But how do you know which Stanley Cup teams are solid bets, and which plays are going to be proven to be fool’s gold? That’s what we intend to explain right here. This is all about the signs you should seek to recognize that make a team a championship contender.
These are the common trends you should always look for when betting on a team to win the Stanley Cup:
Depth Is Vital
The Stanley Cup, it’s been argued, is the hardest trophy to win in professional sports. It takes 16 wins over four hard-fought best-of-seven series to capture Lord Stanley’s mug. Much blood will be spilled and many stitches inserted over the course of the battle. It’s a war of attrition, a battle for survival.
Great teams are able to overcome vital injuries because they have secondary players capable of stepping up and filling the void in the short term until that star player heals. In 1992, the Pittsburgh Penguins survived and won despite the five-game absence of NHL scoring leader Mario Lemieux through a broken hand.
A team with a short bench will have a short shelf life in pursuit of the Stanley Cup.
Strength Down the Middle
It starts at center. Just about every team that wins the Stanley Cup goes at least two deep in star centers. Last season, it was Brayden Schenn and Ryan O’Reilly for the St. Louis Blues. The Washington Capitals (2018) had Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom. For the Penguins (2017, 2016), it was Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
In a short series, teams will deploy their best checkers to offset the opponent’s top line. But if that team has a second center who can also drive the bus, they will keep going.
Stopping The Puck
George McPhee of the Vegas once suggested that they should rename the Stanley Cup playoffs goalie because you can’t win the Cup without great goaltending.
The man has a point. There’s a reason why so many goalies win the Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup MVP. The Blues didn’t get going last season until they recalled Jordan Binnington from AHL San Antonio. Binnington’s 1.89 goals-against average was the lowest posted by a rookie since Al Rollins (1.77) of the 1950-51 Stanley Cup champion Toronto Maple Leafs.
And it isn’t just about having a hot goalie at the right time, either. Seven of the past nine Stanley Cup champions finished among the top eight in the NHL in save percentage. Five of them rated as a top-five team in this statistical department.
A Stud Defender
A team won’t win the Cup without a stellar puck mover on the back end. The Blues had Alex Pietrangelo. Washington relied on John Carlson. Pittsburgh deployed Kris Letang. Chicago counted on two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith while winning Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
Without that slick, tempo-pushing, power-play quarterbacking defender, an NHL team isn’t getting very far in the postseason.
Called it an intangible, an element that can’t be measured in this analytics-mad sportsworld in which we live but the facts speak for themselves. Teams generally don’t win the Cup without at least one player who’s been there and done that.
The 2018 Capitals suited up three-time Cup champ and 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Justin Williams, for example.
The 2019 Blues were the first team of the post-lockout era (since 2005-06) to win the Stanley Cup without a previous Stanley Cup winner in their lineup. However, it should be noted that though he saw no playoff game action, two-time Cup winner Jordan Nolan was one of their extra forwards. And 10-time Cup winner Larry Robinson was part of their coaching staff.
Defense Counts, But Don’t Count Out Offense
Yes, defense wins championships. Well, that’s how the old saying goes. But the facts tell a different story. It’s actually offense also sparks title runs. Eight of the last 12 Stanley Cup champions finished among the NHL’s top 10 in goals for per 60 minutes. Five clubs ended up in the top three.
Positive shot generation numbers are an equation that is essential to Stanley Cup success. Eight of the past 10 Cup champs were top-10 finishers in Corsi For over 60 minutes. Seven of those clubs finished among the first three positions in the league during their Cup-winning campaign.
Putting Theory To Paper
The Queen’s University Sports Analytics Organization compiled a 2018 study of Stanley Cup champions to determine what qualities were necessary to win a title and their research showed success in these five statistical categories were most vital in achieving a Cup triumph.
Goals for per 60 minutes was categorized as the most predictive data in determining a Stanley Cup champion. Of the seven championship teams who comprised the study, four had finished in the top five in this category. The 2016-17 Penguins led the league in goals for per 60 minutes while winning the Cup.
Pittsburgh was also third in the NHL in high danger scoring chances for that season. But the Penguins were 26th in goals against per 60 minutes and 13th in high danger chances against.
Meanwhile, their Stanley Cup final opponents in the spring of 2017, the Nashville Predators, were one of the NHL’s best defensive clubs. The Preds ranked 10th in the NHL in goals-against per 60 minutes (2.15) and eighth in save percentage (.927).
Pittsburgh won the series in six games, leaving the Queen’s study to conclude that when it comes to winning the Stanley Cup, the best defense is a strong offense.