During the Stanley Cup playoffs most eyes of fans, sports bettors, and the media are trained on the teams that are toiling to win the nicest trophy in sports. While the playoffs are underway, though, the hockey teams that are not in the playoffs are quietly going about their business of trying to get better so they aren’t stuck on the sidelines the next time the playoffs roll around. People often assume that trades can’t be made after the trade deadline, but that’s not true – it’s just that players who are dealt after the deadline aren’t eligible for the NHL postseason. That means that we will occasionally see trades that go unnoticed during the playoffs. We’ll often also see coaching changes, or changes in management. Free agents from other teams can’t be signed until July 1, but it can become known which players will be pursued by their current teams, and which will be allowed to move on. There is some free agent movement that can and does happen, though – players can be signed from European leagues or from college hockey if they are free agents. Players can retire as well.
In short, there are a lot of different transactions that can and do happen during the playoffs, and most of them will go totally unnoticed by the betting public and all but the most avid handicappers. It is definitely a worthwhile investment of time for NHL bettors to pay attention to these moves and consider what they mean. They obviously won’t have an immediate impact on the outcome of games – teams making the moves won’t play again for months. What it can do however, is give NHL handicappers a real head start on understanding where teams are, how they view their future, and how they might perform early next season. Having that can give you an advantage in playing futures, or in betting preseason or early season games. Here are five questions for hockey bettors to ask to better understand what these silent transactions could tell you:
Which teams are looking for a new direction? – There are some teams that aren’t particularly competitive but feel that they are close, or at least moving in the right direction. Then there are teams that seem like they are ready to blow things up and start all over again. You can get a sense of which teams are looking to change significantly by how aggressively they make changes during the playoffs. They won’t do the entire overhaul at this time, but they can certainly set themselves up to be aggressive through the summer with the deals they make.
Which teams are being unexpectedly aggressive? – For the most part you can sit down at the end of a regular season and predict which teams are going to be aggressive before next season and which ones won’t. There are a number of factors to consider – recent performance, cap space, contract status of core players, management and fan patience, glaring needs, and so on. Every so often, though, there will be a team that doesn’t seem like it will be aggressive that shows early on that they are going to be a serious player in the offseason. The sooner you can get an indication that a team is unhappy with their current roster and is looking for big changes, the sooner you can get a sense of what they are likely to do and what it can mean for the future. In other words, by paying attention to their unexpected aggressiveness you won’t be caught off guard like most bettors when they make big summer moves.
Which players are going to be particularly attractive in free agency? – By looking at what moves have been made and how teams set themselves up heading into the summer, you can get a good sense of which players are likely to be heavily in demand. If, for example, a couple of teams clear cap space and bid farewell to their goaltenders then you know that the top free agent goalies are going to be heavily in demand when the market opens.
Which teams have obvious needs or areas of concern? – When you see what teams are being really active early, you can get a good sense of what teams feel like they have serious issues that need to be addressed. For example, if a team is grabbing every forward prospect they can find – from college, Europe, or the scrap heap – then you can be sure that they feel like they need help up front, and that they don’t have a lot of faith in what they have in their system.
Which teams have quietly improved? – The betting public and the mass media are not very good at spotting subtlety. They will notice the big moves that grab the headlines, but might not pay nearly as much attention to the quiet but impactful deals that are made. If you can notice those moves and see how that can improve teams, then you can have a big edge on those that don’t notice those moves – especially early on. There are some useful, instantly impactful players that can be added under the radar in May that can help teams win more games than people who aren’t paying attention expect in September.