Though temperatures in Las Vegas this week have soared to nearly 120 degrees (don’t worry, it’s a dry heat), Sin City has been the center of the hockey world ever since the Stanley Cup playoffs concluded a week and a half ago.
Sunday, the NHL announced the list of unprotected players that the expansion Vegas Golden Knights will get to choose from when building their first-ever roster. The Knights have until Tuesday afternoon to finalize their selections in the expansion draft, and we’ll all find out which players they’ve claimed Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena – in the middle of the NHL awards ceremony, which is being hosted in Vegas for the fourth straight year.
With all this major hockey news developing on Las Vegas Boulevard, we simply have to bet on it, don’t we? Here’s a look at the 3 finalists for each of the 7 major awards that will be handed out Wednesday, along with current betting odds at Bovada and my betting pick for each.
At first glance, it’s very surprising to see McDavid listed as such a big favorite here. He’s up against arguably the best player in the world in Crosby, and the best goalie in the NHL this year in Sergei Bobrovsky.
But it’s critical to remember that the MVP is for the player who is the most valuable to his team, not for the best player in the league (although you could also make a case for McDavid being the NHL’s best player after he led the league in both points and assists this season.)
Imagine the Oilers without McDavid, the Penguins without Crosby and the Blue Jackets without Bobrovsky. Pittsburgh probably still makes the playoffs without Sid the Kid, thanks to the stars they still have on their team in Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Matt Murray and (when healthy) Kris Letang. The Blue Jackets may or may not have qualified for the postseason without the steady netminding of Bobrovsky, but there’s no way that the Oilers would have ended their 11-year playoff drought this year without McDavid, who factored in on a league-high 41.1% of their goals.
I’d personally rank this race as McDavid-Bobrovsky-Crosby when it comes to their pure value to their teams, and Bobrovsky will likely lose consideration from some voters because there is another award strictly for goalies.
As you can tell by the betting odds, this awards announcement should be the least suspenseful of the evening. Matthews burst onto the NHL scene with an incredible 4-goal performance in his first game, then went on to pace all rookies with 40 goals and 69 points.
Though Matthews is obviously deserving of being the favorite, Laine had a very good year for Winnipeg, collecting 64 points in an injury-shortened campaign. But Matthews plays in the biggest hockey media market and his team made the playoffs while Laine’s didn’t, which should ultimately push the Leafs center over the top.
There’s no value here at this price, but you could always use Matthews as a multiplier in a parlay with another award.
Betting pick: Matthews -2000 (perhaps parlay this with McDavid to win the Hart)
Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year)
Finalists: Mike Babcock, Toronto (-135), John Tortorella, Columbus (+225), Todd McLellan, Edmonton (+265)
Babcock is getting most of the love for this award, and would be a very deserving choice if he claimed the Jack Adams for the first time in his decorated career.
He’d shown in the past that he could lead veteran talent to the promised land, winning the Stanley Cup in 2008 with the Red Wings and also guiding the Ducks to the 2003 final. This season, Babcock proved he could also do work magic with youngsters, helping the rookie-laden Maple Leafs to just their second playoff appearance since 2004.
As impressive as Babcock’s work was, however, we can’t ignore what John Tortorella achieved with the Blue Jackets. Under Tortorella, the Jackets went from the second-worst team in the East in 2015-16 to the conference’s third-best team this past year. You can’t simply pin that 32-point improvement on the goaltending of Bobrovsky, since he was on the team the previous year as well.
McLellan did a nice job with the Oilers also, but I see voters giving McDavid more credit for Edmonton’s success than they do the coach. Babcock likely wins this award, but there’s great value on Torts.
Betting pick: Tortorella +225
Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman)
Finalists: Brent Burns, San Jose (-500), Erik Karlsson, Ottawa (+250), Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay (+2500)
If this award was decided after the playoffs concluded, Karlsson would be a slam dunk. The Senators blueliner nearly singlehandedly carried the Senators to the Eastern Conference final, where they were one overtime goal away from upsetting the eventual Stanley Cup champion Penguins, and he did it all with fractures in his foot. Had Ottawa made the final, Karlsson could have been the Conn Smythe Trophy winner for playoff MVP, regardless of whether the Sens won the Cup or not.
Just like the rest of the NHL awards, however, the Norris Trophy voting is conducted at the end of the regular season. And based on that regular season, Burns is seen as the frontrunner for Norris honors. He was the catalyst of the Sharks offense, averaging nearly 4 shots on goal per game, and paced all NHL defensemen in both goals (29) and points (76).
Still, we’ve seen gaudy offensive stats from defensemen get ignored in the past by Norris voters. Karlsson himself was the top-scoring blueliner last season, only to see the Kings’ Drew Doughty get the Norris because of his superior play in his own end.
Karlsson blocked 50% more shots, committed fewer turnovers and forced more giveaways than Burns, while leading all defensemen with 53 assists and finishing third in points, 5 behind his Sharks counterpart. I love the value on the Swedish magician here.
Betting pick: Karlsson +250
Vezina Trophy (Best Goalie)
Finalists: Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus (-400), Braden Holtby, Washington (+220), Carey Price, Montreal (+2200)
The Vezina is another 2-horse race, this one between Bobrovsky and Capitals netminder Braden Holtby.
While Holtby edged out Bobrovsky for the most wins in the league (42-41), Bob led the NHL with a .931 save percentage and 2.06 goals-against average. And while Holtby’s Capitals have now allowed the least goals in the NHL for 2 straight years, Bobrovsky was playing behind a Blue Jackets team that gave up the second-most goals in the league in 2015-16.
Bobrovsky may not win the Hart, but he’s virtually a lock in my mind to claim the Vezina.
Betting pick: Bobrovsky -400
Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward)
Finalists: Ryan Kesler, Anaheim (-135), Patrice Bergeron, Boston (+170), Mikko Koivu, Minnesota (+375)
I’ve never fully understood the logic of this award, to be honest. They say the Selke is for the best defensive forward, yet voters always seem to factor in offense from those forwards when deciding which one was the best in their own end.
That’s why Bergeron has won the Selke 3 times in his career and is considered likely by some to capture his 4th this year. People point to the Boston forward’s all-around game (he collected 21 goals and 53 points while taking the third-most shots in the NHL) as the reason why he has an edge on Kesler.
But Kesler is no slouch in the offensive department himself, scoring 58 points this past season. And if voters actually value defense more than offense, you don’t find many players who annoy opposing forwards more than the Ducks’ superpest. The Predators’ Ryan Johansen recently gave Kesler a ringing endorsement for the Selke, complaining that “it sucks when you’ve got to pull a stick out of your groin every shift.”
Betting pick: Kesler -135
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (Most Gentlemanly Player)
Finalists: Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary (+100), Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis (+100), Mikael Granlund, Minnesota (+400)
The NHL may be the only 1 of the 4 main professional sports in North America that won’t eject its players for fighting, but they also value the league’s sweethearts with the Lady Byng for gentlemanly conduct.
Betting on this award is like deciding which Care Bear was the warmest and fuzziest (for the record, I’m going with Tenderheart). But if you can’t get through the evening without having a bet on every award, I’m going to endorse Gaudreau at even odds. The Calgary sniper was whistled for just 2 minor penalties this season despite being the constant target of opposition slashes, referring to the series of hacks that broke his hand in November as “just part of the game.”
Betting pick: Gaudreau +100
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