With the Stanley Cup playoffs halfway done, we have exciting Eastern and Western Conference Finals matchups.
I am not much of a hockey bettor myself, but I am great at building simulations of playoffs. With my programming skills, I can bet on any sport, as long as I have the best numbers to work with.
I have done it for March Madness, NFL, NBA, and MLB. That is why I decided to take a stab at the NHL.
To come up with my power ratings and build my model, I looked up other power ratings and consulted a few sharp NHL bettors such as the Game Day’s own Frank Ammirante and my friend Zach Pitcher.
Below, read to find out my model’s best NHL Playoff bets and how I came up with them.
2022 Stanley Cup Odds
All 2022 Stanley Cup odds are current as of Tuesday, May 31, from BetMGM Sportsbook.
- Colorado Avalanche (+120)
- Tampa Bay Lightning (+230)
- New York Rangers (+500)
- Edmonton Oilers (+550)
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How The NHL Playoffs Simulation Works
Each team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is assigned a power rating. I can then simulate a team’s chances of winning based on the ratings between the two teams in a given matchup.
The NHL is a little different than my other simulations. The power rating for each team is an expected win percentage that each team should have based on their recent play if they only played .500-level teams.
How does this Stanley Cup Playoff simulator work?
- By taking the expected win percentage of two teams, I can figure out each team’s probability of winning a game based on Bill James’s Log5 formula. Even though that formula is mainly used for baseball, it has been found to be accurate for the NHL as well.
- To account for home-ice advantage, I give each team a 7.5% edge at home. This means that I subtract 3.75% from the away team’s power rating and add 3.75% to the home team’s power rating.
- For example, if an away team is a 55% win percentage team and the home team is a 62% win percentage team, the away team is adjusted to a 51.25% win percentage team and the home team is a 65.75% win percentage team. Based on the Log5 formula, the home team has a 64.6% chance of winning the game.
Accounting For Goalie Tandems
A variable I must account for in modeling the NHL that I don’t for other sports is goalie usage. In the NBA, for example, teams typically use the same lineup each night, so I can use the same power rating for each game.
In the NHL, however, teams employ different strategies when it comes to manning the net.
Some teams like the New York Rangers have one good goalie and one bad backup, so they’re likely to use only one goalie during the playoffs.
Other teams like the Florida Panthers use goalie tandems where their best goalie will play for about 70% of playoff games and their backup will play the remaining 30% of games.
To account for the randomness of goalie tandems, I assign each tandem team a power rating for when they use their backup goalie. So 70% of the time my simulation will use the power rating for their best goalie, and the other 30% of the time my simulation uses the power rating for the backup goalie.
How do I make these NHL playoffs power ratings?
Just like my projections for other sports, I’m not reinventing the wheel here. The dirty secret in sports betting is that most sports bettors copy the work of other sports bettors or non-betting sports analysts.
For my NHL simulation, Zach Pitcher generously gave me his power ratings. In addition to Pitcher’s ratings, I also used MoneyPuck and Sagarin power ratings.
Most importantly, I’ve given the betting markets the most weight in my power ratings, as the market’s odds are shaped by sharp NHL bettors.
Once I compiled my power ratings, I then have my own power ratings that I can use to simulate the playoffs.
After simulating the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 25,000 times in Microsoft Excel, I tabulated how often each team won the Stanley Cup as well as how often each team won the Eastern and Western Conference championships.
I bet on a team to win the Stanley Cup if their odds are greater than my breakeven odds.
- Breakeven odds are how often a bet needs to win for you to break even. To be a profitable long-term bettor, you should be making bets where the payoff is better than the breakeven odds.
- For example, let’s say my model gives a team a 9% chance of winning the Stanley Cup for a breakeven price of (+900). If a sportsbook offers (+1200) on that bet, I take it. If it’s only offered at (+500), however, it’s not a good bet to take.
Essentially, this is all to help bettors figure out when to make a bet.
