The Predators open a COVID-altered 2021 NHL season Thursday night hoping to overcome expectations that they will be very much a middling team after failing to make the playoffs last season.
Tennessee’s four online sportsbooks give Nashville odds putting them at about 14th to 17th most likely to win the Stanley Cup. They’re deemed fourth or fifth most likely among eight teams to win the new Central Division. The odds place them just over 50-50 to make the playoffs.
By nearly every standard, the club coached by John Hynes for his first full season is considered middle-of-the-pack in the NHL, but it is, however, a favorite to start the season on a positive note. Nashville is a -120 moneyline favorite from FanDuel and DraftKings to win Thursday night’s opener hosting the Columbus Blue Jackets, with TN Action247 making them -125 and BetMGM -130.
All play is against Central Division opponents
This week presents a fresh start for everyone in the NHL who had to deal with an unusual 2019-20 season that suffered months of interruption from the COVID outbreak in March. The Predators were one of those most affected, as the team was heating up under Hynes as a mid-season coaching replacement before everything came to a halt. When play resumed, they were knocked out by Arizona in the qualifying round.
In the new season, opponents and schedules have been altered from traditions so that Nashville is part of the eight-team Central Division. It will play in a 56-game regular season only against its seven division opponents: the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Detroit Red Wings, and Dallas Stars. The top four make the playoffs scheduled to start in May.
Minimizing travel due to continued COVID concerns, the schedule calls for many back-to-back games against the same opponent in the same arena. Hence the Predators play Columbus at Bridgestone Arena Saturday as well as Thursday, then host Carolina for two more games before ever leaving Tennessee.
If Nashville is to rebound from last year’s disappointment, it will undoubtedly be buoyed by another strong year from last year’s Norris Trophy winner, Roman Josi, who had 16 goals and 49 assists in 69 games. He is paired with the more physical Ryan Ellis on a first line of defense that is as solid as any in the league.
The question marks come more on offense, especially after the offseason departures of two of the top three goal-scorers in Nick Bonino and Craig Smith. Filip Forsberg is back, however, as the top-scoring forward, with Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene centering the top two lines and Viktor Arvidsson expected to also contribute as a winger. There’s not as much quality depth around and behind them, however, as can be found on teams pegged with higher potential.
Mid-season last year, Juuse Saros took over in goal from veteran Pekka Rinne, now 38, which is the way it’s expected to be this year as well. Saros was strong in games leading up to the COVID break, and the Predators are counting on him to pick up there starting Thursday.
Odds put Cup chances at about 3%
Dreams of hoisting a Stanley Cup may seem far-fetched, but there are also plenty of longer longshots behind the Predators. The best futures payout for someone willing to tie up some funds with that hope is the 33/1 from FanDuel, with DraftKings at 30/1 and BetMGM at 28/1.
Tampa Bay is the strong favorite in the Central Division, at odds ranging from +125 (DraftKings) to +140 (FanDuel). The best return on that divisional wager for a Predators backer is the +850 from FanDuel.
FanDuel also offers the most favorable reward for a wager on Nashville to make the playoffs: -115 on the “yes” (-110 to bet on “no”).
The sportsbooks also offer an over/under option on the team’s points total from the regular season, with BetMGM and TN Action247 putting it at 65.5 but DraftKings offering a more favorable chance for a pro-Predators bettor at 63.5.
While Nashville fans would love to see Josi collect a second straight Norris Trophy, he is only the second favorite to do that, given +600 odds from BetMGM. The site lists Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman at +400.
Some of the sites offer a futures bet on top individual players’ season-long point totals, which for Josi is put at 43.5 by DraftKings but just 39.5 by FanDuel, an unusually high gap that some both-way bettors might elect to try to “middle.” Predictions are more consistent for Forsberg, whose points o/u is at 41.5 from both FanDuel and BetMGM.
DraftKings and BetMGM also offer a chance to bet on who will be the team’s top goal-scorer, but with Forsberg’s odds distinctly different this time. DraftKings makes him +150 to lead the team, ahead of Arvidsson (+250) and Duchene (+350), while BetMGM goes with Forsberg -110, Arvidsson +225, and Duchene +400.
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