Over the weekend, I published a piece in which I used a market approach to determine which NHL teams were the most underrated this season.
I’d urge you to read that before moving ahead here, but here’s a quick recap of the approach I used that that piece:
One reason I like to look at sports betting markets for this kind of thing is that, to a certain extent, they are quantifying fans and bookmakers’ opinions of teams’ abilities. Lines move around as teams go through ups and downs or sustain injuries, and near the end of the season you can start to get a sense of which teams have under or over-performed relative to those opinions.
Over the past few days I used oddsmakers lines and theoretical betting units of $100 to determine NHL teams’ performance to determine the most overrated and underrated teams in the league so far this season. Here’s how it works:
$100 winning bet on a +150 underdog returns $150
$100 losing bet on +150 underdog returns -$100
$150 winning bet on a -150 favourite returns $100
$150 losing bet on -150 favourite returns -$150
So let’s think of it like this: if you’d bought stock in a hot pre-season team, say, the Nashville Predators, all season, how would it look today? Let’s call it the team’s stock chart. Numbers include completed games up to and including March 22.
Not great, but not awful considering, to turn a profit, teams also have to overcome the vigorish charged by sportsbooks, not to mention how heavily hyped the Preds were at the start of the season. You can see they took a fairly big dip mid-season with their inconsistent play, but they’ve bounced back to solidify a playoff spot.
Be warned before we get into the top-five: some of these are going to seem counter-intuitive because we’re talking about some really good teams here. The point isn’t to determine which teams outperformed poor expectations, it’s to determine which teams outperformed their relative expectations.
That last bit refers to the fact that the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks made my top five most overrated teams list despite everyone knowing they’re actually really good. The point here was that they might actually be better than people are giving them credit for. Keep that in mind as we head into the top five most overrated teams, because there are a couple of real duds in here.
5. Florida Panthers
This has to have been a really confusing year if you’re a Panthers fan, coach, manager or player. After a 103-point season in 2015-2016 that led them to the Atlantic Division crown, they never were able to fully recover from an uneven start to this season. Making things especially weird is the fact that, from an analytics perspective, Florida’s underlying numbers were actually really good to start the year. Part of the problem was injuries, part of it was due to the upheaval caused by the surprise firing of head coach Gerard Gallant early in the year. Put it all together and you get something like this:
That mountain near the end has to be especially disheartening, because it looked for a time like the Panthers were on the road to recovery. Instead, after rattling off a bunch of road wins in a row, they’ve plummeted back down and appear headed for the golf course.
4. The New Jersey Devils
There are plenty of reasons a team might be overrated heading into, and throughout the course of, a season. Some if it can be explained by injuries, key under-performers on the team, or a big dollop of bad luck. Often it’s an immeasurable combination of all three.
If I had to take an educated guess as to what might have happened here, the first place I’d look is No. 1 goalie Cory Schneider’s save percentage. Schneider is generally considered among the league’s top goalies, and he’s earned it, posting a career .922 mark. This season, however, he’s at .911, which puts him below league average. And a team with a talent pool this shallow cannot afford below league average goaltending.
3. Dallas Stars
As with the Panthers, this down season seems to have come out of nowhere. The Stars’ offence was so overwhelming last year that it made up for shoddy goaltending and a questionable D corps. Well, the goaltending has arguably been worse, the Stars let a couple veteran defencemen walk over the summer despite already being weak at the position, and various injuries took a bite out of the offence. As a result, you get this:
For more on the Stars’ collapse, I’d urge you to check out Ryan Lambert’s piece for Puck Daddy today. He breaks it down and argues there aren’t many easy fixes. Scary.
2. Los Angeles Kings
There are many who will say that the Kings’ struggles this season are simply due to the lengthy injury suffered by No. 1 goalie Jonathan Quick, but Quick’s contributions have been overrated for some time now. Amazingly, the Kings got competent goaltending from Peter Budaj after Quick went down and, as expected, they’ve spent most of the season leading the league in possession. Unfortunately, not even the Corsis could save them.
I think it’s fair to say that bad luck probably played a part here, but the lack of offence from such a dominant possession team is concerning. Putting the puck on net is a big part of the battle, but they need a couple more guys who can actually find the back of it from time-to-time.
1. Colorado Avalanche
Now here’s where my warning about counter-intuitive results comes into play. The Avs are, without question, the worst team in the league. So how can they be overrated? Again, the Capitals and Blackhawks were underrated when compared to their relative expectations. In this case, the Avs not only failed to clear the low bar set for them this season, they ran face-first into it.
This has to be terrifying if you’re an Avalanche fan. This season will mark the sixth year of missing the playoffs over the past seven. Their one appearance completely defied all the analytics and was long ago revealed to be a mirage, too. Despite all that, despite what should have been a long period of time dedicated to compiling assets that would return the Avs to glory, they’re actually getting worse. Some of this is due to the injuries sustained by No. 1 goalie Semyon Varlamov and top defender Erik Johnson, but even with those, you’d expect a modicum of competency. Instead, Colorado has continued to lose, and lose, and lose again, overcoming even the most generous lines oddsmakers can offer. And that’s why they’re the most overrated team in the NHL this season.