Tracking the Calgary Flames: Season-Long NHL Picks and Handicapping for Hockey
by Trevor Whenham - 10/16/2014
You're going to be seeing a lot of previews and betting picks for Calgary Flames games during this NHL season. A whole lot. That's because I'm about to embark on a season-long experiment. We talk a lot about getting to know a league or a team well and focusing on them as one way of maximizing the search for potential value in sports betting. In other words, specialization. This season I am going to specialize in the Calgary Flames, really getting to know what makes them tick and see what kind of an advantage - or perhaps disadvantage - that gives me in handicapping the team. I will release picks throughout the season using Doc's Sports Unit Betting System, and we'll keep track of results this year and regularly check in with observations about what has been learned so far about specializing.
So, why the Calgary Flames? A few reasons. Most significantly, I live in Calgary. That makes it easy to specialize. Canadian cities with teams are truly obsessed with those teams, so the amount of coverage that is available is endless. Traditional media covers the team obsessively, and non-traditional sources of coverage - like blogs and podcasts - are plentiful as well. This provides a chance to conduct a second experiment - whether betting regularly on or against a home-market team is an advantage or a disadvantage.
I should say that I am not particularly a fan of the Flames, though I have grown up in this city my whole life. I am not particularly worried that objectivity will be an issue towards the team when I am handicapping because my emotional investment in the squad is limited to no more than I feel for several other teams in the league, and my emotional involvement in the NHL in general falls well behind a few other leagues. Beyond the locality, the Flames are a good pick because they are a pretty lousy team in terms of talent, but they are well-coached and overachieve enough through hard work - like Wednesday night when they beat the Blackhawks in Chicago despite giving up over 50 shots - to deliver some nice value.
To get started on this season-long exploration of the team, let's look at Friday night's matchup with the Blue Jackets in Columbus:
Calgary Flames at Columbus Blue Jackets, Friday Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET
NHL Predictions: Calgary Flames at Columbus Blue Jackets Odds and Picks
The Flames are in the midst of a surprisingly successful road trip. To date they have won three of four games, including overtime wins on consecutive nights in Nashville and Chicago. This will be their third game in four nights, though they had two days off in Nashville - a complete day off plus a practice day - so fatigue shouldn't be too much of an issue early in the season.
Goaltending has been a surprising area of strength so far this year. The team has not named a No. 1 starter between Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller, and both have played well enough so far to make it unlikely that they will be able to do so any time soon. Ramo stoned the Predators twice in the third period and was very strong all night. Hiller was the only reason the Flames beat Chicago as he made 49 saves against arguably the best team in the league. As I write, the starter for Friday has not been designated, but at this point it is irrelevant as both are playing well.
Calgary Flames at Columbus Blue Jackets Betting Storylines
Calgary has had offensive woes so far this year - which is consistent with what we should expect from them. The largest part of their offense lately has been generated by defensemen - which also happened last year when d-man Mark Giordano led the team in scoring. They have not been generating a lot of shots and have created even fewer strong opportunities or sustained bouts of pressure. It's something to watch going forward, but at this point the lack of offense up front is a large cause for concern.
The Flames are a team that will be making frequent call-ups from the AHL this year as they test young talent and look to make decisions about their future. There is a very good chance that they will be among the league leaders in number of call-ups and number of players used on the roster. That movement has already begun as forward Josh Jooris has been summoned from the farm team in Adirondack and will likely make his debut in Columbus. He's not an explosive player by any means, but he was exceptional in the preseason and should provide a real spark for a forward unit that has not yet found pairings that truly work.
Columbus is rested to an almost ridiculous extent. They have played just three games in the first eight days of their season and have had two full days off before this one. They have lacked consistency so far - they beat up on the Rangers and former star Rick Nash but looked outclassed when St. Louis was in town last time. They are a fringe playoff contender in the Eastern Conference and have so far played consistently with that.
Calgary Flames at Columbus Blue Jackets Odds and Betting Trends
In early betting action the Blue Jackets sit as -160 favorites, with the Flames at +140. The total sits at 5.5.
The road team is 7-1 in the last eight meetings between these teams. Columbus has gone "over" the total in their last six road games. The Flames have gone "under" the total in their last four against Eastern foes.
Calgary Flames at Columbus Blue Jackets Predictions and Picks
I lean towards the Flames in this one because of their success lately, but the price isn't quite right because of fatigue concerns and the general unreliability of their forwards. Given the strength of their goaltending, though, and their relative inability to score, there is value on the under at 5.5 goals. Columbus is a solid offensive team, but better teams have struggled to score against Calgary the last two games. Will go with a 4-Unit play on the under here.
4-Unit Play #51 Take Calgary/Columbus UNDER 5.5 Goals (-125) (7 p.m. EST, Friday)
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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