The Stanley Cup finals are the best time of the year to be a hockey fan or a hockey bettor. The play is brilliant, the emotion is highly charged, and teams can and will do anything to win. It is great theater, and it is capped by the best trophy presentation and celebration in sports. If you want to bet on the finals and win then it is important that you avoid making any big mistakes with your bets. Here are five common mistakes bettors make when betting on the Stanley Cup finals:
Underestimating the importance of the goalie – There is no single bigger factor in playoff hockey than the goaltenders. Unlike any other position in any major North American sport the goaltender has the singular ability to win or lose championships. If you look at every team that has won the Stanley Cup it is almost certain that you will see a very hot goalie on the roster. The single biggest factor in handicapping the Stanley Cup finals, then, is the play of the goalies. It’s important to remember here, though, that only the short term matters. You have to ignore how they did in the regular season, how they have done in their career against this opponent, how their GAA or save percentage compares with the opponent, and so on. All that matters is how well they have been playing in the playoffs and how confident you are that that play is sustainable in the most intense of situations. It’s also very important to remember that the best goalie of the moment may not be the best goalie overall. There are many examples of a case where a young or undistinguished goalie has become an unlikely star in the playoffs.
Believing too much in momentum – I am skeptical about the significance of momentum at the best of times. In the Stanley Cup finals I think it is almost totally irrelevant. Each one of the games in the series is a unique event in and of itself. The players view the games with such importance, and the coaches are so focused on being ready for the games, that the idea that what happened in the last game will have a defining impact on what happens now just doesn’t make sense. If it is a factor at all then it ranks so far below so many other factors that it is all but irrelevant.
Undervaluing emotion – A lot of these players have been focused on playing in this series for years. If they are Canadians – as the majority of players in the league are – then they have been dreaming of hoisting the Cup since just after they learned to walk. This is an intense and intensely emotional journey for these players. In that situation an emotional event can have a dramatic impact on a game or even a series. One clear example of this came in the 2011 Finals. Boston had lost the first two games of the series in dramatic fashion to Vancouver and was in danger of digging a massive hole. In the first period of the third game Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome knocked Nathan Horton out with a brutal illegal hit. The Bruins were understandably furious, and it was that anger that fueled them to an incredibly dominant 8-1 win in the game. When teams are so closely matched and so talented emotion can be, and often is, the deciding factor.
Reacting too much to injury reports – If I hear about a player fighting an injury situation in October then I might be concerned. By the time the playoffs are almost over, though, every player is hurt. It’s just inevitable. Trainers get good at helping guys manage pain, and players play through a lot of it based on their emotion and will as well. Players are going to look to perform as well as they can regardless of their injury status. Besides, in the playoffs teams are absolutely not going to provide accurate injury reports anyway, so relying on anything you read or hear is dangerous. If a player is playing then it’s dangerous to make too many assumptions about how limited they may be.
Over-thinking – People often want to make handicapping the finals harder than it has to be. Ultimately the team that is deeper, playing better, and has better goaltending is going to win. Instead of looking at dozens of different factors when trying to find a winner just boil it down to the basics. That alone will give you an edge over the large majority of other bettors.