Despite back-to-back underdog wins, Stanley Cup Final upsets are few and far between

September 16, 2020 11:13 PM

In sports like football and basketball, the point spread is used to level the playing field and make both sides of game attractive to the betting public. It’s a lot easier to attract action on both sides of a game if it’s -110 each way than it is if there’s heavy chalk involved. 

The betting public’s penchant for looking for 50/50 propositions is evident in their approach to hockey betting. Novice bettors often seek to back short favorites or underdogs with long odds. Rarely will a novice bettor lay a price with a heavy favorite in a hockey game. Instead, they’ll opt to take the dog.

Strategically, that’s probably not a bad idea, especially if we’re talking about regular season hockey. However, the Stanley Cup Final is a little different. All of the attention is on the two teams competing for La Coupe Stanley. Looking back at the sports odds history shows us that series prices are pretty accurate and upsets are hard to come by. Since 2005-06, only four underdog teams have won the Stanley Cup.

Pittsburgh Penguins 2009 (plus-130 / 42 percent chance)

The Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins battled for the Stanley Cup in 2008 with the Red Wings winning in six games as -160 favorites. The two teams met again in 2009 and this time the Pittsburgh Penguins, led by Sidney Crosby, emerged victorious after entering the series as plus-130 underdogs. It was all capped off by a buzzer-beating Marc Andre Fleury save in Game 7.

Boston Bruins 2011 (plus-200 / 32 percent chance)

A Canadian team hasn’t hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup since 1993. The Vancouver Canucks reached the Final in 2011 but the country was not behind them. In a weird turn of events, the Boston Bruins became Canada’s team that year, and defeated the Canucks in seven games after carrying a plus-200 price tag into the series. 

Washington Capitals 2018 (plus-135 / 41 percent chance)

In 2018, the Vegas Golden Knights took the sports world by storm with their improbable run to the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately for the Golden Knights, Alexander Ovechkin was also getting his first shot to lead his Washington Capitals to a championship victory and he was not to be denied. The Capitals won the series in five games and Ovechkin was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. 

St. Louis Blues 2019 (plus-140 / 40.5 percent chance)

When the St. Louis Blues defeated the Boston Bruins as plus-150 underdogs in Game 7 of last year’s Stanley Cup Final, it ended a 52-year championship drought for the Blues which was the longest wait for a first title in NHL history. The Blues (who were plus-130 series underdogs) completed what was a comeback for the ages after sitting in last place at the midway point of the regular season.

For bettors, the main takeaway from all of this should be that prices are typically sharper at this point in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Since 2005-06, which is about the same time modern hockey statistics started to influence betting markets, the average price of the favorite in the Stanley Cup Final has been about -135, implying a 57 win rate. In reality, however, the favorite has come away the win over 70 percent of the time. 

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