The 2021-22 NHL Season may have been the chalkiest in the league’s history.
Not only did the consensus preseason favorites — the Colorado Avalanche — win the Stanley Cup, but NHL favorites had their best regular season in the Salary Cap Era (2005-present) with a 849-462 record and a 64.8% win rate.
According to Action Labs, if you bet $100 on every favorite in 2021-22, you would have pocketed $2,769 for a +2.1% ROI, both of which are also Salary Cap Era records for full seasons (not including 2013, 2021, or 2021-22).
And it didn’t stop there.
The Chalk would follow up a record regular season with a near-record postseason. Favorites went 59-30 (66.2%) during the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which is the second-highest win rate (2013) for faves since 2005-06.
And if that wasn’t square enough for you, let’s take a look at the totals.
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The 2021-22 regular season was also the first time in the Salary Cap Era that the over cashed in at least 50% of games. The over went 660-592-57 (50.4%) last season, and a $100 bettor would have netted $1,246 (1% ROI) had he or she blindly bet every over throughout the regular season.
Going even further, last season we saw 35 games close with an Over/Under of 7 goals. That was a huge spike from the previous season, which saw zero games close at 7. The 2019-20 season had two, 2018-19 featured 13, and there were no 7’s out there between 2005-06 and 2018-19.
The only season in the Action Labs (which goes back to 2005) database that featured more games close with an O/U of 7 was ’05-06, which was the first season after all the rule changes stemming from the 04-05 lockout (no ties, no more two-line pass and a crackdown on clutching and grabbing), so naturally scoring was going to jump from 2003-04 to 2005-06.
Now let’s look at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Last season, only two games in the regular season closed with an Over/Under set at 5 goals (both games featured the New York Islanders, and the over went 2-0).
That brings us to the present.
With favorites and overs cashing at historic rates in 2021-22, and the chalk also performing above expectation in 2020-21, you’d expect that bookmakers will adjust to the “new normal” in the NHL.
And they have. We’re now in the era of big favorites in the National Hockey League.
Last season there were a total of 438 games that closed with a favorite of -200 (66.7% implied win probability) or higher.
That is easily the most “big favorites” we’ve seen during an NHL regular season. In fact, the season that had the second-most favorites at -200 or higher was 2005-06 and that season only had 290 of them. No season in the last decade had more than 208 games that closed with a favorite of at least -200.
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Why is this happening? There could be a couple of different reasons, but the most obvious one seems to be the number of teams that are actively trying to tank for the draft lottery. Landing the No. 1 overall pick (especially in deep drafts like 2023) can completely change a franchise’s fortunes in the NHL and there’s no real incentive to finish in the middle of the pack, so teams are trying to finish either first or last these days. That will naturally widen the gap between the haves and have-nots, which in turn naturally widens the odds when they play one another.
Betting is often cyclical and what comes around goes around. So if there is a shift back towards a season with more parity and we see more underdogs win in 2022-23, you will be paid off handsomely if you’re ahead of the curve because there will be plenty of big prices out there on a nightly basis. That being said, it’s a risky position to take, given how the league has been trending since it shut down during the pandemic.