For some reason, in recent years the media and sports bettors seem to have started to view a long layoff between series in the NHL playoffs a negative for teams. The theory seems to be that teams will get rusty when they have to sit on the sidelines for a week. What seems to be missed in this evaluation, though, is that the hockey teams that get a long layoff have earned it because they were good enough to dominate their previous series. In other words, it’s not nearly as clear cut as people seem to want to make it. Sure, some teams do get rusty and don’t come back strong in their next series. Other NHL teams, though, benefit from the rest and their superior skill and preparation and shine after the layoff. As with most sweeping generalizations made in sports betting you can get yourself in trouble by making a conclusion without fully evaluating the situation. Here are seven factors for NHL handicappers to consider when looking at how a team may respond after a long layoff:
Are they overachieving? – NHL teams can earn a long layoff because they are a dominant team playing an outmatched opponent, or because they are a team that has confidence and chemistry and is playing well beyond expectations. If a professional hockey team has been playing well beyond expectations – like a low seed upsetting teams that are clearly better than them on paper – then their biggest asset is their belief in themselves. That’s a fragile thing for a team – and especially for the goaltender that is likely playing a major role in their success. If they have too much time off then that confidence can wane as they face the magnitude of what they have in front of them. It can therefore be more damaging to an overachieving team to face a long break than one playing to expectations.
How healthy are they? – This one is straightforward and smart NHL handicappers always consider this. A week off can allow banged up players time to heal and rehab, and can give players on the sidelines more time to return to action. That can be a big boost to a team that was already playing well enough to earn the layoff.
How do they deal with the layoff? – There are some NHL teams that practice throughout the layoff, while others will give the players time off away from the rink. The more relaxed a hockey team is during the break the better it likely is for their future – they aren’t worried about what is ahead of them, so they are less likely to buckle under the pressure. Local newspapers are a great source of insight into the plans for the team during the break.
Has the coach dealt with them before? – During a layoff the most important factor is the coaching. It is the coach who has to make sure that the hockey team is prepared, that their mindset is right, and that they are ready for their next game. That’s a lot for a coach to handle, and lesser coaches won’t do a good job. The best way to be confident that a coach is capable of doing a good job in this situation is if he has done it in the past with this team or another. Ideally they would have faced another layoff and bounced back strong. Even if they struggled after the layoff, it could be positive because the coach knows what went wrong and can determine what they can do differently this time.
How did they handle layoffs during the season? – In most cases teams haven’t had regular season layoffs as long as the one they face now, but chances are good that at some point they did have four or five days off. Did the hockey team look strong and focused in their first game back from that layoff, or did they struggle to get back into form? It’s important here for NHL handicappers to consider how they were performing before the break as well – if they were playing very poorly before the layoff then what happens after isn’t nearly as useful as a comparison.
How experienced is the lineup? – The more experienced a lineup is, the more likely hockey players have been tested through this before, and the better the internal leadership will be as a result. That doesn’t mean that there has to be only older NHL veterans on a team. It just means that a team is more likely to handle it well if they have a few key guys who have been through the grind of the playoffs before and who are big leaders on the team.
What is the opponent facing? – As important as the layoff and its impact on a team is, what the opponent has faced is equally as important when it comes to NHL handicapping. If the opponent has also been off for several days then the impact of the layoff may not be relevant since both teams have to overcome it. If the opponent faced a long, grueling playoff series, though, then the lasting impact of that could be more significant than the impact of the layoff.