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Who’s going to win the Stanley Cup? Pitting our model against sportsbook odds turns up plenty of value

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The 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs are set, and so begins one of the best tournaments in sports.

Part of what makes the NHL’s postseason so entertaining is its unpredictability. In the last seven years only one division winner has hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup, and it’s been eight years since the No. 1 overall seed won it all. Because the sport of hockey naturally has more variance in the results, it makes betting on futures a potentially profitable venture, if you can pick the right team.

This isn’t an attempt to convince you which team is the one to select, but instead an opportunity to provide some data and context that helps you arrive at your own decision. To do that, I’ll be examining the odds for each team to win the Stanley Cup, and comparing them to our own odds at The Athletic based on analytics, to determine where there may be some hidden value at the sportsbook.

For example, the Colorado Avalanche are currently the favorites to win it all with +450 (or 9-to-2) odds at the sportsbook. The implied odds for +450 are 18.18 percent, meaning based on the odds given at the sportsbook, oddsmakers give the Avalanche an 18.18 percent chance to win the Cup.

Our analytics guru Dom Luszczyszyn has his own model that produces odds, and it’s been proven to be one of the most accurate models in the sport over the last few seasons. According to Luszczyszyn’s model, Colorado’s chances of winning it all are 20 percent. That’s 1.82 percent higher than the sportsbook odds, meaning there is value in betting on the Avalanche based on their underlying stats this season.

Now, let’s examine how these numbers shake out for each of the four divisions.

