Down Goes Brown: Turning NHL Trade Deadline into gambling heaven

5 different Toronto Maple Leafs’ rookies found the back of the net, Pavel Zacha won it for New Jersey and Carter Hutton shutout the Flyers.

• Setting odds and wagers for trade deadline
• Will quiet lead-up mean quiet deadline day?
• Fittingly, Golden Knights a big wild-card

So that Super Bowl was pretty fun.

The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons delivered a game for the ages — it featured a stunning comeback, some ridiculous plays and the first overtime in Super Bowl history. If you were a sports fan, you had to enjoy it. And if you were a gambler, well, you were on the edge of your seat, as the Patriots’ overtime touchdown tipped the scales on both the betting line and the over/under.

Football fans can bet on everything, from which team will score first to individual performances to when scores will happen. They can even bet on the coin flip, or how long the anthem will take, or what colour the halftime singer’s hair will be. If you’re the sort of sports fan who likes to put down a wager or two, the Super Bowl is heaven.

Well, there’s no reason hockey fans shouldn’t have the same fun with our own big event that comes around at this time of year. The NHL trade deadline isn’t quite as big as the Super Bowl — yet — but there’s no reason we can’t set some odds and take some wagers.

So let’s do that today. Feel free to give yourself $100 in play money and weigh in down in the comments section with your best bets. (Unless you’re this guy, because he’s a wizard and will be escorted off fake-casino property by security.)

With the right picks and a little luck, you can break the pretend bank like the high roller that you are.

Bet #1: Over/under on total trades

Deadline day (March 1): 21.5

Deadline week (Feb. 23–March 1): 34.5

Deadline month (Feb. 1–March 1): 38.5

If these same odds were offered last year, you would have won by betting the under on all three bets. The same was true in 2014. But you would have won with the over across the board in 2015, so there’s not exactly a clear trend here to look at.

In the end, we’re setting these lines a little bit higher than recent history would suggest. That seems counter-intuitive; with so many teams still in the playoff race, this year’s market is shaping up to be heavy on buyers and dangerously low on sellers. Even assuming that a few teams fall out of the running over the next few weeks, that unbalanced market could result in a logjam where teams have a tough time finding a trading partner, and we see fewer deals than normal.

So why nudge the numbers up? Three words: Vegas Golden Knights. Reports indicate that George McPhee and the Knights will be allowed to start dealing in time for deadline day, if not even sooner. Those trades can’t involve active players, but could involve expansion-draft considerations, such as the Knights acquiring a draft pick or prospect in exchange for agreeing not to take a certain player in June. That could be a big deal for the other 30 teams, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see more than a few lining up for the chance to create some clarity around the looming draft.

That’s a major wild card. We don’t know what the Knights’ strategy will be, and we don’t even know when they’ll be able to start enacting it — it’s possible they won’t make their first move until the days after the deadline. So we’ll hedge as best we can by setting the line at a slightly busier-than-usual deadline.

Bet #2: Which will have more trades: Deadline day (March 1) or the rest of the week leading up to it (Feb. 22–28)?

Deadline day: 1–4

Rest of the week: 4–1

There seems to be a perception among fans that GMs are doing most of their work in the leadup to the deadline these days. That’s not quite true — deadline day itself has always been where most of the action is — but the gap has been narrowing in recent years. Last year, there were 19 deals on deadline day and 14 in the week leading to it; that gap of five was the smallest in recent history.

Could this be the year that we see scales tip even more, and the majority of the action happen before deadline day arrives? It’s possible, despite the fervent prayers of TV hosts and executives across the continent. These things can snowball, and a big deal or two early in the week could start a panic. But history tells is that most of the deals will still go down on deadline day.

(By the way, you hardcore gamblers will notice that our pretend deadline-day casino isn’t taking any vig on these bets. We’re nice like that. Please buy a few extra cocktails from the servers to keep us in business.)

Bet #3: Which Canadian team will make the most trades between now and the deadline?

Vancouver Canucks: 2–1

Montreal Canadiens: 7–2

Calgary Flames: 6–1

Ottawa Senators: 7–1

Edmonton Oilers: 9–1

Toronto Maple Leafs: 12–1

Winnipeg Jets: 20–1

Two teams at the opposite end of the spectrum come in as favourites here. The Canucks are fading out of the playoff race, and with fans begging for a rebuild, they could decide to throw in the towel and become sellers in the days leading up to the deadline. The Canadiens are on the other side of the coin; as Cup contenders, they should be buyers, looking to shore up the roster for a deep playoff push.

The Senators and Oilers are headed to the playoffs, too, although both teams seem to be under less pressure to really load up. The Flames could still fall out of the race and sell, or could be one of those playoff bubble teams that scrambles for late-season reinforcements. The Jets rarely trade at all, so it would be surprising to see them be the country’s busiest team. And the Maple Leafs seem content to stand pat right now.

(And just in case you’re wondering, we don’t want any split payouts. So in the event of a tie, let’s agree to award the win to whichever team makes the last trade.)

Bet #4: Which American team will make the most trades between now and the deadline?

