If I was a betting man, I would say that a solid portion of NHL fans at some point in their lives have placed a bet on a hockey related activity. Whether it be a small game to game wager, a sizeable preseason bet, or even on a fantasy team, the betting industry in hockey flourishes at all times of the year. Gambling, for some people, creates an added incentive to a game they are already passionate about. Praying for your team to win is already an excitable event, but when money is on the line this excitement can increase to an incalculable level. The investment level on a miniature $5 game bet is already sky high, but those that place wagers on a Stanley Cup Winner are normally considerably more invested and risking considerably more money. That is why when betting season rolls around, it is key to evaluate as many options as possible before locking in your bets.
There are many potential methods that gamblers would use to choose their Stanley Cup winner such as previous season standings, preseason predictions, Vegas betting odds, and of course that habitual gut feeling. It stands to reason that there are almost too many metrics that can be used to help pick an eventual winner, and the majority of the time the correct choice isn’t even made. While all may be solid foundations to help you choose, I propose that looking at regular season point projections may be something that is overlooked. Looking at where a team may finish in relation to others could in choosing certain teams that may be considered to be on the bubble. This predictive tool is precisely what will be explored in this article, and hopefully will help those still mulling over a wager into choosing the correct winner – even just three weeks into the season.
Odds were obtained from OddShark’s futures and set in the Positive American Odds. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this method, it simply defines the amount of money that you would win for every $100 bet placed. Simple math, if the odds are +800 then a successful wager of $100 would net you $800 in profit. Any bet along this scale would be prorated to fit the corresponding winning amount. Point projections (PPR) were obtained from Dom Luszczyszyn’s season projections from The Athletic. Both the odds and PPR were used from pre-season rankings (taken from the NHL start date) and exactly two weeks into the season.
Before the puck was dropped on the season, the Pittsburgh Penguins had the best odds to win the Stanley Cup at +750, with the Edmonton Oilers following close behind at +800. The teams with the worst odds to win the cup, at a +10000 rating, were the Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils, and the Vegas Golden Knights. These five teams were removed from the analysis because (and I know this take may age very poorly) if you really want to place money on them before the season, you may as well have dropped it on the street instead. These teams have been excluded from the contrasting plots for both time periods.
From the pre-season plot of Odds vs PPR, there are a few observations that can be made. With Odds being charted inversely on the x-axis, and the PPR displayed on the y-axis, the teams that find themselves with the highest PPR and best odds will be located in the upper right corner. The inverse relationship can be said for those teams located in the bottom left. The majority of teams in the league fall between +1000 and +3000 betting odds, and between 91-99 PPR. This makes it very difficult to choose between betting for say, the Boston Bruins or Calgary Flames. Both had the same odds at +2400, but Boston was projected to have .5 PPR more than Calgary. Is there worth to this PPR differential? Probably not, as betting on both teams would carry the same weight.
Teams with lower betting odds, such as the Jets and Sabres, have significantly varying PPR for the season. The Jets were projected to earn 96.7 points, while the Sabres would only hit 86.1, despite both teams displaying the same odds. You can infer that by placing a $100 bet on Winnipeg doesn’t hold the same potential value as putting the same wager on Buffalo. This is where PPR can become extremely valuable. Knowing that the Jets could place higher in the standings, therefore giving them a better shot at the playoffs, make their odds seem like less of a gamble. With no actual hockey to base this on, using point projections would have helped significantly at the beginning of the season for teams that had the same odds. This is because while their odds pose the same potential profit, their potential ranking in the standings may have them out of the playoffs compared to other teams.
At the beginning of the season, teams with the highest betting odds would most likely have been the teams where the majority of wagers were placed. Unless you were betting on your hometown team, the Vegas odds dominate decision making during the preseason.
After Two Weeks
Betting odds are of course extremely fluid, and after real hockey has been played they tend to vary quite a bit. After two weeks, the OddSharks futures changed significantly, and can be visualized in the image below.
A negative value on this chart describes a team who’s odds became lower, therefore a safer betting option, and a lower overall payout. A positive value represents teams that did not perform well based on their original odds, and poses more of a risk to bet on. Ironically, the teams that were excluded from the analysis during the preseason (VGK, DET, NJ, and COL) were the four biggest gainers in projected odds after two weeks.These four teams got off to blazing starts and therefore were massively underestimated. The Coyotes and Sabres were two teams that were massively overrated, and now hold the lowest odds to win the Stanley Cup. The majority of teams showed only small variations in their betting odds, as they showed no real deviation from their projected play. Where the key differences lie is within the PPR.
