Experienced sports bettors understand that injuries are an unfortunate but inevitable part of the NHL. As the game gets faster, players get stronger, and teams get more cautious with their assets we are seeing more and more players – especially really valuable players -miss long periods of time. Whenever a NHL superstar misses a lot of playing time bettors need to evaluate how that player will play upon his return, what impact that will have on the team in the short term, how bettors will respond, and what that means for value. Here are six factors for NHL handicappers to consider when evaluating the impact of a superstar returning to the NHL after a long injury:
How long has he been out? – The longer a hockey player has been out of the lineup – at least a superstar caliber player – the more concerned I get about the impact of his return. When he is out for a long time he’s going to be rusty, the chemistry he had with linemates will need to be restored, the team has gotten more used to playing without him, and teammates and casual bettors will have attached more significance to his return. The longer he has been out of action, then the more effort I put into figuring out the impact of his return. I don’t want to suggest that it is always a bad thing when he returns – that definitely isn’t the case. It’s just that the longer he is out of action the more things there are that can have changed, and the more factors there are that can impact the return. The longer the forced break, the more certain you have to be of your value before you make a bet upon the player’s return.
What type of injury was it? – There are some injuries that are easier for hockey players to come back from than others. I’m no doctor, so I don’t want to get into specifics here. What I do like to do, though, is to break injuries into two basic categories – those that will make the player tentative, and those that won’t. If a guy is coming back from something like a broken hand or a broken bone in his foot then he’s not likely to be too nervous about protecting his injury. Those are injuries that can heal well, and that aren’t likely to put a player on edge about trying to avoid a re-injury. On the other hand, there are some injuries – like a knee injury, a serious concussion, or a bad shoulder injury – that players could be very nervous about. They’ll be worried that every hit could re-injure them, or that every change of direction could blow the knee again. Those concerns will pass with time, but in the short term they can be a disruptive factor that limits the effectiveness of the player and influence you as a NHL handicapper. The only way to get comfortable with how the injury will stand up is by playing in games.
Has he been injured before? – If a NHL player is coming back from his first major injury at any level of hockey then he’s going to be more tentative and less confident than a player who has dealt with an injury before. A player experienced with injuries knows to trust their rehab, they know how far they can push an injured body, and they know what to expect. It doesn’t have to be the same basic type of injury, either, as long as the player has successfully come back from another major injury in the past. If the player has only come back from injuries that caused him to miss a game or two then that experience isn’t transferable.
How has the team done without him? – Casual sports bettors will tend to assume that the hockey team has struggled without a player, and that they will be instantly better off by his return. That isn’t always the case. Sometimes a team has the depth to play without their star, or their style of play means that a superstar isn’t as crucial as he would be on more star-centered teams. The better a team has done without their superstar the more concerned I am about the impact of his return. Will he accentuate the team when he returns, or will he disrupt the success they have had in his absence? On the flipside, the public will assume that the return of a superstar will give a big boost to a struggling team. That may not be the case, though, if the player doesn’t offer a remedy to the team’s biggest on-ice problems. For example, the return of the best defenseman in the world might not be a huge boost to a team that has struggled mightily to score goals.
Who will he be displacing in the lineup? – This is an often overlooked factor by NHL handicappers, and it may be the biggest one to consider. When the superstar returns to the lineup he will displace several players on the roster. The hockey player who filled his place on his line will have to move to another line, and that will change other lines as well. One added player can change every line on a team. If those lines have been struggling then that may not be a concern. Smart NHL bettors know that if the lines had had real chemistry, though, then the return to the lineup could actually have a real disruptive factor on the team in the short term.
How much hype surrounds his return? – Just as in any situation in sports betting, the more the public is excited about a situation the more they will bet on it. That will have a big impact on how the lines are set, how they move, and where the value is. The more the media and the public is excited about a return, then, the more cautious NHL handicappers need to be about what that means.