Canes slim Stanley Cup favorites in crowded field

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs have long been marked by parity. Perhaps more than any other major professional sport, the NHL routinely sees teams outperform expectations in the regular season, sneak into the playoffs, make a run to the Stanley Cup Final and oftentimes win it.

Few teams embody the spirit of this better than the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes, who opened that regular season at 60-1 to win the title — the longest preseason odds of any Cup winner since at least 1984-85. That squad entered the postseason at +600 and exited with the most famous trophy in North American sports.

It feels appropriate, then, that 18 years later, the Canes enter the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the favorites to lift the Cup — but at +550 odds at ESPN BET, they hold the longest odds for any favorite entering the playoffs in the last 40 seasons, per ESPN Stats & Information. Other books have Carolina as long as +650, meaning their odds as this year’s favorites are longer than when they won the Cup as underdogs nearly two decades ago.

Ironically, this is the first time the franchise, even going back to its days as the Hartford Whalers, has ever been the betting favorite entering the playoffs. While bookmakers generally agree that the Hurricanes are the strongest team in the dance, their tough path to the Final and the strength of other teams in the league have once again created huge parity.

“Without a doubt, this is as wide open a field as I’ve seen in years,” says Fanatics Sportsbook trader Ty Gour. “While the Stanley Cup Playoffs are known for [their] unpredictability, this race is as tight as it gets. You can make a serious Cup case for just about every team in the field this year.”

Indeed, there are currently six teams at +800 odds or shorter on ESPN BET.

Carolina led ESPN BET’s future odds going into and coming out of the regular season, but from October to the end of March, other teams took turns playing the favorite role. These clubs have also been more popular among bettors than Carolina, who are not the top attraction by tickets or handle at almost all sportsbooks surveyed.

The Colorado Avalanche, Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers have all accumulated significant bets and money — but the most popular team and likely the biggest hazard to sportsbooks is the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers.

The Blueshirts have “by far” the most handle at ESPN BET with 12%, as well as the most at BetMGM (13.3%) and FanDuel (20%). DraftKings tells ESPN that while the Rangers don’t have the most handle at its book (12% behind the Bruins at 15% and Avalanche 14%), they’re one of the book’s biggest liabilities due to their decently long odds throughout the season.

“No surprise that the Rangers have been a hot ticket since the get-go. Them being in New York and being the most popular team plays a part,” Caesars in-play NHL lead Karry Shreve tells ESPN. “Wherever the Rangers are positioned, whether they’re going to be down in the series or up in the series, we always expect to get a lot of Ranger money.”

By contrast, some of the less heralded teams in lower profile markets — such as the Florida Panthers, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets — have attracted significantly less liability despite outperforming expectations from long preseason odds; Florida and Vancouver each won their respective divisions after opening the regular season at 22-1 and 75-1 to win the Cup, respectively.

The sportsbooks are also breathing sighs of relief over the teams that won’t be competing for the Cup: The Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins all accumulated significant tickets and handle throughout the season, with DraftKings’ Johnny Avello saying the Wings had “probably double” the liability of the Rangers.

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