LAS VEGAS — It will be about two months before a puck drops in another meaningful hockey game, if all goes according to plan. At the least, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has a plan that gives him a head start on two other major pro leagues.
Hockey is not yet back. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, there are no guarantees. But last week, when Bettman announced the end of the 2019-20 regular season and a framework for the Stanley Cup playoffs, hockey was put on track to be back by late July or early August.
When most Las Vegas casinos reopen the doors and sportsbooks welcome back walk-in business on Thursday, NHL postseason odds will be featured on a slim betting menu.
“It was good to see Bettman do it, and it gives us the ability to put up something definitive that you can bet,” Westgate SuperBook oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said. “I think hockey will figure it out.”
Bettman has proven to be a betting man. He was the first commissioner to gamble on Las Vegas as a viable city for a major league franchise, and he’s leading the way along with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in terms of pushing his sport forward through a season of uncertainty.
The Westgate and William Hill books are offering NFL and NHL futures along with weekly events for UFC, NASCAR and the PGA Tour, which restarts next week. NBA playoff odds could be posted by the end of the week.
After Bettman’s announcement, which left some ambiguity about division winners and player props, William Hill paid off wagers for the NHL’s division leaders — Boston, Washington, St. Louis and Vegas — and refunded wagers on teams that were in second place in the division standings. Bets on Alex Ovechkin (Capitals) and David Pastrnak (Bruins) as leading regular-season goal scorers were graded as winners.
“We reached out to the NHL and it wasn’t real clear,” William Hill book director Nick Bogdanovich said. “I thought it was the fair thing to do.”
When the NHL returns to the ice, the top 24 teams — 12 in each conference — will report to one of two hub cities. The top four teams in each conference receive automatic berths to the first round and will face each other in round-robin play to determine seeding. The other eight teams will play best-of-five series for the right to advance to the first round.
William Hill’s series lines on the play-in round for the Eastern Conference show Carolina -135 over the Rangers, who swept four games from the Hurricanes in the regular season. The Islanders are -120 versus Florida — the teams have not met since early December, but the Islanders won all three meetings this season.
“A team like the Islanders, who were falling apart and had lost seven in a row, might be able to turn things around and play great hockey,” said Brian Blessing, a Las Vegas radio host and hockey handicapper. “A hot goalie can get confidence and a team could look completely different.
“It’s a crapshoot. I think you really need to see who cares and who handles the layoff well. All of these teams come in healthy. I think there could be a bunch of upsets in the play-in round. Motivation will be a big question. But once you get to the next round, it could be some of the best hockey you have ever seen.”
The NHL has not picked the two hub cities, though Las Vegas is considered a frontrunner along with Edmonton and Columbus, Ohio. Home-ice advantage is not a factor without fans, and there will be several handicapping riddles to consider.
Blessing said, “What if a star player tests positive for the virus the morning of Game 2?”
William Hill lists Vegas (5/1) as the Stanley Cup favorite, followed by Boston (11/2) and Tampa Bay (13/2). Betting action has been basically nonexistent, but there’s still plenty of time.
“It’s nothing so far,” Bogdanovich said. “It’s just too far away, and nobody wants to tie up their money. There’s so much uncertainty.”
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