The NHL season goes through some subtle but significant changes from a sports betting perspective once the all star break happens. The season changes after the break, and the most successful bettors are the ones that can recognize those changes and figure out how to best exploit them for profit. For serious hockey bettors here are five different examples of things that change from the first half of the NHL season to the second half:
Depth is more important later in the season – The NHL season is long and brutal. Injuries are a fact of life, and they get more serious and more significant as the season goes along. By the second half of the season there isn’t going to be a team in the league that is completely healthy. Even teams without significant injuries are going to be faced with key players who are banged up and at less than full productivity. Teams with a lack of sufficient depth may be able to mask their issues early in the season, but the further they get into the season the more likely their issues are to be exposed. NHL handicappers need to note that a lack of depth can be a fatal flaw down the stretch.
Bad teams are aware of their fate – After the all-star break there are nearly 40 games still left to be played. It doesn’t take long, though, for some NHL teams to face the reality that they aren’t going to be making the playoffs no matter what happens. The hole they face is just too deep, and they just aren’t good enough. The problem for those teams is that they still have to play the rest of their games despite the lack of hope. For some hockey teams that’s not a big issue – if they are a young team or one that has long struggled then they could still be positive and looking to keep learning and build for the future. Teams that weren’t expected to struggle this badly, though, or teams with a lack of things to be optimistic about, can really sink into a dark place down the stretch. Their play can really suffer, and they can be even easier to beat than they were earlier in the season.
Impact of trade deadline – The trade deadline in the NHL is far more significant than it is in any other major sport. There are many deals made on the actual deadline day, and many more in the days leading up to it. Teams will trade major pieces, and they’ll look to add depth as well. Teams that are out of the playoff hunt will sell off their top current assets for young players or draft picks. Teams that legitimately believe they have a deep run in them will stock up on players to fill their biggest needs – even if they have to mortgage their future to do so. Because the deadline is so active it has several impacts on the game after the all-star break. The threat of an impending trade hangs over every struggling team, and the hope of a deal can be a distraction on every successful one. There is always disappointment among teams and bettors if a team doesn’t make the splash they were expected to. If deals are made then teams face the challenge of fitting in a new player in a hurry, and without a lot of practice time. The deadline also has a very big impact on public perception. The public will be excited by the biggest deals, and disappointed by the deals that don’t meet their expectations. They’ll be enthusiastic about teams that were aggressive, and negative about teams that were inactive or that sold off their best players. Smart bettors have to be very aware of what the public is going to think about the transactions teams do or don’t do, and what impact that will have on the way they bet. It’s especially important for NHL handicappers to consider that impact in the weeks right after the deadline has passed.
Playoff intensity starts early – As experienced sports bettors know, the NHL playoffs are incredibly intense – far more than the regular season. Games are faster, tougher, and harder to win. That intensity can start early for teams that are playing for their playoff lives. For the last month of the season or more it can be as if every game is a playoff game because any loss would be so costly. Some teams thrive under playoff intensity, while others shrink when facing that challenge. The realization that games are played at a higher intensity is important for bettors to consider and account for.
Bettor attention – Early in the season the NHL barely registers in the national betting psyche and there is little action. Between the NFL and college football, there are far more pressing issues for the betting public to think about. After the all-star break, though, college football is over and the NFL playoffs are nearing the end. As the NHL season progresses, then, the public starts to pay more attention to the league, and more casual money is bet on the sport. The more public action there is on a sport, the more concerned you need to be about what biases the public might have, and what impact that will have on the ways lines are set and how they move. The betting public doesn’t always bet on the team that is most likely to win – just the one that they like better.