Ron Raymond of Phoenix Sports.com has been a pioneer in the handicapping business when it comes to on-line presence. Ron is a well-known authority when it comes to NHL sports wagering and it only seems like he has been around since it was just the Original Six. With less then 20 games left in the regular season, thought we would converse with Ron about what teams might be good or bad plays the rest of the season and who might be in or out of the playoffs, come the completion of the season.
3Daily Winners: Let’s start in the East, Pittsburgh has moved up to be among the eight teams that would currently make the postseason in the East with a 7-2-1 spurt and is only six points behind Philadelphia for the No.4 seed, what do you see happening?
Ron Raymond: What happened to Pittsburgh is they lost a lot of their “sandpaper”. What I mean by that is guys on the third and fourth lines, who bring that edge to the game. Names like Ryan Malone, Georges LaRaque and Gary Roberts, those were guys that went into the corners and made room for the superstars like Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby on the ice. Pittsburgh just lost too much of their “sandpaper” guys in the off-season. Now, Pittsburgh superstars are fending for themselves and their chemistry looks poor. In those tight checking games, especially in the division, when the opposing team is taking a run at your superstars, you don’t have the players to respond. Plus let’s face it; Pittsburgh went to the Stanley Cup finals last year and any team that goes to the Super Bowl, World Series or the NBA Finals, it’s tough to come back, since every playoff series in hockey is a best of seven and you are playing every other night, it takes a toll on the body. What you end up seeing is teams like Pittsburgh going through dry periods, which in hockey circles is known as the Stanley Cup hangover.
3DW: Do you see Pittsburgh making the playoffs or falling back?
Ron: I see them falling, with Carolina and Buffalo pushing them. The Sabres lost goalie Ryan Miller leaving open the possibility they could sneak in, but I see them finishing eight or ninth. When Pittsburgh has to play those road games the remainder of the season, I see them coming up empty.
3DW: What about Carolina?
Ron: Carolina is coming on strong and had recent win over Washington. Cam Ward has been playing well in goal.
3DW: So you’re thinking Pittsburgh could be playing golf by late April?
Ron: Pretty much.
3DW: Only Ottawa and the Islanders have scored fewer goals than the New York Rangers, can the Rangers survive and make the playoffs with such a lack of offense?
Ron: The Rangers is a funny situation. If you look at all the teams that went to Europe last year, Pittsburgh, Ottawa and the Rangers, all have lost their head coach. The Rangers are bringing in Sean Avery and the big question is how that will affect the dressing room. Guys like Scott Gomez and Markus Naslund have not produced and you can’t expect the defense to carry the entire load. I would not support the Rangers, especially as a heavy favorite.
3DW: In summation, you see Carolina in and Pittsburgh out in the East.
Ron: That is correct.
3DW: One other question about the East, Boston has been very loose in the defensive end and has only three wins in last 10 games, what has happened?
Ron: What happened was Michael Ryder got injured about a month ago in Montreal and Phil Kessel was also injured. When you start losing goal scorers from your lineup and playing at the pace they were (21-5-3 from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31), there is no way you can keep up that pace, as they don’t have the talent on that team like the Detroit Red Wings or San Jose Sharks. Boston has fallen back more towards their talent level, being among the top 10 teams in hockey.
3DW: Out in the Western Conference, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Colorado look to be finished with recent slumps, of the remaining teams, Anaheim, Dallas, Minnesota and St. Louis, which would be good plays to pick up points and make the postseason?
Ron: Of the teams to be the best bet to make the playoffs, I’d put my money on Dallas. Goalie Marty Turco has come back and since they have gotten rid of Sean Avery, the Stars have had one of the best records since January. The loss of Mike Modano is set back, but Mike Ribeiro has picked up his game and Dallas proved last year they know how to win on the road. Look for Dallas to make run at the playoffs.
3DW: Nashville is 7-2-1 in last 10 games, what do you see from them?
Ron: In a given week, Nashville could go from 8th to 10th and probably back again.
3DW: Vancouver has made a big move, winning eight of 10, are they for real?
Ron: What happened for Vancouver is they got Mats Sundin. Anytime you get a quality superstar like that, he changes the dynamic of the team. I thought Vancouver was a little too confident after acquiring him. They seemed to think Sundin would their savior. It took Sundin about a month to get his timing, especially overcoming a groin injury. Any time a hockey player has a groin injury, he’s not going to trust it, always wondering if he will re-injure himself. Until the groin was 100 percent, he didn’t trust it. Now Sundin is healthy, got his confidence back and the rest of the team is playing well. Vancouver looks very good right now.
3DW: With San Jose and Detroit neck and neck for most points in the West, who do you see coming out ahead?
Ron: I like San Jose. Even though they are not a strong playoff team with unsure goaltending and Joe Thornton having never proven to a playoff hockey player, Detroit lost Marian Hossa for the second time in a week and their 8-0 loss at Nashville could signal a problem since the Red Wings don’t lose by eight goals. I checked my database at Phoenix Sports and Detroit has only lost by six or more goals twice since 1996.
3DW: In looking at the rest of the regular season, is their any wager or wagers you see that might be worthwhile?
Ron: There is always that one team in the playoffs you don’t understand, they screw up the whole party. I’m telling you right now, people better look out for Florida. If I was a betting man and I am, the Panthers are +1200 to win the East and +3000 at Bookmaker.com to win the Cup. If you have an extra few dollars to play with, might be worth looking into. I remember in 2004, I put nickel ($500) on the Calgary Flames at 44-1 to win the Stanley Cup and they got to the Finals. I hedged my bet once they got there, and I was lucky enough to come out a winner. If you have some fun money, put it on the Florida Panthers and let it ride.
3DW: That is great stuff Ron, I appreciate you wisdom and insights and good luck the rest of the regular season.
Ron: Thanks, Doug it’s been fun and good luck to you also.