Stanley Cup Series Winners: Three things hockey bettors should know before making their predictions

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Series odds are starting to trickle in as the Stanley Cup Playoff picture begins to take shape, and while VSiN will have coverage throughout the entire run to the Stanley Cup final, some readers are likely ready to get started on making their own series predictions to pick out the most attractive underdog bets. With that in mind, here are three things that bettors should consider before making their picks to win each series.

Biggest underdog upsets in the Stanley Cup Playoffs 

Upsets are common in the playoffs, but since 2013, only eight out of 42 underdogs with series odds of +180 or greater have advanced to the next round. It’s easy to pull instances where big underdogs won a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, like the Columbus Blue Jackets and their sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019, or the Montreal Canadiens’ comeback win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2021, but the reason those upsets stand out in our minds is because they’re so rare.

  • 2021: Montreal Canadiens (+375) def. Vegas Golden Knights (-475)
  • 2021: Montreal Canadiens (+235) def. Toronto Maple Leafs (-275)
  • 2021: New York Islanders (+210) def. Boston Bruins (-260)
  • 2020: Dallas Stars (+210) def. Vegas Golden Knights (-250)
  • 2020: Dallas Stars (+210) def. Colorado Avalanche (-250)
  • 2019: Columbus Blue Jackets (+325) def. Tampa Bay Lightning (-400)
  • 2019: Colorado Avalanche (+180) def. Calgary Flames
  • 2014: Montreal Canadiens (+210) def. Boston Bruins (-250)

Big series underdogs have won at a 19 percent clip over the last 10 seasons, which is about 11 percentage points below the rate a bettor would have needed to win at to break even. With big home favorites winning at an 80 percent clip over the last 10 seasons, betting on sizable series underdogs to win a best-of-seven hasn’t been a strong play, and bettors might do better picking their spots with underdogs that they think are value bets on a game-by-game basis. 

Even when we’re talking about a huge favorite of -300 or more, the underdog team has won between two and three games, more often than they’ve been beaten in five or six, since 2013, they just haven’t followed through on winning the series often enough to generate a profit for their supporters.

 

Road chalk has dominated Stanley Cup Playoffs

The teams listed above all pulled off upsets as the lower seed (the road team) and home underdogs, especially big ones, are not nearly as common. In the last 10 seasons, there have only been 16 teams that came into a series as the underdog even though they had home-ice advantage. Even less common is a home underdog that wins a series, as road favorites have advanced to the next round 69 percent of the time since 2013, which is about 11 percentage points higher than the rate a bettor would need to win at to break even.

This is for those hockey fans who can’t understand why a lower-seed team could possibly be looked at as the favorite in a series. Of course, sometimes the betting market gets it totally wrong. The Boston Bruins were a -210 favorite in their series against the Ottawa Senators (+175) back in 2017 and lost the series 4-2, but that was a one-off. 

 

Series odds are a better indicator of team strength than seeding

Overall, the home team has won 55 percent of the games over the last decade, but without the big favorites pulling their weight, the home team, when priced between -115 and -210, has advanced to the next round less than 50 percent of the time. Big home favorites win the series at a high rate, as do road favorites, so team strength appears to be a much bigger factor than who has home ice, and clearly, the series odds are a better indicator of team strength than seeding.