A lot can be learned from looking back at recent sports odds history, and novice hockey bettors looking for an edge would be wise to note how recent matchups have been priced by the betting market.
It’s a rather rudimentary approach to sports betting, but it’s simple and logical. Prices are shaped by sharp bettors and shouldn’t really change much on a game-to-game basis. For example, when the St. Louis Blues hosted the San Jose Sharks on Jan. 18, the Sharks were listed as +165 (37 percent chance) underdogs. Meanwhile, the Blues carried a price tag of -185 (63 percent chance) into the game. The Blues defeated the Sharks, 5-4. The two teams met again on Jan. 20, and just like the first matchup, the closing odds suggested the Sharks had a 37 percent chance of winning. This time the Sharks did win, 2-1. Note that injuries were not a factor for either team back in January.
By the time these teams met again in St. Louis this past Thursday and Saturday, the Blues had been dealt a cluster of injuries. In addition to missing Jaden Schwartz, Robert Thomas and Tyler Bozak, the Blues also found out defenseman Colton Parayko had suffered an injury. Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly said he couldn’t remember a time in his career when so many key teammates were on the shelf. Despite all of this, bookmakers didn’t seem scared off. In fact, the Sharks were initially priced at +175 (35 percent chance) in both matchups. A price like this wouldn’t be considered unreasonable under normal circumstances, but given all of the regulars that the Blues would be missing and the fact that bettors had already seen the teams face off against one another twice this season in the very same building, it didn’t add up.
Yes, the Sharks would be without defensemen Erik Karlsson, but he had been playing through a groin injury and the team is probably better off without him. Therefore, the loss of four key Blues should have caused the odds to shift significantly towards the Sharks, right?
Indeed, in both instances, bettors jumped at the opportunity to take a big price on an underdog that already had proven it could defeat the Blues at full strength. The Sharks odds (+155) reflected a 38 percent chance of winning by the time the puck in the first game. In the following matchup, the Sharks’ odds sat at +160 (37 percent chance) due to the fact backup Devan Dubnyk was starting in goal. Once again, it was a profitable split for bettors who chose to back the Sharks in both games. The Blues came from behind to win the first game 3-2 in overtime but the Sharks returned with a spirited effort and won the rematch, 5-4.
The takeaway: Handicapping can be as simple as looking at closing prices from past matchups and piecing together intelligence to determine if oddsmakers have failed to account for new information. Strategically, it is far more sound than fading the public or trying to follow sharp line moves, as taking this approach often will lead a bettor to finding a soft opening number rather than chasing steam generated by sharp sports bettors and missing out on the actual value in the number.