NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Odds: Can Underdogs Go Deep?

Written By Evan Scrimshaw on April 27, 2022
Stanley Cup playoff odds

One of the things that is most apparent about the NHL is the randomness of the sport, both from a night to night perspective, and in terms of the playoffs. That has led to a rich history of upset winners in the Stanley Cup playoff, something the odds often reflect.

From the inherent volatility of goaltending to the nature of sudden death overtime, the NHL playoffs have sometimes been described as a “random championship generator.” Does that hold up and will we find value in underdogs for 2022?

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2022 Stanley Cup Playoff Odds

Recent History Of Stanley Cup Finalists

Since the 2004-05 season ended due to lockout, 16 Stanley Cup Finals have played out. The winners, organized by seed:

  • Two No. 1 seeds
  • Six No. 2 seeds
  • Two each No. 3, No. 4, No. 5 seeds
  • One each No. 6 and No. 8 seeds

Extend it just to conference winners, and 11 of the 32 Cup finalists have been seeded No. 5 or lower. Since the 2016 season, five of the 12 finished outside the top four in their own conferences. After 2013, the NHL changed to a division-based playoff system, but I’ve normalized for a traditional one-through-eight seeding.

Dig into specific examples, and the numbers beggar belief even more. In 2017, the Nashville Predators snuck into the playoffs as the West’s No. 8 seed, and shocked the world by making a run to the Cup Finals. They even notched a sweep of the No. 1 Chicago Blackhawks. The next year, as a No. 1 seed, they lost in the second round as the expansion No. 3 Knights made the Cup Finals.

On the other side of the bracket, the Capitals won the President’s Trophy (best overall record) in 2017 only to get beaten by Pittsburgh in the second round. The next year, they won the Cup as a No. 3, despite earning 13 fewer points in the regular season.

It’s hard to argue that the playoffs aren’t pretty random. But if talent isn’t the be all and end all, what are some of the more predictive factors in figuring which teams could pop?

Traits To Seek When Betting Stanley Cup Playoffs

Now that we know we can look down the odds board, which traits should we seek when perusing the Stanley Cup playoff odds?

Formerly Injured Teams Finding Good Health

In 2021, both Montreal and Tampa Bay underperformed in the regular season. That came in large part due to battling injury.

The Canadiens only had Carey Price for 25 of 56 games and Brendan Gallagher for 35 games. Down the stretch, as they barely made the playoffs in the North Division, both remained out. Neither looked like a certainty to play in round one against Toronto.

Tampa, meanwhile, had known Nikita Kucherov needed surgery last year, so they put him on Long Term Injury Reserve. That took his cap hit effectively off their books. They spent to the cap without him and then brought him back in the first round when the salary cap turned off.

These teams’ records belied their true talent level when the playoffs rolled around. Returning to full strength, they represented potentially under-seeded monsters.

Hot Goaltending

You can’t necessarily predict exactly which goaltenders will get hot in the playoffs. But, two kinds of hot goaltenders exist – those of the predictable variety, and the rest.

In 2021, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Carey Price both performed at an elite level in the playoffs. As two of the better goalies in the league, neither particularly surprised, and Vasilevskiy looks key for Tampa making a run again this year.

Go back a couple of years, and you’ll see others kinds of goalies who have spiked more randomly in the playoffs. For instance, Anton Khudobin taking over as starter for the Stars in the Bubble or Jordan Binnington as a rookie taking the net on route to winning the Cup. In 2018, Marc-Andre Fleury took the Knights to the Final after receiving a benching in 2017 by Pittsburgh.

Physicality

One of the most enduring, recurring themes of the NHL playoffs is that the whistle goes away. What qualifies for a playoff penalty does not match the rest of the season.

Big hits become less likely to earn penalties. More leniency exists in the kinds of interference and stick infractions that players get away with. And at the end of games, officials call almost nothing.

Hone in on the teams that can thrive in playoff-style hockey.

Don’t Be Afraid To Take Long Odds

Bettors used to the NBA, where top seeds have enjoyed a three-decade reign of winning the title, may find the chaos of the NHL playoffs mesmerizing. That can also make them very profitable.

Check out this article on the biggest hockey longshot champions in recent years. Some big payouts have come home, and the Golden Knights very nearly made for a 500-to-1 champ in 2018.

Try to find the teams who might make a run at the Cup from long odds. Those bets aren’t hopeless wastes, the way they can sometimes feel when betting other leagues’ futures.

If teams can get in the dance, they can truly go deep – and even win it all.

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