The 2020-21 National Hockey League schedule will kick off this week, but it's not too late to get in those wagers for the winners of the season's major awards. In fact, you'll still have time to bet on them even into the regular season. However, it's a good idea to get in on the ground floor for some of these wagers, as a hot start for a player might mean shorter odds and less value. So why wait? Let's get started!
The biggie is the Hart Trophy, which goes to the league's most valuable player. And I am normally not a big fan of taking the chalk, but I think this is the season Colorado Avalanche F Nathan MacKinnon (+600) takes another giant step forward from one of the better players in the league to superstar status. Some might argue he is already there after going for 35 or more goals and 93 or more points across each of the past three seasons, including last season's abbreviated 69-game campaign. But it seems that the 25-year-old is often overlooked in Denver, with most of the attention and fan adulation still showered upon fellow Maritime native Sidney Crosby, Edmonton's Connor McDavid (+600), a Hart co-favorite, Washington's Alex Ovechkin, etc. That's because MacKinnon isn't terribly flashy, and doesn't draw a lot of attention to himself. He is a lunchpail guy who just does his job, and does it well. In a 56-game schedule it won't be surprising to see him flirt with 25-30 goals and 85-90 points. He'll have the Avalanche smack dab in the middle of the race, not only for the Honda NHL West Division, but for the top spot in all of the NHL.
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If McKinnon should stumble a little, it will be McDavid. He had 34 goals and an insane 97 points in just 64 games last season, and he will get an opportunity to pick on the struggling Canucks and Senators a little more in the North. He should have several multi-point games, and could go for 85-90 points even in this shortened 56-game campaign.Hart Sleeper - Boston's David Pastrnak (+2500) - while "Pasta" is certainly known to everyone, seeing his with this long of odds for the Hart Trophy makes him a tremendous value. The donut pusher posted a ridiculous 48 goals and 95 points with a plus-21 rating in just 70 games in 2019-20.
As far as the Calder Trophy is concerned, the award which goes to the league's top rookie, two New York Rangers top the charts. No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere (+250) and G Igor Shesterkin (+350) have the shortest odds. However, I am going out on a little bit of a limb on this one, and looking to the "other" New York team. G Ilya Sorokin (+1600) should be able to push veteran Semyon Varlamov for the top spot in the crease earlier than later, and he is a tremendous value at this price. Head coach Barry Trotz just seems to be able to get the most out of his goaltenders, and Sorokin has the chance to be special right out of the chute. He was drafted 78th overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, and he has reportedly been in New York for a month and a half working out and attempting to get close to his new teammates. He was 26-10-3 with CSKA Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), posting a sparkling 1.50 goals-against average (GAA) and .935 save percentage. He is not your typical rookie, either, as he is 25 years old and he has eight-plus seasons of experience in Russia's top league.
Calder Sleeper - Los Angeles' Alex Turcotte (+2500) - Turcotte is also in the same neighborhood as Sorokin (above), as he isn't among the favorites, but slightly down the list. But he paired with Cole Caufield to win gold at the World Junior Championship, and that could give him a jump-start in confidence heading into his NHL career.
For the Vezina Trophy, it's hard to argue against Tampa Bay Lightning G Andrei Vasilevskiy (+600). Again, he is the chalk, slightly ahead of Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck (+700). If he is able to bring home the hardware again, he would be the first repeat winner since Martin Brodeur won in back-to-back campaigns in 2007 and 2008. Brodeur also did it in 2003 and 2004. We just haven't had a lot of consecutive winners in the past 25-30 years. Vasilevskiy is at the top of his game, though, and he has a ridiculous offense in front of him, a Norris Trophy caliber rearguard in Victor Hedman, and he plays almost all of the starts. Vasilevskiy was 35-14-3 with a 2.56 GAA and .917 save percentage with three shutouts across 52 games last season, and he has appeared in 50 or more games in each of the past four campaigns. Over the past three years he has 118 wins in 170 games, and the 26-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down and might just be scratching the surface. That's scary.
Vezina Sleeper - Jacob Markstrom (+1100) - Markstrom had an impressive showing for the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs last season, and he parlayed that into a big offseason payday with the Calgary Flames. He should offer some much-needed stability in the crease for a Calgary squad which could make a lot of noise in the Scotia NHL North Division.
Last, but not least, the Norris Trophy is awarded to the league's top defenseman. You have to love Hedman (+550) of the Lightning, as he is on a top contender, and the sky is the limit in terms of offense, as long as he can stay healthy. He is the chalk, and rightly so, as he is just heads and tails better than most of the other defensemen in the NHL. Don't be surprised if Carolina's Dougie Hamilton (+950), who was having a monster season before a lower-body injury ended his regular season early, gives it another run. He has the offensive gifts to rack up a ton of points in Raleigh, and he has the blessings of head coach Rod Brind'Amour to pinch up and score.
Norris Sleeper - Cale Makar (+1100) - The Avalanche rearguard is obviously not a secret any longer, and he showed last season that he can be one of the best in the league, turning in 12 goals and 50 points with a plus-12 rating in 57 regular-season games. He also added four goals and 15 points across 15 postseason games, and he could take it to another level in 2020-21 for the Cup-contending Avs.