NHL Betting: The Week's Biggest Stories
by Trevor Whenham - 01/12/2009
The New Jersey Devils are in playoff position, and they are likely to stay there. That doesn't mean that they don't need some help, though. Their offense isn't as deep as it could be behind Zach Parise and Patrik Elias, their special teams could be tightened up, and they could use some gritty toughness to keep opponents on edge. To help to solve some of those problems, the team is going somewhere it has been before, though that was a long, long time ago. Brendan Shanahan, a guy who was GM Lou Lamoriello's first draft pick back in 1987 when he was taken second overall, is a passed physical away from joining the team. Shanahan left as soon as he could back then as a free agent, but now he's back because no one else wanted him. He wanted to return to the Rangers again, but the love was unrequited.
Shanahan isn't going to be a miracle fix. He's just days from his 40th birthday, and he hasn't played all year, so the rust is going to be stacked deep. Despite that, though, I think that this is an important and valuable signing. The guy still has game - he has averaged 26 goals and 28 assists in 70 games over the last two seasons. He's never been a goon, and that hasn't changed, but Shanahan is a master of taking a penalty when it counts, and, more importantly, at doing what needs to be done without getting caught.
Beyond all that, though, Shanahan is a world-class leader. He's one of only five members of the quad Gold club, with wins in the Olympics, World Championship, World Cup of Hockey and the Stanley Cup. That's no fluke. The guy has a way of elevating players around him, and he likes to win. The Devils are likely heading into the playoffs without Martin Brodeur, their long time leader. Shanahan is a worthy replacement. He's also a guy that should get along very well with coach Brent Sutter.
Sundin Returns To Action
With much fanfare, Mats Sundin returned to the NHL in an unfamiliar uniform. And conference, for that matter. He's only three games in with the Canucks, and the rust and adjustment problems were inevitable. That doesn't mean, though, that we can't assess his impact and the response of bettors. After all, the value in situations like this is often early on before the betting public comes to terms with how to deal with the change.
In a nutshell, bettors responded to the high profile addition by piling on the Canucks. In Sundin's first home game the Canucks were heavy -255 favorites. That was the fourth biggest price the Blues had faced all year, despite the fact that Vancouver has won just one of their last three, and that their goaltending situation was in serious flux. The Blues won, scoring six goals. The next night, the Canucks had even more questions in net, they hadn't been great recently in the second half of consecutive nights, and they were playing the best team in the league. Still, bettors only installed them as +140 underdogs. Again, Vancouver lost.
The public has very high hopes for Sundin on this team. The eventual return of Roberto Luongo will only intensify the expectations. That could continue to provide juicy opportunities to be a pessimist.
More Troubles in Ottawa
I could write 10 columns this long about the Senators' problems this year without ever once repeating myself. It's ugly, and it's not getting any better. In the clearest sign of desperation yet, though, the team is playing around with their goaltending situation. They haven't had a good solution they believe in in front of the nets since Dominik Hasek left. Alex Auld has seen the most action this year. That makes Martin Gerber, the guy who was supposed to be the No. 1, a $3.7 million backup. Obviously, that doesn't make sense. Before they can try to get rid of Gerber, though, they have to make sure that they have a viable replacement.
That's where rookie Brian Elliott comes in. He has been called up from Binghamton, and is expected to play every game for a week or so, starting with Saturday's game against the Rangers. Elliott played well in that game, allowing two goals on 27 shots. He got no offensive help, though, so he recorded his first loss. If he continues to give efforts that resemble that one then he'll have a job and Gerber will be expendable.
That opens up two issues. First, the Sens stand almost no chance of getting reasonable value for Gerber, so their asset base will again be eroded. More significantly for bettors, though, this move along with the swirling rumors of all sorts surrounding the team are enough to make us believe that they are just playing out the string this year. You can't blame them - they are 15 points out of a playoff spot, they can't play on the road, and underachievement is the only thing their players have in common. This has been the case for most of the season, but now you'd really have to have a good reason to trust the Sens with any portion of your bankroll.