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2022 NHL Playoffs: Why Betting Unders is a Stanley Cup-Winning Strategy

By Dan Koob

NHL Playoff hockey is the greatest playoff viewing experience we possess as sports fans. There’s really no debating it. You don’t even really need to be a hockey fan to appreciate it. The speed, the agility. The vulnerability of an entire season ending within a fraction of a second. It’s equally gut wrenching as it is exhilarating. 

Let’s perform a playoff meditation. You’re sitting there, both eyes squinting, breathing erratically. It’s double overtime of Game 7 of the 1996 playoffs. Gary Thorne is on the call. Red Wings, Blues. Scoring chances are flying back and forth between each team. Blues goalie Jon Casey has stopped 39 of your team's 39 shots on goal, a brick wall, personified. The greatest player to ever skate, Wayne Gretzky, somehow turns the puck over just outside the Red Wings zone and Detroit’s Steve Yzerman begins pushing towards the St. Louis blue line and unleashes a hell-bent slap shot right into the back of the net. The horn blares.

Thorne wails “Steve Yzerman! Detroit Wins!”

An incredible moment. An incredible game. Now imagine you’re trading that game on Sporttrade. Our Moneybar is flying all over the place, until it zooms all the way to $100 per contract on a Red Wings to Win trade (or $0 on a Blues to Win Trade). As volatile and exciting as the actual action.  

Sporttrade will offer Moneyline, Spread and Total trades within our NHL markets. The experience of trading on these will mirror the breathlessness of watching a NHL playoff game, except now, you’re holding a piece of the action in your hand. Let’s discuss the best way to attack these offerings to find the most profitable path as a sports better and hockey fan. 

Thanks to the heroic efforts of The Hockey News, we know betting on NHL puck lines can be one of the least successful ways of betting on hockey. NHL playoff puck lines of -1.5 over a 16 year sample size have covered an astonishingly low percentage, according to this research. 

In these specific instances, we’ve seen only 103 covers out of 454 occurrences. That’s just 22.7% of the time, a ROI of -20.8%.

So basically, anytime you see a puck line of -1.5 posted, you should immediately be trading the other side. An added bonus; because of the Sporttrade’s versatility of moving in and out of your positions at any time, your exposure in the case of a blowout is greatly reduced. 

But in the course of researching this blog, I found a certifiable edge in one of our offered markets: Totals.

Trading the NHL Playoffs
Source: Getty Images

Studying the past 8 NHL postseason scoring totals from 2013-2021 (excluding the expanded 2020 Covid playoffs) produced the following goals per game stats:

2021: 2.73 goals per game for each team, 5.50 total

2020: Omitted for differentiated formatting

2019: 2.79 goals per game for each team, 5.57 total 

2018: 2.95 goals per game for each team, 5.9 total

2017: 2.58 goals per game for each team, 5.16 total 

2016: 2.62 goals per game for each team, 5.25 total 

2015: 2.53 goals per game for each team, 5.06 total 

2014: 2.8 goals per game for each team, 5.59 total

2013: 2.5 goals per game for each team, 5.03 total 

To summarize the data set: 

  • Teams are averaging 2.69 goals per game in the playoffs

  • Games are averaging 5.4 goals in the playoffs 

Using this knowledge helps us to establish a ‘Rule of 5.5’ for trading on Totals. When we see a listed total above 5.5 goals for a game, we’re going to take the Under.

That may seem overly simplistic. And you may be thinking ‘Ok Dan, great…but this data set is imperfect. It takes every team into account, including the ones that’ll be first round sacrificial lambs. Wouldn’t those first round matchups be mismatches?’ 

Actually, no. The talent discrepancy between the ‘best’ NHL playoff teams and the ones making cameos doesn’t seem to matter much when it comes to the totals during the postseason. 

Take the eventual Stanley Cup Champions in each season in our data set. If you were to blindly trade the Under 5.5 goals for the duration of their Cup run, here’s what those team’s records would look like:

2013: Chicago Blackhawks: 16-7

2014: LA Kings: 12-14

2015: Chicago Blackhawks: 11-12

2016: Pittsburgh Penguins: 14-10 

2017: PIttsburgh Penguins: 14-11

2018: Washington Capitals: 11-13

2019: St. Louis Blues: 14-12

2021: Tampa Bay Lightning: 15-8

Total: 107-87. 

AKA 20 games over .500 with a 55% success rate. Now consider this: On Sporttrade, you’ll be able to move out of the Under positions you take when they appear to be going over, limiting any potential exposure. A feature unique to our sports trading platform

Is there a wrinkle in this finely tuned “Rule of 5.5”? While nothing in sports betting is 100% certain, the 2022 NHL season has seen 3.13 goals scored per team this year, the most since the 1995-1996 season (3.14). A gap of 25 years. 

Go back to the 1996 playoffs, back to that double OT game between the Blues and the Red Wings. What was the final score? 

1-0. Safe to say that total would have gone under.

So let’s apply the “Rule of 5.5” to our reference point, the 1996 playoffs, part of the highest scoring NHL season in the past 25 years. The Colorado Avalanche would win the Stanley Cup behind Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy. What was their playoff record to the Under 5.5? 

11-11. 

The league’s entire playoffs? 47-39. A 54.6% hit rate to the under 5.5. 

There are a myriad of reasons as to why scoring has been up during the 2022 NHL season. Team expansion/dilution of talent and Covid call-ups are just two. But once the league cut’s its participants in half during the postseason, I expect totals to fall back into place. I’ll be taking this Rule of 5.5 and applying it to my NHL Postseason trades. We’ll track it to see how we do from now until June. 

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Dan Koob is an employee at Sporttrade and a recreational sports bettor. He spent 10 years as a television sports reporter, covering the Packers, Eagles, Bengals and Giants. While Dan may place some of the discussed wagers with licensed sports betting operators, Dan's advice is purely for entertainment purposes only.  Dan's opinions are not gambling advice and do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of Sporttrade.  Dan does not have access to any non-public information. Trades described above are similar to options trading and are illustrative (i.e. not real) and absent any commission Sporttrade will charge on winning trades.

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When we see a listed total above 5.5 goals for a game, we’re going to take the Under.

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2022 NHL Playoffs: Why Betting Unders is a Stanley Cup-Winning Strategy