The New Normal: Do NHL Oddsmakers need to change their thinking?
For years, it seems like setting lines for NHL games could be done with your eyes closed. Scoring has been stagnant for well over a decade, and the rules that attempted to open the game up didn’t seem to be having an impact on the results. To make things worse, there was a clear divide between the very good and very bad teams, so when a player bets the puck line, it was almost a foregone conclusion that they would walk away with a winning ticket.
The start of this year’s hockey season, however, has seen a major shift in the game, and while there are a few possible reasons why, it is no doubt forcing the experts that set lines to rethink their ways. For example, there was a total for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals this past Saturday set at 7 goals – that is unheard of in recent memory! It must have taken everything the oddsmakers had to make this move, but it is definitely a sign of things to come.
Now, what could be causing this seismic shift in betting lines? Here are a couple of theories:
The league is younger
Since the last CBA negotiation, it was clear that teams were no longer going to need the services of veteran players who soak up millions of dollars. These days, a team is far better off using younger, hungrier players, with more of a focus on coaching for the veteran leadership needed. Have a look at the benches on the next game you watch: the players on the bench are barely old enough to shave, while there are seemingly more assistant coaches than ever before. Having these thirty-something players leave the ice for coaching roles gives teams the best of both worlds – a much faster on-ice product with recent experience behind the bench.
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Goalies aren’t as good
Hockey is cyclical, especially when it comes to goaltending. There always seems to be a run of great goaltending followed by periods of mediocrity, and that definitely appears to be the case this season. There are far fewer “star” goalies, and many of those are getting up there in age. While we wait for the next batch of young stars, teams are getting to fire the puck at guys without the same pedigree.
So, there are a couple of things to point out when talking about advanced analytics and how it might affect the outcome of hockey games. First, it appears teams are taking far more shots than ever before. In the same breath, many of these shots don’t make it on the net, either purposely being shot wide for bounces or because they are being blocked by the defending team. Regardless, gone are the days of waiting for the perfect pass or shot – this scattered approach could be changing angles and opening up more opportunities to bulge the twine.
Second, teams realize the value in pulling the goalie much earlier in games. This trend seems to have been started by Patrick Roy while coaching the Colorado Avalanche a few years ago, when he would regularly pull his goalie when down by two goals or with well over 3 minutes to go in the game. (Yes, this is ironic considering he made his money between the pipes). The theory here is that it is far better to have the puck advantage in the offensive zone, so much so that risking a team scoring on the empty net is one worth taking. We expect to see much more of this in future games.
So, what should we expect from bookmakers?
It is hard to say if the trend will continue or if this is simply too small a sample size. What we do know is that there has been a response from the oddsmakers to the early onslaught of goals scored. The standard over/under has shifted across the league from 5.5 goals to 6.0 goals, and while that might not seem like a lot, it can sure mean a big difference when picking a side to wager. We will keep a close eye on any other movements by sportsbooks (changing puck lines, changing prop bets on individual goals and points scored, etc.) and we’ll keep you informed of any new trends that could impact your hockey betting.