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NHL betting guide: Does regular-season xG% correlate to playoff success?

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What does it take to win the Stanley Cup?

The qualitative answers to such an all-encompassing question include toughness, determination, resilience, strength, skill, and a whole lot of luck.

Approaching the playoffs, we look for quantitative hints to spring's biggest question. Thinking about it logically, we want our team to do three things:

  1. Outplay opponents at even strength, drive play to wear down the opposition, get high-danger chances, and draw penalties.
  2. Score at a high rate when the best opportunities (even-strength high-danger chances, power plays) come about.
  3. Limit chances and expected goals from opponents' high-danger chances more often than an average netminder.

Before we get to this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, let's look back at the last three years and see how the conference finalists faired during the regular season.

First up, a trusted method to measure play-driving: expected goals share (xG%) at even strength (ES):

YEAR TEAM ES xG% (Regular) ES xG% (Playoffs)
2021 Lightning 52.0% (6th) 50.5% (9th)
Canadiens 45.0% (12th) 48.9% (10th)
Golden Knights 52.4% (5th) 55.5% (4th)
Islanders 47.4% (10th) 47.0% (11th)
2022 Avalanche 52.7% (9th) 59.1% (2nd)
Lightning 52.0% (12th) 51.5% (8th)
Rangers 49.4% (19th) 39.6% (15th)
Oilers 53.3% (6th) 51.6% (7th)
2023 Golden Knights 50.8% (16th) 51.8% (7th)
Panthers 52.8% (9th) 46.5% (15th)
Hurricanes 58.6% (1st) 53.7% (3rd)
Stars 53.4% (6th) 55.2% (1st)

Is there a correlation to playoff success?

Interestingly, just five of the 12 teams to make a conference final and just one Stanley Cup finalist - the teams in bold in the table above - had a season where they finished in the top eight, a cohort that suggests they're in the top half of the 16 playoff teams.

While we'd prefer to back teams that have a better rate of creating scoring chances than not, there's no recent direct correlation from regular-season success in this metric. This is similar to the regular-season standings, where we've seen three division winners, four second-place finishers, two third-place teams, and three from the fourth/wild-card spot make a conference final.

2023-'24 Even-strength xG%

TEAM 2023-'24 ES xG%
Oilers 56.5%
Panthers 55.4%
Hurricanes 55.4%
Stars 54.9%
Kings 54.1%
Predators 52.7%
Avalanche 52.5%
Canucks 52.2%

The top eight teams in xG% are all expected to be in the playoffs but will likely need to do more to make a run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

On Monday, we'll see how successful playoff teams have recently stacked up in SNIPES, a metric we created that evaluates how good a team's top-end talent is at converting scoring opportunities.

The cheat sheet

The dirty little secret in the betting world is that while there are no bad bets at the right price, the discovery process of what a good price looks like is hidden.

Each week, we balance market information from regular-season point totals and in-season advanced metrics - with an even-strength focus - to determine the win probability for each team and the moneyline needed to bet on either side. The idea is to remove the cognitive bias of win-loss records, which can be skewed by outliers like special-team results, poor goaltending performances, and other unreliable events.

You can use whatever parameters you like to decide how much of an edge you need to trigger a bet, but here are mine:

  • True line favorite of -111 or longer: 1%
  • True line between -110 and +110: 2.5%
  • True line underdog of +111 or longer: 4%

I also have a 5% win probability consideration for a team playing in the second game of a back-to-back with travel and a 3% consideration for the second leg of a home back-to-back. When it comes to injured players, an estimation is made on the player's impact on their team's win probability.

When the betting markets open up the night before, you can compare those prices with our "price to bet" column to see if you're getting any value with either side's moneyline. There's a possibility that a moneyline moves into a bet-friendly range at some point between the market opening and puck drop.

Apr. 5 NYR@DET 58.5/41.5 NYR -135/DET +166
WSH@CAR 19.0/81.0 WSH +568/CAR -401
PHI@BUF 39.0/61.0 PHI +186/BUF -150
COL@EDM 36.5/63.5 COL +208/EDM -167
SEA@ANA 62.9/37.1 SEA -163/ANA +203
VGK@ARI 62.6/37.4 VGK -161/ARI +200
Apr. 6 TB@PIT 43.5/56.5 TB +153/PIT -125
FLA@BOS 45.8/54.2 FLA +139/BOS -114
WPG@MIN 44.4/55.6 WPG +147/MIN -120
DAL@CHI 75.9/24.1 DAL -299/CHI +398
STL@SJS 61.4/38.6 STL -153/SJS +189
TOR@MTL 68.4/31.6 TOR -206/MTL +262
NJD@OTT 53.8/46.2 NJD -112/OTT +137
PHI@CBJ 45.6/54.4 PHI +140/CBJ -115
NSH@NYI 47.8/52.2 NSH +121/NYI +101
VAN@LAK 38.9/61.1 VAN +186/LAK -151
EDM@CGY 57.9/42.1 EDM -132/CGY +163
Apr. 7 BUF@DET 52.3/47.7 BUF +101/DET +121
MIN@CHI 65.1/34.9 MIN -178/CHI +223
CBJ@CAR 12.5/87.5 CBJ +1076/CAR -640
OTT@WSH 44.3/55.7 OTT +148/WSH -121
ARI@SJS 62.5/37.5 ARI -160/SJS +199
NSH@NJD 40.7/59.3 NSH +172/NJD -140
MTL@NYR 22.6/77.4 MTL +437/NYR -323
STL@ANA 50.2/49.8 STL +110/ANA +111
DAL@COL 43.4/56.7 DAL +155/COL -126

Matt Russell is the lead betting analyst for theScore. If there's a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on social media @mrussauthentic.

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