                       <p>North Division</p>          <table><thead><tr><th>Team</th><th>Cup Odds</th><th>Implied Odds</th><th>Dom's Odds</th><th>Difference</th></tr></thead><tbody><tr><td></td><td><p>+700</p></td><td><p>12.50%</p></td><td><p>18%</p></td><td><p>+5.50%</p></td></tr><tr><td></td><td><p>+2,000</p></td><td><p>4.76%</p></td><td><p>1%</p></td><td><p>-3.76%</p></td></tr><tr><td></td><td><p>+2,500</p></td><td><p>3.85%</p></td><td><p>2%</p></td><td><p>-1.85%</p></td></tr><tr><td></td><td><p>+3,500</p></td><td><p>2.78%</p></td><td><p>1%</p></td><td><p>-1.78%</p></td></tr></tbody></table>                  <![CDATA[if(["rgb(17, 17, 17)", "rgb(0, 0, 0)"].indexOf(getComputedStyle(document.body).backgroundColor) != -1) {var x = document.querySelectorAll("#ath_table_538448 .ia-hlt");for (var i = 0; i < x.length; i++) {x[i].classList.add("dark-mode");}}var all_table_images = document.querySelectorAll("#ath_table_538448 img"); for (var i = 0; i <p>The North Division has felt like a one-horse race for nearly the entire season, with Toronto cruising to a first place finish. The betting market clearly agrees, as the gap between Toronto and Edmonton is the largest gap between the top two seeds in any division.</p> <p>The Maple Leafs are the third-most likely team to win the Stanley Cup, according to BetMGM, at +700. That’s an implied odds of 12.5 percent, but even that isn’t high enough according to Luszczyszyn’s model. He gives the Maple Leafs an 18 percent chance of winning the Stanley Cup – second behind only Colorado – and it’s mostly due to Toronto’s path.</p> <p><em>(Note: If you want a free year of The Athletic — or a year extension — <a href="">BetMGM is running a subscription special</a> through the playoffs. Plus, you win $100 off your first bet. Now back to the analysis)</em></p> <p>The next-closest team to Toronto in terms of odds to emerge from the North Division is actually the Leafs’ first round opponent – the Montreal Canadiens. But even the Canadiens have only a 16 percent chance of coming out of the division. That’s significantly lower than the second-best team in the other four divisions, and nowhere near Toronto’s 55 percent odds. Statistically the Maple Leafs won’t face a team of their caliber until the semifinals.</p> <p>Toronto has run through the division all season, racking up an impressive 35-13-7 record and plus-41 goal differential. The Maple Leafs were also very good against the two teams they most likely have to go through to win the division, going 7-2-1 against Montreal and 6-1-2 against Edmonton. And for those reasons, they are the only team in the division with positive value in the future market, according to Luszczyszyn’s model.</p> <p>The Maple Leafs actually have the largest difference in odds of any team in the league, with 5.5 percent of value.</p>                           <p>East Division</p>          <table><thead><tr><th>Team</th><th>Cup Odds</th><th>Implied Odds</th><th>Dom's Odds</th><th>Difference</th></tr></thead><tbody><tr><td></td><td><p>+1,200</p></td><td><p>7.69%</p></td><td><p>12%</p></td><td><p>+4.31%</p></td></tr><tr><td></td><td><p>+1,200</p></td><td><p>7.69%</p></td><td><p>4%</p></td><td><p>-3.69%</p></td></tr><tr><td></td><td><p>+1,200</p></td><td><p>7.69%</p></td><td><p>3%</p></td><td><p>-4.69%</p></td></tr><tr><td></td><td><p>+1,800</p></td><td><p>5.26%</p></td><td><p>3%</p></td><td><p>-2.26%</p></td></tr></tbody></table>                  <![CDATA[if(["rgb(17, 17, 17)", "rgb(0, 0, 0)"].indexOf(getComputedStyle(document.body).backgroundColor) != -1) {var x = document.querySelectorAll("#ath_table_15968 .ia-hlt");for (var i = 0; i < x.length; i++) {x[i].classList.add("dark-mode");}}var all_table_images = document.querySelectorAll("#ath_table_15968 img"); for (var i = 0; i <p>We quickly transition from the least competitive division to the most competitive. The East is the only division in the NHL without a team with at least 15 percent odds of winning the Stanley Cup, and that’s because there’s no clear favorite to emerge.</p> <p>According to the betting market the top three teams are dead even. The Penguins, Capitals and Bruins all sit at +1200 (or 12-to-1) to win the Cup. But the analytics heavily favor Boston.</p> <p>The Pittsburgh Penguins claimed the regular season division title with a late season push, but now find themselves well behind Boston in Luszczyszyn’s model with only a four percent chance of winning it all compared to the Bruins’ 12 percent.</p> <p>It’s no surprise the analytics favor Boston, as the Bruins are one of the best possession teams in the entire NHL. They finished third in the league in Corsi (54.20 percent), second in shot share (55.97 percent) and sixth in expected goal share (53.50). The Bruins soar above Pittsburgh and Washington in all three categories, hence the model favoring them.</p> <p>Sometimes analytics go out the window in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and betting against Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin is rarely a good idea, but if you’re looking for value based on the numbers Boston is the way to go.</p> <p>Another way to view these numbers is that if you’re looking for a longshot, the New York Islanders aren’t the worst bet. At +1800 bettors are getting an additional $400 in value (on a $100 bet) with nearly the same odds as Pittsburgh and Washington according to the model.