NHL betting preview: Oilers and Avalanche among favourites, but Stanley Cup out of reach

The NHL will return to some normality this year, but who will have the bragging rights come the end of the season?

It's October and that means that the NHL is back on our screens to bring us its unique blend of intensitity, finesse, punch-ups and downright brilliant entertainment.

COVID-19 ensured last season was a shortened campaign with fans unable to attend.

However, this year we are back to a full NHL season and the fans are back in the arenas, so who should you be backing to win each of the four divisions and the Stanley Cup itself?

Atlantic Division

Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning

The last two winners of the Stanley Cup have come from the Atlantic Division with Tampa Bay Lightning proving their doubters wrong last season by successfully defending their title.

This season they are going for a three-peat, and that is a rare accomplishment indeed in the modern NHL. In fact, it hasn't been done since 1983.

Tampa will be up there in the Atlantic Division again this season, although like all Stanley Cup winners they are slowly losing their depth due to salary cap issues. They will still be brilliant, but it's getting harder for them to reach the same heights.

That might just open the door for the Florida Panthers. The Panthers were already a quality team in last season's shortened campaign, and they have added another genuine goalscorer to their ranks in Sam Reinhart.

They will also have top blueliner Aaron Ekblad available again, hopefully for a greater percentage of the season than he did in 2020/21. You'd expect a bounceback season from goalie Sergei Bobrovsky too after a below-par output

It would be wrong to not throw the Toronto Maple Leafs into the mix as well. The Leafs have a huge amount of talent on their roster such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares.

Sadly they also have a reputation for choking, and we have a long wait to find out whether or not that is still justified.

Central Division

Colorado Avalanche celebrate

The Central Division is a very strong group of teams, but they have a clear favourite in Colorado Avalanche.

The Avalanche went close last season and with names like Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen they arguably have the best top line in the whole of the NHL.

If there is a question mark then it's over their goaltending. General manager Joe Sakic allowed last season's starter Philipp Grubauer to leave in free agency and they have replaced him with Darcy Kuemper. He will probably need to step up a level if there is going to be a seamless transition.

Winnipeg Jets are perhaps a dark horse for the division though. There are many analysts out there who consider the Jets to be the best team in Canada this season, and that is always a bold claim to make.

We should probably throw the Dallas Stars into the mix here as well. They had a rough time of it with injuries last year, but if they can keep everyone healthy they have an impressive roster from which to call upon.

That roster has got stronger in the off-season too with the addition of defenseman Ryan Suter which has made an already fine blueline one of the best in the whole NHL.

Metropolitan Division

Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins

The Carolina Hurricanes got elite-level speed and goalscoring last year and it served them very well.

In Rod Brind'Amour they have a coach who won the Stanley Cup as a player too, and he looks like the ideal kind of character to guide the 'Canes going forward.

Last season they got some quality goaltending from rookie Alex Nedeljkovic, though, and they will need him to avoid a second-season slump if they want to continue their upwards trajectory.

The 'Canes main rivals may be the rugged New York Islanders. Only the Vegas Golden Knights conceded fewer goals in the whole NHL last season than the Islanders which shows what a powerful two-way team they have become.

They haven't won a divisional title since 1988, but they definitely have the depth to do it in 2021/22.

You can never rule out the Washington Capitals or Pittsburgh Penguins either. Alexander Ovechkin is still in Washington and he has Wayne Gretzky's goalscoring record in his sights, so you can be sure he will be motivated.

The Penguins have injury concerns surrounding their two star men Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the former will be back early enough to keep them in contention.

On star power alone, those two teams will always be in the mix.

Pacific Division

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers

The Pacific Division looks like it will be tightly contested between two hockey clubs, and it may be a toss-up between them.

There is little question that the star power in the Pacific belongs to the Edmonton Oilers. In Connor McDavid the Oilers have the best player in the world and you won't find anyone to dispute that.

He scored 105 points last season, which would be a stellar performance in any season. To do it in the shortened 2020/21 season, though, in which the regular season was chopped down from 82 games to 56, is absolutely outrageous.

Only one player got anywhere near McDavid in points scoring last season, and that was Leon Draisaitl, who scored 84. Draisaitl also plays for the Oilers. For context, the closest players in scoring the Oilers duo was Brad Marchand who scored 69.

But while the Oilers have the individual stars, it is Vegas Golden Knights who are the more complete team.

No one in the NHL won more matches that the Golden Knights last season and they have managed to keep that roster together with the exception of moving Marc-Andre Fleury on for salary cap issues.

Vegas have only been in the NHL for four years prior to this season, and there is a real sense that it's Cup or bust time for this particular group of players.

The Oilers may be better equipped to win the division, but Vegas look like better Stanley Cup contenders as they will have the greater consistency when it matters in the play-offs.

Stanley Cup

Las Vegas Golden Knights

The Stanley Cup is one of those sporting competitions that always feels pretty open. It's easy enough to predict who will make the play-offs, but once they start the competition shocks can happen. 

Generally, though, you'd look for the teams with the better veterans whose level won't drop as the pressure begins to rise.

Our best bet for the Stanley Cup winner

A three-peat is a huge ask of Tampa Bay, regardless of how good they still are.

Beyond them, you'd probably look at the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorade Avalanche as the two to watch.

But at a push the Knights get my vote to win their first ever Stanley Cup. They'll be solid and will get a huge boost from the home crowd in the playoffs.