Prospect of Empty Arenas Sees Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup & Western Conf. Odds Get Worse

VGK players celebrating a goal
Alex Tuch (middle) and the Vegas Golden Knights have been one of the best teams in the NHL on home-ice since joining the league in 2017-18. Photo by Michael Miller (wikimedia commons).
  • The 2020 NHL playoffs are likely to be played in empty arenas
  • Vegas has had one of the best home-ice records since it joined the league in 2017-18
  • The Golden Knights’ postseason odds have taken a hit as a result

Yesterday, I wrote about the likely impact of coronavirus on the odds for NHL games (among other sports) when play resumes post-pandemic. One of the main takeaways was that the early NHL odds would have discounted moneylines for the teams that, statistically, have the strongest home-ice advantage. Empty arenas will be seen as having a neutralizing effect for franchises that otherwise draw massive, raucous crowds.

Looking at the latest NHL futures, that is already playing out with the Vegas Golden Knights. From March 18th to May 20th, VGK’s 2020 Stanley Cup futures fell from +650 to +750, even though zero games were played in that time.

Their odds to win the Western Conference show a similar decline.

2020 Western Conference Title Odds

Team  Odds on May 20  Odds on Mar. 19
Colorado Avalanche +353 +350
Vegas Golden Knights +378 +325
St Louis Blues +390 +450
Dallas Stars +850 +900
Edmonton Oilers +950 +1100
Nashville Predators +1300 +1000
Vancouver Canucks +1500 +1600
Calgary Flames +1550 +1550
Minnesota Wild +2150 +2500
Winnipeg Jets +2200 +3300
Arizona Coyotes +2250 +2500
Chicago Blackhawks +11250 +11250
San Jose Sharks +25000 OFF
Anaheim Ducks +25000 OFF
Los Angeles Kings +25000 OFF

Odds as of May 20, 2020.

Vegas Among NHL’s Best on Home Ice

Over the last 2.5 years – i.e. from the time the Golden Knights joined the league in 2017-18 until the league paused on Mar. 12th, 2020 – Vegas has been among the best teams in the NHL on home ice. As the table below shows, VGK ranks fifth out of 31 teams in terms of points collected at home (161). Only the Bruins (175), Lightning (172), Jets (163), and Penguins (162) have earned more.

Most Points on Home-Ice: Oct. 2017-18 to Mar. 2020

Team  Points at Home
Bruins 175
Lightning 172
 Jets 163
Penguins 162
Golden Knights 161
Capitals 153
Maple Leafs 151
Predators 150
Blues 149
Avalanche 148
Stars 147
Flyers 146
Blue Jackets 145
Sharks 144
Wild 144

More importantly, VGK ranks fourth in the league in terms of the differential between home and road points. Vegas has earned 161 points at home and only 127 on the road (a 34-point difference) since joining the league.

By that metric, they only sit behind the Senators (+47 at home), Penguins (+38), and Jets (+35).

Widest Home/Road Splits: 2017-18 to 2019-20

Team  Home/Road Points Gap
Senators 47 PTS
Penguins 38 PTS
 Jets 35 PTS
Golden Knights 34 PTS
Canucks 32 PTS
Ducks 32 PTS
Bruins 31 PTS
Sabres 30 PTS
Devils 29 PTS
Canadiens 28 PTS
Wild 27 PTS
Stars 27 PTS
Panthers 26 PTS
Red Wings 26 PTS
Sharks 24 PTS

Purely as a piece of trivia, only one team in the league has earned more points on the road than at home since Oct. 2017. Surprisingly, it’s the Calgary Flames (131 at home vs 139 on the road), who routinely rank top-ten in attendance.

T-Mobile Arena Is Electric

Since puck-drop for the first game of the 2017 season, the environment at T-Mobile Arena has been among the noisiest and most boisterous in the NHL. A miracle run to the Stanley Cup finals in year one turned hockey in Vegas from a novelty into a passion.

Whatever one’s opinion of crowds affecting momentum, research supports the notion that referees are influenced by crowd noise: home teams receive more power-plays. In the NFL, home teams were found to receive more favorable calls from officials, as well, but the effect leveled out after replay reviews became prevalent.

When the NHL season resumes, the chances of arenas having fans in the stands are minimal. The latest prop on whether the NFL would have fans in Week 1 (which doesn’t start until Sep. 10th) strongly favored the no at -400 (80% implied probability). With the NHL hoping to resume by mid-July at the latest, it’s hard to see arenas being filled.

There’s another theory bandied about that VGK’s home-ice edge is buoyed by visiting teams enjoying the Vegas nightlife on the eve of gameday. There’s no credible research on the subject yet, but if bettors buy into that idea, it’s all the more reason to fade VGK at home. Even when the hotels and bars on the Strip re-open, “[t]hings will be a little different,” to quote a recent ad.

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