Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Going off the board with some NHL award longshots

One​ of the ways​ you​ know​ you’ve​ made​ it​ as a hockey​ writer is when​ you get added​ to​ the email list​​ for gambling odds. One of the online books has a guy who sends out press releases every few weeks with new odds and prop bets, at which point every writer you follow on Twitter immediately starts posting identical screen caps for some reason. It’s a whole thing.

As someone who’s made a wager or two in my time, the odds are always worth a look. But even if you’re not into betting, the lists can provide some fascinating insights. After all, bookies don’t make their money by being dumb, and any list of odds will usually offer up a pretty good snapshot of where the conventional wisdom is at.

This week, we got the email with the player awards odds, which is always the one I look forward to. Sure, we can argue over who gets to be the favorite in each category. But to me, it’s always more fun to scan down the list and figure out which longshots have a chance – and which dark horse candidates got left off the list entirely.

If you’d tried that last year, you could have come up with a few surprises. Hart winner Taylor Hall wasn’t listed among the hopefuls, and neither were fellow finalists Nathan MacKinnon or Anze Kopitar. Pekka Rinne was a 15-to-1 longshot for the Vezina, and Mathew Barzal wasn’t on the original Calder list. Like so much of what happens in an NHL season, the player awards always seem obvious in hindsight, but when the season starts we’re often completely in the dark.

That makes it’s a fool’s game to try to predict who’ll win what. In other words, we’re solidly in my territory here. So let’s take a look at the six awards that we now have odds for, and see if we can’t pick out a few longshot winners of our own.

(The full list of odds can be found here. Note that everything in this post is based on what came out on Monday; the odds may shift and players may be added or subtracted in the days to come.)

Hart Trophy

There are 34 names on the initial list, which in theory doesn’t give us much to work with. But based on last year, there may be more candidates out there than we think. Let’s see what we can find.

The favorites: Connor McDavid is listed as the clear favorite at 10-to-3 (meaning you’d have to bet $3 for every $10 you wanted to win). Sidney Crosby is next at 13-to-2, followed by Alexander Ovechkin, John Tavares and Auston Matthews at 10-to-1. Having two players from the same team that high seems strange, but we can factor in at least a small boost for Toronto because they’re a popular team that more people will want to bet on.

I don’t think we need to overthink this one too much – if the Oilers make the playoffs, or even get close, McDavid is the obvious choice, even at reduced odds.

The longshots: Among the guys listed at longer odds than 10-to-1, the name that stands out is Jack Eichel at 33-to-1. That seems way too high for a guy with MVP-level skill on a team that could finally have the sort of breakout that voters look for in this category. But just about everyone already jumped all over that when the early odds came out in August, so we’ll keep scanning.

Steven Stamkos at 25-to-1 seems interesting, although he’d have to outperform Nikita Kucherov enough to keep from splitting the Tampa vote. I also like a pair of 50-to-1 longshots in Tyler Seguin and Artemi Panarin. And if we want to really go big, how about new Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov at 100-to-1, for when Florida shocks everyone by making a run at the Atlantic.

Of all those options, if I had to throw a couple of pretend dollars down on one, I think I’d go with Seguin. He’s got Hart-level talent on a team that missed the playoffs last year but should make a run this year. Let’s roll the dice.

Off the board: With such a long list of candidates, we don’t have a ton of obvious choices to work with. But we can look to last year’s unlikely finalists for some guidance here. Hall and MacKinnon were the top forwards on teams everyone wrote off as awful, while Kopitar is a two-way player who finally got some long-deserved Hart Trophy respect.

In that first category, we could look to younger guys like Brock Boeser, Clayton Keller or Dylan Larkin, although all seem like stretches whose time isn’t here quite yet. A guy like Mark Stone is intriguing, since he also fits the two-way bill and anything higher than 25th is going to feel like a miracle finish in Ottawa. But I’m not seeing a great pick from this group.

As for the second category, there’s my personal favorite pick: Patrice Bergeron, who doesn’t appear on the list despite being the most important player on one of the league’s better teams. He’ll need to stay healthy, but if he does and he can match last year’s scoring pace, he’ll top 80 points. That could be enough to get him his first top-five Hart finish since 2014, and maybe even win the thing.

Other possibilities include a few disrespected veterans in Jonathan Toews and Ryan O’Reilly, not to mention William Karlsson in Vegas, who actually finished 10th last year and still didn’t get a mention. Or you could go with literally any goalie or defenseman, since not one makes the oddsmakers’ list.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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