It’s safe to say that the NHL season has gone as expected, but also not.
We are nearing the quarter pole of this wild hockey season and there hasn’t been a shortage of drama. A whopping 22 games (not counting the four at the start of the Dallas Stars’ season) have been postponed in season due to COVID-19.
As a result, the NHL has had to get creative in finding days to make up for lost time. Some games have been pushed to the end of the season, while others are being dropped in former off days to ensure this slate ends in a timely manner for the Stanley Cup Playoffs to begin.
Think of the ramifications. For one, the health and safety of the players is paramount. It goes beyond COVID when players are playing an abundance of back-to-backs at a high enough level. The taxi squad does help, but how much can it help in a 56-game season?
There’s the mindset that these players could benefit from playing every other day. It helps maintain a rhythm that keeps the best players at their peak.
The Vegas Golden Knights, for example, just concluded a 10-day layoff due to defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and coaches Pete DeBoer, Ryan Craig and Ryan McGill enter COVID-19 protocol. Three games were postponed, but despite that week off, Vegas swept its two-game set with the Los Angeles Kings this weekend.
Most teams would want that week off, similar to what the NHL All-Star break/mandatory bye week would entail. But these are weird times to have this stretch of rest. A bye week would come when teams are halfway done with their schedule.
It’s different when you’re seven games down and notice 49 more after.
“You never want to miss a week, but we’ve done stuff like this in the past,” said Golden Knights captain Mark Stone. “We’ve had our bye weeks, we’ve had our All-Star breaks, and then we’ve come back, had a couple of practices and had to play. It’s not completely out of the ordinary for us.”
It’s why the NHL has gifted teams with the aforementioned taxi squad. In the words of Usher, situations will arise in our lives, but you’ve got to be smart about it. Preparing for these situations on a day-to-day basis, all while trying to get a team ready to play a game is less than ideal.
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Wayne Simmonds is a perfect example. Simmonds was looking like a bargain addition for Toronto, having scored five goals and being its enforcer when called upon, could miss up to six weeks with a hand injury.
I’m not saying Simmonds moves the needle on players missing time (Toronto will still be good), but it’s something that can be more common; whether it be a simple pull or cramp, or as something as freak-accident like as Simmonds taking a puck to the hand.
Injuries, even under normal circumstances, will still sway the sportsbooks. If Connor McDavid hyper-extended something because he’s playing on a fourth game in five days, that will affect lines the most. But what might affect the books more is these baseball-like sets that are taking place.
Meticulous decision making must go into what games to bet. It’s a toss-up because a matchup that looks great on paper could throw your ticket off. On Sunday, for example, the Detroit Red Wings — losers of eight straight coming in — handed the Florida Panthers their first regulation loss of the season. Unless something goes awry, Florida should win Tuesday because of an extra day to prepare for an inferior opponent.
Be cautious about previous matchups. Your best chance is to take the first game into account. Underdogs may cash at any time, especially since these teams will are in the midst of playing each other eight times.
Thursday, February 11
Capitals at Sabres: This will be Buffalo’s first game since the mass COVID postponement. Not ideal to face Alex Ovechkin and company out of the gate. The over has cashed four of the last five for Washington. If it leads to who scores the most goals, give it to the Caps. CAPITALS
Friday, February 12
Bruins at Rangers: It was only a matter of time before Boston came alive. Three straight wins entering Wednesday, and all by way of David Pastrnak returning and scoring goals at will. Expect Boston to keep this momentum going. BRUINS
Saturday, February 13
Golden Knights at Sharks: A weird situation for Vegas; this will be the first game of a back-to-back that has them back home the next night against Colorado. It’s Pete DeBoer’s first game against his former team, but I have a hunch the Knights will save their energy for the Avs. SHARKS
Last week: 1-2