NHL Betting Notebook: The Best Candidate To Be This Season’s St. Louis Blues
Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Ryan O’Reilly
Let’s get this out of the way right at the very top. What the St. Louis Blues did last season, going from dead last on New Year’s Day to Stanley Cup Champion on June 12, is a once-in-a-generation thing. You usually don’t want to be the person who bets on a miracle right after one just occurred, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little bit of fun with this.
Here are a couple of things to remember about where St. Louis was on Jan. 1. Yes, the Blues were in 31st-place, but they also were only 10 points out of a playoff spot and had three games in hand on the team that was holding the last ticket to the dance.
It’s also important to note that St. Louis had relatively good peripheral metrics through the first half of the season. The Blues had an expected goals rate of exactly 50% and were just getting killed by poor goaltending.
St. Louis allowed 2.81 goals per 60 minutes (5-on-5) and 2.35 expected goals per 60 minutes. A look under the hood showed that if the Blues could get some saves, they could make a run up the standings. Enter rookie goalie Jordan Binnington and, voila! The Blues were on their merry little way.
Which current Stanley Cup longshot (100-1 or longer) could, at the very least, give you a little entertainment value for the rest of the season with a very small investment?
You don’t bet longshots because you think they are going to win. You bet them because they have some value compared to their implied probability. A team with 100-1 odds have an implied probability of 1%, if you think they win the Stanley Cup more often than 1%, congratulations — you have some value!
There are seven teams at 100-1 or longer at FanDuel:
- Chicago Blackhawks 100-1
- Anaheim Ducks 120-1
- Columbus Blue Jackets 120-1
- Los Angeles Kings 240-1
- Ottawa Senators 250-1
- New Jersey Devils 250-1
- Detroit Red Wings 250-1
What makes this difficult is that the Blues had a lot more talent than basically all of these teams. Not only did St. Louis have star power up front with Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Ryan O’Reilly, but they also had it on defense with Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko. None of the longshots listed above can match what the Blues had last season in terms of talent.
The Blues also had the luxury of playing in the Western Conference. The West was especially wide open in 2018-19, with no true favorite so the team that got hot at the right time was going to make a run.
The West is the better environment for a longshot this season, with plenty of vulnerable teams in playoff spots right now (Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg come to mind) but I don’t think it’s as much of a crapshoot this season.
The one thing we can look for is team with strong underlying numbers. Expected goals rate (xG%) is a good barometer for how well a team is playing — or at the very least dictating play — at 5-on-5. Looking for teams with mediocre-to-bad records but strong xG numbers is usually a good way to find value in both the daily and futures markets.
St. Louis had relatively good peripheral metrics through the first half of the season. The Blues had an expected goals rate of exactly 50% and were just getting killed by poor goaltending.
St. Louis allowed 2.81 goals per 60 minutes (5-on-5) on 2.35 expected goals per 60 minutes. A look under the hood showed that if the Blues could get some saves, they could make a run up the standings. Enter Jordan Binnington — he got red-hot and they made their run.
Right away we can throw out a few teams, starting with the Detroit Red Wings. Jeff Blashill’s team is on pace for just 46 points, which would be the fewest in a season since the 1999-2000 Atlanta Thrashers.
You can also cross out the Devils. Even though New Jersey has buttoned itself up a little bit lately, the hill is too steep to climb in the NHL’s toughest division. The Devils have already traded away their best player and you don’t want to waste your time on a team that will be selling off pieces at the deadline.
The same logic can be applied to the Senators, who have been a plucky little underdog throughout the first half. Ottawa’s been impressive this season, but the second half will be more about getting ducks in a row for 2020-21 than about making a stunning run into the wild card conversation.
The Blackhawks are only five points out of the playoffs, have a couple of bonafide stars and great goaltending, but a porous defense will likely do them in. Chicago allows the most high-danger scoring chances and second-most expected goals per hour. Defensive metrics like those make any consistency hard to grasp, even if the goaltenders provide some cover.
I was bullish on the Anaheim Ducks coming into the season. I thought a coaching change, some better injury luck and next-step seasons from their young players would at least put the Ducks in the conversation for a playoff spot in the weak Pacific Division.
I was wrong.
Anaheim is still struggling at 5-on-5 with a 47.7% expected goals rate and goaltender John Gibson hasn’t been his normal world-beating self in goal this season. All that has added up to the Ducks falling to last place in the Western Conference at the 41-game mark.
I do have time for the Los Angeles Kings, who boast terrific underlying metrics despite a bad record, but their lack of talent makes a run towards the wild card very unlikely. That being said, I expect the Kings carry value throughout the season on a game-by-game basis.
That leaves us with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Prior to the season, I had the Blue Jackets pegged as a team that would be undervalued. The Blue Jackets took such a hit during free agency that the market left them for dead. NHL fans and analysts wondered how they would replace the production they got from Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Sergei Bobrosvky.
Instead of trying to fill those gaps, the Jackets took a much wiser approach and continued to develop their identity as a defense-first team that succeeds by grinding out results. The Blue Jackets are not in a playoff spot and still have a mediocre record, but their strategy is working.
Columbus owns the fifth-best expected goals percentage in the NHL this season thanks to a stalwart defense that is allowing the fewest high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes and second-fewest xG per hour. And Columbus is getting better.
Over the last two months (a span of 27 games), the Jackets have a 55.7% expected goals rate (second) and are allowing just 1.91 xGA/60 (first). What makes this run even more impressive is that Columbus, a team that is wanting for talent, has dealt with a litany of injury problems since Thanksgiving.
The Blue Jackets likely won’t be buyers at the trade deadline, but I can’t imagine they’ll be selling off assets if they are close to a playoff spot as the deadline approaches. This is the team that swept the record-setting Tampa Bay Lightning in the postseason last season.
The Blue Jackets won’t win the Stanley Cup and I’m not suggesting you go out and throw handfuls of money at them, but if you want to throw some for-fun money on a team with big odds, the Jackets look like the best option.