NHL 2021: Previewing the Eastern Division

Posted on January 11, 2021

The NHL starts the 2021 season on January 13th with three American and one Canadian-exclusive division. The Metro division dropped two teams (Carolina and Columbus) and added two from the Atlantic (Boston and Buffalo) for the eight teams that will play each other seven times in 56 games.

NHL Eastern Division Preview

This is a talented division with big stars, big franchises, and a lot of young names to learn. At least three teams enter with new goalies, having jettisoned away familiar faces linked to past glory. While they have some experience, the stacked rosters and elite scorers that await should be stern tests.

The Eastern teams will see the least amount of travel amongst the four divisions. All play in the same time zone and are all nestled in the Northeast. Think of this as an homage to the old Big East basketball days but now sponsored by MassMutual.

We’ve taken a look at the futures boards for teams and players, consulted some experts at the top NJ sportsbooks, and will do our best to prepare players for the blitz that will be the regular season.

Perhaps the limited number of match-ups will help drive more business for the Big 4 league that usually finishes last in the handle. Our NHL Eastern Division preview pretty much goes like this…

The Teams

Newcomer Boston enters the season as the prohibitive favorite in the East. Last year’s President Cup winners are top choice on all five major sports betting sites in New Jersey, although FoxBet has them co-favorites with Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh sits behind their cross-state rivals everywhere but FanDuel. Washington is fourth in three of the five futures markets, followed by the Rangers, Islanders, Sabres, and Devils. In this current format, only the top 4 teams will qualify for postseason play.betmgm

Seamus Magee at BetMGM noted the Rangers haven’t gotten as much action as expected, despite their strong finish before the regular season shutdown and potent lineup. However, they do face a deep and talented division.


“I think the reason we’ve seen less action than I expected is because the division is very hard for New York this year,” Magee said. “They’d have to finish fourth in that division which won’t be easy. Also, the last time we saw the Rangers take the ice, they were getting swept handily out of the playoffs by Carolina, so maybe that’s a factor playing into betting activity as well.”

pointsbet andy manninoThe situation appears to be opposite at PointsBet. Andrew Mannino, one of the company’s senior traders, noted the Rangers have been notably active among players.

“After a couple successful early drafts and free agency, I think people are giving them a shot to come out of that bruising East division,” he said. 

He also believed the Islanders are “being downplayed” despite their run to the conference finals. “I think people see it as a one-time run, more of a fluke, then a team that’s going to be back there perennially.”

Boston and Philadelphia have the shortest prices on the Stanley Cup futures board. Philadelphia, along with the Rangers, have gotten some early action as loyal fans buy tickets.

johnny avello draftkings

DraftKings’ Sportsbook director Johnny Avello listed the Penguins as one of his “value” teams on the championship market. Pittsburgh has a +1600 to +2200 price range currently, following a late-season collapse from a West Coast road trip and a disappointing play-in series lost to 12th-seeded Montreal.

While we haven’t seen a lot of promotions out so far for the NHL, FanDuel Sportsbook has an interesting prop bet that perfectly encapsulates the Hudson River rivals, the Rangers and Devils. Most predictions are for the Devils to finish at or near the bottom of the division, while the Rangers should contend for the postseason.

WFAN morning drive hosts Boomer Esiason and Gio (Gregg Gianotti) have an odds boost that New York will have more regular-season points than New Jersey. The price is now +100 with a max bet of $50 and a 48-game minimum regular season. 

The Players

While the lights may have gone down on Broadway, there is a lot of focus on the futures markets on the guys who play on 34th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. The New York Rangers scoring potency and young talent represent well for bettors looking at award winners.

Top overall pick Alexis Lafreniere has competition in his own locker room for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. He leads two of three available markets (FanDuel and PointsBet), with DraftKings making new starting goalie Igor Shersterkin their top choice. 

Avello isn’t sold on Shersterkin, as he may not be the full-time replacement to the departed Henrik Lundqvist. Alexander Georgiev started 34 games last season to Shesterkin’s 12 (he also started 25 games for Hartford in the AHL) but Igor got the call to play in the Carolina series.

While not currently available on BetMGM in New Jersey, Magee noted he’s seen more action on the other new goalie in the five boroughs: Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin. He has played in the KHL before attempting to come stateside last year, when he was deemed ineligible for the playoffs. 

Sorokin has an excellent pedigree, winning a KHL title in 2019 and the gold medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics. His GAA was never above 1.61 for a season but never played more than 40 regular-season games (shorter KHL schedule). 

This may be a risky wager, as he’ll likely split time with Semyon Varmalov, who played very well in leading the Isles to the conference finals in the summer. While coach Barry Trotz has praised the newcomer, the Russian goalie will have to adjust to the smaller North American rinks in a division with stacked lineups and excellent cycle offenses. 

Veteran scorer Artemi Panarin sits in the top tier of candidates for the Hart Trophy as MVP and Art Ross for top scorer. Panarin’s career-high 95 points (in just 69 games) last season got him third place in the Hart vote in his first season with the Blueshirts.

The Capitals have two names appearing in the futures markets. Alex Ovechkin is second on the Rocket Richard Trophy market for a top goal scorer. Defenseman John Carlson is also among the top five for the Norris Trophy.

Among goaltenders, one name appears among the top five for the Vezina Trophy futures: Philadelphia’s Carter Hart. He played well down the stretch and in the playoff bubble, drawing significant attention and setting the bar fairly high for this season.

“Hart might be an interesting choice,” Avello said. 

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