A lot of people who bet on hockey don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the beginning of training camp in the NHL. It’s not hard to be distracted from the start of things on the ice since the NFL and college football seasons are in full swing and baseball is heading into the stretch drive. Bettors who pay attention to what goes on in the first few days of camp, though, can be rewarded with insights that can be turned into profits early in the season. Here are seven things worth paying attention to when the skates hit the ice for the first time:
Players reporting out of shape – Offseason fitness is a bigger and bigger part of the NHL every year. Despite that, though, there are some big name players every year who show up at camp out of shape. That’s a problem because it puts them behind from the start and it doesn’t endear them to their coaches and teammates. It’s also often a sign of bigger issues with the player – if they aren’t motivated enough to do the work they should be doing in the summer then are they going to be motivated enough to perform at full strength throughout the season when things get tough? You can get a sense of players who aren’t where they should be by following stories of the fitness tests at the start of camp, or by looking for players who aren’t participating in early practice sessions like they should be.
Players not skating with their teams – There are several reasons why a player could be on the sidelines early in practice. None of them are any good. It could be a fitness issue as we just talked about. It could be an injury issue – and it’s a real concern if a guy is hurt before things even get started. It could be a contract issue, or a conflict with the coaching staff. It could be that he’s just not part of the team’s plans anymore. If you hear about a guy who isn’t a part of practice when you’d expect him to be then you need to investigate further to figure out what’s going on.
Players in the doghouse early – If a player finds themselves in the doghouse in September then it can be very difficult for them to find the way out at all during the season. That can have a big impact on the production of the player, and it can often turn into a distraction for the team as well. If a popular or talented player is in the bad books of the coaching staff early in camp then that is definitely a situation to monitor.
Players rapidly climbing depth chart – Each year there is a player or two on each team’s roster that rockets up the depth chart of their team. They might not have been taken seriously heading into training camp but the way they looked at the start of camp and the way they have performed since have turned them into very legitimate forces on the team. These players may have been underperforming on the roster in past years, or they may not have been on the roster at all in the past. Either way, there is a good chance that they will be more effective and valuable than the betting public that hasn’t paid attention to training camps will think they are. Undervalued players can lead to betting value.
Teams heavily hyped by the media – The hockey media is largely quiet from the free agency period at the start of July to the start of training camps. Once camps start they fire back up. Each year when they are getting started again they will focus on a few teams and players that they are particularly excited about – the ones that they are really going to hype. When the media gets excited about a team the public gets excited as well. Sometimes the media gets excited about a team that deserves all the attention, but that’s not always the case. By getting a sense of which teams the media has an early crush on you can start to identify the teams that will offer value to bet against because they aren’t as strong as the media and the betting public will think they are.
Management uncomfortable with what they have – I like to think of this as itchy feet syndrome. In theory every front office should be heading into training camp with a roster that they are happy with. That’s far from the case in reality, of course. The more uncomfortable a GM seems to be with his team, the more you should probably be uneasy with the team as well. There are many ways you can tell if a team is unhappy with what they have – bringing more players than normal to camp, being active on the waiver wires from the start, more trade rumors than normal, and so on.
Team chemistry issues – Chemistry is a huge part of success in hockey – perhaps more so than most sports. At times you can get a sense that teams have some chemistry issues early in camp. Issues early are likely to become bigger issues later. There are many things to look out for here – star players who seem unhappy or less accessible to the media than normal, difficulty selecting a captain, discipline issues in camp, a lack of enthusiasm and jump from the players early in camp, and so on.