The 2021 season in the NHL has largely been experimental in its entirety, starting with the fact that it’s all come in one year. The shortened 56-game season that has teams sequestered in their own divisions is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Of particular interest and intrigue to those of us in Canada, has been the North Division, more commonly referred to as the “Canadian” Division. For a hockey fan, it’s been fun, for a hockey bettor it’s been at times frustrating.
Any hockey bettor worth his salt relies on a series of predictive analytics that best create a rating for each team. On the sportsbook side, they’ll create a moneyline price for each team based on these analytics and balance that with the betting public’s perception of the teams involved. It’s the reason why the current version of the Toronto Maple Leafs are favourites virtually all the time. Meanwhile, the 2021 Ottawa Senators went 49 games before being considered slight favourites, over the Vancouver Canucks.
Every team in-between in the North Division has their own curious story with regards to the metrics they’ve built up this season after only playing each other. The Flames had a coaching change that didn’t do what they hoped it would. The Canadiens, long the darlings of the metrics community, have only gotten worse in that department since a coaching change of their own. For the second straight season, the Jets have defied the odds by having their outcomes regularly surpass relative poor play at even-strength. The Canucks have missed their best player, and as a team missed almost a month of play midseason. Then there’s the Edmonton Oilers, who in many ways match the perception of the team.
Carrying the Team
If you asked any run of the mill hockey fan about the Oilers, they’d probably tell you that the Oilers are Connor McDavid and everyone else. Maybe they’d mention Leon Draisaitl, the purely talented big winger, but for most it’s all about McDavid. The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin recently tweeted a telling stat to support that idea.
Unreal Connor McDavid stat:
At 5-on-5, Oilers are plus-88 in scoring chances with him on the ice. Without him, they’re minus-183
— Matt Larkin (@THNMattLarkin) April 26, 2021
So whether you consider the Oilers a McDavid-or-nothing team or not. When betting on the Oilers, you’re implicitly betting on McDavid to have success. In turn, his presence is built into the price. My “Let’s Do That Hockey” model, makes the Oilers a purely average team. Here’s why:
|High-Danger Chances (even strength)||Expected Goals For (even strength)|
*Thru 48 games
Even with the magic of McDavid (and Draisaitl) the Oilers collectively give up as many high-quality scoring chances as they create. On top of that, they convert the exact same percentage as their opponents at 12.4%.
As a result, the Oilers are only ever heavily favoured (-140 or higher) against the Senators, and they are never big underdogs +140 or higher). Thanks to their success (implied and actual) against the Senators this season, the Oilers average out as -126 favourites in their games this season. When removing the Sens from the equation, the Oilers still average out to -112 on the moneyline, which is a slight favourite over their opponent.
The Oilers are 29-26 on the moneyline this season. Factoring in a 9-0 record over the Senators, the Oilers are 20-26 against the rest of the division, clearly a bad bet at an average price of -112.
Which brings us back to McDavid. He’s the reason that the Oilers are still considered bettable in the market despite poor metrics from the team overall. However, if he’s the reason to back the Oilers, why not just bet on McDavid himself? Wouldn’t it be more profitable long-term to take the Oilers’ weak supporting cast out of the equation? How can we even do that?
The Great McDavid
The most common options for betting on a player are in the Player Prop markets. There’s two primary options; “To score a goal” and “To score a point”. In the case of Connor McDavid, he’s so likely to get a point that he’s one of just a few players in the league whose point prop is over/under 1.5 points.
Like any other betting market, especially in the props section of the sportsbook, you’ll be hard pressed to find value. Though it’s important to know how to test for it. Using the odds for McDavid bets on Wednesday night’s game with the Jets, let’s investigate this bet.
“To Score A Goal: YES +125”
The implied win probability for a +125 bet is 44.4%. This means that you would need to be successful 45% of the time or better in order to consider this a profitable bet. When trying to calculate the probability for McDavid to score, many will fall into the trap of taking his goal total and divide it by how many games he’s played. That looks like this:
28 (goals) / 48 (games) = .583
At nearly 58.3%, it SEEMS like this is a good bet at +125. However, we need to better understand the parameters of what wins the bet. Remember, you only need ONE goal to win the bet. Meaning that a multi-goal game doesn’t help you. So we need to revise our math here. We need to know how many games McDavid has scored in. That looks like this:
20 (games with a goal) / 48 (games) = .416
Now we understand where the +125 price comes from as 41.6% is a 2.8% disadvantage to the +125 price on “YES”. There’s no value to this bet.
