NHL's opening month proves quite chalky

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In last week’s Point Spread Weekly, I discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic had thrown a massive wrench into NBA betting results, with underdogs on an unprecedented run. Those findings led me to examine what was happening in the NHL. What I found astounded me. Favorites enjoyed their best month to start the season since I began tracking NHL data in the 1996-97 campaign.


This doesn’t make much sense to me. In the NBA, I surmised underdogs were doing so well because personnel situations and lack of fans created motivational vacuums, and typically favorites short on motivation don’t fare as well. But that doesn’t seem to be the case for NHL favorites, who are thriving. It seems NHL underdogs are lacking the energy to beat better teams, and that energy can come from playing in full arenas.


Let’s dig into the numbers. This chart illustrates the records of favorites over the first month. I closed out the 2021 data after exactly one calendar month — Jan. 13-Feb. 12 — or 31 days of games. I then used 31 days for all the previous seasons to figure the records.


Clearly, this year’s results by favorites are unmatched in the last 24 years in terms of goal differential, won-lost record and moneyline units won. Here is a closer look at some of those results. In terms of home-road dichotomy, the 2021 results through Feb. 12 showed this:


— Home favorites: 73-29, + 27.75 units (ROI — 27.2%)

— Road favorites: 52-31, + 6 units (ROI — 7.2%)


Obviously, some home-ice advantage still exists for favored teams, regardless of the fan situation.


In terms of line ranges, here is the current breakdown through Feb. 12:


— Favorites of -200 or greater: 24-7, + 7.5 units (ROI — 24.2%)

— Favorites of -150 to -195: 47-19, + 15.25 units (ROI — 23.1%)

— Favorites of -115 to -145: 54-34, + 11 units (ROI — 12.5%)


This data shows that the biggest favorites are those most often taking care of business.


If you’re like me, you’re probably questioning whether it’s worth trimming the vig by laying 1.5 goals on the puck line with favorites. Here are the results using the line ranges above with a favorite of -1.5 goals:


— Favorites of -200 or greater (minus-1.5 goals): 15-16

— Favorites of -150 to -195 (minus-1.5 goals): 27-39

— Favorites of -115 to -145 (minus-1.5 goals): 27-61


None of these are profitable angles, so the answer to playing favorites on the puck line is a resounding no.


In summary, NHL favorites have been winning huge to start the season, and apparently they don’t care by how much. This is definitely something to watch.

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