The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi are right around the corner and they offer some excellent value for betting on international hockey. We'll analyze the favorites to win gold and offer teams which offer the most value at their current betting odds. There are some longshots heading into Sochi but they are given large odds for a reason. Olympic hockey has only a few actual contenders and of course a couple paper tigers. We've found four good bets and we will list those in order from least to most valuable.
There is no Olympic team under more pressure than the Russians. They suffered an embarrassing loss on the international stage in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics and they will be looking for retribution. Anything except gold when their country is hosting the games will be a bust. There might not be a more talented offensive group in the Olympics this year. Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, and Vladimir Tarasenko will combine for the Russians top line. Russia has made it clear through their selection process that they are favoring the KHL, clearly showing the pride that they have in their country. This can be seen through their line pairings as well with Kovalchuk on the top line instead of the NHL's best goal scorer Alex Ovechkin. Vladimir Tarasenko has serious international experience for a 21 year old right winger. He is undersized but also underestimated with a solid two-way game and exceptional offensive skill. The second forward line for the Russians will likely feature Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Alexander Radulov which is a trio of forwards who have all played together during their time in Russia. They are a dangerous group and Radulov has blossomed in the KHL, posting 28 points in 26 games this season for CKSA Moscow. Dallas rookie Valeri Nichushkin also made the team and he has tremendous offensive talent, positioning himself on the Stars top line. Nichuskin will fall to the third line for the Russians. The Russians fourth line will sport three veteran KHL stars that will be responsible for putting in the hard minutes against the other team’s top stars. Defense for Russia is definitely a weak spot with the top players being Slava Voynov and Andrei Markov. The Russians three goalies are Semyon Varlamov, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Alexander Yeryomenko. Varlamov is clearly the starter and he is having the best season of his career. Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy last season but he has struggled mightily during the 2013-2014 NHL campaign. Luckily for Bobrovsky, he will be playing with much better defenseman in the tournament and the Olympic Games could turn around his season. Goaltending for Russia could be problematic and we're not entirely convinced in their backend. This is a team that will only go as far as their defense and goaltending will take them. They have two of the most lethal offensive lines in the tournament but if they go cold then the Russians could be in serious trouble. It will also be interesting to see if their favoritism towards the KHL will cost them the gold medal. At any rate, the Russians are the favorites going into Sochi and they are a solid bet.
The Canadians walked away with gold in Vancouver and they are expecting to repeat in Sochi. Canada is bringing a stacked roster into the games this year and they are a legitimate favorite to win gold again. Their top line is going to be a who's who of the National Hockey League featuring Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby, and Steven Stamkos. Crosby scored the gold winning goal against the USA in the last Winter Olympics and while Stamkos has been injured this season, he will be back and healthy. Stamkos is one of the best natural goal scorers in the world which makes Canada’s top line incredibly dangerous. Their second line will be more defensive but it still possesses an incredible amount of offensive skill. Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, and Jeff Carter should combine for a dynamic and powerful trio which can go up against any opposing line. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry should be matched up on the third line due to their amazing chemistry in Anaheim. Joining them will be Jamie Benn who is a big offensive forward. The Canadians third line will have a physical presence and they will get in front of the net to score dirty goals. This is a line which can be a difference maker any time they're on the ice. Team Canada's fourth line might as well be dubbed the "Are you kidding me line?" regardless of who ends up on the bottom rung. It will likely be a combination of Patrick Marlaeu, John Tavares, and Rick Nash. Tavares is one of the best players in the world and he single handedly wills the lowly New York Islanders to win games almost nightly. The Canadians are also strong on defense with Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Shea Weber, Alex Pietrangelo, and Jay Bouwmeester. We are expecting to see Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester to be the Canadian’s top defensive pair. They have been the best defensive unit in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues and they will move the puck up the ice for the Canadians highly skilled forwards. Team Canada also has Dan Hamhuis and P.K Subban which will likely combine for a supporting role in Sochi and not see much ice time. They have one of the strongest trios of net-minders in the tournament. Roberto Loungo will serve as the starter for these games after being the back-up in Vancouver. Carey Price and Mike Smith will join the team in back-up capacity. Team Canada might have the most depth and skill of any team in the tournament. They have elite players on every line and even as their extra skaters. The only thing which can hold them back from repeating is themselves or if Loungo chokes. Either way, we think the Canadians offer terrific value at their current price.