</p>                           <p>Central Division</p>          <table><thead><tr><th>Team</th><th>Cup Odds</th><th>Implied Odds</th><th>Dom's Odds</th><th>Difference</th></tr></thead><tbody><tr><td></td><td><p>+750</p></td><td><p>11.76%</p></td><td><p>5%</p></td><td><p>-6.76%</p></td></tr><tr><td></td><td><p>+750</p></td><td><p>11.76%</p></td><td><p>15%</p></td><td><p>+3.24%</p></td></tr><tr><td></td><td><p>+1,800</p></td><td><p>5.26%</p></td><td><p>3%</p></td><td><p>-2.26%</p></td></tr><tr><td></td><td><p>+3,500</p></td><td><p>2.78%</p></td><td><p>1%</p></td><td><p>-1.78%</p></td></tr></tbody></table>                  <![CDATA[if(["rgb(17, 17, 17)", "rgb(0, 0, 0)"].indexOf(getComputedStyle(document.body).backgroundColor) != -1) {var x = document.querySelectorAll("#ath_table_706658 .ia-hlt");for (var i = 0; i < x.length; i++) {x[i].classList.add("dark-mode");}}var all_table_images = document.querySelectorAll("#ath_table_706658 img"); for (var i = 0; i <p>For the second division in a row the three seed is the biggest favorite to win it all. In this case it doesn’t come as much of a surprise, as the Lightning are defending champions, have one of the most talented rosters in the NHL, and are adding superstar Nikita Kucherov to the lineup after he missed the entire regular season.</p> <p>Tampa Bay’s 15 percent odds to win the Stanley Cup according to <em>The Athletic’s</em> model are third-highest behind only Colorado and Toronto. But at plus-750 Tampa Bay offers slightly more value at the sportsbook counter. Considering how well the Hurricanes and Panthers played this season – even against the Lightning – I will admit I’m a bit surprised the model has Tampa Bay favored by such a wide margin.</p> <p>The Lightning went 4-3-1 against Carolina and 3-5-0 against Florida this year, but still have a 45 percent chance of making it to the final four. Compare that to Carolina (28 percent) and Florida (16 percent) and it demonstrates just how wide the gap is, according to the numbers.</p> <p>Compared to the last couple of years, Tampa Bay’s statistics were actually pedestrian this season. The Lightning finished ninth in Corsi (52.39 percent), shot share (51.71) and expected goal share (53.18). Meanwhile the Hurricanes and Panthers both finished well above the Lightning in all three categories. I’m betting Luszczyszyn’s model anticipates a major improvement for the Lightning with all of their stars healthy.</p>                           <p>West Division</p>          <table><thead><tr><th>Team</th><th>Cup Odds</th><th>Implied Odds</th><th>Dom's Odds</th><th>Difference</th></tr></thead><tbody><tr><td></td><td><p>+450</p></td><td><p>18.18%</p></td><td><p>20%</p></td><td><p>+1.82%</p></td></tr><tr><td></td><td><p>+550</p></td><td><p>15.38%</p></td><td><p>7%</p></td><td><p>-8.38%</p></td></tr><tr><td></td><td><p>+2,000</p></td><td><p>4.76%</p></td><td><p>3%</p></td><td><p>-1.76%</p></td></tr><tr><td></td><td><p>+2,500</p></td><td><p>3.85%</p></td><td><p>1%</p></td><td><p>-2.85%</p></td></tr></tbody></table>                  <![CDATA[if(["rgb(17, 17, 17)", "rgb(0, 0, 0)"].indexOf(getComputedStyle(document.body).backgroundColor) != -1) {var x = document.querySelectorAll("#ath_table_772189 .ia-hlt");for (var i = 0; i < x.length; i++) {x[i].classList.add("dark-mode");}}var all_table_images = document.querySelectorAll("#ath_table_772189 img"); for (var i = 0; i <p>As mentioned in the open, the Colorado Avalanche are the favorites to win the 2021 Stanley Cup both at the sportsbook and according to <em>The Athletic’s</em> model. And despite being only +450, there’s still value in betting the Avalanche because that number should be even lower according to the numbers. If the betting odds were set based on Luszczyszyn’s model, Colorado would be +400.</p> <p>Perhaps the most interesting thing about the chart above, though, is how overvalued Vegas is in the betting market. It’s not terribly surprising, as the Golden Knights are always on the wrong end of these things. That’s because in Las Vegas a disproportionate amount of money is bet on Golden Knights in relation to other NHL teams. And the disparity isn’t a small margin. Betting handles on Golden Knights games occasionally match the volume of NFL games, where as no other hockey game produces even half of that. Because of that oddsmakers shade towards the other side, knowing they’ll receive money on Vegas regardless of whether there’s value or not.</p> <p>Whether it’s betting futures, a series price, or even an individual game, you’ll almost never find value on Las Vegas’ hometown team. In this case, the Golden Knights have the worst future value of any team in the playoffs at -6.76 percent according to <em>The Athletic’s</em> model.</p> <p>Another longshot that’s worth considering are the Minnesota Wild. At +2000 Minnesota has an implied odds of 4.76 percent. According to the model the Wild have a three percent chance of winning it all. And while that’s a negative value at -1.76 percent, it’s the closest to zero of any team with +1,800 odds or higher. In other words, bettors can’t technically get value on any longshots, but the Wild are the closest they’ll get. There’s also the fact that Minnesota fared relatively well against the top two teams in the division, going 5-1-2 against Vegas and 3-5-0 against Colorado.</p> <p>I got into this a little more on <a href="">The Athletic Fantasy Hockey Show</a> last week:</p> <p><iframe src=""></iframe></p> <p><em>(Top photo: Scott Taetsch/Getty Images; The Athletic may receive an affiliate commission if you open an account with BetMGM through links contained in the above article.)</em>


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