“Over 1.5 Points Scored +100”
Instead of making “Will McDavid score a point?” a heavily juiced favourite, Sportsbooks have taken to making his “over/under” 1.5 points, and in this case, the price is even-money for the over. This is easy for math purposes, as it implies a 50% win probability. Therefore we just need it to happen more often than not, to be profitable long-term. When trying to calculate McDavid’s probability for a multi-point game, let’s not get caught up in calculating his points per game (1.75, by the way). Instead, just like with goals above, we need to know how often he has a multi-point game. A quick manual count shows that he’s done so in 26 of 48 games played, or 54.2% of the time. That provides a 4.3% edge in our favour.
However, it’s not that easy. It never is. Firstly, McDavid’s Over 1.5 Points isn’t always +100, in the same way that the Oilers moneyline isn’t always -112. For example, it’s going to be juiced to the over when he plays a team like the Senators, and deservedly so, as he’s had at least two points in 6 of those 9 meetings.
Conversely, that means that he’s now “only” had 20 multi-point games in the 39 games against teams not from Ottawa this season. Now things appear a lot more 50/50 from a probability standpoint.
Picking a Bet
For recreational sports bettors, to just walk away from betting a game because the value equates to the price would mean that we’ll almost never make a bet. Fundamentally, it’s up to us to find an edge beyond some of the basic math done above. So let’s say that you’ve found something that says you like the Oilers on any given night. Maybe even Saturday, May 1 against the Flames? Is it better to just bet a McDavid prop?
Betting on the Oilers means you’re betting on McDavid because we all assume that his success equates to the Oilers winning. However, when is it worth literally betting on him versus the team in its entirety?
Part of the attractiveness in a McDavid bet is the idea that you can win the bet without worrying about whether the Oilers do. So let’s take a closer look at how often that happens, and whether it’s in fact a better play than just betting on the Oilers.
At 29-26 on the moneyline, at an average price of -128, the Oilers haven’t been profitable. When you take out the apparent free money from backing Edmonton against the Senators this season, the Oilers fall to 20-26 as an average -112 favourite, they’re actually quite the money pit when not meeting Ottawa.
Given the average moneyline price of -128, we can assume the Oilers wins have earned them an average of 1-unit per win. Therefore, in the 29 wins, they would be +29 units. In those games, McDavid has 20 multi-point games to 9 that he went “under 1.5.” If betting McDavid to go over 1.5 at even money, you’d be up +11 units when the Oilers win.
On the other hand, considering the Oilers never lost to the Senators, we can use the average moneyline price of -112 to determine that in those 26 losses, Oilers backers lost… wait for it… 29.1 units! In those 26 losses, McDavid has had 2 or more points in 6 games. With the Over 1.5 going 6-20 in Oilers losses, McDavid bets would result in -14 units.
|Oilers Wins (-128)||Oilers Losses (-112)|
|Betting EDM ML||+29 units||-29.1 units|
|Betting McDavid O1.5 Points||+10 units||-14 units|
So backing the Oilers blindly would break even overall, but betting Edmonton against the rest of the North Division would have you down 13 units. McDavid though was 6-3 to the over against Ottawa, leaving him 19-18 (51.3%) against the rest of the Division. When not facing the Senators, ‘McDavid Over 1.5’ would need to be priced at better than -105 to be profitable.
Given what we know above and the Oilers -120 price at home to the Flames on Saturday, that’s a bet that has a negative Expected Value (-EV) overall. However, my “Let’s Do That Hockey” model, as heard on THE WINDOW: Sports Betting Podcast, indicates that -120 is a fair price on the Oilers in this game, so I would normally be looking to bet on Edmonton.
Meanwhile though, McDavid Over 1.5 points is -115. We know from above that this bet is much more likely to at least break even over a long period of time.
Hindsight being 20/20, stats from the past don’t particularly help us determine anything as predictively valuable in a vacuum going forward. So what we need to know is what to look for in the next games’ markets.
Just looking at this Flames game, the market has determined that the Oilers have a 54.5% chance to win, while McDavid has a 53.5% chance of getting 2+ points. However, we’ve determined that a 1% difference between “Oilers Success” and “McDavid Success” isn’t high enough.
The disparity needs to be tighter, and in games against teams that aren’t the Senators, the Oilers should even have a lower win probability than McDavid has to tally at least a pair of points. As long as you can get a better price on McDavid to score 2+ points, that should be the way to bet on the Oilers when you see value on them in general.
That’s just how good McDavid is.