The Americans could possibly rival only the Russians when it comes to pure focus and determination on winning the gold medal. All USA hockey players felt the tremendous let down when Sidney Crosby netted the gold winning goal in overtime four years ago. Team USA played an improbable tournament and they got to the gold medal game on solid American hockey. That style is gritting and grinding every shift until the other team gives up in submission. The USA roster this year reflects a commitment to that same kind of style. The biggest news for Team USA has been the shunning of top goal scorer Bobby Ryan who was an integral part of the Vancouver team. They instead opted for Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler, and Patrick Kane on their top line. Kane is having his best season of his career and all he does is score (even on his own goal). Parise has been injured and might not be healthy enough for the games but if he is, he will provide a dynamic two way game in that same USA style. We're expecting Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk to be on a line together which will specialize in putting the put in the back of the net. Dustin Brown, T.J Oshie, and David Backes could combine for the most shutdown oriented unit in the tournament. They will grind up minutes against other team’s top lines and they might even outscore that kind of opposition. Oshie and Backes are used to that kind of role in St. Louis and they have more than exceeded playing the part. Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny, and Ryan Callahan will be a trio which wins the puck possession battle and will probably combine for the USA’s fourth line. The Americans might have the second most forward depth next to the Canadians. They are going to roll all four lines for better or for worse and tire out opponent’s elite players. Ryan Suter, John Carlson, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Paul Martin, and Justin Faulk will provide the Americans with defense. They are a young bunch of guys that will have to put in hard minutes against the some of the best players in the world but it's a good group which should be up to the challenge. Ryan Miller, Jonathan Quick, and Jimmy Howard make up the three headed goalie monster for the USA. Miller is expected to start after an excellent showing in Vancouver. He will need to play very well but he has a history of solid international hockey. The Americans went with grit and depth over speed and talent. It's the American way to outwork everyone else but we will see if that holds true for them in the Olympics. The Americans offer excellent odds as one of the top four powers in international hockey.
Finland is one of the most underrated teams heading into the tournament. Their odds started off in the double digits but have quickly fallen due to the sharps betting them up. Team Finland has the best goalies in the tournament and arguably one of the better defensive units. Finland does not have the most talented forwards though but they should be able to make it interesting on most opponents. Jussi Jokinen, Tuomo Ruutu, and Mikko Koivu will likely round out the first line. This is not an incredibly dangerous line but they should give opponents all they can handle in every area of the ice. Many Toronto Maple Leafs fans will be interested in the Fin's second line which will feature Leo Komarov who has had impressive numbers in the KHL this year. Komarov is a former Toronto prospect who played one season with the Maple Leafs. Komarov has been playing in the KHL but has not ruled out coming back to the NHL. He has much international experience and won gold in the 2011 IIHF World Championships. Valtteri Filppula and young Mikael Granlund will join Komarov on the second line. This will be a hard working and dynamic trio which can make opponents pay in the offensive zone. Filppula is one of the better two way forwards in the NHL and he is definitely underrated for his skill level. Teemu Selanne will participate in his final Olympics and we can expect some magical things to come from him on Finland's third line. Olli Jokinen and Lauri Korpikoski will join him to provide an intelligent and defensively sound trio. The bottom line for Finland leaves something to be desired. It will be manned by the Florida Panther’s rookie center Aleksander Barkov who is highly skilled and intelligent. He will be paired with European leaguer Juhamatti Aaltonen and Petri Kontiola from the KHL. This is a line which just needs to hang in there and hopefully does not get taken advantage of by opposing teams. The Fins only need to get enough offense to support their stellar defense and goaltending. Kimmo Timonen and Sami Salo should start as the top blue line unit and they will be eager to shut down the elite opposing forwards in this tournament. Ossi Vaananen will provide solid defense with a 6'4 frame and he will likely be paired with young Olli Maatta. They should provide a solid shutdown pair with some offensive upside from Maatta. Sami Vatanen will make up the third defensive line and he will provide some offense from the point. Finland's defense will be the difference in the tournament for them and if they can play well then there is no stopping Finland from getting in the medal rounds. This team excels in net with three of the best goalies in the world. Tuukka Rask is the front runner for the Vezina Trophy in the NHL and he will be the starter. Rask has around a .930 save percentage and he will be relied on heavily in Sochi. If Rask quivers then they can fall back to Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen both of which could easily steal a game for the Fins if needed. Team Finland is highly underrated at their current price. They have decent offense but tournaments are won in the back half of the ice. There might not be a better defensive team in the tournament and with Selanne's last rodeo as motivation, we like Team Finland as a sizable underdog to win gold.