Traditionally, inter-conference games in the NHL tend not to garner as much attention or interest as intra-conference or divisional fixtures. Does this mean these games present more potential betting value to customers and can analysing data from them help give you an edge over the market? Read on to find out.
What are NHL inter-conference games and why are they important?
For the NHL 2021/22 regular season, the 32 teams will be split into two conferences (Eastern and Western) of 16 teams each, which themselves will be split into two divisions of eight.
Each team will play 82 games, comprised of four each against five of their divisional opponents, three each against the other two divisional opponents and the eight teams in their conference’s other division, and two each against the 16 teams in the other conference. This means that they will play a total of 32 inter-conference games during the regular season, equating to 39.02% of their fixtures.
The task for any bettor is to try and find inefficiencies in a bookmaker's odds and take advantage before the market adjusts. People often believe that certain types of sporting events, such as local derbies in soccer, generate more inefficiencies than others.
While this logic is imperfect, it doesn’t mean that segmenting these events and analysing them in more detail to try and find an edge is a wasted endeavour. Bookmakers will likely have accounted for any small observations from the data, but being able to discount these elements from your research means that you can then spend time focusing on other information to analyse.
Therefore, considering that NHL fans often claim that inter-conference games generate less interest, it is perhaps a fair assumption that they will take a lower volume of bets, potentially resulting in less efficient odds. After gathering some basic level data, we can analyse such games to find out if they should be approached in a different way when placing bets or predicting the outcome.
Do teams approach NHL inter-conference games differently?
The first step when looking at how to approach betting on NHL inter-conference games is to assess how the teams themselves approach these fixtures. Do they value these matches equally compared to other regular season fixtures or do they utilise them as an opportunity to rest players ahead of games they consider to be more important?
Broadly speaking, it appears that inter-conference games are often regarded are slightly less significant than those against intra-conference or divisional opponents. While inter-conference games offer the same reward for a victory, teams understandably tend to regard beating those in their own division and conference as more important, as they want to ensure that they do not give up points to those battling for the same postseason berths.
Therefore, giving up points to a team in the other conference is deemed the lesser evil. As a result, teams will often field their backup goaltender and rest the most significant players in their line-up for these fixtures.
What do the stats show about NHL inter-conference games?
Using Accuscore’s data from the start of the 2017/18 season, we can take a look at the results and see if there are any discrepancies between inter-conference games and intra-conference games.
Visiting underdogs tend to perform better than expected in NHL inter-conference games.
As it is assumed that the inter-conference games are less valued, an obvious statistical indicator to show this would be a reduced win rate for the match favourite and interestingly, the data supports this.
During the period specified, the favourite won 58.18% of the intra-conference and divisional games, but just 54.99% of the inter-conference games. Similarly, in intra-conference games and divisional games, the favourite won 46.62% of the games in regulation time, but in inter-conference games this return fell to 43.60%. While these may only seem to be small differences, they are still large enough to warrant being an active consideration for predictions.
Of course, these numbers translate in favour of the underdog: in intra-conference and divisional games, the underdog won 41.82% of the time with 30.65% in regulation time. In inter-conference games, these figures jumped to 45.01% and 34.04% respectively. This all but confirms that NHL inter-conference games are considered less important, particularly by the league’s supposedly stronger teams, resulting in a notably reduced win rate for match favourites.
Such anomalies can also translate into other markets. During the same period, inter-conference games witnessed a very similar number of goals scored as their intra-conference or divisional counterparts.
However, due to the fact that the underdogs tend to be more successful, inter-conference games also produce also smaller winning margins for the favourites. Indeed, the favourites won by more than 1.5 goals in 35.18% of the intra-conference and divisional games, but achieved this feat in just 32.75% of the inter-conference games.
Home and away win rates are also seemingly affected by inter-conference games. The home team won 55.78% of intra-conference and divisional games, but emerged victorious from just 53.70% of inter-conference games. This suggests that statistical trends support betting on visiting underdogs for inter-conference fixtures.
Naturally, this information alone doesn’t guarantee a profitable betting strategy, but what it does do is highlight that analysing data can quickly expose some interesting trends within a betting market that may prove useful for informing your predictions.
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