NHL betting: Without Juuse Saros, oddsmakers give Nashville little chance vs. Colorado

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The Colorado Avalanche opened the season as the betting favorite to win the Stanley Cup and they've held that position throughout the whole season. As the playoffs begin, Colorado is +325 to win the Stanley Cup and nearly even money (+130) to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Avalanche finished the regular season with the second-best record in the league behind the Florida Panthers. They accomplished this despite the fact that almost every single star player on their roster missed some time due to injury during the regular season.

As for their opponents in the first round, it was a disastrous final week of the season for the Nashville Predators. They lost Juuse Saros to an injury. Saros is one of the better goalies in the league and the most important piece on Nashville's roster. Saros has series-stealing ability, but that ability won't be put to the test to begin Round 1.

To top it all off, Nashville needed just one point in its final game of the season to avoid drawing Colorado in the first round. The Predators came out to a 4-0 lead against Arizona, the second-worst team in the league, but ended up losing the game 5-4 in regulation, failing to get the one necessary point to avoid the conference's best team in Round 1.

Colorado is a -700 favorite to eliminate the Nashville Predators in the first round of the playoffs. It's the most lopsided playoff series line in recent memory. Does Nashville have any chance?

How Colorado, Nashville got here

Colorado opened the season as the Stanley Cup favorites, and showed why basically all season long. The Avalanche finished with the second best record in hockey and won the Western Conference in the regular season. They finished 22 points ahead of the Predators in the standings, which is tied for the largest gap between first round opponents in these year's playoffs alongside the Panthers-Capitals series.

From an analytical point of view, the Avalanche wasn't as dominant this season as they have been in recent years. They finished the year ranked 10th in expected goal rate at NaturalStatTrick, which is still very good but not nearly as dominant as the 2021 season where they finished first in the league.

DENVER, COLORADO - APRIL 28: Cale Makar #8 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against Matt Duchene #95 of the Nashville Predators at Ball Arena on April 28, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Cale Makar and Matt Duchene are two players to watch in the first round NHL playoff series between the Avalanche and Predators. (Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

While most view the Avalanche as an offensive juggernaut, which isn't wrong, they're extremely proficient at both ends of the ice. Colorado finished the season ranked 12th in their ability to create offense, but 7th in their ability to prevent other teams from generating much.

On the other side of the ice, Nashville ranks middle of the pack in terms of the metrics. It ranked 16th in the league with a 50.2% expected goal rate. Its defense ranked 8th in ability to slow down other teams, but struggled to generate much offensively, ranking 21st in expected goals scored per hour at 5-on-5.

How Avalanche, Predators matchup

Even if Juuse Saros was healthy for Nashville, the Avalanche would be heavy favorites to win the series. However, with Saros ruled out for at least the first two games of this series and likely more, this series now projects as one of the most lopsided in recent memory.

No team in the league used their starting goaltender more this season than the Nashville Predators. Saros started 67 of the team's 82 games. There's two reasons for this, and both are just as impactful when looking at this series.

Saros is one of the best goalies in the league. He ranked 8th in save percentage and his +12.6 goals saved above expectation (GSAx) ranked 9th in the league, according to Evolving-Hockey. In MoneyPuck's WAR statistic for goaltenders, Saros ranked 6th in the league. In his six year career, Saros has a .920 save percentage which ranks first all-time among active goalies and tied for 5th in NHL history. Last season in the playoffs, Saros gave the Carolina Hurricanes a real scare when his .921 save percentage in the series pushed them to six games in a series that included many overtime games.

Now not only will Saros miss time in this series, the Predators will have to turn the crease over to David Rittich, and there's a reason he only got 12 starts on the year. In just 12 games, Rittich posted a -6.98 GSAx mark on the season. He stopped just 88.6% of the shots he faced, an abysmal mark for an NHL goaltender. Nashville has gone from having one of the league's best between the pipes, to a below average backup.

To compound this even more for Nashville, Colorado has one of the league's best between the pipes themselves in Darcy Kuemper. Kuemper going up against Saros would have been an entertaining potential goaltending duel. Instead, Kuemper gives the Avalanche another significant advantage in a series where the Avalanche are loaded with significant advantages.

On the season, Kuemper finished 6th in save percentage and 4th in shutouts. His +15.8 GSAx mark ranked fifth best in the league. Colorado paid a heavy price to bring in Kuemper in the offseason, and he has met expectations and then some.

You might think Nashville has some solid pieces, and you'd be right. However, when you compare the strengths of Nashville's roster, the Avalanche have an answer.

Nashville has a solid top-line, highlighted by Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg, who both cracked 40 goals and played at better than a point-per-game pace. However, it's hard to give the Predators an advantage in elite forward talent when the other side features a top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.

The forward depth is a clear win for the Avalanche, as Nashville's Ryan Johansen and Tanner Jeannot can't really compare to the likes of Nazem Kadri, Valeri Nichushkin and Andre Burakovsky. Arturri Lehkonen is probably the best bottom-six player in this series, and he's on the Avalanche third line.

Even on defense, the Predators have Roman Josi, who ended the season as a co-favorite to win the Norris Trophy. Of course, he had the same odds as Cale Makar, who plays for the Avalanche. The difference is the Avalanche have Devon Toews behind Makar, who profiles as an elite defenseman in his own right while Nashville has nobody close to that level behind Josi.

Everywhere you look on paper, Colorado has the advantage. There's a reason they are -700 favorites to win this series. Nashville will need a minor miracle to make this a long series, let alone win it.

How to bet Colorado vs. Nashville

Personally, I'll be betting Colorado on the series spread, and laying 2.5 games. Colorado is -105 to win the series in five games or less. The Predators might be able to steal a game in front of their raucous home crowd, but I'd be surprised if they can squeak out two wins. This series had potential to be more captivating if Saros was healthy, but unfortunately, he is not.

If we're looking at other ways to bet the series, you can bet on Colorado to sweep at +375 odds. A gentleman's sweep for the Avalanche pays out at +225.

If you're like me and you're expecting a short series, you can bet under 5.5 games at -105. If you think we might get a longer series, over 5.5 games is -120.

Colorado is -250 to win the series in six games or less. The Avalanche are also -250 to win Game 1 and then win the series. Colorado is a -300 favorite in Game 1.

Of course, you can always bet Nashville to pull off the major upset. The Predators are +475 to shock the hockey world and eliminate the Stanley Cup favorites.

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