Chasing NHL injuries a risky betting strategy

Going back to when Sidney Crosby was added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list ahead of the Penguins’ game in March against the Philadelphia Flyers, it had a major impact on the betting line. The news prompted sportsbooks to take the game off the board temporarily or adjust the odds because Flyers money was pouring in.

When all was said and done, the Flyers’ implied odds had improved by about 5 percent, moving from + 100 to -125, and they closed as favorites on the road. Despite losing 5-2, the Flyers were listed as -125 favorites heading into the rematch two days later.

But a few hours before that game, Crosby was activated. This time the odds shifted in the Penguins’ favor by about 3 percent. Notice that bettors didn’t respond to the news as strongly the second time around. By analyzing the sports odds history, a novice bettor can easily estimate a player’s worth.

According to the market, the Penguins are 3-5 percent more likely to win with Crosby in the lineup. Ironically, the Flyers took the second game 4-3 after trailing 3-0 early. This had to be tilting for some bettors who ended up on the wrong side of one or both of the results, but even more so if they were on the right side of each line movement.

When Vladimir Tarasenko returned to the St. Louis Blues’ lineup after an injured spell, bettors flocked to lay the favorites against the underdog Los Angeles Kings in the second game of a back-to-back set. The Blues had opened at -135 and closed north of -150 at some shops. It started well for Blues bettors when St. Louis jumped to an early 3-0 lead. But the Kings stayed the course and tied the game before winning in overtime.

The Vancouver Canucks lost Elias Pettersson to injury, then won back-to-back games against the Toronto Maple Leafs as sizable home underdogs before a comeback shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens.

Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby
Getty Images

In theory, whether players like Crosby, Tarasenko and Pettersson are in the lineup should impact the underlying probabilities. But in reality, it seems as if teams can do without important players in the short term. Intuitively, it kind of checks out. Coaches make adjustments, and players step up and into different roles. Over a game or two, missing a star doesn’t seem to affect team performance the way we think it would. The adjustments bettors make should probably be scaled back a bit relative to what we see in the market when these situations arise. Bettors should prepare prices with different circumstances in mind.

Clusters of injuries to star players seem to have a much bigger impact on team performance in a small sample. In Colorado, superstar defenseman Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon missed multiple games, and the Avalanche went on a stretch of .500 hockey against some of the worst teams in the West. The Golden Knights after losing Mark Stone and Alex Pietrangelo for a game against the Wild caused Vegas to go from being road favorites at -115 to underdogs, and rightly so. The Wild shut out the Golden Knights 2-0.

One player can make a difference, but losing both at the same time is tough to overcome. Consider that before looking for value in chasing injury news.