|By Ron Raymond
Last season, the Los Angeles Kings opened at 14/1 odds to win the Stanley Cup. By finishing the 8th seed in the Western Conference, it simply meant that their first two playoff games were on the road!
The NHL will kick off the 2013 ďshotgunĒ season on Saturday, January 19th; it will be a 48-game schedule for each club. The reduced schedule will force teams to play 4 games vs. certain division opponents, while playing 5 games against their other division foes. They will also faceoff three times against 10 other conference teams.
The saying ďItís not a sprint, itís a marathon!Ē wonít apply in this case. Itís going to be a flat out 200-meter dash to make the playoffs! The Kings enjoyed the 8th seed in the Western Conference last year by 5 points, but teams will not have that luxury this season. In fact, teams who sprint out of the gate quickly will improve their odds of making the playoffs. The first 10 games of the season will be crucial for many clubs.
Wagering on futures tickets is about finding indicators that lead you in the right direction on cashing a winner! A fast start is a very telling indicator. Over the past 2 seasons, the LA Kings averaged 6 wins in their first 10 games; only the Washington Capitals started faster by averaging 7 wins. Could this be a starting point to consider when betting on who will win the Stanley Cup? Again, if a team falls behind early in a shorten season, their odds on making the playoffs diminish. Only six NHL hockey teams the past two seasons started their first 10 games of the year with an average of 6 or more wins; Washington (7.0), Toronto (6.0), St. Louis (6.0), Detroit (6.0), Los Angeles Kings (6.0) and Dallas (6.5). Only the Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars didnít make the playoffs last year after such a hot start the past 2 seasons.
When looking for value on your futures ticket, donít take the Fantasy players approach. Never forget that the style of play during the regular season and playoffs is two different animals. The dynamics of a regular season game and a playoff game are night and day in comparison. Case in point: Dustin Brown finished tied for first place in scoring during the 2012 playoffs with Anze Kopitar with 20 points in 20 games, but finished 76th in scoring with 54 points in 82 games during the regular season.
Distinguishing between facts and myth is key in Sports Handicapping. For instance, some will say in a shorten season, team youth will play a huge factor in making the playoffs, but others will counter by saying experience is vital down the stretch. For the record, the 3 oldest teams last year, New Jersey (29.3), Detroit (29.1) and Florida (28.5), made the playoffs, while the 3 youngest teams, Colorado (26.0), Toronto (26.1) and Minnesota (26.1), didnít participate.
Betting NHL Futures at the beginning of a season is about finding value on teams whom Sportsbooks and media donít expect. From a handicapping point of view, itís the best time to take advantage of great hedging opportunities. Here are my ďGreat 8Ē value recommendations on winning the Holy Grail!
1. NEW YORK RANGERS (+650): Last season, the Rangers were only missing a few pieces of the puzzle. They improved their team by adding winger Rick Nash, LW Taylor Pyatt, C Jeff Halpern, and RW Arron Asham to their lineup during the off season. When building a championship team, you build from the goaltender out. NY has one of the best in nets in Henrik Lundqvist. Since division games will likely determine the teams in the playoffs, winning home division games will be even greater. The Rangers were 14-9 SU vs. Division foes last season, while the OVER was 15-6-2.
2. LOS ANGELES KINGS (+900): To win a Stanley Cup, players must understand their role and be willing to grind and fight every second night. The Kings have some of the top playoff type players in the league: Mike Richards, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick in nets. Teams who win the Stanley Cup donít normally have a lengthy off season to recuperate, otherwise known as the Stanley Cup Hangover. Because of the lockout, the Stanley Cup winners shorten season isnít a factor. LA becomes a valued ticket. However a concern arises: the Kings will face many 3 games in 4 nights. They were 9-13 SU in this situation the last 2 years, but the UNDER was 11-5-6. Therefore, consider the UNDER when the Kings are playing that 3rd game in the 4th night!
3. VANCOUVER CANUCKS (+1200): The Vancouver Canucks have been one of the most consistent playoff caliber teams the last few seasons. This is the year Corey Schneider will earn his stripes as the teamís number one starter. Vancouver was 11-5 SU in back to back games last year and they were outstanding on the road when playing 3 games in 4 nights with a 14-7 SU road record. The Canucks have been tremendous vs. division rivals at home, owning a 17-3 SU record vs. their division foes at Rogers Arena, formerly known as GM Place AKA the Garage!
4. ST. LOUIS BLUES (+1500): The value of the Blues to win the Cup is heavily based on the experience of their head coach. Ken Hitchcock is one of the top Xís and Oís coaches in the league and is a notable strategist. Hitchcock won 49 games for the Blues last season and owned a 70% winning percentage while racking up 105 points in the Western Conference, good enough for second place. Last year, the Blues concern in the playoff was defense. Theyíve added some depth in the off season by acquiring D Taylor Chorney, D Scott Ford, G Mike McKenna, F Andrew Murray, and D Jeff Woywitka.
5. MINNESOTA WILD (+1500): The Minnesota Wild missed the playoffs last year; finishing 12th in the Western Conference. They didnít hesitate to make a splash prior to the lockout by acquiring the top 2 free agents in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Niklas Backstrom has been one of the best back stoppers in the league the last few years and with some offensive help up front, the Wild should be an interesting wild card in the spring. In effect, amongst the 14-teams who didnít make the playoffs last year, the Wild are the favorite to win the Stanley Cup from that group.
6. CAROLINA HURRICANES (+2000): Carolina is one of three medium risk selections that have value. Two reasons why the Canes at +2000 on the money line will be a contender: Jordan Staal and former Washington Capitals sniper Alexander Semin! Semin is a gifted goal scorer who notched 40 goals during the 2009-10 campaign in Washington. The question will be can Head Coach Kirk Muller light a fire under Semin to play inspired hockey in the spring. Also, with Cam Ward between the pipes (whoís won a Stanley Cup), the Hurricanes are a good investment.
7. FLORIDA PANTHERS (+3000): Panthers Head Coach Kevin Dineen was a gritty hockey player during his heyday years in the NHL with the Hartford Whalers and Philadelphia Flyers with over 2229 PIMís (Penalty in Minutes). This line up has Dineenís stamp all over; this is your typical in your face lunch bucket squad. Since there will be a lot riding on division games, look for the Panthers to compete for the Southeast division title, giving bettors hedging opportunities.
8. MONTREAL CANADIENS (+3000): Baseball fans put a lot of pressure on the New York Yankees to win the World Series each year and itís very similar in Montreal. The Canadiens are a storied franchise with 24 Stanley Cup banners hanging from the rafters at the Bell Center. Montreal finished last in the Eastern Conference last season, without much help from management when it came to player personnel. Now, Montreal has a new GM in Marc Bergevin who brought in his coach, Michel Therien (back behind the bench for a second stint with the Canadiens). The Habs have the best Goalie and the top 4 defenseman combination in the Northeast division. The Price is Right!