Finding betting value in the NHL preseason awards markets

It may be early, but there is already some good value to find in betting on the end-of-season NHL Awards winners. (Getty Images)
It may be early, but there is already some good value to find in betting on the end-of-season NHL Awards winners. (Getty Images)

When it comes to futures betting markets, the NHL awards are commonly slept on.

There is just the right amount of variable, narrative, and voter influence within what is largely an idle and relatively inefficient market. Its behaviour — which is far different from, say, the NFL or NBA markets — allows those paying close enough attention to catch some valuable bets over the course of the season.

The proof is in the pudding.

Auston Matthews' price to repeat as the Rocket Richard winner ballooned to as high as +850 after easing his way through the first month of the season following offseason wrist surgery. He wound up scoring 60 goals and finishing five clear of Leon Draisaitl in addition to cashing longer-odds bets on the Hart Trophy. Elsewhere, Darryl Sutter's odds for the Jack Adams was hanging in the +2500 range months into the season, and more importantly long after the Calgary Flames established themselves as an elite, and fully rebounded, team. He won by a landslide.

It's the speed at which the market fails to react which makes the NHL futures market one worth betting into.

What's more of a challenge is pinpointing valuable bets before the puck drops.

With that in mind, let's have a quick look at the odds for the major awards to see if there's any value to be had, understanding that waiting on seasons and narratives to develop tends to be the more efficient approach.

Hart Trophy

Favourites: Connor McDavid (+250), Auston Matthews (+500), Leon Draisaitl (+850)

The Hart Trophy discussion basically boils down to one thing: does a challenger emerge to Connor McDavid? As the league's best and most dominant offensive player, the Edmonton Oilers captain remains the standard to which all other players are compared as something resembling an MVP barometer. Last season Matthews stuck his nose out ahead of McDavid with one of the most efficient and prolific goal-scoring seasons in recent memory.

It will continue to require performances of that nature in order to out-pace McDavid, who now plays on a team too talented to minimize his shine.

It's the coin-flip nature that McDavid will commonly find himself in which makes his price at +250 reasonably palatable, but this discussion should be reserved for someone who can enter that 50-50 proposition at far longer odds.

Igor Shesterkin is that option for me. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner, who finished third in Hart Trophy voting last season, is hanging out at the +2500 range at the time of this writing. A repeat of his brilliant season in net for the New York Rangers would thrust him back into the discussion — especially if he takes on a more rigorous workload with Alexandar Georgiev now with the Colorado Avalanche.

Goaltenders don't typically win this award, but Shesterkin put his foot in the door last season and could barge right through in the minds of voters who may be influenced by last season's results. Remember that narrative is a huge aspect of NHL awards voting, and the total contribution across two seasons could factor in if Shesterkin finds himself as the most logical challenger to McDavid.

Norris Trophy

Favourites: Cale Makar (+125), Roman Josi (+800), Victor Hedman (+800), Adam Fox (+850)

It says a whole lot about Cale Makar's talent that he enters the season as the single strongest favourite to win their category in the NHL awards market. Unfortunately, his price, which is currently in the +125 range, is such that it's difficult to rationalize a bet on the best defenseman in the NHL right now.

That said, the Norris Trophy market might be the most right place to allocate dollars before the season. Sprinkling across the board on a few of Makar's most logical challengers, beginning with his nominated counterparts from last season, Victor Hedman and Roman Josi, creates a reasonably strong opportunity to profit.

If Makar suffers a downturn in performance (not likely) or picks up an injury at any point in the season, bettors will be in an advantageous position having the most likely options to step into the role as Norris Trophy favourite at +800 or better.

Rocket Richard

Favourites: Auston Matthews (+250), Leon Draisaitl (+550), Connor McDavid (+750)

The Rocket Richard Trophy is an interesting one. My knee-jerk reaction is to treat this award market just as I would with the Norris Trophy and fade the favourite — who is, in this case, the two-time reigning winner of the award, Auston Matthews.

But here's the thing: this is the one market discussed that's without the influence of subjectivity. And when there's zero room for interpretation, there's generally less fluctuation when it comes to the results.

In fact, the NHL's goal-scoring king is a title that rarely changes hands. Alexander Ovechkin won the award seven times in eight seasons before ceding the throne. This could just be the Matthews era for the foreseeable future. Hence the price.

Also, unlike other awards there are just a few players who have the goal-scoring talent to challenge for the Rocket Richard, which makes looking too far down the list is a fool's errand.

I can hear arguments for David Pastrnak (+2000), Alex DeBrincat (+2200) and Mika Zibanejad (+4000), given that all four of these players are top-10 goal scorers in the NHL over the past three seasons, but if I had to choose one challenger, it would be McDavid at +750. I tend to believe that McDavid will win this award (Sidney Crosby-style) before his career is over, and what better time than the present?

Vezina Trophy

Favourites: Igor Shesterkin (+250), Andrei Vasilevskiy (+500), Ilya Sorokin (+800)

Ah, the days of competitive odds in the Vezina Trophy market are through. Two of the three nominees (not to mention the winner) of the award hovered in the +2000 range before the season last year. It turned out there was a tremendous amount of value on two of the three preseason bets I laid with Shesterkin and Juuse Saros. Unfortunately only one could cash despite both odds crashing over the course of the season.

Things are far more disproportionate now with Shesterkin now being priced as the unquestioned top netminder in the game. His talent, and the defense he plays behind, provide the means to justify that, but we can far more comfortably fade Shesterkin as a favourite when compared to either McDavid and Matthews in the Hart Trophy and Rocket Richard odds, respectively.

(Note: Yes, betting Shesterkin to win the Hart Trophy and fading him in the Vezina Trophy market seems contradictory, but we have to consider the range of outcomes and the prices associated with each. At the top end of his range, he wins the Vezina Trophy (+250) and submits a reasonably strong Hart Trophy candidacy (+2500). Anything short of that opens the door for a challenger in the goaltending market.)

Two American netminders, Thatcher Demko and Jake Oettinger, stand out as +1800 options who could take their games to another level this season. Alexander Georgiev (+3500) will have the same conditions Philipp Grubauer used to capture a nomination two seasons ago, and look where he is now.

I also think Cam Talbot could be worth a look at +7500 longshot odds for the Ottawa Senators.

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