What do you need to know when betting on the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Stanley Cup Playoffs Betting History: What You Need To Know For Postseason Success

The 82-game grind of the NHL regular season is all but done. Now it’s time to move on from the past, which is the 2022-23 regular season, and focus on the future, which is the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Here are some things you need to consider before you just go about and place your NHL playoff bets using only your gut. 

Boston Dominance Not Assured

The Boston Bruins have dominated the NHL with a historic 64-12-5 record. With 133 points, the Bruins posted the best regular-season point total ever in the NHL. Naturally, they’re the favorite to win the Stanley Cup at +350. 

But as I explored with my piece on the curse of the Presidents’ Trophy, don’t be so quick to blindly bet on the Bruins. A Presidents’ Trophy winner hasn’t won the Cup since 2013 and a team putting up 120-plus points during the regular season hasn’t won a Cup since 1978.

Beware of the curses.

West Is the Best ... Barely

Maybe instead of betting on the best team, you’d rather bet on which conference the eventual champion will come from. At the moment, the odds favor the East at -175 to the West’s +145. But you should know that historically and even recently the West has been the best. 

Since 1982, 21 champions have come out of the Western Conference compared to 19 from the Eastern Conference. Over the last 10 years (not counting that weird ’20-21 COVID season that didn’t have conferences), six champs have come out of the West to the East’s four.

Stanley Cup Winner Conference
YearStanley Cup WinnerConference
2022Colorado AvalancheWestern
2020Tampa Bay LightningEastern
2019St. Louis BluesWestern
2018Washington CapitalsEastern
2017Pittsburgh PenguinsEastern
2016Pittsburgh PenguinsEastern
2015Chicago BlackhawksWestern
2014Los Angeles KingsWestern
2013Chicago BlackhawksWestern
2012Los Angeles KingsWestern

*The ’20-21 season didn’t have a classic East-West setup so I’m not counting it.

Chalk It Up

How about looking at what seed breeds the most champions? Going back to 1999-2000, the first and second seeds from either conference account for 55 percent of the last 20 Stanley Cup champions crowned following a complete 82-game season.

Here’s a breakdown of which seed has won the most championships and which has reached the Stanley Cup Final the most:

Stanley Cup Winner Seed
SeedNumber of ChampionshipsFinals Appearances
168
2510
326
436
511
614
712
813

 

Conference Finals Don’t Care About Home-Ice Advantage

We often hear that home-ice advantage is massive in the playoffs. There’s a good reason for that. Not only do the rules in hockey favor the home team – like having the last change – but teams with the home-ice advantage do quite well when it comes to winning the series.

Except in the conference finals. Since the wild-card system was introduced for the 2014 playoffs (and not counting the two COVID playoffs), the team with the home-ice advantage has won 29 percent of the time in the third round of the playoffs. In every other round, it’s effectively the opposite:

Home-Ice Advantage Per Round
RoundSeries Wins / SeriesPercentage
Cup Final4/757%
Conference Finals4/1429%
Round 215/2854%
Round 135/5663%

 

I’m not saying there will be an upset in the conference finals of the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs, but based on this data I’m not saying there won’t be.

Green and Red Flags

I’ve shown you some cute historical tidbits that can help you navigate betting on the playoffs and impress your friends. But none of that data focuses on the teams and how they play. Let me change that by highlighting some green flags and red flags for success in the playoffs.

(For the stats below, I’m looking at the last 10 Cup champions in complete seasons.)

Elite Goaltending

Green Flag: Bruins, Islanders, Wild
Red Flag: Panthers, Kings, Kraken

During the regular season, the eventual Cup champion was top-10 in save percentage (SV%) for the league 70 percent of the time. Having an elite shot-stopper is vital for a playoff run – goalies have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP 17 times, which is second only to centers (19 times).

Of the 16 teams in this year’s playoffs, seven are outside the top 10 for save percentage. And the three sides I’ve red-flagged rank 18th, 27th and 28th for save percentage, respectively. 

Outstanding Defense

Green Flag: Bruins, Hurricanes, Rangers
Red Flag: Lightning, Oilers, Panthers

Defense wins championships. Only two champs in the last 10 had a defensive rating (measured by goals against per game in the regular season) below 10th in the league. That was the Penguins in 2017 (ranked 16th) and the Capitals in 2018 (ranked 17th). 

A red flag attached to the Tampa Bay Lightning is certainly something new. But the perennial Cup favorites have lost a step this year. They aren’t the defensive-heavy team that won two championships.

Shots, Shots, Shots

Green Flag: Hurricanes, Devils, Kings
Red Flag: Islanders, Jets, Wild

The modern game is all about puck possession. The best way to measure that in today’s NHL is by looking at shooting stats. Of the last 10 champs I looked at, eight held a shots-for percentage (SF%) at 5-on-5 in the top eight of the league. The only exceptions were Washington in 2018 and the Bruins in 2011.

This is a massive red flag for the Islanders. For years now, they’ve relied on a quality-of-quantity approach and while it’s had some success in the playoffs, it’s hard to believe it’s sustainable. And it’s not like they have the elite talent pool to play that system. Even new acquisition Bo Horvat is struggling with eight percent of his 5-on-5 high-danger shots turning into goals. With Vancouver, that conversion rate was 36 percent.

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