After two weeks, Luszczyszyn’s model showed multiple variations from the preseason edition. The winless Coyotes were hit hard once again, and the New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, and Oilers also dropped in their projected point earnings. The New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets benefited from strong early play to earn a much higher PPR. Only one team, the Carolina Hurricanes, did not have an altered PPR (most likely due to the fact they hadn’t played many games up to that point). With these updated projections, the correlation plot now displays the following results:
Two weeks into the season and there is already a massive shift in the organization of the correlation plot. Teams like the Rangers and Oilers have visibly “dropped” to an extremely low PPR in comparison to their future odds. The Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets have made their way into the upper echelon of teams. The lower betting odd teams have also reorganized, and the middle of the pack teams have just been jumbled around a bit. The key is how can this chart allow you to pick a better winner, now that two weeks have passed?
Choosing Your Team
Based off of these projections you can view teams listed on this chart into three different classifications: The Safe Bets, The Bold Choices, and Buyer Bewares. Depending on your betting style, you may choose to select either. After two week ranking, there are a few teams that would fall under these three categories that could be chosen.
The Safe Bets: The Safe Bets are teams that fall higher along the y-axis under a somewhat stronger betting odds. These teams are projected to finish higher in the standings during the regular season, and make a strong case for the playoffs. The teams that are considered now to be safe bets are:
The Penguins had the highest PPR going into the season at 103.5 with a +750 odds. The defending cup champs were the safest of safe bets to make going into the season. After two weeks the Penguins may have a lower PPR and worse odds, but still are a team that is considered “safe”.
Who bets against the Hawks? With the third best odds to win the cup, and a PPR that is tied for fourth before the season started, the Hawks would have been a common team to bet on. Two weeks into the season? The same thought process exists. While their odds did not change, they gained PPR which means they should be viewed as a better team amongst those with the same odds.
Tampa Bay Lightning
An example of a team that was a tad underrated, from a betting perspective, heading into the season. Since then they have improved in both PPR and have better future odds. While the profit may not be as good as it was during the preseason, the improvements in both areas should make this a no brainer.
The Bold Choices: These would be teams that fall lower along both the x-axis and y-axis, that wouldn’t have been seen as common choices, but could prove to be higher payouts down the road. These choices deviate from the grouping of teams located within the center of the chart. The Bold Choices before the season would have been:
St. Louis Blues
While only showing a +2800 in futures before the start of the season, a low PPR of 89.5 may have discouraged gamblers to stay away from a team that may underperform. After improving their odds to +1600, but yet still boasting the same PPR, this team may still not be viewed as a legitimate contender. I beg to differ, and before the team improves its odds any further, taking the +1600 futures right now could net you a nice profit if they continue to play well.
Comparable to St. Louis, the Senators are also a team that had tempered pre-season expectations, with a +4000 odds of winning the cup. They have also gotten off to a nice start, with an improved PPR as well, which could mean this team is on the rise. Buying them now at +2800 would be smart, as this is a team that could exceed expectations.
The Flyers improved in both odds and PPR since the beginning of the season, and would be considered to be the boldest of bold picks using this analysis. They boast a +4000 betting odds, while only having a PPR of 92.4. Not a consensus pick by any means, but would be bold compared to the cluster of teams located in the center of the chart. This pick would pay you more than the previous too, but is considered to be the boldest pick here.
The Buyer Bewares: These teams have high betting odds and fall further along the x-axis, but in relation to other teams PPR’s. While not terrible picks by any means, they need to be taken with a grain of salt at the moment. The Buyer Bewares after two weeks are:
Toronto Maple Leafs
Nobody panic! The Leafs are 100% a Stanley Cup Contender this season, but should they have the best betting odds? Fans will say yes, but from a gambling perspective you’d be buying the team high right now. Still a dangerous team to face, but maybe waiting for the odds to increase a bit would net you more profit down the road.
The Oilers boast one of the highest betting odds, but also one of the lowest PPR at the moment. Connor McDavid shouldn’t be underestimated, but the rest of the team has so far regressed. Buying this team at the moment would mean that you may not be getting the best return possible. If the team continues to regress down the charts in both odds and PPR, then that would be a better time to place a bet from a money perspective as the team still has talent. Still, need to be careful betting on this future right now.
New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings, and Vegas Golden Knights
These fans may have noticed their continued exclusion from the correlation charts, and were probably not too happy about it. Yes these three teams were the biggest odds gainers after two weeks, and even in the higher percentile of PPR. This still doesn’t mean you should be betting on them to win the Stanley Cup. No disrespect to any of the teams or its fans, but it would be hard to justify betting on these futures at the moment. While all have had great starts to the season, this would be a very risky wager. But go ahead if you so please, I’m not your bookie.
Using point projections is a unique metric when attempting to choose a Stanley Cup Champion. While this shouldn’t be used as the main determination factor, it can clearly help differentiate between teams listed around the same odds to give yourself a better chance. Betting odds are constantly changing and that will continue throughout the season, leading to even further variation. This will cause The Safe Bets to become much more abundant and have the riskier picks fizzle out. Some may argue that regular season point standings have no weight on a Stanley Cup Champion (see Nashville from last season), which may have some validity. It is a game of chance anyway, as no true option proves to be correct every time. But, the more predictive tools at your disposal, the better the chance you’ll earn some money come June.