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NHL futures betting: Is Vegas a lock in the Pacific Division?

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The Pacific Division is widely considered to be the worst division in the NHL. It's comprised of the Vegas Golden Knights, three extremely flawed Canadian teams, an expansion team and three rebuilding teams in California. Vegas currently sits as a -165 favorite to win the division at BetMGM. Is it worth laying the juice?

Vegas is a step above the competition

Vegas is an odds-on favorite to win this division and for good reason. In their four seasons since entering the league, they've posted a .636 points percentage while winning seven playoff series. Last season, the Golden Knights finished tied for the best record in the league. They finished with the second-best 5-on-5 goal differential in the league. They had the 8th-best expected-goal rate. 

The main difference for the Golden Knights this season will be between the pipes. Marc-Andre Fleury is now in Chicago, but I don't expect it to make a real impact. Robin Lehner takes over as the starter in Vegas, and he's been one of the best goalies in the league over the past three seasons. Laurent Brossoit had a good season as Connor Hellebuyck's backup in Winnipeg, so there's no reason to expect that not to continue behind a much better defensive team in Vegas. 

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 24: Reilly Smith #19 of the Vegas Golden Knights celebrates with his teammates after scoring a goal against Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens during the first period in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Semifinals of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell Centre on June 24, 2021 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
The Vegas Golden Knights celebrate a goal during the 2021 playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Vegas has elite talent leading the way with Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty up front. Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo are both No. 1 defensemen leading the way on the back end. The depth is there with guys like William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Alec Martinez. Vegas' biggest weakness is down the middle, but Karlsson and Chandler Stephenson made it work last season. 

The Canadian teams are intriguing but flawed

If there's a team that's going to challenge the Golden Knights in this division, it'll likely be from one of the teams north of the border. 

Edmonton has the second-best odds to win the division, as they currently sit at +400. The Oilers are the only other team in this division to make the playoffs last season. However, in that playoff appearance, their flaws were obvious as they were swept in the first round by the Winnipeg Jets. 

Any time you can send Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl over the boards for half the game, you have a chance. By separating their two superstars, the Oilers can send a dynamic 1-2 punch at other teams. The issue is that there's very little behind those two. Additionally, the Oilers are relying on 39-year-old Mike Smith in goal. Smith had a renaissance in 2021, but his two seasons prior to that were dreadful. 

As far as Calgary, they are just two seasons removed from being the second-best team in the league. The Flames were a middling team prior to the pandemic in 2020, and they took another step back in 2021. However, there's some hope as they won 10 of their final 16 games last season. Blake Coleman is a welcome addition to help improve the depth behind Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. Calgary sits at +1400 to win the division. 

Vancouver is also an intriguing team. They have a young core that many feel is ready to make a jump. Then again, many felt that way heading into last year as well. Vancouver also currently has two of their top players unsigned, as Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes have yet to sign. It'll probably be taken care of during training camp, but we're only about three weeks away from the start of the season. 

Thatcher Demko established himself as an NHL goalie last year, and Vancouver made some intriguing acquisitions in Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. It feels like now or never for the Canucks to take that next step. They sit at +1600 to win the division. What about the Kraken?

With the success of the Golden Knights in their first season, it's only natural to wonder if the newest NHL expansion team could repeat that success. The Kraken are +800 to win the Pacific Division in their inaugural season. 

Nobody saw the success of Vegas coming back in 2017, and for that reason I think the market might be wary of that in regards to the Kraken. I don't think Seattle will be a better team than Calgary and Vancouver, which the market would suggest. 

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - JULY 21: The Seattle Kracken draft picks (L-R) Jordan Eberle, Chris Driedger, Chris Tanev, Jamie Oleksiak, Haydn Fleury and Mark Giordano following the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft at Gas Works Park on July 21, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. The Seattle Kraken is the National Hockey League's newest franchise and will begin play in October 2021. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Members of the Seattle Kraken pose for a photo following the expansion draft. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Vegas did a great job of leveraging their cap space when they entered the league. They made many trades to acquire assets in return for expansion draft considerations or salary cap help. Seattle made zero trades during the expansion draft. 

I expect the Kraken to be competitive, but I don't think they're a real threat to the top teams in the league. They have good goaltending with Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger. The defense should also be solid, but the problem will come on offense. There's a lack of elite talent and while players like Jordan Eberle, Yanni Gourde and Jaden Schwartz are solid, I don't see them as top-line options. 

The verdict

Vegas is clearly the best team in this division, but the -165 odds on them winning the division reflect that. It's hard to lay that much juice for a season-long bet. Will Vegas win this division the vast majority of the time? I believe so. I don't expect many to be willing to lay the juice on a bet that will tie up their money for six months. 

If you're willing to take a shot on another team, I'd probably lean towards Calgary at 14-to-1 or Vancouver at 16-to-1. If everything goes right for those teams, I see a world in where they're competitive. At these odds, they might be worth a dart throw. 

Stats from NaturalStatTrick.com and Hockey-Reference