The Vegas Golden Knights opened their Western Conference title defense Wednesday with an uneven performance, outclassed by the San Jose Sharks in every facet of the game in the eyes of coach Gerard Gallant.
At William Hill U.S. in Nevada, the Knights slipped to 12/1 to win the Stanley Cup, a far cry from their futures odds last spring when the book pegged Vegas as favorites to hoist the Cup. Following the Knights’ 5-2 defeat to the Sharks on Wednesday, they’re listed behind five teams in the futures market including the overwhelming favorite Tampa Bay Lightning (+260).
William Hill even booked more action on the Blue Jackets’ comeback victory over the Lightning on Wednesday, than on the Sharks win against the Knights, said Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading at William Hill U.S. in Las Vegas.
Vegas Golden Knights, this year and last
At this time last year, 350 William Hill bettors held tickets on the Knights to win the 2018 Stanley Cup at odds of 100/1 or higher. Initially, most tickets were purchased by local residents as a keepsake to commemorate the team’s inaugural season. The fans, in many cases, put down bets of less than $20, receiving odds between 200/1 and 500/1 on the Knights before the season opened. One bettor at the Westgate Superbook spent $400 on a Knights’ ticket at 300/1 for a potential pre-tax payday of $120,000.
But as the Knights transformed from Cinderella story to feared opponent, the longshot and later mid-range tickets quickly proved to be valuable investments. One William Hill bettor wagered $1,000 on the Knights mid-season in 2018 at 50/1 for a payout of $50,000. By the time the Knights entered the Stanley Cup Finals against the Washington Capitals, sportsbooks on the Las Vegas Strip faced an estimated liability of at least $5 million — one of their largest ever on a single futures event.
Think it feels good to hold a $100 betting slip on the Golden Knights at 200-1 odds? You would be right. https://t.co/g7wcyCOw3U
— NYT Sports (@NYTSports) May 31, 2018
This season, beset by several key injuries and inconsistent play throughout, Vegas finished with 93 points — tied for 14th in the NHL with the Stars. As a result, appetite for Knights’ futures tickets in their second season has waned considerably.
In Nevada, alone, William Hill has written fewer future tickets on the Knights than the Lightning and Sharks, underscoring the team’s declining interest among local bettors.
“That will tell you how dramatic the difference is in a year,” Bogdanovich said.
During their historic first season, the Knights notched their 40th win on Feb. 21, 2018 in their 60th game of the regular season. This year, Gallant’s team did not record their 40th victory until mid-March in their 72nd game of the season. Still, the Knights entered the postseason with odds of +850 to win the Cup at William Hill in Nevada — the third choice behind the Lightning and Sharks. By comparison, one book in New Jersey posted pre-playoffs odds of 16/1 on the Knights to drink from the Cup.
Back East, PlaySugarHouse.com, an online sportsbook operated by Rush Street Interactive, also has double-digit odds on the Knights heading into Game 2. The Knights are currently 18/1 to win the Stanley Cup at PlaySugarHouse.com, a price considerably higher than most books in Las Vegas.
“While we can’t speak to the factors that contributed to a specific competitor’s odds, PlaySugarHouse.com does not shade the odds for any local bias that may exist,” said Mattias Stetz, COO at Rush Street Interactive.
For reference, Stetz cited the book’s risk management strategy during the Eagles’ run in the playoffs. The site’s odds remained in line with international betting markets, Stetz said, even though more than 90% of the handle was on the local team. SugarHouse maintains an online presence in New Jersey through an agreement with Monmouth Park. Rush Street also owns SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia and Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh.
The Knights opened as slight favorites over the Sharks among Nevada books to win the series, one many bookmakers expect to be extremely close. Heading into the series, bettors saw 6/1 odds on the Sharks to win in six games and 12/1 to sweep the Knights in four. Nevada bettors received odds of +325 on the Knights to win in six and odds of 10/1 for a Knights’ sweep.
Vegas managed just 10 shots through two periods on Wednesday when the Sharks held a 4-1 lead. The team’s lack of offensive firepower has impacted betting sentiment. Last year, the betting public loaded up on the Knights in Las Vegas due primarily to their tendency to race out to early leads, Bogdanovich noted.
“There’s no question they’re not backing this team like last year,” he said.
Nevertheless, Bogdanovich indicated that the handle on Knights’ games this year is still considerably higher than other NHL games at William Hill properties in Las Vegas. Typically, the handle for Knights’ games in Nevada is three to four times higher than other NHL contests on a given night, Bogdanovich said. The ratio is much lower at William Hill books in other jurisdictions where it operates, he added, such as in New Jersey.
Help on the way?
During a session with the media on Thursday, Gallant mentioned that forward Nikita Gusev could join the Knights at some point during the playoffs. Gusev, who was acquired in a 2017 trade with the Lightning, led Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League with 82 points (17 goals, 65 assists) this season. Gusev’s agent is working with his his Russian team, SKA St. Petersburg, on a potential release, TSN reported.
Nikita Gusev could suit up for the Vegas Golden Knights in the near future. What does that mean to a team looking for another long playoff run?https://t.co/tAGMysgAlm
— The Hockey News (@TheHockeyNews) April 11, 2019
Over the last decade, a number of Stanley Cup champions have rebounded to win the title after slow starts. Last year, the eventual champion Washington Capitals fell behind 2-0 in their opening round series with the Blue Jackets before advancing in six games. The Blackhawks in 2013 and Bruins in 2011 both overcame sizable deficits in the early rounds on their way to the Cup. The Kings even erased a 3-0 series deficit against the Sharks in 2014 before winning their second Cup in three seasons.
Ahead of the playoffs, MGM Resorts International Vice President of Race & Sports Jay Rood said he expected the handle on Knights’ contests to be strong once again. Rood also anticipates receiving a good amount of action from Sharks’ fans traveling to Vegas for the series. Game 3 is scheduled for Sunday night at 7 p.m. PT.
“Everyone realizes that last year was a Cinderella scenario, but Vegas has turned into a hard core hockey town,” Rood said.
A potential early exit by the Knights
Hypothetically, if the Knights are swept by the Sharks, the overall handle on the Stanley Cup Playoffs could fall somewhere around 10 to 15 percent year-over-year, Bogdanovich said. Last May, sportsbooks in Nevada accepted $53 million in hockey bets when the Knights appeared in 10 contests on the month. The Knights’ success also has spawned a wave of new hockey bettors in the city, he added.
In Friday’s Game 2, the Sharks (minus-130) are favored over the Knights (+110) at William Hill in Nevada. On the puckline, bettors can wager on the Knights +1.5 goals (minus-260) or on the Sharks -1.5 goals at +230.
In the greater landscape, the handle on hockey still lags dramatically behind the other major professional sports. But the Vegas Knights have proved there’s room for increased appetite for hockey betting, something the NHL itself is hoping for in order to increase engagement and TV ratings in Nevada and beyond.
“There’s no question they have brought more bettors to the state of Nevada,” Bogdanovich said. “Once you learn the product and form an opinion, you wind up betting it.”