If you prefer wagering on sports in the spur of the moment, a weird schedule – such as that of a blogger (cough) or a night worker – can lead to frustration as the kickoffs, tip-offs, and 1st pitches off the world pass the subject by on a daily basis.
Bovada Sportsbook and other state-side betting operations always try to keep the wee-hours client in mind. European hockey and soccer are good early-morning sources of entertainment for moneyline and point-spread aficionados. But not knowing the talent as well as we recall our state-side NHL and MLS heroes can lead to bad handicapping and worse bets on those leagues.
That makes international hockey into a simple, valuable place for the beginner to start learning about the world beyond the NHL. It’s easy to give men’s national squads short pithy descriptions – a talented-but-befuddled Team USA. the swift counter-attacking lines of Team Russia, Switzerland the upstart, Canada and Sweden the aristocrats.
Better yet, the Ice Hockey World Championships are always held in Europe – often eastern Europe. That means if you work overnights in America, you can get off work at 7 AM, wager on a round-robin faceoff at 7:30, enjoy watching and get to bed by Noon.
Bovada has had such success marketing IIHF odds to morning clients that the book has begun putting lines on every international tourney it can think of, including the annual Division 1 and Division 2 qualifiers featuring teams like Japan and Australia.
Right Under Our Frozen Noses
The Women’s Ice Hockey World Championship and the World Junior Championship are usually found taking place in the United States or in Canada, which doesn’t offer the night watchman very convenient timing. (The 2019 Women’s WC is actually happening in Finland.) But the tournaments do offer relatively short-term payoffs on futures bets. The weird-hours gambler can get all of her handicapping out of the way at once, pick a team and follow them to the finish over a few short weeks.
Both genres of international pond shinny are set to start seeing more action, thanks to the rise of underdogs in brackets formerly dominated by a few nations.
Team Finland may possess the world’s greatest distaff goalkeeper in Noora Räty, who anchors the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays of the CWHL. Räty’s presence with a fine supporting cast at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea made betting on the women’s gold more than the usual pick-a-flag between Team USA and Team Canada. Finland enjoyed 16-to-1 odds to win the PyeongChang tournament, though a sluggish skating performance and 5-0 loss to the Americans in that event may drive Suomi’s line toward (+2500) or (+3000) for the upcoming Women’s World Championship.
The Lady Lions do get the honor of hosting the tournament, making them a potentially-deadly underdog pick in a round robin scenario against the Maple Leaf or the defending Olympic gold-medalist Yanks.
The World Juniors are an even harder tourney for an underdog to get traction in. NHL 1st-rounders dot the ice for Canada, USA and Sweden, while the skill-set needed for European defensemen to slow down top-line NHL talent is not yet developed at ages 17-19.
Don’t tell that to Switzerland, a program which could surpass Finland and even the United States in IIHF and Olympic play over the next decade. The Swiss roared against long futures odds at the 2019 World Juniors, surprising holiday NHL Network viewers by taking Canada and Russia to the brink in group play and whipping Sweden in the quarterfinals.
I had written before the U20 tournament that Switzerland was not even worth a handicap. Guess the word “handicap” should apply to my own punditry. Watch for late-blooming GK prospect Luca Hollenstein to lead the Swiss on another Cinderella run this December.
Predicting the IIHF World Championship Using the NHL Standings
You’re likely to see betting lines for the Women’s World Championship popping up at American sportsbooks before you see odds for the Men’s Worlds, partly because the women’s event happens sooner, but also because the NHL has bookies anxious.
Women’s club leagues are designed to accommodate international play. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s favorite international games are the ones that don’t happen.
Trumpeting the notion that all of the world’s best players are in the National Hockey League, the commissioner has rejected league participation in the Olympic Games while creating the World Cup, his own attempt at a simulated Olympic tournament. Except real Olympic ice hockey tournaments are held on larger rinks with a wider talent pool and a qualification process. The World Cup is an NHL exhibition tour designed to slake the players’ appetite for international play.
Most pros love to represent their countries at every opportunity. NHL and AHL teams prefer that their biggest investments aren’t put in harm’s way at the World Championship in May. The tension results in mysterious snubs and surprise appearances at the Worlds on a yearly basis.
Don’t listen to the state-side blather about the IIHF World Championship going on while “all of the NHL players” are still in the playoffs. Connor McDavid and Mikael Backlund captained their respective Canada and Sweden squads in 2018. Not only can a player compete into the 3rd round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and still make it to the Worlds by the medal round, some NHLers of course do not make the postseason at all.
