- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman declared the 2019-2020 regular season over with the league focused to resuming play with conference based playoffs.
- The NHL halted play in late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- With the NHL regular season officially over Nevada sportsbooks are grading prop bets.
The National Hockey League is working out the details for a Summer return to play. The plan is for 24 teams to battle for the Stanley Cup in a conference based playoff format. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made the official announcement on Tuesday and while most hockey fans and handicappers already knew it was going to happen it’s good news that the league has ‘gone public’ with their endgame for a return. As part of the announcement, Bettman also declared that the 2019-2020 regular season is officially over which means that 7 teams–Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators or Detroit Red Wings–are done for the year.
The announcement of the end of the NHL regular season also allows sportsbooks to grade proposition and futures wagers. Although the majority of sportsbooks do their best to be fair to players when unforeseen events occur the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting stoppage of sports competition underscores the importance of reading the wording of prop wagers very carefully before you place a bet. It’s also a good idea to know the ‘house rules’ that govern the grading of tickets at your favorite sportsbook. You’ll have no trouble finding them at any reputable land based or offshore betting establishment. Good sportsbooks grade wagers based on this information and in some jurisdictions they’re legally required to do so.
CHECK YOUR TICKETS CAREFULLY–WHAT HAPPENS TO NHL REGULAR SEASON PROP/FUTURES BETS?
In Nevada, there are 6 sportsbooks currently operational via their mobile apps: Westgate, William Hill, Circa Sports, South Point, Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts. With Nevada gaming regulators targeting an early June reopening of the industry additional sportsbooks will return to business within the next months. Most Nevada books have similar house rules to the aforementioned six and these rules will govern grading of regular season NHL prop bets.
Some books refunded season long wagers at the start of the COVID-19 shutdown. Most house rules stipulate a specific number of games that must be played for season long bets to count–in the NHL, 81 or 82 games is most common. Offshore books have the luxury of making ‘judgement calls’ on wagers like this but Nevada sportsbooks require a greater degree of specificity due to gaming regulations. That’s why they haven’t been able to grade NHL full season wagers until the regular season officially ended–and that happened today with Bettman’s statement.
One popular NHL bet type is a regular season points total where the bettor goes ‘Over’ or ‘Under’ a number based on how many points he thinks a team will accrue. All six of the currently operational sportsbooks in Nevada will be refunding wagers on regular season point totals due to the aforementioned ‘required number of games’ stipulation. According to a report in the Las Vegas Review Journal, many local bettors caught a break here. Not surprisingly, the biggest position most Nevada books held on this bet was the Vegas Golden Knights ‘Over’ 102.5 points. The Golden Knights had 86 points when the season was suspended with 11 games left. It would have taken a furious run down the stretch to get 17 points in 11 games (8-2-1 or better).
The LVRJ article also reported on the Westgate’s grading of Golden Knights props to win the Pacific Division title (+100) and to make the playoffs (-700). Westgate VP of Risk Ed Salmons explains the situation the team was in at the time play was suspended:
“They were going to go under their point total, but were in good position to win their division. They were three points up on Edmonton with 11 games to go, though (Max) Pacioretty and (Mark) Stone were out with injuries at the time the games were shut down.”
Ultimately, this is not relevant to the Westgate or bettors who got down on the Knights to win the Pacific and/or make the playoffs. Due to the Westgate house rules all bets on Division winners, point totals and yes/no playoff props will be refunded. MGM Resorts also refunded their season long bets for the same reason.
William Hill and Caesars Entertainment, on the other hand, have yet to grade divisional winners. They have house rules that stipulate futures bets will be paid as long as a winner is declared. Here’s the wording from the William Hill Nevada House Rules:
FUTURE WAGERS are “action” as long as a winner is officially declared, regardless of team relocation, name change, league affiliation, playoff format, season length, etc.
Right now, it’s unclear if the teams that were leading the divisions at the time the season was suspended are going to be ‘officially’ considered divisional winners. The Vegas Golden Knights, Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues proclaimed themselves as ‘divisional champions’ in social media but they won’t be graded as such until–and unless–the NHL recognizes them as such. William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich:
“We’re trying to get the full official statement from the NHL on division winners. The NHL has to recognize them as the division champions. They didn’t address the division champions, specifically.”
Caesars Director of Trading Jeff Davis says his ‘gut feeling’ is that the league won’t consider them ‘official’ divisional winners and all bets will be refunded:
“Given the way the playoffs are set up, my gut feeling is that the league is not going to ‘crown’ division champs this year. Likely all refunded. This is just my opinion.”
A QUESTION OF SEMANTICS
The Yes/No playoff props seem simple enough to grade, right? 24 teams will play for the Stanley Cup and 7 will watch it on TV but not all teams competing in the postseason are created equally. In fact, according to Caesars’ Jeff Davis the league is saying that there will only be 16 playoff teams. Caesars had graded all 24 teams still playing as playoff prop winners but has since returned them to pending status and is awaiting more information.
The most common line of thinking is that the 16 official playoff teams will include the eight teams with a first round bye. The remaining 16 teams will compete in a best of five ‘play in’ series with the winner joining the aforementioned 8 teams. That would mean that the teams that win the ‘play in’ series will also cash their playoff prop bets. The teams that lose the series won’t be playoff teams, at least not ‘officially’. Got that?
Some of the verbiage used by the NHL seems to validate the view that there will be only 16 ‘official’ playoff teams.
The tournament will begin with a 16-team, eight-series Qualifying Round and a Seeding Round Robin among the top four teams in each conference to determine seeds for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Other information found on the NHL website isn’t as clear. It looks as if there will have to be a semantic distinction made between a ‘playoff team’ and a ‘team that qualified for the postseason’. Further clouding the issue: the ‘qualifying round’ games will be contested under ‘playoff rules:
Seven teams did not qualify for the postseason and their season is over: the Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings. Each of them will participate in the NHL Draft Lottery, which will hold its first phase June 26.
Games in the qualifying round will be played with playoff overtime rules. The round-robin games will be played with regular-season overtime and shootout rules with ties in the standings broken by regular-season points percentage.
After the round-robins and the qualifying round, the conference-based playoffs will be continue in the two hub cities. Each of the winners of the qualifying round will advance to face one of the round-robin teams in the first round. The Return to Play Committee is discussing whether those first-round series will be set through seeding or by bracket.
It’ll be interesting to see how this will all shake out. In theory, if I was in charge of a sportsbook I’d be inclined to pay out on all 24 ‘teams in the postseason’. The problem with that in Nevada is that they have to grade the bets by their house rules–even if they wanted to do their players a solid it would be problematic from a regulatory standpoint and could set a precedent where players would expected to be paid on any number of ‘unforeseen events’. Even if it is understandable a bet on one of the 24 teams remaining that ends up being graded as a loss is a tough one to lose.
Here’s the links to the house rules for the six currently operating Nevada sportsbooks: