NHL 2019-20 Betting Preview: Using Projections to Find Value in Point Totals, Stanley Cup Futures
James Guillory, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Dougie Hamilton
- The 2019 NHL season begins on Wednesday, October 2, with four games kicking off the regular season schedule.
- Before the season begins, Sean Zerillo ran his NHL model to predict each team's record and Stanley Cup odds.
In 2018 the St. Louis Blues, whose future odds climbed as high as 250-1 around the New Year’s Day, won the Stanley Cup as a preseason 30-1 longshot.
Their Stanley Cup victory followed a series of relatively chalky champions. The highest preseason odds to win the cup, before the Blues, came by way of the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Kings; who were 16-1 in the preseason.
Generally, the preseason odds have hovered around 16-1 for the eventual Stanley Cup champion.
The Tampa Bay Lightning (7-1) are the preseason favorite for the second consecutive season, after entering the 2018 season as a +875 favorite.
But their current odds imply that the Lightning will win the Cup 12.5% of the time, and I have the projection closer to 11% – fair odds of +807.
While I don’t see any value in betting the Lightning to win their second Stanley Cup, there are a few teams worth backing before this season, at longer odds.
Stanley Cup Value
Below, are the four teams who I show with more than a 1% gap between my projected cup odds, and their implied odds as indicated by bookmakers:
Pittsburgh, Vegas, Boston, Dallas, Calgary, Columbus and Nashville each showed a gap of between 0.1% and 0.97% between my projection and their implied odds — so consider those teams to be the honorable mentions for this category.
I selected the two teams at the top of the list, Carolina, and Minnesota, in addition to Dallas as my three Stanley Cup futures bets.
With the Stars, I both followed my gut and also took 0.8% of line value at odds of 20-1, an implied 4.8% probability, compared to my projection of 5.6%.
Dallas made one of the best individual player acquisitions in the offseason, signing Joe Pavelski from the Sharks.
Pavelski ranks 17th in individual expected goals at 5v5 (score and venue adjusted) over the past two seasons and joins a loaded Stars offense that already includes Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov.
The Stars went seven games (plus overtime) with the Blues in the 2018 playoffs, and seem poised to take another step forward this season. Before pulling any data, they were the team that I had planned to back.
In the Eastern Conference, the Carolina Hurricanes are my top Cup selection, coming off of a 99-point season where they led the NHL in both expected goal differential (55.4%), while also finishing in the top two in both possession metrics (Corsi and Fenwick).
The Hurricanes are one of the youngest teams in the NHL and play an up-tempo style, in contrast to the majority of the league, thanks to the presence of multiple star puck-moving defensemen.
They also added Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel to their third line forward mix in the offseason, and look to have a deeper roster than they did heading into 2018.
I’m entirely in the Hurricanes corner heading into the 2019 season.
My longshot bet is on the Minnesota Wild because the odds were too good to pass up. However, for reasons I will discuss below, there are more optimal ways to bet on this team.
When looking at the projected standings for each division, as you will find below, note that the “Points Value,” and the “Win Cup Value” columns represent the difference between my projection and the listed odds.
Positive numbers indicate line value, while negative numbers indicate that a team is overvalued.
The two teams to focus on in the Atlantic division are bitter rivals, in the Canadiens and Maple Leafs.
Both teams have a listed team point total more than 10 points off from my projection, as I’m particularly high on Montreal and particularly low on Toronto.
Carey Price wasn’t healthy in 2017-18 (.900 SV%, ) but responded last season (.918 SV%) as Montreal performed as a top-six defensive team – while ranking fourth in expected goal differential (54.3%) and fifth in shot differential (53.6%).
The Maple Leafs should improve with John Tavares coming back for year two, and they are loaded with individual talent, but they ranked 18th in shot differential last season and posted mediocre possession stats.
My projection for 91 points is probably a bit low, but a listed total of 103.5 points is very high threshold; as the Maple Leafs essentially need to match or improve upon their 2018 record.
I have already discussed my affinity for the Carolina Hurricanes, and bet them as a +475 underdog to win the Metropolitan division:
I also bet the over on their point total Over/Under, and I think each of the three bets (Cup, Division and Over on point total) is worth an investment.
One potential weakness of these projections is its possible inability to accurately weigh the impact that (1) star players and (2) coaches who play a defensive style, have on their teams.
The projection is very low on the Capitals, for example, who have continually defied weak underlying metrics in recent seasons.
But while the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Capitals posted weak possession metrics, they owned a positive expected goal differential (52.92%, 10th). Meanwhile, the 2019 Capitals posted 104 points with an expected goal differential of 47.97% (23rd).
If those numbers keep up, they are due for regression in 2019, and their point total is worth an under bet.
The Capitals’ former coach Barry Trotz, and his new team, the Islanders, also posted below-average possession metrics in 2019 – but it came with a positive expected goal differential (50.4%, 14th), helping the Isles to a 103-point season.
Ready for the longshot? How about the Minnesota Wild (50-1) to win the Central Division, the only NHL division with seven teams.
The Wild are a stout defensive team, allowing the fewest expected goals in the NHL (5v5, score, and venue adjusted) over each of the past two seasons.
They ranked third in expected goal differential in 2017 (53.06%), netting 101 points, and ninth in 2018 (52.37%), falling to last place in the Central (83 points) while dealing away Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and others.
But the Wild remain extremely sound defensively, anchored by Ryan Suter, and have a deep roster that is built to grind out games and accumulate points in the regular season.
They’re also looking to add a No. 2 Center and have the cap space to do so. This is a team that thinks it can compete immediately, and they’re good enough to stick around with the best teams in their division.
Betting on the Wild at 50-1 to win the Central is a no-brainer, mainly since I projected them to have the highest point total in the division.
The team that I will look to fade here is the Colorado Avalanche, who were mediocre in terms of possession and expected goals metrics in 2018 while accumulating 90 points.
Even though the Avs did have a good offseason and Philipp Grubauer looks to be a solid starting goalie, I don’t see them making a six-point improvement to surpass their over/under of 95.5, and anticipate that it’s more likely that they take a step back.
Not much here to comment on, though I do think that the San Jose Sharks remain a threat to (finally) win the Stanley Cup — even with Pavelski no longer in the fold.
Tomas Hertl (74 points) and Timo Meier (66 points) emerged as reliable young scorers for the Sharks in 2018, as San Jose made it to the Western Conference Finals.
But they still have Martin Jones in net, the only goalie with as low of a mark (-43.84) as Craig Anderson (-44.55) in Goals Saved Above Average over the past two seasons.
Best Value Bets
- Carolina Hurricanes (+475) Win Metropolitan Division
- Carolina Hurricanes (+3300) Win Stanley Cup
- Carolina Hurricanes, Over 95.5 Points
- Columbus Blue Jackets, Over 83.5 Points
- Colorado Avalanche, Under 98.5 Points
- Dallas Stars (+2000) Win Stanley Cup
- Minnesota Wild (+5000) Win Central Division
- Minnesota Wild (+7500) Win Stanley Cup
- Minnesota Wild, Over 85.5 Points
- Montreal Canadiens, Over 88.5 Points
- Toronto Maple Leafs, Under 103.5 Points
- Washington Capitals, Under 98.5 Points