Countries love to add NHL talent to their Worlds rosters, even at the last minute. But the biggest contributors tend to be those players who are fresh-legged and looking for a change of scenery after a sorrowful season, their club teams tanking-out with weeks to spare.
Here’s a quick look at the best of the worst in the NHL (literally) and how the specific talent pool will affect betting for the IIHF World Championship held in Slovakia in May. All odds mentioned represent the current London consensus.
Likely 2019 Worlds Skaters From the NHL
In the Eastern Conference, the Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils are pretty much toast. Those rosters will be heavily mined by Worlds GMs. Detroit could easily help bolster Team Canada (odds-on favorites at (+300)) with young forwards like Tyler Bertuzzi, though the blueline corps is largely too old to be of help.
Ottawa’s rangy goaltender Anders Nilsson was remarkable for Team Sweden in 2018. He’s almost a shoo-in to start for the defending IIHF champs, and makes Tre Kronor’s (+400) futures line to earn 3-peat gold medals very attractive at this stage.
To Sweden’s chagrin, however, there are 5 Canadian defensemen under 30 years old and making less than $2,000,000 per year for the Senators. Youthful low-salary players are perfect for the Worlds because their franchises won’t complain about liability.
Team Finland (+800) would usually be excited to see playmaking defenseman Sami Vatanen accessible from the Devils. But his contract is up soon, and he suffered a concussion in mid-season.
The Devils can potentially send an army of talent to play for the Stars & Stripes (+1300). Forward Blake Coleman skated for Team USA last May and is experiencing a breakout season in the NHL. 2018 silver medalists Team Switzerland (+2500) may be the happiest of all about New Jersey’s poor record, though. They’ll likely send heart-shaped invites to Nico Hischier and defenseman Mirco Müller.
McDavid and a host of Canadian stalwarts play for the Edmonton Oilers, meaning The Chosen One can choose to be in Slovakia. But Canada loses out with the sudden rise of the St. Louis Blues. Gateway City forward Ryan O’ Reilly is a legend of the modern IIHF game, and his Blues are soaring toward the Stanley Cup playoffs after an epic winning streak. That leaves O’ Reilly’s status with Team Canada in grave doubt.
What about Team Russia at (+500)? The L.A. Kings are going absolutely nowhere, and Ilya Kovalchuk is still one of the best Russian skaters in the game at age 35. But will he want to fly a hemisphere away and play hockey in late spring?
Kovalchuk could also potentially be traded to a contender and skate deep into the playoffs.
Alexander Ovechkin is in love with the Red Machine, but his Washington Capitals are a much better team than the Kings and may be gunning for the NHL crown again in ’19.
Richard Rakell of the awful Anaheim Ducks is locked into his contract until 2022 and scored an astounding 14 points for Sweden at the Worlds last year. The prolific winger is having a burnout-type season with a losing team, and will relish a chance to defend gold.
Most of the available NHL talent from Slovakia (+2500) will play in the Worlds. But what if Lord Stanley intervenes? Tomas Tatar of the Montreal Canadians could be available for a late visit home, and national scouts can hope that Richard Pánik’s Arizona Coyotes don’t go on the prowl in March and April.
Defenseman Zdeno Chara weighs 400 pounds, is 800 years old, and will smash buildings at the Worlds if the Boston Bruins are ousted in time.
Final Thoughts on ’19 Worlds Contenders
Canada is a shaky odds-on favorite which must demonstrate it can send a worthwhile goaltender to the Worlds to go with a classic crew of skaters. I’m also not in love with the Habs’ Group A draw – Team Canada will face host Slovakia, Germany, Denmark, Finland and the United States alongside Great Britain and France.
The Habs aren’t the real favorites at all. Tre Kronor is king of the mountain and has been since 2017.
Yankee men’s ice hockey could be ready to break through this spring. Now that Red, White and Blue rosters are geared toward winning the actual Worlds instead of preparing for the Olympics, there’s nothing seriously holding the USA back. The team just needs even more excellent NHL pros to say yes when the recruiting calls go out.
Just don’t count out the Swiss. Switzerland’s “NLA” league has bred 10-15 skaters who can vie with anybody on the big ice surface, in addition to first-rate goaltenders. The country’s NHL speedsters are just decorations on the cake.
Look for the Eisgenossen to pile-up easy Group B points against Norway, Italy, and Austria, and play their way into a gainful position in the medal round.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.