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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Seeding, Series Prices and Futures Bets

NHL Logo and Hockey Rink Background
It is impolite to try to read the minds of one’s readers. But this writer has a pretty fair idea what casual North American hockey fans and NHL junkies have been opining about our LegitGamblingSites.com shinny blog.

“Enough with this European and IIHF stuff. Let’s get on with the real previews!”

You have to admit that the KHL can be fun. At the very least, it gives state-side fans a chance to watch past and future NHL All-Stars like Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Sorokin play in wide-open games in the springtime – in the morning, no less, when all the NHL Network has to offer is some Tom, Dick or Harry offering 2-dimensional commentary, or PR programming, or a random junior game.

The IIHF is enjoying a little more buzz these days on social media, but that’s not why there’s a glut of Men’s Worlds mentions and discussion on the blog.

And the Swiss league is pretty fast, sure, but the biggest guy there is 200 pounds and his coach thinks he’s got a weight issue.

Of course the NHL is the most legit (fancy that) and popular ice hockey league we can cover on the site. 80% or more of the world’s best snipers, along with just about all of the best goaltenders, play for the good old National Hockey League. Our club hockey tradition is localized but fierce, and franchise colors run deep in several major American cities…not just in the northeast. The NHL is always fun to cover.

But it’s hard to nail NHL predictions during the regular season long enough for many people to read them, as the action comes fast and furious over an 82-game sprint and the goal spreads are usually always (1 ½) in either direction anyway. “Learn the goal spreads for the NHL tonight” reads sort of like “Breaking: Find out who is buried in Grant’s Tomb!”

And so the Stanley Cup playoffs arrive to rescue our blog from the hellscape of eclecticism. Once every April.

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Betting Strategy and Timing

Those of you who think I’m too long-winded all the time? You’re in luck. Even now, the speedy wheels of the NHL’s grueling schedule is making it difficult to provide a full-fledged preview of the conference quarterfinal round.

We can’t not take full days to analyze the Grand National, The Masters, the FA Cup (and casino gambling) as we did last week and weekend, and binging on so much content at once that cool new posts are thrown off the front page just as friends introduce them to friends is a poor idea. So we moderate the volume of the blog and focus on a hierarchy of world sports, trying to keep the NHL in mind all the while, and meanwhile Gary Bettman’s WWE-like whip on the talent sets the playoffs to begin almost immediately, as if a continuation of the regular season.

Bettman has always modeled the NHL after the NBA as much as he could. It’s like trying to grow oranges on an apple farm, and sometimes it puts handicappers and bookies in weird situations.

NHL betting sites react to the tight window (betting window?) in different ways.

Right now, some sites in our network are not offering “series prices,” or moneylines on the ultimate series outcome. That’s a nice kind of “futures” wager that doesn’t take as long to pay off as Presidential election bets or Champions League speculations, though you still get the fun ups and downs of 4 to 7 games. But only BetOnline is currently offering series prices on even Thursday’s slate of Game 1 faceoffs.

Books that are focused on short-term individual game betting and Stanley Cup futures should not be discounted. The trouble is that lines are moving so fast, and play is starting so soon, any attempt to sum-up the betting options and match-ups of the entire 16-club tourney would become obsolete like a rookie goaltender playing against Vladimir Tarasenko.

We’ve got to mix it up, and there’s no point in previewing a bunch of fleeting markets.

Instead, I’ll show off the bracket, briefly go over a sampling of current game lines and series prices, and allow readers to get the feel of handicapping the NHL playoffs – which are waged at a much-faster tempo than garden-variety faceoffs in December and January.

The teams and series:

NHL Playoff Bracket 2019

Series Price Odds: Boston Bruins (-138) vs Toronto Maple Leafs (+118)

BetOnline and its clientele have installed Boston as the favorite to no great surprise. The Bruins have had a spirited season in which Slovakian goalie Jaroslav Halák arguably out-shined veteran Tuukka Rask.

Canadian winger Brad Marchand is one of a trio of Bruins with 30+ goals, and (I may have brought this up in a prior post, but don’t quote me on that) diminutive defender Torey Krug is accomplishing for Boston was John Klingberg has done with the Dallas Stars, supplying waves of talented forwards with creative tape-to-tape passes and racking up an assist total that a 1st line center would boast of.

