Over the past week, COVID-19 has re-emerged as a huge factor in the sports landscape. The NHL is no different. Currently, over 16% of active rosters are in COVID protocols, 23 teams have at least one player out and 19 teams have over a week off coming up due to cancellations. What does this mean for the coming week, the season as a whole and the Olympics?
Not much happening this week
Thankfully for the NHL, it had a Christmas break included in its schedule from December 24th through December 26th. Unfortunately for the league, it hasn't been able to get there without major turmoil.
Originally, five games were scheduled for Monday across the league. However, four of those games have been postponed. The lone game that remains on the slate is the Dallas Stars hosting the Minnesota Wild. The Stars are -110 on the moneyline in a matchup between two teams that surprisingly don't have any players unavailable.
While betting these games is fine, they are rare and you'll need to put additional time researching which players are unavailable. For the most part, teams are either playing shorthanded or not playing at all.
In total, the NHL had 34 games originally scheduled for this week. Just nine of those games are still currently scheduled to be played. It seems more cancellations are being added every few hours. If you were planning to pass this week betting NHL hockey, you might need to find something else to do.
Futures market should remain unchanged
It'll be interesting to see if other leagues such as the NHL adopt the NFL's new protocols that limits the testing of asymptomatic and vaccinated players. Every single NHL player except Detroit's Tyler Bertuzzi has been vaccinated, which has caused people such as Steve Yzerman to question why the league is still testing healthy vaccinated people daily. The NFL has opened the door and it'll be interesting to see if the NHL steps in.
Even if the league doesn't update its protocols, it has shown over the past week or so that it will be proactive in shutting teams down and postponing games. This is a complete 180-degree shift from its mindset just a few weeks ago when it forced teams like the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders to field severely depleted lineups for extended stretches. Both teams went on catastrophic losing streaks and borderline ended their seasons before they started.
If the league is now going to be willing to postpone more games, there's less of a chance a team goes on a season-ending tailspin. The Stanley Cup favorite is currently the Colorado Avalanche at +550 odds. Bettors should feel reassured that if the Avalanche or any other team goes through a COVID-outbreak, the league will be proactive.
NHL players likely not headed to the Olympics
As a result of all the postponements this week, the NHL now has a reason to stop its players from going to the Olympics. The three-week break in the schedule in February will now almost certainly be needed to reschedule games that have been postponed. Additionally, it's unknown if there is even an appetite from the players to go anymore with the COVID situation across the world. A potential five-week quarantine in China is a risk players would need to be willing to take. Not only would they potentially be stuck in China, but they'd also be missing NHL games and not getting paid during that time.
It's unlikely we'll see players like Connor McDavid representing Canada, Auston Matthews and Patrick Kane representing USA or Alex Ovechkin representing Russia. This will have an adverse reaction on nations such as the United States and Canada, as almost all of these countries' top players are currently playing in the NHL.
European countries such as Russia, Sweden and Finland might be without their NHL stars, but they also have solid professional leagues in their countries that will supply some good talent. Lesser countries such as Switzerland, Denmark and Germany will be even less effected as the majority of their players don't play in the NHL.
This will provide value in the betting market as popular hockey countries might be overvalued while lesser countries will be undervalued. In 2018, the NHL did not send its players to the Olympics either. Hockey powerhouse Canada had to settle for a bronze medal. Germany is not known for their hockey ability, but they managed to snag the silver medal in a much more wide open tournament.
With the Winter Olympics about a month and a half away, the league is yet to officially announce its withdrawal from participation. However, an announcement is expected in the coming days. A lack of NHL players is unfortunate for the quality of play and excitement level surrounding the Games. However, it'll definitely provide value opportunities from a betting perspective.