Stanley Cup Odds and a Cautionary Tale on Goal Differential

CHICAGO - OCTOBER 18: Jaroslav Halak #41 of the St. Louis Blues stops a shot against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 18 2010 in Chicago Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Blues 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Jaroslav Halak

First, a word from our sponsors: the sweet re-design of behindthenet.ca comes courtesy of our friends in the sports betting arena.  It's also a great time to look at current Stanley Cup odds:

 

Teams Cup Win% Teams Cup Win%
Vancouver Canucks 14.4 Los Angeles Kings 2.6
Pittsburgh Penguins 12.9 Phoenix Coyotes 2.6
Philadelphia Flyers 9.9 Montreal Canadiens 2.6
Detroit Red Wings 8.6 New York Rangers 2.3
Washington Capitals 7.2 St. Louis Blues 2.2
Boston Bruins 5.4 Anaheim Ducks 2.2
Tampa Bay Lightning 4.6 Colorado Avalanche 2.2
Dallas Stars 4.0 Nashville Predators 2.2
San Jose Sharks 3.2 Atlanta Thrashers 1.6
Chicago Blackhawks 3.2 Carolina Hurricanes 1.3

 

I always like to look at a team's likelihood of winning the cup given that they make the playoffs, so I went over to sportsclubstats.com and pulled their playoff projections:

 

Teams Cup Win% Teams Cup Win%
Vancouver Canucks 14.4 Tampa Bay Lightning 5.0
Pittsburgh Penguins 12.9 Colorado Avalanche 4.4
Philadelphia Flyers 9.9 Dallas Stars 4.2
Detroit Red Wings 8.7 Phoenix Coyotes 4.1
St. Louis Blues 8.7 Atlanta Thrashers 4.0
San Jose Sharks 7.5 Chicago Blackhawks 3.8
Washington Capitals 7.4 Montreal Canadiens 2.9
Los Angeles Kings 5.7 Carolina Hurricanes 2.9
Boston Bruins 5.4 New York Rangers 2.5
Anaheim Ducks 5.0 Nashville Predators 2.3

 

Notice anything wrong here?  If St. Louis makes the playoffs, they have the 3rd-best odds to win the West even if they're most likely going to be starting as the 6th, 7th or 8th seed?  The problem, unfortunately, is that sportsclubstats uses goal differential to set its team talent levels.  St. Louis and LA are statistically indistinguishable at the moment in the shot differential department (at even-strength and on special teams) but Jaroslav Halak has not performed well this season, hence their poor goal differential.  While the betting markets seem to price in Halak's ability fairly well, the goal differential model assumes he's the 26th-best goalie in the league.  Don't bet on that!

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