Thursday, May 30, 2024

Why the Rangers are not the Stanley Cup betting favorites

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The New York Rangers won the Presidents’ Trophy.

They have three more wins than any other team in the NHL this season.

The Blueshirts will have home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs and they are the biggest favorites in Round 1, which begins Sunday at 3 p.m. against the Washington Capitals at MSG.

That is a profile that would lead you to believe that the Rangers should be the betting favorite to lift the Cup.

Not so fast.

While odds will vary from sportsbook to sportsbook, there is no mainstream bookmaker that has the Rangers as a clear favorite.

FanDuel lists the Blueshirts third behind the Hurricanes and Panthers and DraftKings has them fifth behind those teams, plus the Avalanche and Oilers.

The margins are quite thin, but it still will leave some Rangers fans and casual punters perplexed.

Why is the team that just had the best regular season not even the favorite to win its conference?

This is a debate handicappers have had since October.

The Rangers haven’t stopped winning at any point throughout the 82-game season, but there are legitimate questions about whether their formula will translate into playoff success.

The first red flag everyone points out is that the Rangers own a +1 goal difference at 5-on-5 this season.

The Blueshirts scored 166 goals, which is tied for 17th in the circuit, at 5-on-5 and they conceded 165, which is also 17th-best.

The underlying metrics suggest this is a fair account for how New York has played as its expected goal (xG) difference at 5-on-5 is approximately -6.6, according to Natural Stat Trick.

While most teams in the NHL would struggle to consistently get results with that kind of statistical profile, the Rangers have established themselves as an outlier over a three-season sample.

The Blueshirts have an abundance of supremely talented playmakers — led by 120-point scorer Artemi Panarin — so the chances they do create are usually of high quality, and their goaltenders help cover up most of their defensive flaws.

And when the game isn’t at 5-on-5, the Rangers are perhaps the best team in the NHL.

The Blueshirts were one of two teams (along with Carolina) to finish top three in both power-play and penalty-kill percentage.

Artemi Panarin #10 of the New York Rangers celebrates his third period goal against the Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden on April 15, 2024 in New York City.
Artemi Panarin #10 of the New York Rangers celebrates his third period goal against the Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden on April 15, 2024 in New York City. Getty Images

The Rangers also were a terrific overtime team, going 12-4 after 60 minutes, but that will be a moot point since regular-season overtime rules are very different from the playoffs (3-on-3, then a shootout vs. 5-on-5 until a golden goal is scored).

Another problem may arise if New York’s power play goes cold or the officiating standard changes in the playoffs.

Historically, referees tend to be more lenient in the crucial moments in the postseason and overcompensate in order to not let special teams decide a game.

Stanley Cup playoffs 2024 Odds

Team Odds
Hurricanes +650
Avalanche +700
Panthers +700
Oilers +750
Rangers +800
Stars +850
Odds via DraftKings

That is not great news for the Rangers, who rely on their power play to be the difference-maker.

The other crucial part of this equation is the path that the Rangers have ahead of them.

The Capitals are easily the weakest team in the postseason, but New York’s likeliest opponent in Round 2 would be the Hurricanes, who are the Stanley Cup favorite at most sportsbooks these days.

Carolina is an elite 5-on-5 team and, unlike in previous seasons, has a power play that can match the Rangers.

Betting on the NHL?

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Should the Canes and Rangers link up (barring anything unforeseen, like injuries), it’s likely that Carolina would be the betting favorite to win the best-of-seven, despite not having home-ice advantage.

None of this is to say that the Rangers don’t deserve to be one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Nor does it mean they can’t win.

They have elite skill, one of the world’s best goaltenders and a core group that has plenty of playoff experience. All of that makes them dangerous.

But in today’s NHL, where there are 10 teams with legitimate aspirations to win the Stanley Cup, just being dangerous won’t separate you from the pack.

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