NHL Betting Guide: Wednesday 1/13/21

Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning get to raise their Stanley Cup banner to the rafters as they take on the Chicago Blackhawks. Which side should your money be on when the puck drops?

Welcome back to another exciting season of NHL hockey! The war of attrition that is the 2021 NHL season begins Wednesday afternoon in Philadelphia when the Flyers take on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Teams will be completing a 56-game schedule in 116 days, which means no nights off between now and May 8th. That means that we'll be back daily with the NHL Betting Guide, outlining model-based plays from our betting algorithm.

Here's what we're looking at on night one!

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Lightning moneyline (-250): 3-Star Rating Out of 5

The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning certainly got a favorable draw with their new division. This season they'll get to beat up on lesser opponents like the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, and Nashville Predators, and that starts tonight against the Hawks.

But the Bolts have a lot of other factors working in their favor, as well. On top of being metrics darlings last season, they were able to return most of their players despite salary cap restraints at the start of the off-season. Tampa's cap flexibility can be attributed to Nikita Kucherov requiring off-season hip surgery. That afforded Tampa Bay the luxury of increasing their space under the cap to replace Kucherov's $9.5 million salary. Subsequently, they acquired Marian Gaborik and Anders Nilsson's contracts to allow them even more flexibility with their cap situation -- all of which is fair game and well within the league's CBA.

And just like that, the defending champs have most of their roster intact. Expect the Lightning to pick up exactly where they left off last season.

The Blackhawks are rudderless this season, and that might be understating it a little bit. Last season, Chicago sold off almost all of their movable assets in hopes of pressing the restart button this season. That included shipping off Robin Lehner to the Vegas Golden Knights, leaving the team with Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban as their goaltending tandem. The problem is that they weren't really able to attract any notable free agents.

Their core, which helped them win three Stanley Cups in six years, has all played their way well into their 30s. That success came at the expense of being able to pick near the top of the draft, and they've built their roster by rolling the dice with later draft picks and by acquiring reclamation projects. These roster issues were compounded by captain Jonathan Toews being unable to report to training camp due to an injury/illness. I'm not sure what fate awaits the Hawks this year, but I know it won't be pretty.

This game projects to be a huge mismatch on paper, and don't expect the product on the ice to reflect anything differently. Tampa Bay is light years ahead of the Hawks, and -250 is too short of a price. We rate the Bolts moneyline as a three-star play.

Edmonton Oilers vs. Vancouver Canucks

Over 6.5 (+100): 1-Star Rating Out of 5

If you like free-flowing, defensive-free hockey then this is the game for you!

The Edmonton Oilers ranked 24th in shots against, 23rd in scoring chances against, and 21st in high-danger chances against. The Vancouver Canucks were equally embarrassing defensively, ranking 25th in shots against, 28th in scoring chances against, and 17th in high-danger chances against. That will afford the likes of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes plenty of time and space to do damage offensively.

This off-season, the Canucks had to replace Jacob Markstrom in the blue paint, who departed via free agency to the division rival Calgary Flames. Somehow, someone who gets paid a lot more than I do thought signing Braden Holtby was the right move to make.

Holtby posted some of the worst metrics among goalies in the league last season. He ranked 65th in goals saved above average with -16.8 and posted a save percentage of 89.7%. Holtby is joining a team that gives up a lot more chances against compared to the Washington Capitals team he was on last year. Given their offensive abilities and defensive inefficiencies, don't be surprised if the Canucks find themselves in some high-scoring contests this season.

The Oilers are not in any better of a position with respect to goaltending. Peter Chiarelli's parting gift before being terminated as general manager two years ago was to sign an average, unproven goaltender to an immovable deal. Since then, Mikko Koskinen has been a hot and cold goaltender, who alternates between being the starter and riding the pine. Koskinen couldn't figure things out at home last season, posting a 3.26 goals-against average and 90.3 save percentage, with 11 of his 19 home games going over the total, usually by a substantial margin. It's possible that Mike Smith gets the nod, but it's unlikely that he'll fare any better against a talented Canucks squad.

Last season, the Oilers had a tendency to play high-scoring games within their division, going 12-8-4 to the over (12 overs, 8 unders, and 4 pushes). Vancouver played to a similar trend, going 11-8-1 to the over on intradivision games. Don't expect either team to buck that trend tonight -- over 6.5 is a one-star play.