NHL Handicapping Mistakes Bettors Must Avoid

Doc's Sports | Jan 9, 2013 | ARCHIVE

With the shortened NHL season and the long lockout, betting on the NHL is going to be very different than it usually is. We learned this from the NBA last year when their shortened season led to countless handicapping headaches — especially early in the year. The biggest key for hockey bettors, then, will be avoiding costly mistakes.

Here are six mistakes that a lot of bettors are likely to make:

Not compensating for movement - In normal circumstances it can take a long time for a player to get comfortable with a new team and start to contribute at his full value. In this condensed season, with games played more frequently and the training camp non-existent, it could take much longer. It could be easy for bettors to get excited about teams like Minnesota or the Rangers who have had active offseasons. If you assess those teams just by what they have on paper, though, you are in real danger of overvaluing them early on before they can learn to play together and maximize what they have. Oftentimes adding a high-profile star not only requires adjustment for the player, but the team around him also has to learn to play with him. Coach movement will also be important as well. Coaches hired after the regular season ended last year have not had any time to work with their teams, so they will likely struggle to establish early relationships, get to know their talent, and implement new systems — especially if they are looking to make significant changes from what the team used to do.

Ignoring European or AHL play - It will be strange early on this year. Some players will be in midseason form because they have been playing in Europe or the AHL for as long as they would have been playing in the NHL. Other guys will be rusty because they haven’t been playing at all. They were either busy negotiating or just relaxing and spending time with their families. They will have spent plenty of time on the ice, but practice isn’t game time. It is going to be important for handicappers to get a sense of how much playing experience a roster has had this year and at what level they were playing. Also, it could be helpful to see which players have been performing very well. Edmonton’s young stars have excelled in the AHL, for example, and Evgeni Malkin has been offensively potent as always in his European vacation.

Overvaluing European or AHL play - As important as it is to get a sense of who has played and how they have performed, it would be easy to get carried away in your excitement or damnation regarding a player. The KHL is the closest to the NHL, but no player has been playing at the same high level that they will play at in the NHL, and they have been playing with different teammates under a different system and for a different coach. A good comparison would be that early-season play this year is much like the preseason in a regular year. It can be useful to see which players are in good form in the preseason, but you can get in a lot of trouble expecting statistical performance to translate to the regular season.

Ignoring schedule - The schedule is always important in the NHL — teams tend to perform much worse on the road than at home, and games on short rest are often a big problem. In this short season the schedule is going to be even more of a factor than usual. There are three big reasons for this. First, the schedule is condensed, so consecutive games are likely to be more frequent. Teams that struggle with this in most cases could really be in trouble now. Second, with a shortened schedule there will be less balance in schedules, and it can be easy for one team to face a much bigger challenge than other teams — especially teams in different divisions. This could especially be an issue for West Coast teams that already face significant travel issues in a normal year. Third, with only 48 games instead of 82, each game becomes more significant in terms of importance in the playoff race. A loss means more, and it can be harder for a team to overcome. That means that early struggles can really be amplified, or that a team that gets off to a surprising early start could be better positioned to hold on and contend than they would in a longer season.

Ignoring public impact - The public is going to struggle to understand what impact the layoff and shortened season is going to have on the game. That lack of understanding won’t stop them from making wild assumptions, though. Teams that the public generally likes will get more attention than normal, and negative opinions will be amplified as well. You’ll need to pay much more attention than normal to how the public is betting and the impact it is having on how lines are set and how they move. This will be particularly significant early in the season when these assumptions are the biggest driving force for public betting decisions.

Not focusing on goaltending and power play - In a shortened season like this — especially one with essentially no preseason — teams that can shine in these two key areas are going to have a big advantage. Defense takes time to gel, so a strong goalie will be required to keep teams competitive early on. The power play often takes time to get into strong form as well, and it is very important to the success of a team. A team that can be expected to perform well early on with the power play is a team that will be easier to trust in their early games.