Keep an eye on the road teams and on the five seeds in the first round when the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on April 11th. Many handicappers talk of great upsets early on but since 2006 the first round has typically gone to form.
We are now less than a week away from the beginning of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, and we have gone back and analyzed every round of the playoffs since the players strike wiped out the 2004-05 season, so before making your NHL picks, make sure to first check out our series of articles previewing each round of the last six years beginning with the first round this week.
Now there is a misconception that blindly playing the underdogs on the NHL odds in the playoffs is a profitable strategy because there are so many upsets, but that has actually not been the case in the first round since the 2006 season, as blindly playing all first round underdogs of +100 or better has gone 102-164 for a -10.16 unit loss.
That strategy has actually produced worse results in the first round than betting favorites in the opening round, as playing all teams with closing odds of -105 or higher at Pinnacle Sports has gone 169-109 for a -5.34 unit loss. Obviously, neither the favorites nor the underdogs have been profitable by themselves in the first round, but as you will see, there have been some successful subsets.
Here are some of the more interesting results from the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs over the last six playoff seasons since 2006, with all results based on the closing odds from Pinnacle.
Many people feel that home ice advantage means less in hockey than it does in other sports, and that has indeed looked to be the case in the first round the last six years, as home teams are only seven games over .500 overall and the undervalued road teams have blindly produced a profit.
All first round home teams have gone 142-135 straight up since 2006 for a loss of 46.50 units, while betting all first round road teams has blindly produced a profit of +32.89 units despite those teams being seven games under .500. The road teams actually went over .500 in the first round last season at 26-23 for a nice +9.48 profit. The Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks went a combined 5-0 on the road in the first round last season and both clubs are back for more.
Road underdogs and road favorites have both been profitable the past six seasons, so there has been no reason to omit one or the other. Road underdogs of +100 or more are 82-118 but for a profit of +11.01 while road favorites of -105 or more have gone a scintillating 50-23 for a juicy +19.91 profit. Road chalk went an awesome 14-5 in the first round last season for +7.09 units.
The success of the road teams in the first round have extended to the Zigzag Theory also, which simply says to back the team that lost the previous game. The Zigzag has worked wonderfully for road teams in the first round the past six playoff seasons, but it has failed miserably for home teams.
First round road teams coming off a loss went 59-59, but for a nice +20.84 profit. It has not really mattered which team it was either that needed the win, as higher seeded road teams off of a loss went 31-26, +5.73 units while lower seeded road teams off a loss went 28-33 but for +15.11 units. All road teams off a loss went 12-10, +4.99 in the first round last season with San Jose being the only team to wrap up its series in that situation, vs. the Los Angeles Kings.
Conversely, home teams off of a loss went a disappointing 58-59 the last six years for -14.85 units. Now intuitively, one would think that the higher seeds would respond better in these situations, and while those clubs have indeed been “less bad” at 27-20, they are still showing a loss of -5.61 units. Lower seeded home teams off of a loss in the first round have shown their inferiority, going 31-39 for -9.24 units.
Last season was par for the course as home teams off a loss went 9-11, -5.30 in the opening round, with the Phoenix Coyotes actually losing twice in that situation. It should be pointed out that the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins did buck this trend in the deciding seventh game vs. the Montreal Canadiens.
Before looking at individual game trends by seed, let’s first discuss how the seeds have done over entire first round series. The top seeds have gone 9-3 vs. the eight-seeds in the best-of-seven first round, with the latest eight-seed to shock the world being the Canadiens over the underachieving Washington Capitals in 2010. The Capitals are an eight-seed this year as of this writing, so maybe this will be the year they advance further with lower expectations?
The two-seeds have gone 10-2 over the seven-seeds in the last six opening rounds with the latest upset again coming in 2010 when the Philadelphia Flyers eliminated the New Jersey Devils. Most of the upsets came in the other series as the three-seeds went only 6-6 vs. the six-seeds and the four-seeds actually have a losing series record vs. the five-seeds the last six seasons at 5-7.
Thus, as we get back to single games, it is not surprising that blindly playing the five-seeds in every game of the fist round has produced a profit since 2006, going 37-33 for +6.20 units. The five-seeds have been great first-round bets on the road going 21-17, +10.88, and they have been solid on the Zigzag regardless of the venue, going 18-11, +10.47 when coming off of a loss.
Five-seeds went 8-5, +2.71 overall in the first round last season including a nice 5-2, +4.05 on the road, and both fifth-seeds won their opening round series with the Tampa Bay Lighting knocking off the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators advancing past the Anaheim Ducks for the first series win in Nashville franchise history. The Predators are a four-seed this year as of this writing which would put them on the wrong side of this angle.
The five-seeds are one of only two seeds to show a profit if bet blindly every game in the first round the past six years. Can you guess the other? Well, those would be the eight-seeds! Some may find it surprising that the eight-seeds have turned a profit vs. the top seeds, but then again, it makes sense on another level in that it stands to reason that the eight-seeds would be the most undervalued of all playoff teams (or that their top-seeded opponents are the most overvalued).
All eight-seeds are 27-43 the last six playoff years, but for a +4.05 profit. Thus, while the eights have been undervalued, they have actually not been quite as undervalued as the five-seeds the last six years. Eight-seeds have turned a profit both at home (15-17, +1.85) and on the road (12-26, +2.20).
To be fair, eight-seeds did not fare well last season in Round One, going only 4-8 for a -3.18 loss.
Looking at the first round as a whole, there is not much going on in regards to totals with the ‘over’ going 117-114-46 the last six years with an average combined total score of 5.50 goals. However, it is interesting that there has been a straight line relationship between the ‘over’ success and the seeding differential.
The ‘under’ has had the most success in the one vs. eight matchups, as the bigger underdogs have done their best to scratch and claw and keep those games ugly and low scoring, thus giving themselves the best chance at an upset. As a result, the ‘under’ is 32-24-14, 57.1 percent in the one vs. eight matchups the last six years with an average combined score of 5.33 goals.
To illustrate that aforementioned straight line relationship, the ‘under’ is 30-26-12, 53.6 percent in the two vs. seven first-round games the last six years, the advantage then shifts slightly to the ‘over’ in the three vs. six matchups at 29-27-1 and the four vs. five games have been the most wide open, with the ‘over’ going 38-25-7, 60.3 percent with an average total score of 6.09 goals!
This seed relationship total pattern held true last season, as the ‘under’ was 6-4 in all one vs. eight matchups and the ‘over’ was a fat 8-2 in all four vs. five games.