Which NHL Teams Are the Best Bets to Make a Stanley Cup Run?
The calm before the Stanley Cup Playoffs is upon us, and every fan and analyst under the sun is trying to handicap who the best bet is to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup. Using Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, our own Stanley Cup algorithm and Bovada’s odds to win it all, I've laid out the best bets going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs into three tiers. Do take note that there's some subjectivity here, but it's helpful to see Bovada odds lined up with our own Stanley Cup odds as we enter the playoffs.
|Team||Stanley Cup Odds||Bovada Odds|
|16. Calgary Flames||3.98%||20/1|
|15. Detroit Red Wings||2.85%||18/1|
|14. Pittsburgh Penguins||3.09%||16/1|
|13. New York Islanders||3.08%||18/1|
|12. Vancouver Caucks||4.04%||16/1|
|11. Ottawa Senators||3.31%||18/1|
Calgary and Vancouver are facing off in the first round in the weakest matchup in the Western Conference, and are the only two playoff teams that scored fewer than they allowed at even strength this year. They are also the only two teams out west with a Corsi For Percentage under 50.0. Outside of the Winnipeg Jets, Calgary and Vancouver have the lowest odds to win the Stanley Cup.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators get to face the top-two teams in even strength save percentage (New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens, respectively). With that said, both teams drive possession at a higher clip than their opponent, giving them some hope. The Pens are without the services of at least Kris Letang and Olli Maatta due to injury, weakening their defensemen depth.
The Islanders will top the Capitals if and only if Jaroslav Halak stands on his head like he did with the Canadiens during their run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2009-10. He stopped 92.3% of the shots he faced over 18 games. He has stopped 91.4% of shots faced this season, which coincides with the Islanders’ 91.47% team save percentage. That's the worst among the 16 playoff teams.
Detroit announced that Petr Mrazek will get to make his first career postseason start against Tampa Bay. The Lightning are attempting 53.9% of the shots taken in their contests, including 2.3 more per game than Detroit. Tampa Bay’s 9.05 shot percentage is tops in the NHL while Detroit’s shot percentage of 7.33 is 20th. That’s a lot of offense for a first-time playoff goalie to slow down.
You can see, based on Bovada’s odds, that they don't see these teams as being much different based on their likelihood to win the Stanley Cup. numberFire’s Stanley Cup algorithm is on board with Bovada so far.
|Team||Stanley Cup Odds||Bovada Odds|
|10. Winnipeg Jets||4.87%||25/1|
|9. Anaheim Ducks||5.03%||9/1|
|8. Minnesota Wild||5.51%||9/1|
|7. Washington Capitals||6.87%||18/1|
|6. Montreal Canadiens||7.17%||10/1|
|5. St. Louis Blues||11.53%||8/1|
Winnipeg may have the worst odds of the 16 teams per Bovada, but they were fortunate enough to draw a team that they match up well with in Round 1. Winnipeg finished the regular season with better even strength numbers than Anaheim in CF%, Save percentage, Shots for per 60 minutes and GF%, and they had less starts in their defensive zone. Dustin Byfuglien has been a driving force on the blueline, and the trade deadline acquisition of Tyler Myers has lessened his workload in a good way.
If the Jets are fortunate enough to upset the Ducks, they get to face either Vancouver or Calgary. The Jets took 5 out of 12 points against the two teams during the regular season, including the final contests against each. Anaheim has exited in the first round each of the last two seasons at home in Game 7s, which is something that they’d like to change. The Jets can top the Ducks and win out in the Pacific Division bracket and even give the Central Division bracket winner a run for their money. That makes their 25-to-1 odds that much more enticing.
I've been driving the Capitals bandwagon for some time because of the addition of head coach Barry Trotz. The Caps improved the CF% by 3.4% in just one season under Trotz, and did so while improving their defensive effort and without cramping goal-scoring wizard Alex Ovechkin’s game. Ovie scored two more goals this season and saw his plus/minus improve from minus-35 to plus-10 over last year. Plus/minus is a fickle stat, but that drastic of a change is eye-popping.
The Caps averaged 4.4 more shots at even strength per game over last season, and Holtby saw his save percentage go up (91.5% to 92.3%) and GAA drop (2.85 to 2.22).
