Will Bettors Ever See a Stanley Cup Three-Peat Again? Don’t Bet on It

Jay Pryce

Tuesday, May 15, 2018 12:44 PM UTC

Tuesday, May. 15, 2018 12:44 PM UTC

Will the NHL see a three-peat champion in the near future? Don't bet on it. The competitive gap is closing considerably. The 2017-18 Penguins may be the last team to play for the honor in a long time. 

Only 16 sports teams have repeated as champions three years in a row across the four major American sports leagues (NHL, MLB, NFL and NBA). The 2017-18 Pittsburgh Penguins had a chance to join the elite company, but lack of depth and a red-hot Washington Capitals power play saw the two-time reigning Stanley Cup holders crash out of their second-round NHL playoff matchup 4-2. Pittsburgh took the ice in October 2017 the betting favorite at +875 odds to three-peat as NHL champion. Sucker bet? Absolutely. Winning three in row is near impossible in today’s league structure.

Firstly, winning two titles is difficult. Since the 1967 NHL expansion, only nine teams have hoisted the Stanley Cup in back-to-back years. A trio is even tougher. The last franchise to three-peat was the Mike Bossy-led New York Islanders, who won four straight championships from 1980-1983. Three others have had a shot since: the Penguins (1992-93), Red Wings (1998-99) and Oilers twice (1985-86, 1988-89). Including this year’s Penguins, each was eliminated in or prior to the second round. “Something always comes up,” legendary coach Scotty Bowman, who coached the Penguins and Red Wings in the last two three-peat attempts, said of a team’s chances.

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"Pittsburgh is the Penguins. And the Penguins are Pittsburgh. For two straight years, Pittsburgh truly was the City of Champions."

The dream of a three-peat may be over, but the Pens have a lot to be proud of.

Read more from SK of @PensInsideScoop: https://t.co/y8CPvX7eVq pic.twitter.com/PFMlx7jucM

— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 11, 2018

The changes in the modern game make for three titles in a row near impossible. There are more teams, for one. Only 21 franchises existed during the Islanders' golden era. The Vegas Knights expansion totals 31 teams currently. The talent is deeper and more spread out as well. Globalization had yet to hit the NHL in the 1980s. Bossy’s Islanders sported a roster with players from three different countries. This year’s Penguins represented eight varying nationalities.

The salary cap is likely the biggest deterrent. In fact, the Penguins are the first NHL team with a shot at the feat in the era (2005-06). Building and keeping a strong player core intact for an extended period is difficult with wage limitations. Add the analytics revolution to the mix, and talent, planning, and play are closer in competition than ever before. Coaches are detailed and number-crazy, players train year-round, and the game is much faster and more dynamic than in the past. The competitive gap between teams is shrinking every year.

Need proof? Here is the winning percentage, average line, and records for betting favorites in the playoffs during the Salary Cap Era:

Season Record Win % Avg Line
2006-07 50-28 64.1 -164.1
2007-08 52-33 61.2 -159.9
2008-09 57-30 65.5 -162.7
2009-10 53-35 60.2 -170.9
2010-11 52-35 59.8 -146
2011-12 40-43 48.2 -137.4
2012-13 59-26 69.5 -149.3
2013-14 55-34 61.8 -144.2
2014-15 53-36 59.6 -139.6
2015-16 48-39 55.2 -143.7
2016-17 41-44 48.2 -142.7
2017-18 34-35 49.3 -165.4

In the last four years, favorites are winning at a rate less than 60 percent. This happened once in the eight years prior. Get to the playoffs, and nearly every series is coin-flip in this era. The Penguins went 6-6 in the 2018 postseason despite taking the ice the betting favorites in 10 of 12 matchups. Pittsburgh’s average line was a healthy -152.8. Don’t count on seeing a three-peat NHL champion anytime in the near future.

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