The tight odds, however, reflect the dangers of Boston facing rival Toronto in a 7-game tilt. Canadian clubs aren’t always concerned with leading the division or the conference. They just want to cultivate enough players whose stock goes up at the right time to knock a playoff run out of the park. (Lord knows, the Toronto Blue Jays aren’t doing much of that right now.) The Maple Leafs are back-walled by the fabulous Frederik Andersen, and possess an underrated blueline full of positional players like Nikita Zaitsev. Most importantly, a group of electric young forwards led by Austin Mathews is mature enough to know to have saved something for this moment.

Lean: Toronto (+118)

Q-Final Game 1 Moneyline & O/U: Colorado Avalanche at Calgary Flames

Despite the enduring frustration of “The Chosen One” Connor McDavid (not to mention his teammate Leon Draisaitl missing the playoffs in Edmonton, an exciting trend in the NHL right now involves how many Canadian clubs appear to have stars firmly in alignment. Winnipeg is a slight favorite over St. Louis at MyBookie despite Tarasenko and the Blue Note going on a meteoric run in the late regular season. Toronto could easily “upset” the Boston Bruins.

Then you’ve got clubs like Calgary, which must deal with the burden of being a heavy favorite in the postseason just as in the old Lanny McDonald days.

No shock that Colorado is a (+165) wager in Game 1 (again at MyBookie). In fact, I think that line may not be quite long-enough on the Avalanche, who had to really go to reach the playoffs at all.

The Flames will enjoy a hot crowd and all, but I wonder if a slow start could be in the offing – not the kind of slow start that involves losing a Game 1 at home. The sportsbook’s O/U total is a healthy (6) goals for the faceoff at Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday night, almost daring gamblers to pick the low side.

Colorado’s goalkeeping has the potential to hold a nervous Calgary side off the board for 1-2 periods. But the duo of Philipp Grubauer and Semyon Varlamov have a small problem – there’s no proven postseason go-to. In fact, Grubauer fell apart completely with the Washington Capitals in the playoffs, and Varlamov hasn’t gone beyond a regular season in any league more than a handful of times in his career.

Maybe that’s what the Vegas handicappers have in mind. Anxious shooters are one thing. Anxious goaltenders against Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan? Forget it.

Lean: Over (6)

NHL Futures Odds and Potential Line Movement

Finally, MyBookie’s line on the Tampa Bay Lightning to win the Stanley Cup is almost prohibitively short at (+180). I don’t mean prohibitively as in “a prohibitive favorite,” but rather the popularity of the betting market should prompt wise gamblers to stay away. The payoff odds are too short on a winning “4-series parlay” for the powerful Lightning, considering everything that could go wrong for any kind of team in the same circumstances. They don’t call it the Grail for nothing.

The overvaluing of one team opens up potential value in other NHL futures bets. Somewhere there’s a futures market or several which are a bargain at this point. The Blues are a “sexy” pick at (+1400), and I still like the defending Washington Capitals at 11-to-1, since there is incredibly still a “that was a fluke” vibe within some of the club’s nationwide following. That sort of bunk affects the Vegas odds.

But my best advice is to wait and watch for “floating” futures during the postseason…and a slow-starting team. The NHL playoffs are where everything starts over again. Toronto, for instance, isn’t really a club that was a handful of games over .500 and is starting the tournament as an underdog. The Maple Leafs are a roster of sober pros who knew all along that this is just the starting point.

You can have a hot start and sweep an opening series and not come close to winning the league title. They lose in the semifinals or get swept themselves once the adrenalin wears off. Look for teams that have size and talent to burn, but lose unexpectedly in Game 1 and/or Game 2. Those results could drive the line on Toronto in the (+3000) range or Washington’s futures into the 20-fold payoff category. Which is the moment that the shark has to pounce.

Take advantage of short-sided punditry and fan frustration to buy cheap futures on NHL machines who are just getting the wheels turning. Don’t let a few goals-against in the early going trick the TV-watching brain out of an opportunity to risk little and win big on the Stanley Cup.