2018 Ice Hockey World Championship Betting Preview


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The official mascot of the 2018 Ice Hockey World Championship in Denmark is a duck-inspired by H.C. Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling.” Unfortunately, the event has long been treated like an ugly duckling by American hockey fans.

“It’s a nothing tournament played by nobodies,” Twitter users will say. “All the best players are still playing in the NHL playoffs. Nobody cares and the hockey is terrible.”

Even a dirty hit by Tom Wilson couldn’t be more wrong.

Known as the “Worlds” in North America and the “World Cup” everywhere else, the annual 16-team competition is the crown jewel of hockey in Europe and a matter of fierce national pride in Canada.

Oh, and close to 350,000 tickets have been sold.

Connor McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer, is captaining a Canadian group that would blow away most National Hockey League clubs in a playoff series. The Maple Leaf has won gold, gold, and silver in the last 3 World Championships. Russia takes the Worlds so seriously that icons like Ilya Kovalchuk are often squeezing, unable to shoot straight. Defending gold medalist Team Sweden suits up 15-20 NHL stalwarts along with a few stars from the Swedish Hockey League.

Yes, the NHL postseason is still ongoing, and many pros decline invitations due to injuries and fatigue. But by the time the tournament heats up, only 4 NHL teams are left playing for the Stanley Cup. That leaves over 80% of NHL talent eligible for at least a phone call.

Those who go are buoyed by top scorers from the KHL and other European leagues. Round-robin games can be cautious. But the medal round is a wonder.

As for the United States, the weird disdain for the Worlds from state-side shinny fans has led to pitiful rosters getting iced in more ways than one. But that could change. Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks is captaining a much-stronger Team USA in 2018. NHL Network is broadcasting almost every game in Denmark.

Casinos are taking notice. Bovada Sportsbook and other gambling sites are offering hundreds of markets for the Worlds. But curious new bettors need a primer.

What are the best bets to make? Who will be left standing when the gold medal game faces off on May 20th?

The 2018 Worlds begin this weekend in Copenhagen and Herning. Let’s look at the strongest countries and a few long-shot sleepers as the prelims get underway.

Ice Hockey World Championship: Odds-On Favorites

Canada (+130 odds-to-win at Bovada Sportsbook)

Canada has the strongest roster on paper, boasting the NHL’s best pure attacking forward in McDavid. The Chosen One is built for the big IIHF rink, possessing speed and agility to burn. But the Habs may have an Achilles Heel. Ironically, GM Martin Brodeur – one of the greatest goaltenders in history – has only a pair of career backup goalies currently in Denmark. Curtis McElhinney has never played more than 32 NHL games in a season, and Darcy Kuemper’s promising campaign wilted following a trade to Arizona.

Never we mind. Team Canada can ice 4 full lines of speed, flash, and grit. NHL Rookie-of-the-Year Mathew Barzal is a 1st-line option next to McDavid, and so is rising star Jaden Schwartz of the St. Louis Blues.

The squad is loaded with 20+ goal scorers.

Ryan O’ Reilly is an IIHF legend and one of the best 2-way centers in the business. Defensemen such as Aaron Ekblad and Colton Parayko provide bang on the blue line. The roster’s youth will help in avoiding tired legs.

Players who lose in the 2nd round of the NHL playoffs have time to join the Worlds in mid-tournament. Brodeur may find an answer between the pipes. As it stands, the Habs will need to score a lot to win. But if any of their goalies happen to get into a groove, look out.

Canada’s ego was stung when the Leaf lost to Sweden in a shootout to decide gold in 2017. It could provide key motivation to keep pushing when things get hairy. Canada opens the tournament against Team USA, a rivalry match that could tilt a loaded Group B in either direction.

Sweden (+325)

Tre-Kronor cannot ice as many pure snipers as Canada. Richard Rakell of the Anaheim Ducks leads the squad with 34 goals in 2017-18.

Coaches will count on the unique “Torpedo” system (2 forwards, 2 rovers and 1 defender) to produce chances. Goaltending could be a serious problem, as all 3 Swedish GKs posted losing records this season.

But the defending champs have 2 factors going for them

Special teams are crazy-important in IIHF play, and Sweden’s blueline is led by John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars. Klingberg had a superlative 59 assists this season and will anchor the PP.

Young players can excel at the Worlds thanks to the big ice and ease of avoiding contact. That’s great news for 19-year-old wunderkind Elias Pettersson, who dominated the SHL playoffs in April.

Russia (+375)

Red Machine faithful is as unhappy as can be after winning Olympic gold. Team Russia had designs on icing an All-Star squad, with names like Kovalchuk, Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Sergei Mozyakin and Alex Radulov dotting a roster coached by Oleg Znarok. But a series of injuries, snubs and unfortunate circumstances have left Putin holding the puck bag.

