Inter-conference games tend not to garner as much attention as conference or divisional rivalries in the NHL. Does this mean these games present more potential betting value to customers? Can analysing data from inter-conference games help give you an edge over the market? Read on to find out.
The task for any bettor is to try and find inefficiencies in a bookmaker's odds, and to take advantage before the market adjusts. People often believe certain types of events, like local derbies in soccer or divisional rivalries in the NHL, provide more inefficiencies than others.
While this logic is somewhat flawed, it doesn’t mean segmenting 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 data, but being able to discount these elements from your research means you can then spend time focusing on other information to analyse.
Why are bettors looking at inter-conference games?
The NHL has recently introduced more inter-conference games in order to make the regular season schedule more balanced and fair. Teams still play the majority of their games against the others in their own conference, but will also face the other conference teams twice during the regular season.
Games that generate less interest and take a lower volume of bets could result in less efficient odds.
The Eastern Conference teams will play 30 of their 82 games against the Western Conference teams and Western teams play 32 times against their Eastern counterparts. Altogether 480 games out of 1271 regular season fixtures are inter-conference games.
People will often claim the games that generate less interest and take a lower volume of bets will result in less efficient odds and more viable betting opportunities. As a result, bettors are beginning to pay more attention to these inter-conference games.
After gathering some basic level data, we can now analyse these inter-conference games to find out if they should be approached in a different way when placing bets or predicting the outcome.
Do teams approach inter-conference games differently?
The first step when looking at how to approach betting on inter-conference games is to assess how the teams themselves approach these types of games. Do teams value these games equally? Does it present an easier opportunity to win points? Are these games used to rest players?
In general, the inter-conference games are often regarded just a little bit less worthy than the games against teams in one’s own conference. While the same amount of points is awarded from inter-conference games, it is regarded more important to win against the teams in your own division and conference, and of course, not give points to those battling for the same postseason berth.
Giving up points to a team in the other conference is deemed the lesser evil. More often than not, the backup keeper gets the nod in inter-conference games, especially on the road and the veteran players might take a maintenance day on those road trips.
Changes in approach to home and away games is a whole another issue, and while we can look at that a bit here, it is worth covering in a separate article.
Inter-conference results vs. Intra-conference results
Using Accuscore’s archives from the past three and half seasons, we can take a look at the results and see if there is an overall difference between inter-conference games and intra-conference games.
Inter-conference games see the underdog win 45.01% of the time and 34.04% in the regulation.
As it is assumed that the inter-conference games are less-valued, we can test whether there is a statistical indicator to show this. The results are rather interesting. Overall in the NHL regular season, 22.58% of the games end up in the overtime, and in inter-conference games the percentage is 22.35%, providing limited difference. The favourites also won in overtime or a shootout with virtually the same frequency of 50.92% and 50.87% respectively.
The favourite wins 58.18% of the conference games, but in the inter-conference games the favourite only wins 54.99% of the time. While the difference is only just over 3%, it is definitely something to point out. Similarly, in conference games, the favourite wins 46.62% of the games in regular time, but in the inter-conference games this percentage falls to only 43.60%.
Of course, these numbers translate in favour of the underdog: in-conference the underdog wins 41.82% and 30.65% in the regulation. Inter-conference games see the underdog win 45.01% and 34.04% in the regulation.
With the numbers proving that it’s more likely for the underdog to win an inter-conference game than it is in-conference, it’s safe to say there is some truth to the fact that the inter-conference games are considered somewhat less important – especially by the favoured teams.
Other notable statistical differences
We can now also look over this same sample of data from the past three and a half seasons and look at the goals markets. When comparing the total goals scored, the inter-conference games have had almost exactly the same amount of goals scored as intra-conference games, drawing no significant conclusions.
In inter-conference games the home team wins only 53.70% of the time.
Due to the fact that the underdogs have been more successful in inter-conference games, the probability for the favourite to win with more than 1.5 goals is lower as well. Intra-conference favourites have won by more than 1.5 goals in 35.18% of the games, while in inter-conference games this falls to 32.75%.
As mentioned before, the home and road games are a completely different topic to tackle. For the sake of comparison, we can look at those numbers as well. In-conference the home team wins 55.78% of the games, but in the inter-conference games the percentage is only 53.70%.
Once again, the home team is more often considered a favourite than the away team, so it might be worth backing the visiting underdog in the inter-conference games.
While this information doesn’t guarantee a profitable betting strategy, what it does do is highlight that analysing data can quickly expose some interesting trends within a betting market.