The 2022-23 Stanley Cup playoffs did not produce a pair of 4-game sweeps in the conference finals, a scenario that “Super” Mario Lemieux last helped to bring about back in the 1990s. But, in any case the results of this year’s conference-title playoff series were noteworthy for speculators, thanks to the season’s final set of Stanley Cup betting odds arriving in such a strange way … and favoring the club that made the weirdness in the sportsbook lines happen.
Stanley Cup Finals sportsbook lines began to appear on the internet before the Dallas-Vegas series ended. Not just after the series ended, as per the NHL gambling tradition, but rather a whole 5 or 10 minutes before Game 6 was completed Monday. That was because the Vegas Golden Knights turned an anticipated barn-burner into a farce, winning 6-0 in front of a shocked Metroplex.
Vegas star William Karlsson‘s 3-point night led a Golden Knights team that doesn’t look or feel much different from the one that crashed the Stanley Cup Finals in the team’s original expansion campaign. Vegas skaters are flourishing in front of an underrated veteran goaltender, as the Golden Knights did in the late 2010s. But this time, it’s not Marc-André Fleury manning the pipes for Sin City. It’s Adin Hill, the 27-year-old Canadian upstart.
Also, it is a mild surprise to see Vegas take an early lead in Stanley Cup Finals betting at pricey odds, with the Golden Knights standing as FanDuel Sportsbook‘s (-135) pick against (+115) underdog odds on the Florida Panthers to triumph. Karlsson’s lineup has been so successful with the puck for so long that it’s not necessarily weird to see Las Vegas favored over an Eastern Conference champion which did not come close to meeting Boston’s immaculate regular season and didn’t draw an ideal seed in the 2023 bracket. However, Florida’s series ended with a 4-game sweep that allows the canny ‘Cats to curl up and sleep until this coming weekend. Rest and stamina angles usually count for a lot with NHL speculators in springtime.
Perhaps the Knights would be an even more expensive pick if the Florida Panthers weren’t going into the season’s final faceoffs so rested.
The Panthers have not had another NHL team surpass their effectiveness in the opening 3 rounds this postseason. Florida beat the Boston Bruins, a nearly prohibitive Stanley Cup betting favorite in 2022-23, in Round 1 before eliminating 2 more of FanDuel’s popular championship picks in the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Carolina Hurricanes. Yet the injuries to Aleksander Barkov and Eetu “Brute” Luostarinen in Round 3 underscore Florida’s reputation as a thin squad of playmakers.
The Golden Knights are a collection of goal-scorers and goaltending heroes, while the Panthers rely on unique defensive-zone tactics and transition passes to score and win playoff bouts. Carolina’s not the attacking team perceived to be the ultimate challenge to the Panthers’ checking system, and neither was Boston, a team that dominated with its goaltending in 2022-23. Analysts’ favorite word these days is “expose,” and the fresh Stanley Cup Finals betting odds show that Vegas is expected to expose Florida’s “video-game” checking methods.
Tradition also helps point to the fact that more than one nationality of skater could be banged-up in Miami … on the NHL’s injury ledger they’ll just be listed as “flu” cases.
The idea that Florida’s offense “loses its 2nd-leading scorer” if Barkov’s injury woes persist is based on a common myth of ice hockey. Top-6 skaters score more points than most of their teammates because they’re skillful, but also because they’re given so much ice time and so many responsibilities with the puck at even strength and on the power play. When a severe injury forces another athlete to step in, they might not be as ideal as a finesse-king like Barkov in all scenarios. However, whatever the season stats seem to show, they’re not “50 points worse” with the puck.
It can be compared to when a football team loses a starting backfield that combined for 3000+ yards from scrimmage. “XYZ State loses over 3000 rushing yards with the graduations of its senior offensive backfield,” a newspaper will say. Except that the team’s rushing yard total would never shrink from anything like 3502 yards to 502 yards the next season. A replacement backfield may not rush for as many yards or score as many touchdowns as the previous year’s RBs did, but the team won’t suffer any calamity that should be defined as “losing 3000 yards.” The new players in the old star performers’ roles will either prosper enough to match what the name-brand rushers did, or fall short of the previous year’s performances in a way that causes the rushing and scoring stats to diminish. Under no circumstances has the club simply “lost” everything that it was used to getting from its backfield. In similar fashion, Florida loses only a proportional goal-scoring edge with Barkov’s absence, if the skater is unable to play against Vegas in Game 1. Cousins, and other ham-and-egg forwards who must step into the Panthers’ top-6, will impact more scoring plays than they’re used to simply due to playing on top lines and power-plays.
Knights forwards have only grown more dangerous with the puck in the playoffs, as Jack Eichel threatens to finish with the 2022-23 postseason’s scoring crown, while Karlsson’s powerhouse 10 goals-scored announces the Swede’s presence as a top-shelf NHL sniper.
There is still an argument to be made, though, that Hill is not nearly as proven of a commodity in goal than Florida GK Sergei Bobrovsky in a championship round.
Sergei Bobrovsky has produced only a single shut-out in 2023’s Stanley Cup tournament. That’s less than Hill manufactured against Western Conference finalist Dallas alone. But there is still nothing on paper to suggest that Hill is ready to match Bobrovsky in a 7-game series for Lord Stanley’s grail, especially with the latter veteran’s club out-coaching all other National Hockey League teams when it comes to Florida’s checking in its own end.
Sin City carries a skeptical (-130) moneyline to win Game 1 at home this Saturday night, which indicates that the Golden Knights aren’t getting as much action on the prospect of taking a quick lead in the series as they’re drawing bets to eventually grind-down the Panthers and win another grueling engagement. But if there’s a consensus that Hill is destined to keep getting better throughout each series from Game 1 to Game 7, then scarcely can it be found in FanDuel’s goal total odds for Saturday night. Sportsbook wagers-placed on Under (5.5) total goals in Game 1 are priced at a generous (-104), contrasting a steeper (-118) pregame price on the high-scoring outcome Over (5.5).
If the Game 1 markets are a little too slanted toward Vegas, then the sportsbook’s Series Price odds are heavily mispriced in favor of the slightly faster, visually more-exciting team. The NHL’s speculators should have learned from the Boston-STL finals of 2019 that when a pair of evenly matched teams play at disparate odds, the underdog is always your pick.
WagerBop’s Pick: Florida to Win Stanley Cup Finals (+115)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.