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2021 NHL Futures: Finding Value

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2021 NHL Futures: Finding Value
Tampa Bay Lightning - Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP

Futures bets are those that bring us all together; the casuals, the degens, the sharps, and sports fanatics (well, not unlike many others either I suppose)! These are some of the most talked about and entertaining betting markets discussed each off-season in every single sport. These types of markets pertain to almost everything that is not focused on a solitary game or match; a team or player to win a championship, reach playoffs, win a division, not finish last, to finish last, make a cut, do better than another team, or an individual to win a particular award. We have seen some pretty crazy ones out there too; what team a player will be traded to, who will win a hot-dog eating contest, next head coach of a particular team, winner of the next election, or most recently ‘will said president be impeached’.

Sportsbooks love to offer futures wagers as it is incredibly difficult for these types of markets to be beat regularly by sharp investors, given the margins they typically hold, and it also can tie up funds you might prefer to have available for turning over 100 times or more before the event is graded. No event garnered more of this type of negative attention than the most recent American Presidential election when some betting sites honored the results within days while others wanted to wait for a court to make a ruling. How many bettors would have only placed at the shops which would allow them to get down on the following Monday Night Football if they had only known ahead of time!

Another significant reason books are more than happy to offer futures is that general public LOVE to wager on them. By general public I don’t mean your typical punter who is betting daily for fun through an entire season, I am referring to the mass of people who are sports fans and what to take a chance on their team this season in particular but would not call themselves avid gamblers. In 2019, two examples of these were promoted relentlessly by the books who took the wager. There was the farmer (I think) who placed  $85 000 on Woods to win at Augusta [returned over a million dollars], as well as the St Louis Blues fan who put $400 down on them when they were in last place in the NHL [returned $100k]. The books love these bets because far, far, far more often than not they collect. I am sure no sportsbook was worried about having to pay out on the Blues at 250-1 even when they moved down to 7-1 before the playoffs begin. In fact, only a week later I am sure most risk management departments were already calling it a successful season when the Jackets eliminated the Bolts, President’s Trophy record setters, as the far and away front runner to hoist the Cup and undoubtedly their greatest liability on the season….one would think.

NHL Futures

The most popular markets from an NHL standpoint are; Stanley Cup winner, conference winner, division winner, followed by the individual team total markets and individual award props. Generally speaking the teams most favored to win the Stanley Cup will also receive significantly shorter prices on the subsequent related markets with little consideration from bettors as to how scheduling may affect a particular team to have better or worse chances to win their division in contrast with the teams from another division to win their conference. In fact, for all the work individuals much cleverer…er (most cleverest?) than myself do on researching and or modelling the data and around projected lineups and advanced hockey metrics, I see very little about the schedule itself. Perhaps that is what they keep closest to their chest – and if it is then we have every reason not to ignore it.

That said, if you were making comparisons between what a typical NHL season might be comprised of  you might want to use the NBA from a structural standpoint. However this year is an exception, even in regards to basketball. Now this year teams within each division have an ‘almost’ identical playing field, but not quite [special shoutout to Mike McKenzie for digging up a very useful infographic on this topic I kept misplacing]. For instance you might know that all teams are playing about the same quantity of back-to-backs, but how many of those teams will be facing a rested team in the second half of those in contrast to others. Is that a surefire way to guarantee wins/losses, course not. However with my approach I sure care more about that then how many minute splits fourth line plugs will get with variations of a teams taxi squad.

Beyond the contenders, you will see a bit of variance in the pricing from skin to skin. For example if I wanted to take my hometown Edmonton Oilers to win the 2021 Stanley Cup I could find them at five different intervals at the moment ranging from +1800 [Pinnacle] to +2800 [BetOnline] (visit our Sportsbook Review). Now the implied probabilities of either event are under 2%, however at these NHL odds it is more akin to doubling your returns when you are correct. So yes, it is worth it to use a handful of books when engaging these markets just like others.

