For a long time now, the NHL's Commissioner Gary Bettman has touted how his league has what he's termed "competitive balance." You and I would call it "parity."
What Bettman means by that is any team in the NHL has a chance to win it all. The "Commish" has been like a broken record when it comes to the "competitive balance" of the league for a while now.
And look, he's not just saying that. The proof is in the pudding. Every team has, in fact, had the chance to win the NHL's Stanley Cup.
Everyone Gets In
Since Gary Bettman took over in 1993, all 32 teams in the NHL have made the playoffs. That includes the two expansion teams in Vegas and Seattle who've been in the league for six and two years, respectively. That also counts the Buffalo Sabres who haven't made the playoffs in what seems like an eternity.
There are two keys to Bettman's competitive balance. First is the salary cap. Not only does it give owners cost certainty, but it also levels the playing field by forcing teams to play by the same financial rules. At least to a certain degree. You still have teams like Arizona using it as a dumping ground for dead contracts.
After acquiring Shea Weber’s cap hit from Vegas, he joins the famous Coyotes Legends Society 🌵 pic.twitter.com/2xZSA78HyJ— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) February 24, 2023
The second key is obviously having a robust field of 16 teams making the playoffs each year. It might seem obvious that every team has made the playoffs in Bettman's 30 years as Commissioner, but as you just saw the Sabres haven't made the playoffs since 2011. Three teams have entered the league and made the playoffs since Buffalo was in the postseason (Winnipeg in 2011, Vegas in 2016 and Seattle in 2021).
The parity that Bettman has created goes beyond just making the playoffs. It's also about going deep into the postseason. Since 1993 when Bettman took over all but six teams have been to the Stanley Cup Finals.
|Columbus Blue Jackets|
|New York Islanders|
|Toronto Maple Leafs|
*In the league since 2021-22
**Relocated from Atlanta in 2011
With Parity Comes Profits But Not Where You'd Expect
With this type of parity and the notion that "get in and anything can happen", you'd expect to find a lot of value in the dogs. But that's a myth really. Because the real value is on betting the favorites. Specifically in the opening round.
Since 2015, of the 72 first-round series 70% of the favorites have won. And because of the parity, where anyone can go deep in the playoffs, it keeps the price low on those favorites.
The odds on the average favorite since the 2015 postseason is -206. That includes some heavy favorites like the 2022 Avalanche who were -650 favs against Nashville in the first round. Or the 2017 Washington Capitals who were given an 80% implied odd to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one. Both won their series by the way.
Betting the favorite for every single first-round series since 2015 would have returned you 6.13 units of profits. Narrow that down to the last three years, and you'd see the favorites win their first-round series 80% of the time for a return of 5.3 units.
So, while there is parity in the league, it goes away in the first round of the playoffs. And that's where you can find some value.