The NHL’s two Pennsylvania franchises would normally be midway through their season now, but instead, they start the 2021 campaign on behalf of the entire league by facing off against one another Wednesday afternoon.
And it presents quite the interesting contrast in age and expectations, as for the first time in many years the up-and-coming Flyers are predicted to be stronger than the increasingly grizzled Penguins.
The two rivals are both favored to make the playoffs under a revamped setup, with the top four teams from their eight-team East Division advancing in May after a 56-game season played only against division opponents. But to win the Stanley Cup, the Pennsylvania teams are well behind favored Colorado, Vegas, and Tampa Bay.
The Flyers are anywhere from +1400 to +1600 to win it all, with that latter, best return offered by FanDuel and the sites using Kambi odds — DraftKings, BetRivers, PlaySugarHouse, and Unibet among them.
The Penguins, meanwhile, are priced at +1600 to +2200, with BetMGM offering the best value for that futures bet on the league champion.
Flyers could be at their best since 2010 Stanley Cup run
The Pens and Flyers actually start the season with two games back to back at the Wells Fargo Center, which would be an oddity in any other year but a common scheduling technique by the NHL this year to address COVID-19 concerns.
Though there will be no fans in the arena at the start of the season to help with the home-ice advantage, the moneyline favors the Flyers in the opener. The -115 from FanDuel and BetMGM is the best offered for a Flyers fan.
Philadelphia gained momentum throughout the COVID-interrupted 2019-20 season, winning the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and only being eliminated in the seventh game of the conference semifinals.
And that was playing much of the season without first-line winger Oskar Lindblom, who was sidelined by a cancer diagnosis, while talented young center Nolan Patrick never saw a game last year due to a migraine condition.
Now both are deemed healthy, presenting the Flyers with one of the NHL’s deepest offenses to supplement their young goaltending star, Carter Hart. Veterans Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, and Ivan Provorov are all back to lead coach Alain Vigneault’s promising roster.
The East Division may well be the league’s toughest, with the Pennsylvania teams joined by the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and Washington Capitals.
Most betting sites have the Flyers behind only the Boston Bruins in odds to win it, and FOX Bet actually has them tied with the Bruins in a +275 betting line. The best reward for a Flyers division title would be betting them at +500 with FanDuel, the lone site that has them behind the Penguins (+400).
The over/under on the Flyers points total is 67.5 at FanDuel and DraftKings under the 56-game format, while BetMGM makes it higher at 69.5.
On a yes/no futures wager on the team to make the playoffs, FanDuel and Betfred offer the best choice for betting the “yes,” at -190 (+150 on the “no”).
Pens counting on longtime stars to avoid dropoff
It seems like forever that Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang have anchored the Penguins’ lineup, and it also seems like forever since they led the franchise to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.
The team started strong last year before collapsing late in the season, including a knockout by conference 12th seed Montreal in the qualifying round series. Now Malkin is 34 and Crosby and Letang both 33, and the question is how much their age will affect the chances of a team that has continued in “win now” mode now the past few years by trading away top draft picks.
A healthier version of sharp-shooting forward Jake Guentzel is back on Crosby’s line this year, and a better defensive lineup is expected to supplement Letang after the team shed some underperforming veterans.
One question mark is young goaltender Tristan Jarry, whose season last year mirrored the team’s — extremely strong over the first half, earning him an all-star selection, and mediocre over the final stretch. Still, there was enough potential in him for the Pens to trade away Matt Murray and give Jarry a three-year contract.
The core remains strong enough that the sportsbooks generally list Pittsburgh just behind Philadelphia in the East Division, with odds of +400 to win it from all that offer the futures bet other than Betfred, which has them even stronger at +350.
The Pens’ over/under on season-long points is 67.5 from the Kambi sites and BetMGM and 68.5 from FanDuel.
On a “yes” bet to make the playoffs, FanDuel provides the best price at -180 (+140 on the no).
Individual player prop bets also offered
The futures bets available extend to individual player performance as well as those of the teams, though no Flyer or Penguin is a favorite to take home any award at season’s end.
The strongest such candidate is Hart to win the Vezina Trophy for top goaltender. He’s tied for third at 10/1 from FanDuel and Kambi sites, while 9/1 from BetMGM.
During most of their lengthy careers, Crosby and Malkin have been among top contenders for league MVP, with Crosby winning the Hart Trophy twice and Malkin once. This year, however, most sites have them both listed well back at 25/1, with BetMGM offering a somewhat better return for Malkin at 30/1.
Letang is listed among candidates for the Norris Trophy for top defenseman, at +1700 from Kambi sites and +1400 from FanDuel.
FanDuel is also the one site that offers a prop bet option on many individual players’ season point totals, which include over/unders of 63.5 for Malkin, 59.5 for Crosby, 53.5 for Guentzel, 49.5 for Couturier, and 45.5 for Giroux.
Some other sites also have special bet offers to commemorate the start of the NHL season, including Barstool’s “Keystone Rivalry” odds on which of the two teams will have the better record at season’s end: It makes the Flyers -115, the Pens -106.
Parx, meanwhile, has an “odds boost” on the chances of both teams making the playoffs, bumped to +150 from +110.