Mikko Koskinen #19 of the Edmonton Oilers. Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images/AFP

Factors Affecting NHL Futures

The first and far most critical factor that causes the upcoming hockey season’s outright pricing is the prior year’s results. If you had looked at the top 16 teams to lift the 2020 Stanley Cup you would have noticed 14 of them were in the playoffs two seasons ago. This is not a poor approach as we do see respectable amounts of overlap, however not quite that much. Coming into this season we have a more honest board – 11 of the top 16 shortest prices are returning from the playoffs. Perhaps this is influenced by the division breakdown. The two teams that jumped the most form 2019 to 2020 on the outright markets was the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils. Neither team made the playoffs and both had pretty disappointing conclusions to their season by most experts and fan expectations.

It is certainly not always the case that there is such an overlap, but generally speaking it will be. Part of this is based on the reality that unlike some other major sports leagues, in this salary-cap era very few moves can drastically affect a roster’s performance expectations from one season to a next. Do not confuse this with equating an almost identical roster to actually performing at the same level. Another prominent reason is until punters have a chance to see a team in the new season they have a strong disposition to use the only information they can think of.

Another critical factor is the perception of what the management goals are. If  you look at the bottom 5-6 teams they all have a status of ‘rebuilding’ or ‘dumpster fire’ surrounding them…with the Red Wings probably falling into both categories.  One of the largest pieces of factors moving futures lines in the off-season is big name signings and trades. Two years ago the perfect example of this was the John Tavares signing. The line drop was one of the most significant I have seen in recent years. A few things contributed to this:

  • the sheer talent of Tavares combined with the potent pieces already in Toronto
  • the closeness of their recent first round exits
  • the size of the Toronto market-perception of their division

Like the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, and Manchester United, the Maple Leafs enjoy a constant buzz based on their sheer size, historical success and fan base near and far. A top signing going to such a popular team moved that line like they had won the last two Stanley Cups and had only gotten better. Now hindsight betting aside, the Leafs did have a tremendous regular season. Tavares was, as expected, an excellent two-way forward and put up good offensive numbers. However once again they were disposed of in the first round. This was followed by a slightly more embarassing exit to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the qualifying round this year. But alas, we are not here to belittle Leafs fans…in actuality no Canadian teams have had much to be excited about over the last three decades (beyond a run here or there).

Nick Foligno #71 of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Justin Holl #3 and Frederik Andersen #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs fight for position in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Qualification Round prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images/AFP

I am providing this context as an example of separating the noise from the probability. One player can make a significant difference to a roster, but it should not cause you to believe a +1100 is now +500 [as was the line move on the Leafs at the time]. This year’s off-season did not feature a blockbuster signing in the same stratosphere as Tavares. There were some significant moves among big name defencemen but nothing that affected the market in the same way.

But it may be we are waiting on a trade that won’t come during this new NHL format. Either way I recommend bettors work to break down what the jump from one season to the next represents, or one month to another, beyond teams that were not expected to be in the playoffs actually make gains to do so during the campaign. Will x player matter as much this season as he did last, which goalie could be healthier than prior seasons or which management has the room to acquire some excellent pieces at the trade deadline! Make sure that you are sifting through the information the media is selling in such away that you can exploit the best teams that could even open up excellent hedge opportunities down the line. At the end of the day futures are not easy to beat, and they can lock up your bankroll for a decent portion of the year. Provided you are not blinding betting into your team or the favorite again and again, can be an overlooked avenue to chase the dream!


I am not getting involved in Cup or Conference Winners. I like to treat those markets as mid to late entries with more information when you can reliably narrow down the field and what I believe to be adding value. I have done this for several yaers now, 2020 included when we took the Lightning at almost twice their pre-season number in January instead.

So these are division winners based on regular season points only. Be careful not to be placing it on the conference finalists which are the same batch of teams but their progression during the playoffs. One relies on 56 games of results, the other is based on two best-of-seven post-season series. For the first time this year I looked at trophy honors from a betting stance. Gonna have one more night to think on whether I actually want to place on em (especially this season). If I do it will be included in tomorrow’s article.

North Division
-Ottawa Senators @ +10000 [0.25%]
-Montreal Canadiens @ +500 [1.5%] Bookmaker
-Winnipeg Jets @ +1000
East Division
-New York Islanders @ +1000 [2%]
-Pittsburgh Penguins @ +450 [2%]
-Washington Capitals @ +600
West Division
-St Louis Blues @ +600
-Vegas Golden Knights @ +200 [1.5%]
Central Division
-Carolina Hurricanes @ +400 [1.5%] BetOnline
-Florida Panthers @ +1200