Stanley Cup Odds (As of May 10):
Winnipeg Jets: 2.45
Tampa Bay Lightning: 2.65
Vegas Golden Knights: 4.60
Washington Capitals: 5.60
Let's sum up these 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs so far:
Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally exorcised some demons and eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins to advance beyond the second round.
The expansion Vegas Golden Knights, in their first year in existence, have made the conference finals. A small market Canadian team, the Winnipeg Jets, have also made the conference finals.
And players were warned not to lick opposing players after (another) Brad Marchand incident during the second round.
The Capitals will meet the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final. It's happening in 2018, although it seems like this should've been a final four match-up two or three years ago. Washington entered this season following a long list of changes to their roster, and expectations on that club in October were certainly smaller than in year's past - certainly a lot smaller compared to the hype around the 2016-17 Capitals that ultimately disappointed once again in the playoffs.
The unlikeliest of match-ups, however, is in the West - between the expansion team and the small market Canadian team. It's Golden Knights versus Jets, with the winner advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.
NHL Betting Breakdown:
The Jets are now Stanley Cup favourites, slightly ahead of Tampa Bay.
When the season began in October, the Jets' odds to win the Stanley Cup outright were 55.00, the same as when the market initially opened in June at the conclusion of last year's final. The Golden Knights were an even longer shot, which is only natural given this would be their first year in the NHL.
When the market first opened last June, the Golden Knights' odds of winning it all, in their first year, were 100.00. That changed throughout the course of the season as they continued to roll against the predictions of the pundits, and flirted with being Stanley Cup favourites at various points.
One of these teams, previously long shots months ago, will make it to the final.
The Golden Knights were a team constructed through an expansion draft. Certainly the rules of this expansion draft seemed far more favourable to building a better roster for Year One, but even then, it didn't seem like this group would defy the odds to make the playoffs.
Would they be a difficult team to play against? Sure. Would they be in the playoff hunt until the final days of the season? OK, now that may be stretching it a bit, but it's possible.
Any and all preconceived notions about the Golden Knights were smashed by a team that has played with nearly unstoppable speed and more skill than they were initially given credit for. William Karlsson had a breakout year - that's understating it - with 43 goals. He had never scored more than nine goals in a single season before 2017-18.
Other NHL general managers looked foolish for their decisions, as a number of players they left unprotected in the expansion draft went on to have success in Vegas, in addition to those GMs selling off valuable assets to protect others.
The Jets, meanwhile, have been nothing but patient over the years.
They have drafted well since arriving in Winnipeg. Their first-round picks - it helps getting Patrik Laine at No. 2 overall - have worked out. They've had success with mid-round picks, as well. That includes their Vezina finalist, Connor Hellebuyck, a fifth-round pick.
They've made sound trades, and this year's acquisition of Paul Stastny to further improve their forward lineup down the stretch drive showed a willingness for this team to buy at the deadline, believing it was built for a long playoff run and needed one more piece to give it an even better chance at a championship.
The belief from bettors that the Jets could win the Stanley Cup has continued throughout the season.
In B.C., when the playoffs began, 21 per cent of the money wagered on the Stanley Cup outright had been bet on the Jets. No surprise here, but by early April in Manitoba, roughly 74 per cent of the money was on Winnipeg to win it all.
At the beginning of the playoffs, roughly 6.7 per cent of money had been bet on the Golden Knights to win it all.
Both teams may have been long shots in October. But it didn't take long for that to change.