NHL 2021 Betting Preview: Using Projections to Find Value in Point Totals, Stanley Cup Futures
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images. Pictured: Anton Khudobin
The idea of betting NHL point totals or MLB win totals — and tying up your money with a book for several months at a relatively small edge in terms of expected value — is naturally unappealing to many bettors.
Just by placing these wagers, you’re both diminishing your accessible bankroll in the short term and providing the house with an interest-free loan for at least half a year.
Personally, point and win total over/unders are my favorite preseason markets to try to beat in any league, and I always reserve a portion of my bankroll (about 5-6 units) to commit to NHL futures.
I guess I’m wired differently; I prefer season-long fantasy leagues to DFS, which makes me a borderline freak in 2021. But my desire to bet full-season win totals likely comes from a similar place in my mind.
Given the NHL’s shortened season (56 games instead of 82), and intra-division schedules for this upcoming season, we have essentially four separate mini-leagues playing simultaneously.
Let me break down each of those four pods and the teams to either target or fade within them — before concluding with some Stanley Cup futures market analysis.
Positive numbers indicate line value, while negative numbers indicate that a team is overvalued.
Try to play differences of at least 2.5 points relative to the projected total, at odds of -115 or better.
It’s also important to note that, since these teams will only play within their own divisions in 2021, all of these intra-division point total results should be extremely correlated. As a result, try not to bet more than 2-3 teams in any one division, or spread your normal wager on multiple teams in a division instead of placing a full bet on all three.
The Dallas Stars under 66.5 points or better is my favorite wager, and the only full 1 unit bet in this article. You can find 67.5 at BetMGM, 4.5 points total higher than my projection of 63.
Of the publicly available projections that I weigh, none show the Stars clearing their listed total (ranged 59-66) as the reigning Western Conference champions need to navigate the early part of the 2021 season without both Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop.
I bypassed potential wagers on Carolina over 68.5, Chicago over 50.5, and Detroit over 43.5 within this division, and simply took a larger position on the Stars under.
I like Carolina and Detroit at those respective numbers, but either over was juiced up to -125 at my shops. If you can get -115 or better, I think either one is an actionable wager — and we’ll discuss Carolina more in the Cup section.
Chicago’s projection is likely too high, dealing with injuries issues of their own while breaking in a new/lesser goaltending tandem — issues so concerning that my colleague Michael Leboff bet their team total under.
The Penguins seem to be undervalued heading into 2021, but the East should be the deepest and most competitive division in hockey, and it’s hard to justify betting the over on any of these eight teams.
The majority of the projection sets I use show the Penguins clearing their listed total, but there’s enough variance within the range of outcomes (61-70 points) to leave that potential over ticket on the cutting room floor.
It seems like six teams in this division could finish with exactly 64-66 points, and the Flyers are firmly within that group (range 61-71 points).
They parlayed a good stretch of puck luck and dominant play from Carter Hart into a solid playoff run last season, but their expectations for 2021 are inflated. It’s going to be difficult for any team to crack the upper 60’s in regular-season points without two reliable goalies.
Flyers under 67.5 points is my lone play in the East, but it’s a small position relative to my Dallas under.
There are several plays worth monitoring in the seven-team Canadian division, but the one that I wanted to make but couldn’t get the right number on is Calgary over 63.5 — which is now juiced up to -125. BetMGM has 62.5, if you’re in a state with access to it.
However, I did place three small wagers on Edmonton under 66.5, Montreal over 65.5, and Ottawa over 46.5, in what amounts to a correlated position.
Like Dallas, none of my weighted projections shows the Oilers clearing their listed total (range 60-64), and they enter the 2021 season with the same shaky defense and goaltending situation that has plagued them in recent years. This is an extremely one-dimensional team and playing nine or 10 games against each of their divisional opponents could eventually stunt their offense.
Conversely, the Senators are the one team expected to beat their point total by every projection system (range 49-58) and should be sneaky competitive if goalie Matt Murray returns to anywhere near his Stanley-Cup winning form.
The Canadiens have a high floor (range 63-70) and made necessary offseason additions to their forward group. The Habs could certainly grind their way to a division title, and you can find over 64.5 at William Hill, the best number available.
Similar to the North division, I placed three small wagers on point totals showing slight value in the West but didn’t want to over-commit to any one position since the results are all correlated.
I picked off stale numbers on the Ducks over 53.5, and Golden Knights under 73.5, but the best play in this division is likely Sharks under 55.5 points
San Jose finished 30th in the NHL in expected goal differential last season, and I’m not sure what to make of the recently-acquired Devan Dubnyk, who was fantastic for the Wild for several seasons (10th in GSAA from 2016-2019) before falling off of a cliff in 2020 (80th).
Anaheim will be hoping for a similar bounceback from John Gibson (3rd in GSAA from 2017-2019, 72nd in 2020), but they would have cleared this relative point total last season, despite poor goaltending.
The Vegas point total is just slightly too high at 73.5, considering that they are no longer the best-projected team in their own division after combining with the Avalanche. All of the projections (range 67-72) have the Knights finishing below 73 points, as they would have to maintain a pace of 1.31 points per game – a 107 point pace over 82 games – to clear 73.5. Vegas played at a 99-point pace last season.
The Wild over 60.5 was the final cut from my potential list of plays. They are swapping out a goalie (Dubnyk) who went cold over a partial season to one who ran hot (Cam Talbot) over the same period of time and have been making additional transactions to signify that they are ready for a full rebuild.
Stanley Cup Value
If you shop around, you can find actionable value on many teams to win the 2021 Stanley Cup.
For example, I wouldn’t bet the Columbus Blue Jackets or Florida Panthers at their consensus prices of +3500 or +4000 respectively, but you can find either team listed as high as +5000 in the Stanley Cup market, depending on the book.
In short, my two favorite Cup value plays for this season are the Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary Flames – two teams whose point total overs I really wanted to bet, but held off on as a result of significant juice (-125) on otherwise actionable numbers.
I would want at least +1800 on Carolina, and +3000 on Calgary, at respective edges of 0.2% and 0.4% compared to my projections, but I snagged those wagers at +2000 and +3300 respectively, with either wager representing an edge of 0.7%.
Leboff also has a Cup future on Carolina, and we both see Calgary as a potential darkrhose after adding an above-average netminder in Jacob Markstrom.
Best Value Bets
Point Total Overs
- Anaheim Ducks Over 53.5 (0.5u)
- Montreal Canadiens Over 65.5 (0.5u)
- Ottawa Senators Over 46.5 (0.5u)
Point Total Unders
- Dallas Stars Under 67.5 (1u)
- Edmonton Oilers Under 65.5 (0.5u)
- Philadelphia Flyers Under 67.5 (0.5u)
- San Jose Sharks Under 55.5 (0.5u)
- Vegas Golden Knights Under 73.5 (0.5u)
- Calgary Flames (+3300, 0.5u)
- Carolina Hurricanes (+2000, 0.5u)