The Stanley Cup playoffs, as avid sports bettors understand, are the most brutal postseason tournament in sports. It is incredibly difficult to come out on top. The highest ranked teams heading into the playoffs win their share of Cups. Every few years, though, there is a low seeded team that shocks the league and makes a deep run into the finals and maybe all the way. Florida, Calgary, Edmonton, Carolina – the list goes on and on. If bettors were able to spot the teams that were going to be the surprises before it happens then they would be well positioned to make some very nice money along the way. Spotting those teams isn’t easy, of course, but NHL handicappers can get a head start by considering these six crucial factors:
Has something changed? – Quite often you can trace the unexpected playoff success a NHL team enjoys to a change that was made at some point in the season. It wasn’t enough of a change to get them to the top of the standings, but it was enough to start them playing well enough to run deep into the playoffs. It could be that a coaching change was made, and it was effective. Or perhaps a player or number of players were added at the trade deadline or before that who have really changed how the team has played. Maybe a key player returned from injury, or a new player – like a goalie – has emerged as a driving force for the team. If a team has made a key change and has seen improvements in their play since then then they are worth a closer look. Quite often these changes won’t get recognized by the betting public as much as they should be, so there can be some real value available for the observant sports bettor.
Who is the coach? – One consistent factor for every NHL team that makes a deep, unexpected run is that their coach is doing a very good job. He doesn’t necessarily need to be a legendary coach, but at this particular time he and his team are perfectly aligned, they believe in what he is preaching, and he has all the answers for the team. It’s hard to get a great sense of how the coach is working with his hockey team unless you are in the locker room, but you can get some clues. For example, does the coach have the talent he needs to run his system? Has he been particularly relaxed heading into the playoffs?
How is the goaltending? – The examples of teams that have played in the Stanley Cup finals without a goaltender who is playing very well are limited. Teams almost always have to have a hot goalie in the playoffs. You can never be sure which goalies will step up and shine, and which ones will disappoint. What smart sports bettors need to consider, though, is whether they have a goalie who has the potential to get hot. Are they a strong goalie? Have they played reasonably well down the stretch of the season? Do they have playoff experience?
How is the defense? – Next to goaltending and coaching, the most important factor for playoff success in the NHL is typically defensive ability. Playoff hockey is more defensive than regular season hockey. It’s also typically more wide open, so defensive corps are called on to do more, and teams can be heavily penalized if they don’t have adequate defensive play. there are a couple of factors you want to look for. First, you need depth. The hockey team needs to have at least two strong pairings, and preferably three. More significantly, they need to have a very strong first pairing – one that can face the best their opponent has to offer and minimize their impact.
Do they have depth? – NHL playoff hockey is brutal. If a team is going to make a deep run they are going to play a lot of games. Every player will be beaten up and bruised by the end of the layoffs, and teams will almost certainly lose players along the way. Depth is absolutely crucial in the playoffs, then. They don’t have to have superstars on every line. What they do need, though, is enough depth that they can weather any injury storms, and have both legitimate NHL caliber players in their lineup, and the potential to replace them with other NHL caliber players if they have to. If a hockey team has struggled with depth during the regular season then they are very unlikely to make a nice playoff run unless their depth issues have been addressed.
Who do they play? – A team that makes a deep run after entering the NHL playoffs as a seventh or eighth seed has beaten at least one top-two seed along the way. While the higher seeded teams have obviously had a much better regular season, and are likely heavily favored heading into the series, it doesn’t always mean that they are a strong team at that moment. There could be all sorts of issues that would make them vulnerable – injuries, chemistry issues, concerns about toughness, and so on. If a team that looks like they could be poised for some surprising success are up against a vulnerable top seed they are easier for NHL handicappers to trust than one that will be forced to upset a strong team in their prime.