With every passing year I became less and less sure of why we bother having all-star games, and this year's NHL version did nothing to change my opinion. The East won, 12-11, in a shootout, but the game was a total debacle. Defense wasn't in the vocabulary of any player on the ice, and the goaltenders were hung out to dry from the start. There has to be a dozen different ways the league could boost their profile and entertain fans without subjecting them to such an inferior, uninteresting product. Baseball is the only sport that manages a mildly interesting game. I can't think of a single good reason to bet on an all-star game.
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The one story of note coming out of the game is the Commissioner's commitment to cracking down on all-star no-shows. Players who decide to lick their wounds instead of showing up at the festivities will be suspended for at least one game. That could start as soon as Tuesday. Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings have both been suspended for one game, though Detroit GM Ken Holland is appealing the decision. Both players have nagging injuries, so it's unclear whether they would have played anyway, or what shape they would be in if they did. If the suspensions are upheld then there's a good chance that the public will overreact in favor of the Blue Jackets, and that could create an opportunity to find rare value on the Wings.
Oilers Enter The Break On A High Note
Edmonton has struggled to find consistency all year, but they were playing some of their best hockey of the year before the break. They won their last three games, and five of the last six. Four of the five wins were against conference teams, so the prospect of a playoff berth looks better than it once did. The team had a big boost in the last two games before the break with the return of Ales Hemsky. The sniper had four goals and two assists in the two games. Hemsky's impact can't be underestimated on this team. He's the runaway scoring leader on the team despite missing 10 games due to injury. When he's in the lineup some of the secondary scorers on the team can relax because they don't have the burden of being the primary offensive power. Scorers always score better when they are relaxed, and the Oilers benefit. That makes Edmonton a team to watch coming out of the break.
There Is Peace In Our Time
It's not a surprising move, but it's a comforting one - the NHL Players' Association has agreed to extend the collective bargaining agreement for two more years. That means that we are guaranteed not to have another labor situation in the league until at least 2012. That's a relief for fans who are still bitter about the lost season, but it's good news for bettors as well. With cost certainty established for that long there will be less incentive for teams to panic and sell their stars like they did before the last period of labor strife. That means we are in for a more predictable and comprehensible system for a couple of years as teams stick to a longer-term view. Players won't be as nervous about what's to come and, at least in theory, we'll get better all-round play.
The mid-season break is a good time to assess what has happened already, and what teams are flying under the radar. As I was doing that this week a few teams jumped out on the totals that were stronger than expected. The Thrashers have been an underwhelming and virtually anonymous team all year. No team, though, has gone over more times than Atlanta. They have gone over 30 times in 46 tries - a hugely profitable ratio. St. Louis is another underachieving team that has been consistently over - 29 times in 45 games. On the flip side, the Kings (27 unders in 46 games) and the Panthers (25 times in 44 games), are bad teams that have found a way to support their backers.
Awards to Vegas
There are reports that the NHL will move their post-season awards ceremony from the traditional location in Toronto to the Palms Casino in Las Vegas. In addition to the ceremony, Pat LaFontaine and Luc Robitaille will reportedly put together a celebrity charity hockey game. The move will frustrate Canadian hockey purists, but it makes lots of sense - it will improve the profile and sex appeal of the league. It's also good news for bettors - it signals the continued willingness of the league to explore a deeper relationship with Las Vegas. Other leagues seem to fear Vegas and the sports betting world it represents, but the NHL doesn't, and that could lead to more opportunities for us down the road.