2021-2022 NHL [way too] EARLY SEASON NOTES AND PREDICTIONS
Spoiler: Bet ON the Wild, Avalanche, Bruins, Leafs, Stars, Kings, and Red Wings; and AGAINST the Blues and Jets.
Our job as bettors is to determine when we need to adapt in our handicapping and when we need to stay the course and do what has worked in the past. This holds true every year; the circumstances just change. Last year in the NHL we had to adapt to COVID protocols, divisional-only games, and a shortened schedule. This year, for me at least, it seems that more teams than usual are getting “goalie” wins, or games where one team dominates but the other wins. That will likely change in frequency as the season goes on, but luck still plays a large role in the NHL and hockey in general.
Examples of “goalie” wins recently: Red Wings beating the Capitals with only 23% of the high danger scoring chances at 5 on 5, Golden Knights beating the Stars with just 23% of expected goals at 5 on 5 and their backup Brossoit starting (worst xg% with a win so far), the Flyers beating the Bruins a few games ago with only 20% of high danger scoring chances, the Canucks beating the Kraken AND Islanders with 15% (worst so far with a win) and 18% of high danger scoring chances, respectively. There are more but I don’t want to fill any more space with this point.
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 better the chance, the higher the expected goal number. Looking at these as a percentage (expected goals for / expected goals against x 100) will give you a good idea of the quality of chances taken vs given up. Using expected goals in combination with high danger scoring chance % will give you a good idea of how a particular game went or how well a team is currently playing.
Expected goals stats fluctuate A LOT for teams over the course of the season, as do actual goals scored. 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 above or below their expected values. This will help us determine which teams are undervalued or overvalued, with a little subjectivity included.
Now for some numbers:
FIRST, teams with significantly MORE goals than expected (5 on 5) as of 10/29/21:
Hurricanes (22% more) (15th in expected goals, 8th hardest schedule)
Blues (17% more) (27th in expected goals, 30th hardest schedule)
Flames (17% more) (10th in expected goals, 17th hardest schedule)
Flyers (15% more) (24th in expected goals, 4th hardest schedule)
Panthers (14% more) (6th in expected goals, 5th hardest schedule)
Capitals (13.5% more) (3rd in expected goals, 14th hardest schedule)
Jets (13% more) (22nd in expected goals, 32nd hardest schedule)
Blue Jackets (11% more) (30th in expected goals, 13th hardest schedule)
Notice these are mostly 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. For reference, last season there were only 5 teams above 5% MORE goals than expected, with the highest value being 6%. Sample size plays a role of course, but you get the idea.
I bolded the two teams (Blues, Jets and Blue Jackets) that have been winning while scoring more goals than expected BUT have not been playing well enough to deserve it. Look for those three to start slumping a bit. The Jets have been getting outplayed by bad teams but performing some miracle comebacks so they’re still getting love from bettors. The Blues should have some good fade value going forward, but maybe not the Blue Jackets since nobody really expects them to be good.
SECOND, teams with significantly LESS goals than expected (5 on 5):
Blackhawks (21% less) (32nd in expected goals, 19th hardest schedule)
Coyotes (16% less) (26th in expected goals, 2nd hardest schedule)
Senators (14% less) (19th in expected goals, 20th hardest schedule)
Maple Leafs (13% less) (7th in expected goals, 29th hardest schedule)
Bruins (12.5% less) (2nd in expected goals, 6th hardest schedule)
Avalanche (12.5% less) (5th in expected goals, 3rd hardest schedule)
Stars (9% less) (13th in expected goals, 23rd hardest schedule)
We would usually expect this list to be populated by mostly bad teams. Bad teams won’t be able to capitalize as much on their good scoring opportunities. It’s part of what makes them bad. I like seeing some good teams on this list because we might get better line value in the short term before they start winning. We expect these numbers to regress closer to 0%, meaning they’ll score more goals without any significant changes to their game.
I bolded the teams that we should look to do better from here given that they’ve been “unlucky” with decent expected goals metrics. Bruins, Avalanche, Leafs, and Stars (in that order) are likely not as bad as they look right now and we should be able to get some good value on them going forward.
THIRD, raw expected goals percentages:
Top 10 (best first)
Bottom 10 (worst first)
The teams in the top 10 for expected goals are mostly teams that are already perceived as good teams, but the betting market might be undervaluing some of them anyway against some of the teams with better records.
The Wild, Kings, and Red Wings are teams that we can usually find at a good price that have a chance to win against almost any opponent. Until things start to turn for them, I’ll look towards those teams as value bets.
The Canucks, Golden Knights, and Flyers are teams that are considered decent based on the lines being put out and by bettors, but they haven’t been playing well enough to warrant that status.
Using the “lucky” and “unlucky” metrics above, I’ll probably be betting ON the Leafs, Bruins, Avalanche, and Stars, and AGAINST the Blues and Jets.
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, high danger scoring chances, and difference between actual and expected goals data over the last 10 games as my primary indicator for who to bet on any given day.
Since this is so early in the season, I’ll write an updated article after more games are played to see how things have changed. They always do, and sometimes quickly.
-AJMay (Winners Only)
(All data from Natural stat trick);