Colorado Avalanche: 4–1

Arizona Coyotes: 6–1

New Jersey Devils: 9–1

St. Louis Blues: 10–1

Vegas Golden Knights: 10–1

Anaheim Ducks: 12–1

Tampa Bay Lightning: 12–1

Boston Bruins: 14–1

San Jose Sharks: 18–1

Someone else: 5–1

This one’s a mix of confirmed sellers, presumed sellers and a handful of teams that may want to load up. The Coyotes and Avalanche are clear favourites, and the only thing preventing them from running away with the crown might be teams like the Devils jumping in to join them.

The Blues seem like a good bet to be busy, even though we’re not sure yet if they’ll be buying or selling. The Bruins have been linked to everyone all year and could finally start to move. The Knights are a wild card, as we’ve already covered; they could be everywhere, or absent entirely. And the Sharks and Ducks fall into the group of Cup contenders with a history of loading up, but who don’t have much cap space to do it. (The Blackhawks are right there with them, but Stan Bowman’s recent comments about standing pat move them off the board.)

So where does that leave us? Your guess is as good as mine. The “someone else” bet feels like good value here.

Bet #5: First-round draft picks traded between now and the deadline

Over/under: 2.5

Here’s how this year’s draft looks in terms of traded picks. The main takeaway? As of today, every team still has its own first rounder.

Needless to say, that’s unusual. It’s also unlikely to last. This year’s draft isn’t considered especially strong, and that’s reportedly led to more GMs being willing to consider parting with their top pick.

Last year, in a better draft, five first-round picks were traded before draft weekend (including the 30th-overall pick being moved twice). But only one of those came as the result of a deadline trade, when the Hawks sent their pick to the Jets for Andrew Ladd. There were four first-rounders moved around the 2015 deadline, but just one in 2014.

Recent league history suggests GMs are becoming more and more reluctant to part with first-round picks, but this year’s weak draft could change some minds. We’ll set our over/under somewhere in the middle.

A one-stop shop for news, analysis, opinion and interviews covering all the top names ahead of the 2017 NHL Draft in June.

Bet #6: Between now and the deadline, how many trades will be made involving a player who has ever had a 70-point season?

Over/under: 3.5

Consider this the “How many big-name forwards will be on the move?” wager. Of course, “big-name” is up for interpretation, but setting the cutoff as a former 70-point scorer gives us a decent baseline.

So how many might move? You’d have to think that Jarome Iginla will be a freebie here; he’s indicated that he wants out of Colorado, and with his contract expiring it makes sense for the Avs to get whatever they can.

Shane Doan seems a little more reluctant to leave Arizona, but has indicated that he might be willing to go for the right opportunity. From there, we’ve got Matt Duchene; he seems to be on his way out of Colorado, but that deal could happen in the off-season instead. Thomas Vanek will probably be on the move from Detroit, and if the Stars fall out of the running, a Patrick Sharp deal could make sense.

Then there are the dark horses. If the Oilers decide to deal, could Jordan Eberle finally be on the way out? Do the Habs flip Tomas Plekanec? Is there any way the Predators find somebody to take Mike Ribeiro off their hands? And if the Panthers fade, could they move Jaromir Jagr?

Most of those guys are unlikely to go anywhere. But could enough guys join Iginla on the move to make the over worth a bet? It seems possible.

Bet #7: How many goalies who’ve played in the NHL this year will be traded between now and the deadline?

Over/under: 4.5

There are plenty of goaltenders in play. Ben Bishop and Marc-Andre Fleury have figured prominently in rumours all season. If the Canucks fall out of the race, Ryan Miller could join them, as could Brian Elliott in Calgary. Maybe the Islanders find someone who wants Jaroslav Halak. Steve Mason could even be in play as a rental.

There’s also the expansion draft looming, which could encourage teams to move a solid backup rather than risk losing him to the Knights. And on top of that, roster limits and cap considerations mean that any team that wants to add a goaltender – we’re looking at you Dallas, St. Louis, Winnipeg and Colorado – might need to include one going back the other way.

So in theory, we could see goalies flying all over the transaction wire. But on the other hand, there are realistic scenarios where everyone stands pat. Maybe Dallas just gives up. Maybe the Blues don’t want to mess with Jake Allen‘s confidence any more than they already have. Maybe the Penguins choose goaltending depth for another Cup run over future assets.

For a position that’s typically described as the NHL’s most important, the market seems awfully tough to project. This may be the toughest bet on the board.

Bet #8: Over/under for biggest trade (total players and draft picks, including conditional picks)

Deadline day (March 1): 4.5

Deadline week (Feb. 23–March 1): 6.5

Deadline month (Feb. 1–March 1): 7.5

In terms of the number of assets trading hands, the biggest moves from last year’s deadline day involved four picks and players; there were four such deals. There were a pair of five-asset deals in the days before, both involving the Maple Leafs, who moved Daniel Winnik and James Reimer. The Ladd trade involve six picks and players. And the Senators made two monster trades in February – one with the Leafs that involved Dion Phaneuf and nine other assets, and one with the Sabres that involved eight (none of whom you’d ever heard of).

Our line here suggests that we’re not expecting anything quite that big this year, but you never know. Remember, the 50-contract limit comes into play here — it’s not unusual for teams to have to include a minor leaguer or two in a deal to open up slots. So while we probably won’t see any Doug Gilmour-style megadeals that involve a lot of big names, that doesn’t mean there won’t be deals that feature plenty of assets on both sides of the ledger.

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