Chalk is Profitable Down the NHL Stretch
by Trevor Whenham - 03/05/2007
Hockey. When it comes to that sport, there are two kinds of people in the world - those that love it and those that haven't given it a chance yet. As a Canadian, hockey runs through my veins like blood. Though I love many sports, like college football and horse racing, which barely register on the collective psyche of Canadians, there are few things more exciting than an NHL playoff game. The game is fast and brutal - it's a stunning combination of grace, athleticism and violence. What is there not to love about that? Unlike many of my fellow countrymen, though, I understand that not everyone has been exposed to hockey and that not everyone understands. Unlike many as well, I don't take that personally. If you haven't yet gotten into hockey for its own virtues, a good place to start may be the same place you should start with any new or unfamiliar sport - by betting on it. Nothing can build a love for a sport faster than a few extra coins jingle-jangling in the pocket. To get those coins, though, you need to make sure to find the roads to the easiest profit.
Perhaps the best time to bet on hockey is in the last quarter of the regular season. Each part of the season has its own set of advantages - the lines are soft early in the year because handicappers are uncertain of what teams can do and because betting volumes are low. In the middle of the season teams and players settle into streaks that can be very profitable. During the playoffs, every player is playing every game at maximum intensity, so you always get a fair result. The end of the season is the most attractive, though, and that's because of the power of the favorites. As March gets rolling and turns into April, the favorites become more and more attractive. Here's a look at why that is:
Motivation - The hockey season seems to go on forever. When a team is winning and is in playoff contention, or is fighting for its playoff life, then everything seems to go by more quickly, and everything is more fun. It is when hope is lost and a team has nothing left to play for that the NHL season can become painful monotony for players and fans. In October, a young or less-talented team will be able to get motivated for a game against a powerhouse like Detroit because of their optimism and the thought that they may actually be able to win. Detroit may also be playing at less than their best in the game, giving the underdog a bit of an advantage. By the end of the season, though, the underdog has been repeatedly reminded of its weaknesses and deficiencies and they will find it hard to find the belief within themselves that they stand a chance of beating the much better team. That lack of faith in their abilities can lead to money in your pocket. This is especially true if a struggling team has to head on the road for a number of games later in the season.
Injuries and fatigue - As the saying goes, it only hurts and you're only tired when you're losing. After teams have played 60 games every player is banged up and sore. Teams that are getting ready for a run at the Stanley Cup don't have the time to pay attention to what is wrong with them. Teams that are out of it have nothing else to think about. If you are focused on how much you ache, you aren't going to beat a team that could care less about their own pain. Check it out - look at interviews in the local papers of players from winning teams and those from losing teams. The winning players are almost universally more optimistic and focused.
Trade deadline - Unlike the dud that is the NBA trading deadline, the NHL sees dozens of players change jerseys at and around their deadline. It's not just journeymen, either - superstar caliber players regularly get moved. This trend is certain to be maintained, or even increase, as the new salary cap makes it less attractive for bad teams to keep an expensive veteran around if that player isn't enough to help them win. Teams that are in a playoff race will often look to add the piece or two that they believe they are missing, and the teams that aren't in the race will be selling their assets. Generally, once a team self-identifies as a seller they know that the season is over for them and they start to play accordingly. Conversely, as the season progresses, the teams that were buyers have had a chance to let their new players get settled and learn their new role. That means you have teams that are better than they were and are playing more as a single unit every game against teams that are worse than they were and know that they are only playing for the future. Which one do you think is going to win more often?
Streaks - Hockey doesn't lend itself to winning and losing streaks quite like basketball does, but it still sees more than its share. This is especially true down the stretch. It is not uncommon to see a team string together a number of wins to move into the playoffs, or to secure a better spot. On the other hand, it is also common to see a team falter and look like they may never win again. By identifying those streaks and riding them you can make a lot of money. In both an extended winning streak and a lengthy losing skid, the favorite is going to be the team you want to bet.