Znarok has walked away from coaching. That leaves former assistant Ilya Vorobiev to manage Pavel Datsyuk, Nikita Gusev, Evegni Dadonov and a collection of place-holders. There isn’t a single defenseman with a great shot, and at GK are quirky Valeri Koshechkin and IIHF green-horn Ilya Sorokin. Karill Kaprizov scored the golden goal in Korea, but he won’t dominate the Worlds.

Lucky they’re in Group A, which is filled with beatable teams. Sweden will be tough. The Czechs were hapless against the Russians in Korea, though, and Switzerland has been unable to get much of its NHL lineup to Denmark.

Ice Hockey World Championship Sleepers

United States (+1200)

The Yanks have suffered from a lack of want-to in the past. USA Hockey is a below-average organization which has used the World Championship to “prepare for future Olympics,” icing teams thick with NHL rookies and college kids. It hasn’t worked out well. The program has not won gold at the Worlds in over 55 years, or 1st place in a Men’s Olympic tournament since the Miracle on Ice in 1980.

You can’t win the tournament if you don’t have a chance. Fed-up NHL alumni have taken over player selections and the results are impressive. The Yanks have recruited bruising forward Anders Lee, who just scored 40 goals for the New York Islanders. Nasty punishers like Blake Coleman are in roles that would normally go to Jocky McGoldendome from the frosh team at Notre Dame, trying to make the 2026 U.S. Olympic lineup. Players like Lee and Coleman are there to win.

Team USA has a handy ace-in-the-hole – Keith Kinkaid. He’s the best goalie at the Worlds who is not playing for Denmark. Kinkaid is coming off a 26-10 W/L record in 2017-18.

Finland (+900)

The Lions ice a competitive batch of veterans from Liiga, Finland’s pro league. They are not as physical as NHLers and do not crash the net with sniping shots. The Finns have stolen medals with their domestic unit on the ice. But coaches prefer to mix in NHL stars, for obvious reasons.

Voila! Mikael Granlund of the Minnesota Wild has made the trip. He produces like crazy on big ice. Sebastian Aho will provide a dash of real speed, and Mikka Rantanen is in Denmark. The trio of NHL stars will give Suomi a puncher’s chance.

Do they have the goaltender? Harri Sateri has played well in the Worlds and in the NHL. But the show-stealer could be Eero Kilpelainen, who has cast eerie spells on opponents in Europe. Kilpelainen recently posted a .938 save % during an amazing Liiga postseason run.

Germany (+5000)

The Germans deserve mention based on their Olympic silver. Marco Sturm is making a case as the best coach in international hockey. Germany has plenty of excellent pros in America, but all of them were missing in PyeongChang, and the squad still had a powerful Russian team on the ropes. Sturm will not lack his star NHL forward Leon Draisaitl in this tournament.

Denmark (+7500)

There is a shortage of Super Mario-style smart-bomb snipers at the Worlds this year. Nikita Gusev is the only name that comes to mind (if you haven’t seen Gusev play, you’re in for a treat).

That means goaltender Frederik Andersen of Denmark, the toast of Toronto, has an outside chance to dominate headlines with a home-ice underdog effort for the ages. Yes, I’m talking about a medal.

Casual bettors glance at Denmark and see only a few NHLers. But the Danes have big-time talent from other leagues. They beat the Czech Republic to qualify for the quarterfinals in 2016, and Andersen wasn’t playing goalie then.

Denmark faces a difficult draw in Group B, playing Team USA along with Canada, Germany, Finland, and Latvia.

Summing Up: Recommended Bets at the 2018 Worlds

Betting value is in the sleepers. Canada’s goaltending issues make (+130) odds too short, and Sweden could be even worse between the pipes. For Mother Russia, to birth a 2nd international gold in 3 months would take a whole lot of surprise rank-and-file brilliance.

If you played these Worlds 9 times over, Finland would be in the final game twice or more times. That makes the Finns’ (+900) line a tempting market. Even more tempting is Team USA (+1200), whose subtle changes could make the difference in getting through to the dance in ‘18. Kinkaid might help out just a little too.

The USA, Finland, and Germany are all high % single-game bets whenever the odds look fair

Bet the over on total goals when Russia plays Belarus. Belarus is Russia’s Mini-Me, and the games are high-scoring and fun despite the Belarusians losing every time.

Denmark’s top-3-finish proposition odds are (+2000) at Bovada. I’ll take that bet. If any sportsbook has the home team’s odds-to-advance to the quarterfinals at (+400) or longer, take that betting slip and run.

But don’t run all the way to Copenhagen. Remember, the Worlds are on TV everywhere this year.