Every year in the NHL around January or February sports bettors see the same thing – a serious playoff contender that started strong slipping into a midseason slump. Actually, it typically happens a few times most years. Sometimes they shake things off and get right back into form after the losses. Other times, though, the poor on-ice play can derail the season and send the hockey team spiraling down the stretch. For bettors, the ability to determine whether a team is likely to bounce back or not, and how quickly that is likely to happen, can lead to some very nice profits. Here are seven factors for NHL handicappers to consider when looking at these midseason slumps:
Who have they played? – This is important for hockey bettors to look at in two different ways. First, and most significantly, who have they been losing to during this slump? Are they losing to other strong playoff contenders, or have they stumbled against weaker teams? Have they been losing at home, or on the road? Are they losing to offensive teams, or defensive ones? Second, who had they played before the slump starts? Sometimes the NHL schedule is unbalanced, so it can be easier early on than it is later in the season. This can happen, for example, if an east coast team doesn’t make a west coast swing until later in the season, if a hockey team has been playing a lot of divisional games and they play in a weak division, or if a team has yet to play any games against a particularly strong division.
Are they statistically suffering? – Losses are important, but the scoreboard doesn’t always tell the whole story. Over the short term a NHL team can still play well and just lose due to luck or circumstances. Before you get too concerned about a slump, then, you need to make sure that the play has actually fallen off. How is the team performing on the power play? Is penalty killing still consistent? Has a goalie’s save percentage fallen? How many scoring chances per hockey game are they getting? The statistics will tell a much more accurate picture of the struggles – or lack of them – than the scores, but the betting public often won’t look that far.
How are the best players performing? – The best teams in the NHL are almost always driven by one or more superstar level players. They are deep enough that those players don’t have to do everything, but the success of those players has a lot to do with the success of the team overall. It makes sense, then, that you can learn a fair bit about the slump the team is in by the way the stars are performing. If the stars are struggling then the team is likely really struggling as well. If the star players are still producing up to their expectations, though, then the slump perhaps isn’t as significant as it could be.
How’s their health? – By the time the new year rolls around in the NHL teams have played a lot of games, and injuries are inevitable. Verteran NHL handicappers know that nothing can derail a hockey team more than a lot of injuries. It doesn’t have to be star players either – depth is crucial in the league, so if depth is shattered by injuries then you have problems. Smart sports bettors will look beyond the players that aren’t playing as well. Which players are in the lineup but not playing at full strength?
Is change in the air? – A NHL team that is stable and comfortable is going to be able to get back into top form if they are talented and healthy. If they have distractions off-ice working against them, though, then they can run into real trouble. There are any number of distractions that can pop up in the new year – a potential coaching change, potential moves at the trade deadline, ownership instability, front office changes, and so on.
Is this a habit for the team? – Some NHL teams just have trouble maintaining their momentum throughout a whole season. As a NHL handicapper as yourself these questions. Have they had this problem in recent seasons? Have they had other slumps during this season? Some teams are naturally streaky – not a bad way to be as long as you are on a positive run once the playoffs start.
How are bettors responding? – The most important factor for sports bettors in this situation is how the public is responding to the situation. If the public is negative about the streak then they are not going to bet on the team as much, and that can have an impact on the odds – particularly if the team is typically a popular one. If the public isn’t bothered by the streak, though, then it won’t change their betting behavior significantly, and for the NHL handicapper the value won’t be as evident.