With nothing on the board but the standard NHL futures to look at and labor talks dominating the headlines, I thought I'd take a look at the recent Hockey News conference predictions and see how they match up with sportsbook odds.
Like most sports, it's usually the sportsbooks that can be counted upon to give an accurate assessment of how good or bad teams will be. Yet with hockey that isn't necessarily the case. So far I've identified a handful of over/undervalued teams for each conference, but before I get to that, let's take a quick look at how The Hockey News predictions matched up with sportsbook odds this time last year—and ultimately how they panned out.
Today, I break down the Western Conference.
Western Conference (2011/2012)
Last year, both THN and sportsbooks expected the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks to continue their strong play and make the playoffs. Both had the Sharks finishing in the top three.
Sportsbooks also had the Detroit Red Wings finishing second and the Edmonton Oilers finishing either eighth or ninth—much higher than THN. It's no surprise that Detroit was overvalued by the books given how much of a public team they are, but Edmonton? As you'll see, the same patterns show up again this year.
Three teams that finished much higher than both THN and the books expected were the Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes. They disagreed about two of these teams, though. THN (correctly) predicted that the Blues would make the playoffs, while the books had them rated 12th. On the flip side, the books had the Coyotes fighting for a playoff spot, while THN rated them 14th in the conference.
I don't think anybody saw Phoenix playing as well as they did last year (myself included), but more than a few sharp minds out there knew the Blues were due for a leap up the standings (again, myself included). Sportsbooks missed the boat on St. Louis, and they are in danger of making the same mistake again this year.
As you can see, there are always going to be opportunities heading into the season to either ride or fade a team before the sportsbooks catch up. Let's take a closer look at this upcoming season's THN predictions and see how they match up with sportsbook odds.
These are the current conference predictions from THN and the corresponding sportsbook rankings (based on odds to win the conference) in parenthesis (odds from Bodog).
- St Louis Blues (5th +700)
- Vancouver Canucks (1st +500)
- Los Angeles Kings (2nd +550)
- Chicago Blackhawks (3rd +600)
- Minnesota Wild (6th +1000)
- San Jose Sharks (7th +1200)
- Detroit Red Wings (4th +600)
- Nashville Predators (8th +1200)
- Dallas Stars (11th +2000)
- Phoenix Coyotes (12th +2000)
- Anaheim Ducks (10th +1800)
- Calgary Flames (13th +2800)
- Edmonton Oilers (9th +1600)
- Colorado Avalanche (14th +3000)
- Columbus Blue Jackets (15th +5000)
Most overvalued team?
Four teams jump out at me right away as being overvalued by the market.
Kings: Like all champions, there is too much hype on them in the following season. Let's not forget where they finished in the standings last year—eighth. Some teams (and leaders) come alive in the postseason, but not so much during the regular season (Mike Richards and Dustin Brown, I'm talking to you).
Red Wings: I'll be looking to fade Detroit this year as they make the post-Lidstrom transition. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk aren't getting any younger and Jimmy Howard's consistency is still a question. I like Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist a lot, but their development is still a process. THN's seventh-place prediction is more in line with the product on the ice.
Wild: Minnesota took a deserving jump up the standings thanks to Ryan Suter and Zack Parise, but the real strength of this organization going forward is their prospect pool. If Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle make the leap to the pros as expected, there will be more value on them later in the year than the start. They have to put it all together and prove it on the ice before they are crowned as legitimate contenders.
Most undervalued team?
Oilers: For the second straight year, sportsbooks are anticipating a marked improvement from the perennial cellar dwellers. Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz are reasons to be optimistic and Devan Dubnyk flashed potential in net, but whatever value there seemed to be on Edmonton a couple months ago now seems to be gone.
Conversely, I see four teams that are potentially undervalued heading into the new season.
Blues: I understand hockey is a "niche" market in Las Vegas, but can someone explain to me who is setting the odds for St. Louis? Perhaps they slept through the 2011/2012 season, but there is no reason to expect the Blues to drop to the middle of the playoff seedings in the West this year. In fact, with a full training camp under Ken Hitchcock, along with newcomers Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues could be even better this year. How scary is that? I think THN got it right here with a first-place prediction.
Ducks: Anaheim drastically underachieved last season. Their big guns were firing blanks and it led to a midseason coaching change. It's safe to assume that they should bounce back this year and should get bigger contributions from youngsters Cam Fowler, Kyle Palmieri and Devante Smith-Pelley. Jonas Hiller has the potential to be an elite netminder as well.
Avalanche: Both THN and the sportsbooks have Colorado finishing second to last this season. I understand their defense is a deficiency, but they have an exciting, talented and deep group of forwards up front that are only going to get better with each passing season. If Seymon Varlamov can sustain his stellar late-season play from early 2012, this team could conceivably fight for a playoff spot. I couldn't disagree with their projections more.
Predators: Although both have Nashville making the playoffs, both have them on the playoff bubble. Perhaps most of the pessimism is attached to the loss of Ryan Suter and failed attempt by Shea Weber to seek greener pastures in Philadelphia, but I don't think the Preds are slated for a fall from grace. As long as Barry Trotz is behind the bench and Pekka Rinne is between the pipes, this team will be dangerous. I have Roman Josi pencilled in to play with Weber, but they also have Ryan Ellis and Jonathan Blum in the system, too. I'll still put Nashville up against any team in the West with at least a 50/50 shot at coming out on top. As THN said, "Don't bet against them."
I do agree with both THN and the sportsbooks that the Phoenix Coyotes are headed for a drop down the standings, but THN was rather generous by predicting a 10th-place finish. You can bank that it will be lower than that.
This article is from the Free NHL Predictions blog. For more analysis, visit www.nhlpicks.brooksbets.com, and follow Bobby Brooks on Twitter the entire hockey season (if we have one) for all things NHL betting.