For sports bettors, January 1 used to be all about bowl games. A few years ago, though, the NHL made the bold decision to stake a claim on the day. The league isn’t the most successful or popular, but this big gamble has paid off handsomely. The Winter Classic, played each year in a baseball or football stadium – with past highlights including Wrigley Field and Fenway Park – is a huge success for the NHL. It gets a lot of national attention, TV ratings are far better than the league is used to, and the public cares about the game far more than other regular season games in January. The game is attractive to bettors as well. For the most part you would handicap this NHL game like any other regular season game. There are some factors that make it unique, though, and if you aren’t considering these then you aren’t making the best bets you can. Here are six factors for NHL bettors to consider when handicapping the NHL Winter Classic:
Prepare for added public attention – The NHL isn’t exactly the most popular sport on the continent. Canadians love it, but Americans have far less appreciation of it – outside of pockets of support, at least. That means that betting attention on the sport is far below other sports – especially during the regular season. The league has a very successful special event on their hands here, though, and the public pays attention to this game far more than any other typical game in January. The more the public pays attention to a game, the more they are going to bet on a game. The public doesn’t always make objective decisions, so the more they bet on a game the more you have to be aware of who they are betting on, and what impact that has on where the line is set and how it moves. The public can often favor one team heavily, and that has a big effect. If you like the same hockey team then value can be hard to find. If you like the team that the public doesn’t like, though, then as a NHL handicapper could have a very attractive betting opportunity – one that wouldn’t be as evident if you weren’t paying attention to how the public is betting.
What was on the show? – Leading up to the Winter Classic HBO runs a series providing behind the scenes looks at both teams involved. It is captivating TV, and is a big part of the reason why the Winter Classic is a big success. It’s important that you are paying attention to what is happening on the show – even if you are only reading episode summaries. I’m not suggesting you will get betting insights from the show – it’s never that simple. The public watches the show in large numbers, though, and a large number of those fans watching will bet on the game. That means that the show can have a big impact on who the public likes and how they bet. You’ll have a big edge in your NHL handicapping if you have a sense of what that impact could be.
What impact will the weather have? – When you play a hockey game outdoors in early January in a northern climate the weather can obviously be a big factor. In the history of the game it has been too warm, too cold, raining, and snowing. The sun is also a factor – unlike every other game played in the league. This is the only game of the NHL season in which the weather forecast is even remotely significant.
Will the crowd be a factor? – The game is played in football and baseball stadiums. Needless to say, those buildings were not designed for hockey. The rink is much smaller than the field for either sport, so it is quite possible that the fans will be a long way form the ice surface. The attendance will be huge for the games – at least compared to a regular hockey game – so the public will assume that they will be a much bigger factor than normal. Depending on the layout, though, the crowd could be too far from the ice to have a big impact. This could be one reason for the betting public to overreact, so it is important to consider.
How do teams handle big situations? – This game has quickly evolved into the biggest regular season game of the year for the NHL. Players are going to be very fired up for the game, and are going to feel more pressure and scrutiny than they normally would. They are also going to have to adapt to a new situation that most players won’t have been through. If a hockey team has had success dealing with pressure and adapting to situations – like if they have recently succeeded in the playoffs, for example – then they could be attractive in this spot. Some NHL teams shrink away form a big situation, though, and those teams wouldn’t be as attractive here.
Handicap as if it wasn’t outdoors for starters – As a NHL bettor, you need to consider all the factors that make the outdoor game unique when handicapping this game. Ultimately, though, it’s still a hockey game. It can be very easy to get carried away by the hype and the excitement, and by all the unique factors, and miss out on the fundamentals. You need to pretend that this is just an other game so you can consider how the teams match up and how the line represents the risks of the game. As a NHL handicapper, once you have done that you can add in the outdoor game factors.