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2023 Simulation
Eastern Conference Sim
For the Eastern Conference Finals, the betting markets and my model sharply disagree on each team’s chances of winning. Even though both my model and the markets agree that the Tampa Bay Lightning should win, they disagree strongly on the probability.
|Team||Conference Winner||Breakeven Odds|
Tampa Bay qualifies for the Stanley Cup in 56.9% of my simulations, yet they are (-182) favorites at BetRivers (64.5% breakeven odds).
For a betting model, typically it’s a bad sign if the probabilities are off from the market consensus. The reason why I am confident in my numbers is that in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, my numbers were closer to the market than in other sports that I have modeled.
I believe that the Rangers have played better in the postseason than during the regular season and, that is why I believe that they have been overlooked since the beginning of the last round.
Western Conference Sim
In the Western Conference, there is also a sharp disagreement between the betting markets and my model. Colorado should be the favorite to win the West as they win the conference in 56.1% of my simulations. The issue is that at (-250) at BetMGM, they have a breakeven price of 71.4%.
|Team||Conference Winner||Breakeven Odds|
The Avalanche are a team that I have struggled with since the beginning of the playoffs because they’ve consistently been the worst value bet. Colorado is the best NHL team, but their price doesn’t account for the strength of their opponents and how vulnerable they looked in the second round against the St. Louis Blues.
In the first round, Colorado easily dispatched Nashville 4-0, but in the second round, they showed cracks in their armor after winning the series 4-2 against St. Louis.
The Avalanche won Games 1 and 6 by only one goal, and at (+210) odds, the Edmonton Oilers look like a potential steal in the Western Conference Finals.
Stanley Cup Sim
Colorado is the favorite to win the Stanley Cup, followed by Tampa, Edmonton, and New York, in that order. Unsurprisingly, my model agrees with that exact order. What surprised me, though, is that even though I agree with the betting markets on who should win the Stanley Cup, I disagree sharply on the prices.
|Team||Stanley Cup Winner||Breakeven Odds|
Based on what my model says about the Eastern and Western Conference Finals, it’s not a surprise that the Avalanche and Lightning are my worst value bets. Despite both the Rangers and Oilers being live dogs, they are the best bets to win the Stanley Cup.
Up until now, I haven’t been high on the Oilers in the playoffs, but after their 4-1 second-round victory against the Calgary Flames, they have earned my respect. Outside of Colorado, Calgary was the best Western Conference team this season.
They have an uphill battle against Colorado, but against New York or Tampa, they should be narrow underdogs in the Stanley Cup.
Best NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Bets
Edmonton Oilers To Win Western Conference (+210) at BetRivers Sportsbook
Edmonton Oilers To Win Stanley Cup (+600) at Caesars Sportsbook
For the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers were one of my worst bets. With the Oilers as one of my best bets going into the Conference Finals, what happened?
The answer is that they easily dispatched a tough Flames team 4-1 in the second round. Additionally, Edmonton faces an overrated Colorado team in the Western Conference Finals.
The Avalanche should be favored to win the Stanley Cup and Western Conference, but Edmonton has a plausible chance of winning because of Connor McDavid.
During the regular season, McDavid led the NHL in points and goals created. In the playoffs, McDavid has been solid as well. If he and the Oilers pull off the upset against the Avalanche in the Western Conference Finals, then they should be narrow underdogs in the Stanley Cup against either the Lightning or Rangers.
New York Rangers To Win Eastern Conference (+155) at Caesars
New York Rangers To Win Stanley Cup (+625) at BetRivers
The New York Rangers were (+1700) underdogs to win the Stanley Cup. After overcoming a 3-1 deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they were inexplicably still at (+1700) at the beginning of the second round.
After beating the Carolina Hurricanes — who entered the playoffs as my favorite Eastern Conference team — bets on the Rangers at (+625) to win the Stanley Cup and (+155) to win the Eastern Conference are no brainers.
One major weapon the Rangers have is Igor Shesterkin, who is one of the best goalies in the NHL. He has 11.4 goals saved above expected during the playoffs, which leads all goalies.
If he can stay healthy, they could defeat Tampa in the Eastern Conference Finals and potentially Colorado or Edmonton in the Stanley Cup.