FIRST HALF NHL WRAP-UP: NOTES AND PREDICTIONS


We’re almost halfway through the NHL regular season and we have a good idea of teams that may be contenders come April and teams that are unlikely to make it to the playoffs. That’s good to know, but what I’m more concerned with is which teams are going to make me money, and which teams aren’t.

A good way to make money is by finding value in unpopular teams, or by fading popular teams. Last year I rode the Blues for a bunch of games when they went on a tear, winning games in bunches when everyone wrote them off as a bad team that was about to fizzle out. They went on to win the Cup, and I cashed a Blues to win the Cup ticket at +7500 odds. The reason I made that bet was their consistently high “expected” goals stats paired with low “actual” goals.

Expected goals are calculated based on a lot of shot quality variables, such as where a shot was taken from (angle and distance), if it was a rebound/one-timer/deflection, wrist-shot/slap-shot, etc. The Blues consistently had much higher expected goals numbers than their opponents as a percentage (expected goals “for” vs expected goals “against”). They were beating the best teams in the league, so I figured it was worth a shot to put a bet on them to win the Cup and it worked out.

Expected goals stats fluctuate A LOT for teams over the course of the season, as do actual goals scored. But generally, actual goals scored shouldn’t be too far off from the expected goals stats. This difference is another metric I use to decide which teams are undervalued or overvalued. I will outline the teams this season that have actual goals too far away from their expected goal values. This will help us determine which teams are undervalued or overvalued, with a little subjectivity included. Since we’re on the Blues example, at this time last year they had about 5% more expected goals than actual goals, implying they were due for some better luck in the second half of the season.

Now for some numbers – First, teams with significantly MORE goals than expected (5 on 5):

  • Avalanche (10% more)
  • Jets (9% more)
  • Bruins (8% more)
  • Blues (7% more)
  • Rangers (5% more)
  • Islanders (4% more)

Notice these are all pretty good teams. It’s not unusual for good teams to have slightly higher actual goals than expected, because they typically have better players that can score at a higher rate. Even so, I think these numbers are a little TOO high and these teams will not likely be able to keep the pace that they’re currently on.

We’ve already seen the Bruins (2-4-4 L10) and Jets (2-4 L6) start to decline into the break. The Islanders went on a mini-slide as well, losing 3 of their last 4, with two of those to the Ducks and Blue Jackets. The Rangers have had some upset wins lately but are unlikely to break out without improving their expected goals percentage (aka playing better).

Second, teams with significantly LESS goals than expected (5 on 5):

  • Red Wings (10% less)
  • Sharks (8% less)
  • Devils (6% less)
  • Flames (6% less)
  • Knights (6% less)
  • Kings (6% less)
  • Blue Jackets (5% less)

Again, most of these teams are pretty bad, which is expected. Bad teams won’t be able to capitalize as much on their good scoring opportunities. It’s part of what makes them bad. But these numbers are a little low and should regress closer to 0%.

I’ve bet on the Blue Jackets a lot lately and they started breaking out, going 6-0-2 into the break. They have typically had expected goals % numbers higher than their opponent, which is a prerequisite for me to bet on them. The Sharks have been awful lately, going 1-8-1, but their numbers show that they don’t deserve to be losing that many games and I think they’re a good candidate to greatly improve their record in the second half of the season. The Wings are just pretty bad and won’t be a contender even if they get extremely lucky. Devils have a better team, and it’s possible they can improve their record significantly in the second half, but I don’t like them much. I can see the Flames and Knights stepping it up in the second half and fighting for the division. The Coyotes, Knights, Oilers, Flames, and Canucks are all within 4 points of each other. The Kings likely won’t do much this season, but I do like them to improve in the second half.

Third, raw expected goals percentages:

Top 10 (best first)

  • Hurricanes
  • Lightning
  • Canadiens
  • Blue Jackets
  • Penguins
  • Knights
  • Kings
  • Predators
  • Stars
  • Capitals

Bottom 10 (worst first)

  • Jets
  • Red Wings
  • Rangers
  • Blackhawks
  • Sharks
  • Blues
  • Ducks
  • Islanders
  • Oilers
  • Sabres

The fact that the Blue Jackets, Knights, and Kings are all up near the top in expected goals PLUS have less goals scored than expected makes me feel good about their chances of improving in the second half.

The Jets, Rangers, Blues, and Islanders are all near the bottom in expected goals PLUS have more goals scored than expected which makes me feel good about their chances of doing worse in the second half.

I only use this information as a guide to refrain from betting too much ON the teams expected to do worse, and AGAINST the teams expected to do better. It doesn’t mean I’ll never bet the other way though. I use the expected goals stats over the last 10 games as my primary indicator for who to bet on any given day.

Good luck!


-AJMay


(Expected goals numbers from Naturalstattrick.com)

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