Not every NHL injury requires bettors' action

July 28, 2020 09:58 PM
Dougie Hamilton
© Imagn

Player news such as injuries and illnesses can have a huge impact on a betting market. But in some scenarios, such news warrants no action, no matter how important the player might be.

Take the Carolina Hurricanes and Dougie Hamilton. The defenseman played heavy minutes and was a big reason for the Hurricanes’ special-teams success. Hamilton logged important time on the penalty kill and was the quarterback of the top power-play unit. The Hurricanes scored 8.8 goals per 60 minutes of power-play time in 2019-20, good for fourth overall and a huge improvement on their 19th-place rank of 6.8 a season ago.

Hamilton, 27, put up 14 goals and 40 points in 47 games and was on pace to hit the 70-point mark for the first time in his career before breaking his leg. It looked as if Hamilton would be good to go for the NHL’s return to play in August, but he recently suffered an injury in practice. Hurricanes reporter Sara Civian noted on Twitter that the timetable for Hamilton’s return is in the realm of weeks, not months, but that still means the Hurricanes will be without their best defenseman for the entire qualifying round. 

Rangers fans know their team’s chances of defeating the Hurricanes have improved, but what does this mean from a betting perspective? Well, not much, according to the market. Many shops listed the Hurricanes as -140 favorites to win the best-of-five series, with the Rangers carrying a price tag of + 120, and that hasn’t changed. In fact, the price for Game 1 also stayed where it was at + 110. This doesn’t mean the Rangers’ chances haven’t improved — they definitely have. What this signifies is that sharp bettors have seemingly priced this matchup closer to -140 than -120. If that’s the case, even if the loss of Hamilton justified a 20-cent drop, it still wouldn’t warrant a bet on the Rangers at + 120 or worse because of the bookmaker’s margin.

Did you like the Rangers at + 120, or were you closer to betting the Hurricanes at -140? If the former, you could make a case that this series is a coin flip, even more so if you don’t believe home-ice advantage will be a factor. If the latter, and you were on the fence about whether to bet the Hurricanes at -140, step back and really think about how much the line should change with Hamilton out for the series. 

This is why it’s so important to spend a few minutes thinking about what price you are willing to pay before looking at what is available. A bettor who practices this will be better equipped to decide whether the absence of a good player like Hamilton will be enough to justify betting on the other side. Personally, while my projected series odds have changed (-143 to -124), my stance on betting this series hasn’t. I don’t see value on either side. Instead, I will look for the market to overreact to early results and maybe uncover some value on a game-by-game basis.

Let’s stick with the Eastern Conference, this time with more actionable news. Washington Capitals rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov was injured before the resumption of the season and did not travel with the team to Toronto. Samsonov will be ready for the 2020-21 season, which bodes well for the future. However, in the short term, the Caps’ chances of winning have taken a hit as they will be forced to turn to veteran goaltender Braden Holtby. The 30-year-old was excellent during the Caps’ 2017-18 Stanley Cup run and was a big reason the Capitals won it all. Holtby’s strong play continued throughout the 2018-19 regular season, but it didn’t last. His save percentage cratered in the playoffs, where the Capitals bowed out to Carolina in seven games, and it has been downhill ever since. Holtby posted the worst save percentage of his career in 2019-20 and saved about 12.5 fewer goals than an average goaltender would have been expected to save, according to Evolving Hockey’s Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx). Holtby’s last three seasons grade as his worst, based on save percentage alone, and he was in the process of losing the starter’s job to Samsonov, who was 16-6-2 with a 91.4 save percentage. 

Despite all this, the odds for the Capitals’ first round-robin game against the Tampa Bay Lightning have mostly remained unchanged. The Lightning are listed as -125 favorites at many shops, and if a bettor shops around, he can probably find -120. Before learning that Holtby would get the nod, my projected price was in line with what was being offered by most bookmakers. I estimated that the Lightning would win 55.5% of the time. Now that we know Holtby will start, I’m comfortable laying -125 with the Lightning because the line does not reflect their improved chances. Don’t be surprised to see this game close in the neighborhood of -135.

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