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The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs May Have Changed NHL Handicapping For Good

2019 Stanley Cup Finals
Under normal circumstances, given the events of the last 5-6 days, I would be prepared to rip my old hometown a brand-new “Gateway to the West.”

After all our blog at stands for many things other than good handicapping and fair, responsible gambling. We try to stick up for good sportsmen and women, bright-eyed behavior, and ethics in sports…especially in an age where the latter is often lacking.

Not to say we’re stuck in the 20th century. For instance, I actually don’t mind Brett Hull’s profanity off the ice or the 2019 Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues’ profanity on the ice. It’s bad to use a bunch of explicit sexual slurs in front of small children and so on, but old folks who shudder at every “damned,” “hell” and “suck” are the ones who need to grow the hell up and stop sucking.

Then there are the middle-finger incidents during and after the Stanley Cup finals between the Blues and Boston Bruins. Hull gave the bird to the Boston bench at Enterprise Center 2 weeks ago, an act that seemed to be totally random at the time. I do have issues with Golden Brett’s penchant for being sloshed in public at every opportunity – that is a horrendous example for padawans.

Larry Robinson, an NHL Hall-of-Fame defenseman and former elite head coach now in an advisory role with the St. Louis organization, took another, ahem, “fowl” shot at the Blues’ Original Six opponents during the Stanley Cup Parade.

Larry Robinson Middle Finger

Again, typically I’d be enraged to see that. How classless of a legend like Big Bird!

But that was before I had considered the media narrative coming out of Beantown, and how it played into a national narrative that threatened to overshadow the Blue Note’s amazing run to the Cup.

A good chunk of the American public believes that the St. Louis Blues won their maiden Stanley Cup in franchise history this year because of luck.

Another fair chunk of the population – or maybe just a loud minority from the Northeast – are saying that the Blues are a dirty team, a club that simply gooned its way to a championship against superior, faster, more-talented playoff foes.

The St. Louis Blues are Talented (Duh)

A quick disclaimer – yes, I was born in Missouri and grew up cheering for the Blues. But I am not a St. Louis Blues fan. I am a hockey fan. In the 1990s, when the club released Mike Keenan, Wayne Gretzky, and Brett Hull in an 18-month span, it demonstrated to smart supporters (as few as there were, given that an STL sports media with corrupt agendas of its own was “reporting” on the process) that the franchise would rather win regular-season games and whip-up expensive ticket sales to naive fans who mistook the President’s Cup for the Stanley Cup.

A few blithering idiots from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote in 1997 that the Iron Mike-Great One-Hullie fiasco “set the Blues back 10 years.” The idea that fresh, young legs in a Nashville Predators-type system would be more effective than a veteran corps led by the greatest player ever and one of the greatest coaches ever is what actually set the Blues back. So did the rabid ticket-buyers who enabled the club to keep spinning its wheels, and who believed in some mythical “speed”-oriented version of the Stanley Cup Playoffs that didn’t hinge on big, tough guys running into each other.

The club’s 2019 incarnation won the Stanley Cup not by acquiring the fastest players in the league, nor finishing 1st in what was a topsy-turvy campaign, but by exemplifying the physicality, toughness, and guile that the St. Louis press corps once mocked and dismissed as “garage hockey.”

So I haven’t been a fan of how the Blue Note has been tuned in the modern era. Gateway City ownership has appeared to tread water at times, content for the Blues to be a “contender” that really isn’t one. Plus, the last thing in the world I would want to do in public (or private) is consider myself a St. Louis Blues fan only now that the team has won the NHL title. I hate when people do that.

But I sympathize with Larry Robinson, and even with a dopey, drunken Brett Hull. I understand why there was bona-fide bad blood between the Boston and St. Louis teams and fans in this year’s final – which incidentally was the most-watched Stanley Cup series in over 40 years.

Viewers wanted to see Beantown lose, but not merely because the city is spoiled with the New England Patriots and the Boston Celtics and the Boston Red Sox, but because of comments like those of podcaster Marc Bertrand who is now telling Bruins supporters that the Blues’ championship is illegitimate and means nothing since the Midwestern team won with dirty tactics, physical beat-downs, and lucky goals.

That’s a whole lot of chutzpah, considering that Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chára’s sole purpose on the ice is to block shots and crush people. Chara is a killer, a massive heavyweight who looks to physically harm his opponent with big hits. That’s fine. I love the guy! But calling-out an opponent – to the point of calling their Stanley Cup illegitimate – over edgy, chippy tactics while a career-assassin patrols your team’s blue line is 100% bad faith.

But beyond that – Bertrand is just wrong. The idea that the Blues are a slow, puck-challenged group of ham-and-eggers who got lucky and punched enough people to get by is ridiculous.

A Few of the St. Louis Blues “Goons”

Let’s take a look at the team of thugs and talentless hacks that just won the Stanley Cup in 7 games over the fast, resilient Bruins and goaltender Tuukka Rask.

Vladimir Tarasenko. Hmm. I seem to remember a lot of Team Russia fans getting ticked-off that the feared sniper’s club team (the Blues) had advanced deep into the NHL playoffs and therefore Tarasenko could not attend the World Championships. Russia’s IIHF team in 2019 featured players like Yevgeni Kuznetzov on the 3rd line. It was an All-Star team.

Why would anyone have wanted a – cough – talentless goon from St. Louis to come along?


Okay, on to Ryan O’ Reilly. There’s a Blues forward who seems pretty popular among the team, the fans of the Gateway City, and head coach Craig Berube. He must be like one of the minor league players from Slap Shot, if he fits in with a bunch of slow, mediocre guys who just break the rules all the time! Wow, let’s get a load of this old bag o’ lard!

