Bolts Becoming Popular Among Punters
Over the offseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs landed the big-fish free agent that all teams who could afford his salary were after, John Tavares. The franchise-altering center joins a flourishing team of highly-touted young guns that now look poised to contend for the Stanley Cup. Over in Florida, the Tampa Bay Lightning had a rather quiet summer, keeping a hold of their elite-level lines while fixating on finally winning the Cup again in 2019.
The proposition of Tampa Bay’s world-class team coming up against the presumably high-flying Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference Finals was one that split experts and fans down the middle. Coming into the season, the two teams entered as the favorites to win it all with the same odds.
Just a couple of weeks into the season, that all changed, with one team suddenly receiving the bookies' favor, allowing fans to make the most of the Lightning’s somewhat inflated odds.
Bolts originally favored among many
The bookie may not have been able to split the Lightning and Maple Leafs, but the majority of fans and pundits who weighed in on the debate swung for the Bolts over their Canadian rivals.
One of the major drawbacks of the hugely talented Toronto team is the lack of a true all-star level defenseman. While Tavares joining the likes of Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews means that it’ll be close to impossible to keep the Buds off of the scoresheet, the young defense is questionable, as noted by The Hockey News, and doesn’t boast a real top-class member.
Throughout the recent history of the Stanley Cup, winning teams have had a world-class defenseman on their top line, with John Carlson, Kris Letang, Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Zdeno Chara, and Nicklas Lidstrom featuring prominently for the champions of the last ten years.
For Toronto, Morgan Rielly is the premier skater on the blueline but doesn’t have the game-controlling ability of those listed above. He could well develop into an all-star level as he’s still only 24-years-old, but he’s not quite there yet.
Tampa Bay has been incredibly consistent over the last four years while it’s top-class talents have evolved into a league-crushing force to be reckoned with. The Lightning have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the last four seasons – with 2016/17 disrupted by an injury plague – and appear poised to go all the way this season.
With Andrei Vasilevskiy in net, forward lines consisting of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Tyler Johnson, as well as the all-important almighty defenseman in Victor Hedman as well as Ryan McDonagh, it’s was always going to be hard to look beyond the Bolts.
Lightning start giving Toronto the nod
Source: NHL Public Relations, via Twitter
The Toronto Maple Leafs started the new NHL season on fire. Through six games, they came out with five wins and a loss, scoring a massive 29 goals while conceding 22. This has seemingly reaffirmed people’s belief in Tavares providing the final piece to their Stanley Cup-winning puzzle. The quick start has seen their odds fall to +800 to win the Stanley Cup and +350 to win the Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay, on the other hand, started their season a bit later and a bit slower, with only three games played by the time Toronto had notched six matches. With two wins and a loss - 11 goals scored and seven goals against - they’ve put in a decent but somewhat slow showing. Either way, it has put them at longer odds to achieve greatness in 2018/19.
Now, the Tampa Bay Lightning sit as the +400 second-favorites to win the Eastern Conference and +900 second-favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Bolts believers have been taking advantage of the Ladbrokes odds in the Stanley Cup outright market for which Oddschecker is currently listing a free bet. But, while this battle is between two Eastern Conference teams, there’s one more step to go after the third round of the playoffs.
After locking down late trade Evander Kane and trading for the incredible Erik Karlsson in the offseason, the San Jose Sharks made waves among those looking for potential Stanley Cup winners. Among the majority of selected NHL pundits and experts, the Sharks received the most votes to win the Cup and are now at +1200 in the odds, with the Lightning selected the second-most. Most interestingly, not a single one of these 18 panelists picked the Maple Leafs, with the Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Winnipeg Jets also getting votes.
The season is young, yet enough has happened to see the Tampa Bay Lightning’s odds of winning the Eastern Conference and Stanley Cup come out. Many NHL bettors have taken advantage of these heightened odds before the Bolts almost inevitably string together long winning streaks and surge up the standings once again.