Meanwhile, Carey Price is the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender, and should win the Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP. Price led the NHL in wins, save percentage, and GAA, and finished second in shutouts. Montreal is a sub-50% Corsi team, and is allowing opponents to take nearly 52% of shots. Max Pacioretty is expected to return when the Canadiens begin postseason play (concussion), a huge plus for a team that averaged 2.21 goals per 60 minutes at even strength, second worst among playoff teams.
Devan Dubnyk has been the feel-good story of the 2014-15 season. After starting the year with an abysmal Arizona squad, he was traded to Minnesota after the Wild went through a handful of netminders. The light turned on for Dubnyk, as 27 of his 36 wins came following the trade, and only Carey Price had a better save percentage and GAA during the regular season. The Wild went 28-9-3 after acquiring the 28-year-old.
The St. Louis Blues are the best team without a set netminder in the playoffs. What's even worse is Jake Allen and Brian Elliott (and briefly Martin Brodeur) could only muster the 17th best save percentage in the NHL (92.36). The Blues took 33.4% of their faceoffs in their own zone, 9th worst in the NHL.
The Blues are on upset alert.
|Team||Stanley Cup Odds||Bovada Odds|
|4. Nashville Predators||4.27%||12/1|
|3. Tampa Bay Lightning||11.19%||11/1|
|2. Chicago Blackhawks||9.28%||8/1|
|1. New York Rangers||13.03%||5/1|
The Predators (listed here because, as I said, some of this is subjective) and Lightning are the main threats to the perceived favorites to represent their respective conferences, with Nashville getting a chance to eliminate Bovada's Western Conference-favorite Blackhawks in the first round. The Lightning average the most goals per 60 minutes, and finished the season with the best team shooting percentage. Steven Stamkos is the only player that can give Alex Ovechkin a run for his money as the best pure scorer in the NHL, though Ben Bishop will dictate how far the Lightning go after seeing his save percentage and GAA go the wrong way after his surprising 2013-14 season.
The Predators have arguably the best netminder in hockey in Pekka Rinne. Nashville will need to score more than usual to survive their first-round matchup against Chicago. They lost three of four regular season contests, but two were in extra time. What's a bit more concerning for the Preds is that they were outshot 142-120 in four games, and average of 5.5 per contest. James Neal was inconsistent in his first campaign with Nashville, but was a consistent pest against the Hawks, scoring five goals in four games, the most against any opponent.
Tampa and Nashville have a real shot at lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup, and can do so with double-digit odds to cash in with. (Again, please note that our numbers aren't in love with Nashville.)
The Chicago Blackhawks became the immediate favorite with Bovada once the L.A. Kings were eliminated from postseason contention. The imminent return of Patrick Kane has been one of the hottest talking points since Sunday, and could sway the series against Nashville in their direction. Chicago scored 3-plus goals eight times in 21 contests without Kane, and 32 times in 61 games with him.
The much-maligned (and wrongfully so) Corey Crawford has been one of the three or four best goalies over the last month of the regular season. Crawford has seen an average of 5.9 shots per 60 minutes more this season than he did in 2012-13, when he shared the Jennings honors with Ray Emery. His save percentage dropped a meager 0.2% in 27 more contests from that same season, and is tied for 15th all-time in playoff save percentage (minimum 20 starts). Crawford has earned the right to be considered one of the 10 best goalies in the NHL.
It's tough to bet against a team making its seventh consecutive playoff appearance, and at 8-to-1 odds (compared to 13-to-1 odds as recently as the end of March), there's no reason to shy away from considering Chicago as the best bet to represent the west.
The team with the lowest upside according to Bovada should be considered the best bet to win the Stanley Cup. Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Talbot are the best starting goalie-netminder insurance policy in the league. The Rangers enter the playoffs with the fifth best save percentage in the NHL while allowing 2.05 goals per game at even strength, tying the Capitals. Only the Lighting scored more than the Rangers per 60 minutes played among playoff teams. Rick Nash scored a career-high 42 goals and totaled the most points in a season since 2008-09. The Rangers had nine players take at least 50 shots and shoot at least 10% this season, and shot a 8.9% clip in games that were tied or separated by one goal. The Rangers were so close last season, and should be in the final again this year.