The goalie is the most important player on the ice in a hockey game, so he is the single most important factor for bettors to look at when handicapping a game. If a handicapper is skilled at evaluating goalies and how they are likely to perform they are on the fast track to long term profit betting on hockey. Unfortunately, goalies are not always easy to figure out. That means that when bettors evaluate goalies there are plenty of opportunities for them to make mistakes if they aren’t careful. Here’s a look at five mistakes that a lot of bettors make when evaluating goalies. You need to be careful not to make them yourself:
Relying too much on reputation – Goalies are often the face of a team, and they often get a lot of media coverage, so the public can have strong opinions about what a player is capable of. Once a player’s reputation is established it can take a long time for the public to adjust that reputation, and quite often the player will no longer be performing at the same level as the reputation. There are two things to keep in mind here. First, you need to look at what the current reputation of the player is. The media and online forums are good spots to get a sense of the current feelings toward a player. Second, you need to be able to get a strong sense of how the player’s current play matches up to his reputation. If he has the reputation of being a world class goalie is he still performing at that level, or is he showing signs of decline? If he is viewed as a journeyman then is that still the case, or is he emerging as a consistent, solid player.
Ignoring recent form – What a goalie has been doing recently is as important as anything. Goalies are very streaky, so if a player is playing well that can often stretch over several games. Similarly, uncharacteristically poor play can be an issue for several games in a row. It’s important to get a sense of whether the play in the short term – the last two or three games, for example – has been at a similar level to the play over the longer term. It is big differences between short term and long term play that can often be exploited for profit. It’s also those differences that can be very costly if ignored.
Ignoring defensive issues in front of him – It doesn’t matter if a goalie is the best player in the world if he isn’t getting any help at all in front of him. If the defense is weak then he’ll face a lot of shots, many of those shots will likely be unblocked, and players will be there to scoop up rebounds. On the other hand, a strong defense can make an average goalie look better than he really is. It’s very important to get a sense of how good the defense is in front of a goalie. That means not just the talent and depth of the defense, but also their health, their ability against different types of offenses, and the defensive strength of the team on the power play.
Not considering the opponent – The opposing team has a big impact on how a goalie is going to be able to perform. A weak team can make even a weak goalie look good, while a very strong team can make even a great team have some issues. Beyond overall strength and weakness you need to look at the styles of opposing teams. Some goalies are better against wide open teams that play with speed than they are against grinders that look to clog up the crease and get lucky. Other goalies are better against teams with strength over finesse. The more you can get a sense of what kind of opponent the goalie is facing and how they have done against similar opponents in the past the better off you are going to be.
Being seduced by goals against average – GAA is a very misleading stat. It doesn’t just rely on how well the goalie is playing. It also indicates how the defense is playing, the number and quality of shots he is facing in a game, and so on. Much like the ERA in baseball or the quarterback rating it doesn’t really provide a clear pitch of the play of the player. A much more reliable stat if you don’t want to get too sophisticated but still want a good idea of how a team is performing the save percentage is a much better stat. That tells you how many saves a goalie makes regardless of the situation in which he faces those shots, so it is easier to compare goalies playing for very different teams.