The Atlantic Division is arguably the best division in the NHL. It's also got a bit of a weird power structure.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers are considered by most to be top-end teams in the league. On the other hand, most would consider the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres some of the worst teams in the league. The Montreal Canadiens fall into neither of these categories, but they're coming off a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2021.
So which teams in this division offer value? The Tampa Bay Lightning are favorites to win the division at BetMGM, but is that the best way to go?
Limited value on the Lightning
Tampa Bay currently sits at +135 to win the Atlantic Division. After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, it's no surprise to see them as the favorites. While the Lightning have a good chance of winning the division, we must ask ourselves if there's value at the current number.
With +135 odds, it's implied that the Lightning win the Atlantic Division nearly 43% of the time. That seems high to me.
The Florida Panthers competed in the same division as Tampa Bay last season and finished ahead of them in the regular season standings. The Toronto Maple Leafs comfortably won their division last season. Boston was maybe the best team in hockey at the end of last year's regular season. I don't buy that these three teams combine for less than a 57% chance of winning the division.
The Lightning lost a lot of key depth such as Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson and Barclay Goodrow due to salary cap issues. They've also played a lot of hockey over the past two years. There isn't enough value in Tampa Bay at this price.
Alright, so which teams have value?
For me, the Florida Panthers are a screaming value to win this division at +550.
They went 37-14-5 last season, finishing with the fourth-best record in the league. I also think they got better. Aaron Ekblad missed almost all of last season. They'll be getting their number one defensemen back. Up front, they'll have a full year of Sam Bennett. They've also added Sam Reinhart, a solid top-6 forward, and Joe Thornton, a grizzled future hall of famer-turned-depth piece.
The two biggest potential additions for the Panthers are youngsters, and one of them is at the most important position on the ice.
We saw Spencer Knight in the playoffs last year, as he tried to bail out Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger. This year, I expect Knight to be the number one goalie in Florida. The former first round pick showed what he's capable of in the playoffs. Goaltending has been Florida's biggest issue over the past few seasons, and now, they might have an answer.
I'm also extremely excited about Anton Lundell, the 19-year-old Finnish forward who should compete for the Calder this season. He has the potential to add gamebreaking ability next to Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. At the very least, he'll be a great piece in the middle of the Panthers' lineup.
Florida was elite last season and I think they got better. And at +550 to win this division, it's a screaming value.
What's the deal with Montreal?
If you're a casual hockey fan or someone who just tunes in for the playoffs, you're probably confused about the Montreal Canadiens. Why are they 25-to-1 to win this division and 40-1 to win the Stanley Cup? Didn't they make it all the way to the Cup Final last year, knocking out teams like Toronto and Vegas in the process?
Yes, all of that happened. You weren't dreaming. However, much like many hockey fans weren't buying Montreal last spring, the oddsmakers aren't buying them now.
Montreal was the worst team to qualify for the playoffs last season in terms of points percentage during the regular season. They were an average team by most metrics. They found themselves down 3-1 in a best-of-7 series in the first round, and then magic happened.
Carey Price barely cracked a .900 save percentage during the regular season, and there were even parts of the season where his starting job was in jeopardy. In 2019-20, Price wasn't much better either, posting a .909 save percentage. However in last year's playoffs, Price reverted back to 2015 form and posted a .930 save percentage through the first three rounds.
So what are oddsmakers telling you about Montreal? They're telling you that Montreal is an average team at best, that went on a ridiculous run fueled by luck and goaltending that shouldn't be expected to continue over a full regular season. If you disagree with that assessment from the oddsmakers, you can bet Montreal to win the Atlantic Division at +2500.