipeg Jets +1200
- Colorado Avalanche +1400