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The brand-new National Hockey League season begins on Tuesday 10th, October when the Nashville Predators meet Tampa Bay Lightning. It ends what was a painfully long summer for hockey fans, but thankfully we're back on the ice. The players are in position, the coaches have delivered their tactics, and the officials are ready and waiting. It's time to make your prediction for the Stanley Cup winner, then sit back and enjoy the ride.

Which team do you expect to win a competitive campaign? There's a strong case for three or four teams being realistic contenders following an exciting summer. But traders at the leading sportsbooks disagree, with the latest odds making it a two-runner race involving Colorado Avalanche and the Edmonton Oilers. Big-name teams, including Toronto Maple Leafs and the New Jersey Devils, have been easily dismissed.

That'll shock many readers, given the individual talent in the Toronto squad and the optimism at New Jersey. But it won't surprise NHL fans who understand how to bet hockey at this time of year. They see it as the ideal opportunity to strike on another summer blunder made by traders in Vegas who had one eye on the football season.

Take nothing for granted

Experienced hockey fans who have stuck by their team in the NHL through thick and thin already know something those in Vegas don't; we can take nothing for granted in the NHL. If there's one competition that angrily refuses to follow the script, it's ours. But that's why the NHL is one of the world's best-loved professional sports tournaments.

The NHL is fast-paced, argumentative, and extremely difficult to predict. So, if your team isn't prominent in the betting, it doesn't change their chance of success this term. The Colorado squad will realize that, too, and the admiration of being the favorite comes at a price. Avalanche now has a target on its back, and teams love being the underdog. They'll aim to hurt them early, and that's something Colorado must be ready to meet head-on.

Keep reading as we tally up the pre-season predictions and reveal the order. Which teams have been over-hyped, which might provide the surprise package this winter, and who are the players to watch? There's even a helpful hack on how to watch the NHL for free this season on your smartphone.

Early front-runners

The experts, pundits, ex-players, fans, and traders have all made their feelings clear about the coming season, and the results are fascinating. Colorado Avalanche is the team to beat, supported by all corners of the industry. And it's challenging to oppose that view as they have the squad, fan base, and finances. 

Avalanche has also learned from last season and promises to return bigger, stronger, ready-to-attack silverware. It's all talk at this stage, but seeing so many trusted sources agree on a favorite is rare. Hockey family members rarely agree on anything, so it's worth paying attention when they're working off the same page. But Colorado is one of many teams proving popular.

The Edmonton Oilers will provide the main challenge, but they must show the kind of form we've not seen from them since their last Stanley Cup win in 1990. The Oilers' previous success of note was a conference championship in the 2005/06 campaign. That's a painfully long drought and may scare off backers.

Main dangers

Toronto Maple Leafs is one of the NHL's five richest clubs, but their success on the ice doesn't reflect that power in the boardroom. Toronto's last win of note was the 1967 Stanley Cup, but they did claim a division championship two years ago. The Maple Leafs are under pressure to give fans something worth cheering, and this season is crucial.

Judging by their popularity, the final two teams worth backing are the New Jersey Devils and Vegas Golden Knights. The Devils have won three Stanley Cups, but their last was 20 years ago. It's been 13 years since their previous division championship and over a decade since they snagged a conference championship. Another team that has done its best to scare off backers.

The Golden Knights are different, and we're surprised to see them so far down the pecking order. The team from Vegas didn't enjoy the best summer, but let's remember last season's success. They won their first Stanley Cup, second conference championship, and third division championship. The Golden Knights are the form team with great odds attached.

But it won't surprise NHL fans who understand how to bet hockey at this time of year.

Teams best avoided

Now we know the teams experts expect to challenge in the coming campaign, let's quickly check on NHL sides written off by the pundits. If you're happy to follow the professionals, avoid the teams below, as they could face a tough year.

A mixed bag with one or two shocks included is the teams to avoid section. We begin our list of five teams the experts think you should dodge with the Carolina Hurricanes. Their popularity suggests they'll win games and be competitive without getting near the championship. The same applies to New York Rangers and Boston Bruins. 

Dallas Stars are a middle-of-the-road team with pundits and experts struggling to agree on their expectations for the year while, surprisingly, the Florida Panthers are almost friendless.

These players will shine

Moving from the teams to support and others to swerve, let's now check which players will significantly impact the league. Connor McDavid is making headlines ahead of a critical campaign. If he lives up to expectations and plays to his potential, fans say he's a certainty for the Hart Memorial Trophy.

McDavid is up to the challenge and has the broad shoulders to carry the pressure. But he isn't the only name in the frame. If he's to win the trophy, McDavid must fend off the attentions of Nathan Mackinnon, Leon Draisaitl, and Matthew Tkachuk.

Watch on your smartphone

Fancy watching the coming NHL season on your smartphone? The leading sportsbooks offer all registered members free access to live-streaming of the top games. You can watch at home on TV or on the move using a faultless stream.