Flames Could Be Stanley Cup Value Bet If NHL Playoffs Proceed Without Fans

Calgary hosting Vancouver at the Saddledome
The Saddledome hasn't been overly kind to the Flames in recent years, but Calgary has made up for it with strong road play. Photo by Daniel (flickr).
  • If the Stanley Cup playoffs take place in 2020, they are likely to occur in empty arenas
  • Home-ice advantage could be attenuated as a result
  • That could be a good thing for the Calgary Flames, at least compared to the rest of the league

Yesterday, I explored the recent drop in the Vegas Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup odds, theorizing that bettors are fading VGK because the 2020 NHL playoffs – if they take place at all – will happen inside of empty arenas, attenuating Vegas’ strong home-ice advantage at the electrifying T-Mobile Arena.

At the other end of the spectrum lie the Calgary Flames, whose average Stanley Cup odds have stayed level at +3300 since the league was put on pause circa March 12th.

2020 Stanley Cup Odds

Team Stanley Cup Odds
Boston Bruins +500
Tampa Bay Lightning +600
Vegas Golden Knights +650
Colorado Avalanche +700
Philadelphia Flyers +900
St. Louis Blues +900
Washington Capitals +1200
Pittsburgh Penguins +1400
Dallas Stars +1600
Toronto Maple Leafs +1800
Edmonton Oilers +2000
Nashville Predators +2000
Calgary Flames +3300
Vancouver Canucks +3300
Carolina Hurricanes +3500
NY Islanders +4000
NY Rangers +5000

Odds as of May 21, 2020. 

One major caveat needs to be noted before going any further: the NHL is working on a restart plan that would see 12 teams from each conference qualify for the playoffs. If that is the case, the league would likely give the top-two teams in each division a bye to the round of 16. The remaining 16 teams would duke it out for the other eight spots in a sort-of qualifying stage. In that scenario, the following teams would get byes: (1) Atlantic: Boston, Tampa Bay; (2) Metro: Washington, Philadelphia; (3) Central: Colorado, St. Louis; (4) Pacific: Vegas, Edmonton.

Every other team (including Calgary) would  have to get through an additional round just to reach the usual first round of the playoffs, and that would decrease all of their chances of winning the Stanley Cup by roughly 50%.

If the league proceeds with a standard eight-team bracket in each conference, Calgary would get the #8 seed in the West (based on points percentage) and face defending champion St. Louis in the first round.

Until the playoff field is finalized, it’s wise to hold off on making sizable futures bets. None of the odds on offer reflect a team having to win five series instead of four. That said, depending on how the field shakes out, the Flames could be a good value bet in a fan-free playoffs.

Flames Unparalleled Road Warriors

The Flames have not, per se, been the most successful road team over the last 2.5 years. As the table below shows, Calgary ranks fifth overall in points earned away from home in that span.

Most Road Points: Sep. 2017 – Mar. 2020

Team  Road Points Since Oct. 2017
Lightning 161
Capitals 148
Predators 145
Bruins 144
Flames 139
Blues 138
Maple Leafs 135
Blue Jackets 131
Jets 128
Golden Knights 127
Hurricanes 127
Avalanche 125
Rangers 125
Penguins 124
Flyers 123

However, relative to overall performance, Calgary has been by far the best road team since Oct. 2017. In fact, they are the only team in the league that has earned more points on the road than at home (131 home vs 139 road; -8 differential).

The next-closest teams are the Oilers and Rangers, both at +4. Only seven teams are lower than +10.

Home/Road Point Differential: Oct. 2017 – Mar. 2020

Team  Home/Road Point Differential
Flames -8
Oilers +4
Rangers +4
Capitals +5
Predators +5
Coyotes +6
Hurricanes +9
Blues +11
Lightning +11
Blue Jackets +14
Blackhawks +14
Maple Leafs +16
Islanders +17
Kings +19
Flyers +23

The biggest difference that would come with an empty arena is a lack of crowd noise. While noisy fans are not the only factor that explains home-ice advantage – rest/travel are arguably bigger contributors in hockey – as I wrote yesterday, research has proven that partial crowds tend cause biased officiating in favor of the home team. Stadiums that are dead silent will not have the same effect.

For whatever reason, Calgary has not been reaping the benefits of its strong home crowds at the Saddledome in recent history. But they have been more than able to cope with the challenges of playing in hostile environments.

Given the amount of roster turnover in the NHL, it’s difficult to put too much stock into overall team trends from three-plus years ago, so the sample size of Oct. 2017 until now should be the most informative. If oddsmakers do not adjust the Stanley Cup futures to reflect the realities of a fan-less playoffs, Calgary will be a bet-on team in my power rankings.


 

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