Dynasties are uncommon in today’s modern-day NHL as cutting-edge analytics, advanced scouting and a hard salary cap have leveled the playing surface.
Since the NHL lockout in 2004-05 resulted in the cancellation of the season, nine different teams have hoisted the Stanley Cup. Only one, the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins, have won consecutive championships. If history is any indicator, a return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals by the St. Louis Blues is highly unlikely.
Entering Wednesday’s season opener against the Capitals, the Blues have 16/1 odds to win the Cup at William Hill U.S., the eighth-best team on the futures’ market. The Lightning received top billing at +650, followed by the Golden Knights (+750), Maple Leafs (10/1), Avalanche (12/1) and Bruins (13/1).
Last January, lifelong Blues fan Scott Berry placed a $400 wager on his team during a business trip to Las Vegas. The Blues ended the 2018 calendar year with a 15-18-4 mark, one of the worst in the league. But the Blues’ offense began to catch fire, trending upward when Berry made a 250-1 wager at the Paris Hotel & Casino. After he placed the bet, St. Louis captured 15 of its next 19 games to vault into playoff contention by late February.
By June, Berry received numerous calls to hedge his bet after the Blues advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1970. Despite a 2-1 series deficit against the Bruins, Berry decided to let it ride. Now $100,000 richer, Berry has not rolled over any of his winnings — yet.
“My strategy is to grab worse odds later in the season,” Berry told Sports Handle this week.
Congrats to Scott Berry, who put down a $400 futures bet (250-1 odds) on the Blues to win it all in January.
This is what a $400 ticket to win $100,000 looks like. He let the ticket ride the whole time, and did not hedge! Amazing! pic.twitter.com/SyW8nG98U2
— Vik Chokshi (@docksquad33) June 13, 2019
Tough betting decisions amid league-wide parity
As marquee players such as Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin near their mid-30s, the league is far from top heavy. At Station Casinos in the Las Vegas Valley, only four teams — the Lightning, Golden Knights, Maple Leafs and Bruins — enter the regular season with point totals in excess of 100. The Lightning, which led the NHL last season with 62 wins, own the highest expected point total at 108.5. There is some juice on both the over and under at -115.
On the other end of the spectrum, three clubs — the Red Wings, Kings and Senators — are the only teams with totals under 80 points. The vast majority of the league’s 31 teams fall between 80-99 points. Two others, the Devils (90.5 points) and the Rangers (89.5 points) should be monitored closely after key off-season moves, especially at East Coast books that have to adjust for a regional bias.
Odds on the Devils at PointsBet USA plummeted following their acquisition of former Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban in June. Prior to the trade, PointsBet took its first Stanley Cup on the Devils on June 13 at +6600, a company spokesman said. Subban is expected to bolster a Devils’ power-play unit that ranked 21st in the NHL with a success rate of 17.7%. New Jersey opens the season at 25/1 on the futures market.
According to @DKSportsbook, 43% of all NHL futures handle so far has been on the New Jersey Devils (+2700).
A final look at futures odds before the season begins Wednesday: https://t.co/ENaPSBXd0D
— TheLines (@TheLinesUS) October 1, 2019
The Rangers completed a massive overhaul in the offseason, adding former Blue Jackets forward Artemi Panarin and Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba among others. While Panarin will join a first line with center Mika Zibanejad and right wing Pavel Buchnevich, the Rangers expect immediate contributions from forward Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The Rangers represent PointsBet’s highest liability for Cup tickets (+3500) and Eastern Conference futures (+2000).
High expectations for Golden Knights in third season
No longer the new kids on the block, the Golden Knights’ popularity has yet to wane in Sin City. On Sunday night, the Knights drew a record crowd of 18,131 for their preseason finale against the Sharks, the team’s highest ever for a preseason home contest.
Following a shocking Game 7 defeat to Sharks in the Western Conference opening round, the Knights still remain a top contender for the Stanley Cup at virtually every sportsbook across the country. Vegas squandered a 3-1 series lead against San Jose then allowed four straight Sharks’ goals in the third period of Game 7 after taking a 3-0 lead.
The Knights play their home games just off the Las Vegas Strip at T-Mobile Arena, located within a few miles of approximately a dozen major sportsbooks. During the club’s inaugural season, Las Vegas-area books carried an aggregate seven-figure liability into the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals when the Knights unexpectedly captured the Western Conference Finals in five games. The Golden Knights opened at some books that season as high as 500/1.
While the liability is dramatically lower this season, demand for Knights’ futures’ tickets and season total wagers is still relatively strong. The Westgate Superbook opened the Knights’ season point total at 103.5, a number that has since fallen a full point. The bet on the Knights with the under is the Superbook’s largest season-point total decision for any NHL wager.
“VGK has a very high power rating going into the season,” said Jeff Sherman, vice president of risk management at the Superbook. “It has been mostly arbitrageurs betting the market differences to show our under support.”
William Hill, meanwhile, offers a number of props on Knights’ players that will put bettors to the test on a deeper level. One prop asks bettors to predict whether Marc-Andre Fleury’s win total will eclipse 31.5 victories. Fleury, a four-time NHL All-Star, went 35-21-5 in 61 games last season. One season earlier, Fleury recorded 29 wins in 46 contests when he missed a lengthy part of the season with an apparent head injury.
“It all boils down to his health, that’s why sharps tend to bet under in these props because you win in many different ways,” said Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading at William Hill U.S. “If he gets any type of injury, you win. If the team flounders, you win. If the team wants to give a young goalie some time, you’ll probably win. That’s why the sharps generally bet the under.”
Bettors can also wager on William Karlsson’s goal total for the season. Karlsson burst on the scene with 43 goals in his first season with the Golden Knights, but had just 24 a season ago. William Hill has set the total at 25.5.
“We thought Year 1 was an anomaly,” Bogdanovich said. “It’s like when you go low in golf, it’s really tough to back it up in the next round.”
Patience is a virtue
A host of prominent books offer bets on the NHL’s top goal scorer. Ovechkin is the favorite at William Hill at +600, while bettors can select the field at +750. Sherman has seen some movement on Bruins forward David Pastrnak, whose odds have fallen to 20/1. Pastrnak, a three-time 30-goal scorer, opened at 50/1.
In Cup futures’ betting, the Superbook has liabilities on the Sharks, Stars, Rangers, Blackhawks, Ducks and Kings, Sherman said. The Panthers also present another interesting case. At William Hill, Florida is currently tied with the Rangers as a co-fourth choice to win the Eastern Conference.
Although Florida has missed the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons, the Panthers add a former Stanley Cup-winning coach in Joel Quenneville and a top netminder in Sergei Bobrovsky. Will the presence of both result in 10 additional points for the Panthers and a spot in the playoffs?
Since Bobrovsky has yet to appear in goal for the Panthers during the regular season, developing a model for their season win total could be a daunting task, according to a leading Hockey analytics company.
“Our view on pre-season ‘odds’ chatter is that it is mostly just noise,” said Todd Higgins, chief operating officer at Clear Sights Analytics LLC, a Connecticut-based company. “None of it is based on any serious predictive models, for the same reason that hockey analytics in general has lagged so far behind other sports.”
Hockey fans, then, might be better off waiting a few months before placing a futures or season wins bet on their favorite teams. The strategy, after all, worked for Berry.