Why it is difficult to predict a game outcome in hockey?

Foreseeing the outcome of hockey games and the champion of the season in the NHL, in particular, is notoriously difficult.

Among all sports, hockey is considered the least predictable one. Sports analysts say that in competitive sports, two major factors determine the results of the game: the player’s skills and luck. The ratio of these two determinants is different in various sports: some are more dependent on the players’ talent than on luck; in others, luck holds sway more firmly over the conclusion of the game than players’ proficiency.

This is not to say, of course, that where luck reigns supreme, sportsmen’s skills are inessential. Nor is it true that an element of luck is absolutely absent in some sports. As social scientists aver, chance plays a much larger role in all important life outcomes than we imagine. However talented and skillful we are, they say, we are always subject to luck or lack thereof and, therefore, cannot always influence results by our intentions and actions. As in our lives in general, in sports as well, chance always has a say in players’ success.

Though acknowledging the influence of luck on the game’s score, analysts still claim that in some sports this influence is weaker than in others. As a corollary, where luck governs the game less, its results are easier to predict. Sports involving only one person competing against another such as tennis and boxing are not driven by luck, specialists say.

Tennis and boxing matches rather depend on the sportsmen’s talent and performance. This is why our prediction of their finale is almost always accurate. In team sports, where players have talents in various degrees and where their performance hinges on good interaction with each other, luck affects the progression and the conclusion of the game stronger. And where luck is in charge, our logical or intuitive conclusions about the final score are a shot in the dark.

Members of one team may excel in the game, we may foresee a particular payoff for their efforts, but luck may unexpectedly tilt the scale in their opponent’s favor, proving us wrong. Such a scenario we most often see in hockey, considered by specialists the least predictable sport of all. Although hockey players are talented, especially in the NHL, the dynamics and rules of hockey games are such that outcomes here are always contingent on chance.

If you are a hockey fan and thinking what the Stanley Cup odds are in 2019, you might thus just look for an answer in tea leaves patterns. For whatever you say about the outcome of the championship this year, your prediction will be about as correct as tea reading divinations.

With hockey being so unpredictable, it is all the more surprising that people are so eager to bet on this sport. Yet wagering on the outcome of hockey games is as popular as betting on tennis, where results are more foreseeable. Probably ignited by the pleasure of risk-taking, millions of hockey fans constantly place wagers on the NHL games, undaunted by the difficulty of the sports betting rules themselves.

Indeed, the rules of betting on sports and of hockey, in particular, are so convoluted that wagering looks almost like an intellectual game more difficult than chess, considering how strongly randomness affects matches’ outcomes. Take, for instance, the easiest betting method, the moneyline. It is ostensibly the most straightforward and the most traditional betting strategy existing among numerous others. What you do is you simply predict the winner of the game.

Granted, we have just established that foreseeing the ending of the hockey championship is next to impossible. Yet the trouble is that the rules of the moneyline strategy do not make it easier for you either. They reverse the logic upside-down. That is, although the amount of money you win does depend on the strength and popularity of the team, it is calculated in reverse order. The more certainly the team is coming out on top, the less money you receive if you bet on its victory.

There is a method in this madness, of course. If one team is decidedly stronger than the other and if a gap in scores between them is wide, seeing that it has more chances to succeed is a matter of common sense. Any person with common sense would thus reap rewards from betting. But bookmakers are not a charity organization and uninclined to give away money easily. They, therefore, complicate the betting strategies.

They estimate which team is favorite and which is an underdog and then assign a value to how much in each direction they think they are. This process is called assigning odds. Those numbers you see in brackets alongside each team are exactly the value given to them by bookies. At the moment, the Tampa Bay Lightning that is placed at the top of the championship list at Bovada has the price of 225; Calgary Flames are assigned 700, and so are San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs. Winnipeg Jets have the price of 750; both Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins spot 1200. When you bet on any team in hockey, you thus need to understand the system of odds and pay attention to the value assigned to each team.

As if this were not complicated enough, bookmakers also place valence alongside each number given to the team. The plus sign (+) added to a number signifies the player or a team who is an underdog. The minus sign (-) indicates the potential winner. Note that logic here is again reversed.

The plus sign denotes weakness, not strength. A number to which the plus or minus sign is attached tells how much a favorite or underdog the bet is. The bigger the number, the bigger the favorite or underdog, which is also confusing in the case of the latter. The bigger the number assigned to the less favorite team, the weaker it is considered to be. The same illogicality marks potential winners: a large negative number given to the team actually predicts its higher chances of success.

The team ranked by bookies as -1722 is a more certain winner than the team with the number -210 assigned to it. With losing teams, the logic is similarly reversed. The team with the number +2217 is valued less than the team having the number +102. How big a favorite or underdog the hockey team is determines your payout for your correct prediction. But remember that other people also should be entered into the equation. How other fans bet influences the amount of money you receive in the end, if you guess the winner correctly.

Foreseeing the outcome of the game in hockey and making money from this is no easy feat. The inherent unpredictability of the sport and the complicated betting rules make the whole predicting enterprise highly challenging. But at the same time, the difficulty of guessing who will be the winner adds excitement to the process and increases our satisfaction if we do succeed in making the right prediction.