Stuckey: Is Home-Ice Advantage Overvalued in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

May 11, 2019 07:15 AM EDT

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: TD Garden

  • Stuckey explains why home ice doesn't provide much of an advantage in the NHL playoffs.
  • Blindly betting road teams has been profitable over a 1,200-game sample since 2005.
  • Stuckey also gives his thoughts on Hurricanes vs. Bruins, which begins Thursday night in Boston.

Prior to the two Game 7s the past two nights, I wrote about why I love betting Game 7 unders in the Stanley Cup playoffs. (I was glad to see both come through for anybody that followed along).

Well, with both Conference Finals matchups set and the first getting started Thursday night, I wanted to share some pretty glaring playoff home/road splits when it comes to betting the NHL postseason. After making my case for whether or not home-ice advantage is overvalued in the playoffs, I will also share my thoughts on Game 1 between the Bruins and Hurricanes.

Yes, home teams can benefit from a raucous crowd and a potential biased whistle, but that’s the case in other sports as well. Hockey teams do have a distinct tactical advantage when playing in their own building: they can change lines during stops in play after seeing who their opponent sends out. That allows them to either match up better or create mismatches. 

Historical Home vs. Road Splits

That said,  there is almost no difference between the winning percentage at home for NHL teams in the regular season vs. postseason. The NBA and NFL are characterized by significant playoff increases of almost 5%, but MLB and NHL see negligible differences. (I wrote about home-field meaning less early on in the MLB postseason last year here if you missed it).

I used data  since 2005 in order to match the betting figures I will reference next. However, the above chart is reflective of the all-time historical home/road splits in each league.

Speaking of, let’s take a look at the ROI of betting every road team on the moneyline in each league over that span:

The regular season negative ROI numbers are where you would expect them to be. And you would’ve lost a significant amount betting road teams blindly in the NBA and MLB. However, you will notice two positive ROI figures in the postseason for the NFL and NHL. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to the NFL playoff results. The sample size is extremely small with so few playoff games each year — just a couple moneyline dog winners will skew those numbers significantly over a 14 year span.

However, the sample size for the NHL postseason is just under 1,200 games.

If a $100 bettor wagered on every NHL home team in the playoffs since 2005, they would have lost more than $5,000. If that same bettor instead blindly backed the road teams, they would have profited just shy of $2,000.

In fact, home teams are just 75-75 over the last 150 NHL playoff games with an average home line of -145.

Bottom line: NHL home-ice advantage has been overvalued in the betting market. The inter-series line swings we see after a venue switch are simply not warranted.

Live Betting Opportunities 

Home-ice advantage can especially be overvalued when postseason games go to overtime. That can usually present a  good opportunity to back the road team at a juicy moneyline. The refs will generally swallow their whistles and the crowd is more nervous than anything. The game is usually a true coin flip at that point, so I generally look to find a juicy underdog price on the road team.

The numbers back up that sentiment as well. NHL home teams have a 400-395 record in overtime in the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs. That’s a winning percentage of 50.3% — just barely greater than a coin flip.

As always, I feel obligated to say that just because something is profitable in the past doesn’t mean it will be in the future. Just like we observe in the financial market, the betting market is fairly efficient and will adjust over time. Bettors must also adapt or die.

Game 1 Thoughts: Hurricanes at Bruins

  • Line: Bruins -150
  • Total: 5.5 (under -140)
  • Time: 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN

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