The sports betting world seems to be getting back to normal. This past weekend was one of the most action-packed in months, with UFC, Golf and NASCAR all offering televised bouts, matchups and races for bettors. We've yet to see the return of a major sport, but optimism remains for MLB to return in early July and we should have a decision from the NBA in 2-4 weeks about its path forward, which may involve going straight into the playoffs.
One league we haven't heard much from - the NHL - finally made headlines on Sunday about a potential return to the ice. According to Pierre LeBrun of the Athletic, the NHL and the NHLPA Return to Play Committee is "making progress" on a 24-team playoff format for when the season returns. A possible return date could be late June or early July, which includes a 2-3 week training camp, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.
Instead of 8 teams making the playoffs from each conference, there would be 12. This means only 7 teams would miss the playoffs (4 from East, 3 from West). There would also be a few games played before the playoffs, so players can get their feet wet and get acclimated before the postseason begins. It's unclear how the seeding would work with the 24-team playoff format. But here is how the top 12 for each conference looked when the season was paused on March 12.
7. Maple Leafs
8. Blue Jackets
Missing the playoffs: Sabres, Devils, Senators, Red Wings
3. Golden Knights
Missing the playoffs: Ducks, Kings, Sharks
With a possible expanded postseason on tap, NHL bettors should keep in mind a few key Stanley Cup playoff betting trends.
First off, favorites have won 58.5% of postseason games since 2005 according to Bet Labs Sports. Surprisingly, this is right on par with how they've performed in the regular season during that time (58.7%).
The key has been focusing on road favorites. These teams have won at a 60.4% clip in the postseason. If the visiting favorite is coming off a loss they improve to 66.3%. You can think of this as the "bounce back" or zig-zag theory. If the playoffs return with no fans in the stands, road favorites could become even more valuable this postseason. The best time to back road favorites is the first round. In the conference quarterfinals, they've won 63.8% of the time since 2005.
Experience is also critically important in the playoffs. Favorites who made the playoffs the previous season have won 63.2% of their games against teams who missed the playoffs the previous year. They know the rigors of the postseason and how to deal with the pressure.
Hockey is a predominantly moneyline sport, which means bettors just have to pick which team will win the game. However, the spread can be a valuable bet type in the postseason. This is popularly referred to as the puck-line, which means you are taking the dog + 1.5 goals (typically at a more expensive minus price) and the favorite -1.5 (typically at a lower price or plus-money price).
Postseason dogs on the puck-line have covered (either won or lost by just 1 goal) at a 68.5% clip since 2005. In the regular season, they cover at 65.1%. Road postseason dogs improve to 69.7% on the puck-line.
In terms of totals, it has been a coin flip in the postseason. However, we do see a discrepancy for unders later in the series. In Games 1 to 6, playoff unders are 50.5% since 2005. But in Game 7, unders improve to 58.8%.
Here are the latest Stanley Cup Champion odds at FanDuel
Bruins + 600
Lightning + 700
Avalanche + 850
Blues/Knights + 950
Caps + 1100
Flyers/Penguins + 1300
Stars + 1700
Oilers + 2000
Maples Leafs + 2500
Hurricanes + 2700
Predators/Islanders/Canucks + 3200
Flames + 3500
Wild/Rangers + 4000
Coyotes + 4500
Blue Jackets/Panthers + 5500