Early Stanley Cup favourites based on divisional realignment proposals

It’s common knowledge that the NHL has full intention of bringing on the 2020-21 season. Navigating the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic for professional sports that include team-to-team contact and multi-city travel makes for a complex task.

A part of the planning includes the idea of separating Canadian teams into an all-Canadian division and splitting up the other 24 teams accordingly into new divisions. Most recently, Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) reported on what he has heard for possible realignments.

Prior to that, Karim Kurji (@karimkurji) floated his proposal that looked to split up the league into five divisions in the interest of limiting travel. No matter how the NHL decides to move forward with realignment, there are implications on both playoff odds and Stanley Cup odds for all teams involved.

To look into the details a bit further, I wanted to see how proposed divisional realignments can affect team groupings and whether that would boost a division’s likelihood of having the next Stanley Cup champions playing in it.

Starting with Kurji’s proposal, we’ll see how Cup favourites are spread among the five divisions. Then we’ll follow up with the realignment into four divisions as reported by Wyshynski. Using odds data from SportsBettingDime.com, we can look into which divisions are the most stacked and which are the weakest.

The odds used are American odds. Since all odds reported are currently positive, that represents the potential winnings for every $100 staked. The smaller the number, the less reward on the bet, and the more favoured a team is to win. The larger the number, the bigger a team is deemed as an underdog.

Odds were reported on October 28, 2020, and were taken on November 24, 2020. Once the new divisions are announced, the odds will likely change to reflect that, and they’ll also change based on what teams continue to do to fill out their rosters.

Five division format

The five divisions proposed are the Canada, Great Lakes, Metropolitan, Pacific, and Southeast divisions.

Canada DivisioN

TeamOdds
Toronto Maple Leafs+1600
Edmonton Oilers+2200
Calgary Flames+2900
Vancouver Canucks+3100
Winnipeg Jets+3300
Montreal Canadiens+3300
Ottawa Senators+10000

Great Lakes DivisioN

TeamOdds
Pittsburgh Penguins+1800
Columbus Blue Jackets+3800
Buffalo Sabres+4100
Chicago Blackhawks+4900
Minnesota Wild+5500
Detroit Red Wings+20000

Metropolitan DivisioN

TeamOdds
Boston Bruins+1200
Philadelphia Flyers+1400
Washington Capitals+1700
New York Rangers+2600
New York Islanders+2600
New Jersey Devils+6000

Pacific DivisioN

TeamOdds
Colorado Avalanche+750
Vegas Golden Knights+750
San Jose Sharks+4300
Arizona Coyotes+5000
Los Angeles Kings+6500
Anaheim Ducks+6500

Southeast DivisioN

TeamOdds
Tampa Bay Lightning+950
St. Louis Blues+1800
Dallas Stars+2000
Carolina Hurricanes+2200
Nashville Predators+2700
Florida Panthers+3600

Visualising the five division odds

Plotting the odds, we can get a sense of relative strengths between divisions. Charts were made with R using ggplot2 and edited in Adobe Illustrator. Colour palette adapted from Carto.

Between the tables and the visualisation, it’s seen that the Canadian division would fall in the middle of the pack in terms of favourability to win the Stanley Cup. Aside from the Ottawa Senators, the rest of the Canadian teams currently fall between the 7th and 20th best odds.

For a division to be so tightly bound, it may just lead to one of the more exciting playoff races, as any of the top six Canadian teams can eke into the playoffs with a good run, or barely miss them with just a couple small falters.

As for the other four American divisions, the Southeast and Metro look to be quite competitive, while the Great Lakes and Central are a bit weaker. However, the Central would be home to the top-two favoured teams in the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights, which can establish a new rivalry worth tuning into at every opportunity.

Four division format

Now looking at the four divisions currently proposed, the league would consist of the Canada, East, Central, and West divisions. The Canadian group evidently remains unchanged, but here are the odds breakdowns for the three American divisions.

East DivisioN

TeamOdds
Boston Bruins+1200
Philadelphia Flyers+1400
Washington Capitals+1700
Carolina Hurricanes+2200
New York Islanders+2600
New York Rangers+2600
Buffalo Sabres+4100
New Jersey Devils+6000

Central DivisioN

TeamOdds
Tampa Bay Lightning+950
Pittsburgh Penguins+1800
St. Louis Blues+1800
Nashville Predators+2700
Florida Panthers+3600
Columbus Blue Jackets+3800
Chicago Blackhawks+4900
Detroit Red Wings+20000

West DivisioN

TeamOdds
Colorado Avalanche+750
Vegas Golden Knights+750
Dallas Stars+2000
San Jose Sharks+4300
Arizona Coyotes+5000
Minnesota Wild+5500
Los Angeles Kings+6500
Anaheim Ducks+6500

Visualising the four division odds

Similarly to the plot for the five divisions, the four division plot tells a familiar story.

Among the three American divisions, the best teams are a bit more spread out, with each division having at least one strong favourite with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the East, the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers in the Central, and the aforementioned Avalanche and Golden Knights in the West.

It makes sense that the NHL will try to preserve the four division format, as that would at least make sorting out the playoffs a bit easier. What they decide to do when it comes to determining wild card teams and tiebreaks will be decided later on, as establishing the regular season format comes first.

The odds are in their favour

Regardless of whichever divisional realignment method the NHL goes forward with, there will always be an inherent level of risk associated. It will take an abundance of caution and care to execute a full regular season as well as planning for the eventual playoffs.

When it comes to the Stanley Cup odds, as soon as the divisions are finalised, sportsbooks will have to update their odds immediately to reflect them. Given new team groupings and what may be a unique regular season format, it’ll be an interesting time to set odds on what’s largely unknown.

At the very least, we can all hope that NHL hockey will make its return to regular season play as safely as possible, as irregular as it may be.

3 thoughts on “Early Stanley Cup favourites based on divisional realignment proposals

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