Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Pace your bets on the NHL trade deadline

So that Super Bowl was pretty fun.

The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons delivered a game for the ages — it featured a stunning comeback, some ridiculous plays and the first overtime in Super Bowl history. If you were a sports fan, you had to enjoy it. And if you were a gambler, well, you were on the edge of your seat, as the Patriots’ overtime touchdown tipped the scales on both the betting line and the over/under.

Football fans can bet on everything, from which team will score first to individual performances to when scores will happen. They can even bet on the coin flip, or how long the anthem will take, or what colour the halftime singer’s hair will be. If you’re the sort of sports fan who likes to put down a wager or two, the Super Bowl is heaven.

Well, there’s no reason hockey fans shouldn’t have the same fun with our own big event that comes around at this time of year. The NHL trade deadline isn’t quite as big as the Super Bowl — yet — but there’s no reason we can’t set some odds and take some wagers.

So let's do that today. Feel free to give yourself $100 in play money and weigh in down in the comments section with your best bets. (Unless you're this guy, because he's a wizard and will be escorted off fake-casino property by security.)

With the right picks and a little luck, you can break the pretend bank like the high roller that you are.

Bet #1: Over/under on total trades

Deadline day (March 1): 21.5

Deadline week (Feb. 23–March 1): 34.5

Deadline month (Feb. 1–March 1): 38.5

If these same odds were offered last year, you would have won by betting the under on all three bets. The same was true in 2014. But you would have won with the over across the board in 2015, so there's not exactly a clear trend here to look at.

In the end, we're setting these lines a little bit higher than recent history would suggest. That seems counter-intuitive; with so many teams still in the playoff race, this year's market is shaping up to be heavy on buyers and dangerously low on sellers. Even assuming that a few teams fall out of the running over the next few weeks, that unbalanced market could result in a logjam where teams have a tough time finding a trading partner, and we see fewer deals than normal.

So why nudge the numbers up? Three words: Vegas Golden Knights. Reports indicate that George McPhee and the Knights will be allowed to start dealing in time for deadline day, if not even sooner. Those trades can't involve active players, but could involve expansion-draft considerations, such as the Knights acquiring a draft pick or prospect in exchange for agreeing not to take a certain player in June. That could be a big deal for the other 30 teams, and it wouldn't be surprising to see more than a few lining up for the chance to create some clarity around the looming draft.

That's a major wild card. We don't know what the Knights' strategy will be, and we don't even know when they'll be able to start enacting it — it's possible they won't make their first move until the days after the deadline. So we'll hedge as best we can by setting the line at a slightly busier-than-usual deadline.

Bet #2: Which will have more trades: Deadline day (March 1) or the rest of the week leading up to it (Feb. 22–28)?

Deadline day: 1–4

Rest of the week: 4–1

There seems to be a perception among fans that GMs are doing most of their work in the leadup to the deadline these days. That's not quite true — deadline day itself has always been where most of the action is — but the gap has been narrowing in recent years. Last year, there were 19 deals on deadline day and 14 in the week leading to it; that gap of five was the smallest in recent history.

Could this be the year that we see scales tip even more, and the majority of the action happen before deadline day arrives? It's possible, despite the fervent prayers of TV hosts and executives across the continent. These things can snowball, and a big deal or two early in the week could start a panic. But history tells is that most of the deals will still go down on deadline day.

(By the way, you hardcore gamblers will notice that our pretend deadline-day casino isn't taking any vig on these bets. We're nice like that. Please buy a few extra cocktails from the servers to keep us in business.)

Bet #3: Which Canadian team will make the most trades between now and the deadline?

Vancouver Canucks: 2–1

Montreal Canadiens: 7–2

Calgary Flames: 6–1

Ottawa Senators: 7–1

Edmonton Oilers: 9–1

Toronto Maple Leafs: 12–1

Winnipeg Jets: 20–1

Two teams at the opposite end of the spectrum come in as favourites here. The Canucks are fading out of the playoff race, and with fans begging for a rebuild, they could decide to throw in the towel and become sellers in the days leading up to the deadline. The Canadiens are on the other side of the coin; as Cup contenders, they should be buyers, looking to shore up the roster for a deep playoff push.

The Senators and Oilers are headed to the playoffs, too, although both teams seem to be under less pressure to really load up. The Flames could still fall out of the race and sell, or could be one of those playoff bubble teams that scrambles for late-season reinforcements. The Jets rarely trade at all, so it would be surprising to see them be the country's busiest team. And the Maple Leafs seem content to stand pat right now.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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