Oh. Forgot that Ryan O’ Reilly is the Kevin McHale of the NHL, almost never the guy with the most points, just an unstoppable force of nature who will never be fully appreciated. O’ Reilly has more World Championship medals with Team Canada – on big Olympic ice no less – than most elite European skaters.

Not bad for a big fat cheater with no talent.

Look up and down the St. Louis roster and you’ll find plenty of talent, plenty of speed and plenty of scoring. On the blue line, Jay Bouwmeester is as respected of a veteran as you’ll find in the game, and Colton Parayko is a Chris Pronger-incarnate with a quicker release. Defender Alex Pietrangelo scored an awe-inspiring 19 points in the playoffs.

I haven’t even mentioned rookie wunderkind Jordan Binnington between the posts.

Berube didn’t mind if Binnington took a few more perimeter shots-against than most teams would want. It warmed the kid up and got him going. Rask played like a champion, but Binnington played like a phenom.

The Blues won because they were the most dynamic team. My conception of the new NHL is a league where there is no longer any such thing as a “scoring” or a “checking” line, or a “fighting” specialist for that matter. Everyone is expected to score and check, and everyone tends to fight sometimes. St. Louis had 4 lines and 3 pairings that could all score and check and didn’t make crucial mistakes. It’s not hard to see why they won if you’re not wearing Spokes instead of glasses.

I used the old eyeball test to see what I thought about the Blues when the club started to get hot over the winter. I was dumbfounded to hear the accusations from Boston during the last series. The idea that a slow, dumb group of criminals somehow won 99 out of 100 regular-season games in a fast-paced league of superstars is absurd, and the idea that the Cup run was due to a “lucky draw” or “cheating” in the last 7 face-offs is just as crazy.

Don’t believe the loud minority – or tabloid writers dressed up as reporters.

NHL games are not being won with dirty tactics, nor blind luck, nor crooked referees. It’s just a unique sport for which handicapping takes an adjustment if you’re used to the lessons of the court or gridiron.

Lessons of the Tampa Bay Fiasco

Now we’re circling back to the other complaint of mainstream pundits – that the NHL is just luck, and the winning teams are lucky.

When the Tampa Bay Lightning was swept in the 1st round of the 2019 postseason after winning a President’s Cup, the so-called journalists who consider ice hockey to be a crap-shoot pounded on the result.

Basketball and soccer are games that lead to more “skill-oriented” outcomes, they said, and the unpredicted results of the Stanley Cup Playoffs served to prove it.

Plenty of favorites and many All-Star casts have won Lord Stanley’s Cup without breaking too much of a sweat. But that is conveniently forgotten too. It’s like when there’s a really hot week, and Climate Change activists plant stories in newspapers that speak past the issue, like “How will the boiling of the oceans next year affect our fishing?” while an unseasonably cold week is hailed by conservatives as proof that the Earth is shrugging us off like a bad cold.

Tampa Bay lost in the 1st round because the club was out-played. It wasn’t luck, it wasn’t magic, it was overconfidence and the lack of deep numbers of grinders who could overcome the sudden icy shooting which afflicted Nikita Kucherov and other stars.

As teams start to worry that they could be swept, snipers “squeeze” and miss their targets more often, a complex psychological phenomenon on the ice which you can find referred to in Vox as “luck.”

Whenever the public is misled about why certain outcomes are happening, the handicappers at NHL betting sites have to oblige and adjust the odds to balance the action. There could be a mad rash of futures bets on overly-physical teams or huge underdogs to win the Stanley Cup in 2020 – but it’s most likely that a favorite will win next time around. That’s why there’s favorites and long-shots to begin with.

Don’t mourn the morons in the media – take advantage with good bets against the public.

Here’s a few points to remember when gambling (long-term or short-term) on the NHL and IIHF in 2020 and in years beyond:

Tips on Betting the NHL in the New Decade

  • Big, deep and dynamic rosters will always have a natural advantage over teams filled with specialist play-makers and checkers. Kucherov scored more points than O’ Reilly in 2018-19 but O’ Reilly is one of the greatest all-around skaters of all time and an incomparable dressing-room leader. I’d always take a team of Ryan O’ Reillys against a 2 lines of Wayne Gretzkys and 2 lines of role players.
  • Teams will start using more conservative neutral-zone tactics to try to keep opposing power forwards like Tarasenko away from the net. One of the common misconceptions about a roster of big, strong skaters like the St. Louis Blues is that the club must struggle harder to create space for itself, unable to simply out-run its rivals. Instead, the team’s penchant for big hits and collisions opens up green pastures – or frozen waters – for the counterattack.
  • There will be a more comprehensive and organized exchange of talent between the NHL, KHL, and National League of Switzerland…not only as the European leagues grow stronger but as they move to smaller and smaller rinks over time, making the 2 styles of pond shinny more alike.
  • Hard-checking underdogs will tend to be slightly better ATS on the “puck line” of (+1 ½), since teams that can use muscle to protect the puck and command the attack zone will be less likely to give up an empty-net goal in the closing moments of a game.
  • If a postseason “futures” underdog has 4 lines of big, tough, experienced guys who can score and check, don’t hesitate to go-in for a few dollars on a massive payoff.

Finally, remember that the media’s narrative – and the social media narrative – will always distort what’s really going on and help make excellent teams into underdogs. It happened to the St. Louis Blues again and again in 2019…and smart sharks are thanking the bookies for it now.