Favorite or Underdog, What’s Better?

Being a Habs fan you hear several clichés as the season progresses. The most popular being “The Habs always beat the good teams, and lose to the bad ones.” Thinking this was wrong and tired of arguing against it, I ran the numbers.

I looked at two ways that the Habs could either be favorites or underdogs coming into a 7-game series. Either through total points accumulated during the regular season or the result of the season series between the two teams. Taking the 15 rounds the Habs played since the lockout of 04-05 the following table emerged.

Habs Playoff Stats

First, yes there are only 14 results in this table. In the 2009-2010 third playoff round, the Montreal Canadiens and the Philadelphia Flyers met and the Habs lost. They both had 88 points and split the season series 2-2.

Let’s dive deeper into the table. I would argue that more weight should be given to a favorite or underdog status if it depends on the season total points. Out of the 7 times the Habs started the series favorites in total points, they only won 2 of those series, a 29% success rate. Taking the 7 times they were underdogs per season total points, they won 4 of those series, a 57% success rate. Alright not a good start disproving this cliché.

What about a different approach? Let’s look at the times they were favorites or underdogs depending on the season series. Of the 9 times they won the season series, the Habs only won 3 of those playoff rounds, a 33% success rate. They lost the season series for 5 playoff rounds and managed to win 3 of those series, a 60% success rate. Alright this is looking worst.

What about the times they were favorites or dawgs under the two criteria? Of the 5 times the Habs were favorites per total season points and winning the season series, they only won 1 playoff round, a 20% success rate. Of the 3 times they were dawgs for both criteria, they won two series, a success rate of 67%.

Alright, I guess the cliché is right. I didn’t want it to be supported by the numbers, but looking at it in three different ways, it seems to check out. When the Habs entered a playoff series as underdogs, in one or more criteria, then they won 83% of the match ups. I guess the strategy for next year is to shoot for a wildcard.PK

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