How to handicap NHL player awards

Whether or not you bet on sports, attempting to predict which players will win awards at the end of the season is a fun exercise. However, if you’re handicapping the awards with the hope of making a few bucks, it’s important to develop some criteria. This will help you determine which players even have a shot. I have looked to the past to craft a checklist to aid me in making my selections. Hopefully this will help you make sharper bets in these markets going forward.
There’s one general rule of thumb to follow when looking for player futures to bet on. Resist the urge to back favorites (15-1 is my arbitrary cutoff) and look for long shots that are being overlooked. It’s also a little late to be saying this, but it’s important to get to these markets early. Player futures typically come with very low limits, but I have been able to get some fantastic numbers this year (and in the past) being one of the first to market. These are very tough markets to price for bookmakers — and for bettors — but it’s all about being prepared. There will be a full breakdown of player futures (awards) in the 2021 NHL Betting Guide, but Point Spread Weekly readers get an early look.
Hart Trophy (MVP)
* Since its inception, the Hart Trophy has been awarded to a winger only 25 times out of 96. Compare that with the 50 times it was won by a center. However, the award has been pretty evenly disturbed between the positions over the last 20 years, going to a winger eight times and a center on nine occasions.
* A player doesn’t always need the most points to be voted Most Valuable Player, but the award has gone to the points leader in 10 of the last 15 seasons. In other words, handicapping the Art Ross Trophy race is as simple as projecting individual points; this is more than that.
* Defenders have been awarded the Hart Trophy a total of only 13 times, with three of those going to Bobby Orr in the 1970s. Two more were won by Orr’s predecessor, Eddie Shore, in the 1930s.
* In 1999-2000, Chris Pronger became the first defenseman to win the Hart Trophy since Orr in 1971-72. No defenseman has won it since Pronger.
* The Hart has been awarded to a goaltender only eight times. However, it has happened four times in the modern era. Dominik Hasek won in back-to-back seasons, 1996-97 and 1997-1998. Jose Theodore won it in 2001-02 and Carey Price did it in 2014-15. 
* Before Hasek’s dominance, it had been almost 40 years since a goaltender was named the league’s most valuable player.
* Price, Theodore and Hasek all posted a .930 save percentage or better. Only about a half a dozen goalies have hit that mark since 2007-08.
Since 1923-24
Position Number of Awards Won Percentage of Awards Won
C 50 52%
W 25 26%
D 13 14%
G 8 8%
Since 1999-00
Position Number of Awards Won Percentage of Awards Won
C 9 45%
W 8 40%
D 1 5%
G 2 10%
What else is important? 
Regular-season points went up at Circa Sports on Monday, and these numbers are helpful. Since 2010-11, the MVP’s team has posted an average regular-season point total of 94.5. That tells us that while almost every team has a player capable of an MVP-caliber season, the team has to be able to pull its weight. 
In the last decade, only Taylor Hall has accomplished the feat with a team (the Devils) that was not expected to have a shot at the playoffs. The player you pick to win the Hart has to come from a team that has a chance to make the playoffs. Throughout history, a very small percentage of finalists belong to teams that did not qualify for the playoffs.
Each team will play only 56 games in 2020-21, and if we adjust for that, we’re looking for players on teams with a regular-season point total of about 64.5, and we should be focusing on forwards.
A lot of shops have been offering odds on who will win awards like the Hart Trophy for a week or two now, but I’ll be referencing DraftKings here. Shop around as there can be some big differences from book to book. 
Seeing players such as Connor McDavid (+ 450), Leon Draisaitl (+ 1,000) and Nathan MacKinnon (+ 550) atop the field should come as no shock. They all play for teams that likely will make the playoffs (Colorado more so than Edmonton). The same goes for Auston Matthews (+ 800), who will likely lead the Maple Leafs to a North Division title. Artemi Panarin (+ 1,100) and the Rangers’ playoff chances aren’t nearly as good. Including Panarin at the top of the odds board is justified, though, because the Rangers’ only hope for the playoffs is if Panarin drags them there.
I have a sweet spot for Elias Pettersson of the Canucks, and I was lucky enough to bet him 50-1 to lead the league in points in 2021. Because of that, I don’t want any part of him at 18-1 to win the MVP. I project that he will be a top-10 scorer this year, and since the Canucks have about a 50% chance of making the playoffs, he might be an OK choice at the current odds. But it would be nice if the Canucks had a better chance of finishing ahead of four other Canadian teams than they do. Pettersson likely will be a favorite for years to come. 
However, Steven Stamkos at 27-1 is a better bet to win the Hart. Sure, he’s coming back from an injury, and the Lightning will be without Nikita Kucherov, one of their best wingers, for the regular season, but that’s just it. The writers who vote on these awards love a good narrative, and Stamkos’ contributions to the Lightning are going to be more important now that they’re short-handed. He’s a good bet to be among the top-10 point producers and with a little luck he could find himself in the running. Oh, and the Lightning are a lock to make the playoffs, and I don’t use that word lightly.
Don’t forget about Evgeni Malkin at 25-1. He was 14th in points in 2019-20 while being pretty much the only member of the Penguins’ core not to miss a considerable amount of time. With healthy wingers, and good health himself, Malkin could find himself in the running for his second MVP award. I consider the Penguins the third-best team in the East Division.
Aleksander Barkov and Johnny Gaudreau are probably underpriced at 50-1 and 70-1, respectively. Barkov was a top-30 scorer in 2019-20 but was among the top 10 producers a season before. He’s only 25 and will be leaned on heavily in Florida this year. The Panthers are in a weak division with only two real contenders, giving them a chance to make the playoffs. 
Gaudreau had a down year in 2019-20, but he is a bounce-back candidate. Like Barkov, Gaudreau finished among the top 10 in points in 2018-19. He finished 18th the season before. It was most unexpected when he almost fell out of the top 50 in 2019-20 (48). At 27, Johnny Hockey is a high-end player who should find himself with the league leaders again this season, and the Flames should find themselves in the playoffs.
Be on the lookout for the 2021 NHL Betting Guide, which will feature further analysis of futures markets, projections for all 31 teams and much more.
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