- The Maple Leafs (5-4-2) are off to a slow start
- The Sabres (8-1-1) are on fire and passed Toronto in the Atlantic Division odds
- Who’s the best bet to claim top spot in the Atlantic three weeks into the 2019-20 NHL season?
The season is young but the panic button isn’t far out of reach for Maple Leafs fans. With only five wins in 11 games so far this season, Toronto has fallen to four in the Atlantic Division odds, behind a Buffalo team that started the year at +6000.
2019-20 Atlantic Division Odds
|Tampa Bay Lightning||+225|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||+400|
|Detroit Red Wings||+6600|
Odds taken Oct. 23.
Should the division-leading Sabres (8-1-1) have better odds than the Maple Leafs (5-4-1) to finish the season in top spot? Probably not. But it doesn’t matter because you shouldn’t be betting money on either team.
Here’s the main reason to stay away from Toronto as well as my pick to click in the Atlantic.
Already the most winningest @NHLBruins goaltender in franchise history, @tuukkarask became the seventh netminder in NHL history to win at least 269 games through his first 500 career contests. #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/fTEq3Ylu2w
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) October 23, 2019
Mike Babcock Costing the Maple Leafs
For all the fanfare when Mike Babcock was hired as Maple Leafs head coach, there have been relatively few positive results. He was behind the bench for the tank year, followed by a trio of first-round playoff exits.
Now, his stubborn ways seem to be costing Toronto points on a consistent basis, points that would go a long way to getting home-ice in the opening round of the playoffs.
Babcock insists on playing starting goalie Frederik Andersen in the first game of back to backs, following with Michael Hutchinson on night two. Refusing to waver from this regardless of opponent has led to the Maple Leafs losing all three back to back sets they’ve had so far this year. Hutchinson is 0-2-1 with a 4.03 GAA, which ranks 54th in the league.
David Pastrnak is a cheat code https://t.co/VbMj8sZqfP
— Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) October 22, 2019
Toronto finished 28 points out of top spot in the Atlantic Division last year and, while no team looks as dominant as last year’s Tampa Bay squad, the fact remains they can’t be taken seriously with Babcock refusing to budge off a premise that clearly is not working.
Healthy Bruins Team the Scariest In the Division
Last year, Boston was decimated with injuries and still managed to finish second in the Atlantic. They then went on an incredible run that saw them fall to the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Final. With all that hockey and a veteran roster, many expected them to limp out of the starting gate. Instead, they’ve come out firing, going 6-1-2.
There’s two reasons to love Boston. The top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak is the best in the league. They’ve combined for 39 points in nine games and have shown that, no matter how much opposing coaches scheme to stop them, they are going to contribute on both ends of the ice.
Tuukka Rask (@tuukkarask) singing Prince? ?
— NHL (@NHL) October 24, 2019
The other reason is the goaltending tandem of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. They pair have rotated starts in the early going, even though Rask is the clear number one. Saving the energy of their superstar goalie is a luxury few other elite teams have with the salary cap (see the Leafs, above). Jordan Binnington won the Cup last year after starting only 32 regular-season games. The year before, Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals started only 54.
All teams want to keep their #1 goalie fresh; the difference is that Boston has a backup tender capable of shouldering the load.
Bet Boston Before the Odds Move
The Sabres are a fun early-season story and the sheer volume of Maple Leafs fans will always keep them in the news, but the Bruins are the true team to beat in the division.
With Tampa Bay off to a slow star, seemingly reeling from their first-round sweep last season, it’s Boston’s division to lose.
PICK: Boston Bruins (+275)