NHL futures betting: Can Tampa Bay win a third straight Cup?

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In 2018-19, the Tampa Bay Lightning tied an NHL record when they won 62 games during the regular season. Unfathomably, they were swept in the first round of the playoffs that season by the Columbus Blue Jackets, who just barely squeezed into the playoffs. It was one of the bigger upsets in recent sports history, but the Lightning responded in style. 

Tampa Bay entered the 2020 playoffs with a lot of pressure, even though they had every excuse available to them. The circumstances were unprecedented, playing far from home, in front of no fans and in "bubbles" the NHL created in order to finish their season during the pandemic. They were without captain Steven Stamkos due to injury as well. 

The Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2020. In case anyone wanted to put an asterisk on their 2020 win, they did it again in 2021. Over the past two seasons, the Lightning faced elimination just once, when the New York Islanders took them to Game 7 in the 2021 semifinals. It's no shock to see the Lightning amongst the favorites to win the Stanley Cup in 2022. BetMGM has the Lightning's Cup odds posted at +700. Only the Colorado Avalanche have better odds. 

Salary cap has reared its head for Tampa Bay

The New York Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 through 1983. That's the last time a team has won more than two straight cups. One main reason for that? The salary cap. Successful teams have good players and good players get paid. 

TAMPA, FLORIDA - JULY 07: Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates with the Stanley Cup following the team's victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game Five of the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Amalie Arena on July 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. The Lightning defeated the Canadiens 1-0 to take the series four games to one. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates with the Stanley Cup after the Lightning won the 2021 Stanley Cup over the Montreal Canadiens. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

In 2021, the Tampa Bay Lightning escaped salary cap issues by taking advantage of a loophole in the CBA. Nikita Kucherov spent the whole season on long-term injured reserve, allowing the Lightning to go over the salary cap during the regular season. Miraculously enough, Kucherov was healthy and ready to go for the playoffs. NHL teams are allowed to go over the salary cap in the playoffs, meaning Kucherov could return with no issue. 

Tampa won't be as lucky in 2022. The team has already been forced to part ways with key players such as Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, Tyler Johnson, David Savard and Barclay Goodrow. Their depth has been depleted and they'll be relying on lesser and unproven players to fill the voids left behind. According to CapFriendly, the Lightning are currently less than $10,000 under the salary cap for 2022. 

Competitive division will challenge Lightning

At BetMGM, you can bet on which division you think the Stanley Cup winner will come out of. The Atlantic Division is currently the favorite in that market, and for good reason. 

The Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers all finished amongst the top 10 teams in the league last season. Toronto, Boston, and Florida all finished with a better five-on-five expected-goal rate during the 2021 regular season than the Lightning did. Additionally, the Montreal Canadiens made a surprising run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2021. Most don't expect a repeat of that performance, but Montreal will still be extremely competitive as well. 

Often, teams with recent championships coast through regular seasons. We saw it with the Lightning themselves during the 2021 regular season when they finished third in their division. The Atlantic is considered the strongest division in the league by most, so it would surprise nobody if the Lightning struggled at points during the regular season. 

This can create a potential buying opportunity for a Lightning futures bet at a better price than is currently available. At the current price, the Lightning are a team I would avoid in the NHL futures market.

Salary cap information from CapFriendly.com. Advanced analytics from NaturalStatTrick.com

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