The author of VSiN’s 86-page 2021 NHL Betting Guide shares his tips to help bettors understand what they’re up against as they handicap what is sure to be a unique season.
Stick to your guns, especially early in the season.
If you put in the work to make what you believe are accurate power ratings, don’t panic if things don’t go great at the start. It’s very tough to do, but you have to resist the urge to make arbitrary adjustments based on wins and losses over a small sample of games. Instead, wait until there’s a justifiable reason to do so. Try to set benchmarks for each team using metrics that measure different aspects of the game such as puck possession, scoring efficiency and goaltending. Make changes to the overall rating of a team only if it has underperformed or overperformed those expectations over a large enough sample of games.
Sample size matters a lot.
When we reduce the sample size of a skill-based activity such as hockey, we increase the chances the end results are a product of variance. Alternatively, if we increase the sample size, the opposite is true. Understanding this will help you understand the odds in different situations. For example, an underdog’s chances of winning a period are better than its chances of winning an entire game. Looking at the big picture, shortening the season to 56 games will surely produce some strange happenings.
You can’t win ’em all.
Research in the hockey stats community suggests there is no system or predictive model that is going to pick winners at a rate of higher than about 62 percent. That’s not to say betting a specific favorite with implied odds greater than 62 percent is foolish if you believe there is value in doing so. Just don’t expect to pick winners at a rate higher than that across a full season. Besides, it’s not as simple as just picking winners, anyway. Bettors must win at a higher rate than the odds imply if they wish to turn a profit. Hitting at 60 percent is great, but you’re only going to break even if you’re laying -150 on average.
Finding the right ’dog.
The majority of the time you’re either going to be faced with laying a fair amount of chalk on a favorite or taking an underdog that has a better chance of losing than winning. One way or another, though, a bettor must learn to look for value in teams that are expected to lose. Taking a ’dog that you believe has a 40 percent chance of winning is a good bet assuming the odds imply their chances are significantly worse than that.
Fatigue isn’t the only factor.
It’s shaping up to be a grueling stretch of hockey with the league aiming to play 868 games in 116 days. How a coach chooses to use his goaltenders or whether or not there is any form of load management will be easier to forecast if you’re staying on top of the schedule and looking ahead. However, it’s not as simple as blindly betting against tired teams. Bookmakers and the betting market are much sharper than they were even a few seasons ago, so there’s a good chance that “tired spots” are already factored into the price.