This week’s Inside The Lines Column will be devoted solely to the Vegas Golden Knights. We’ll discuss the betting impact, both in Vegas and offshore, this team has made off the ice as well as on, plus what lies ahead as they try to take the next step in their improbable Stanley Cup journey.
The events that transpired on Sunday night brought the city of Las Vegas to its feet and made history on the professional sports landscape of the city as the Golden Knights in their inaugural season as an NHL franchise defeated the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of their Western Conference second round series to advance to the Western Conference Finals, placing them as the single best expansion franchise in its first year in pro sports history.
It still seems surreal that Vegas is where they are – a team many bookmakers, in town and offshore both, placed as high as 500-to-1 to win the Stanley Cup; now they find themselves eight wins away from achieving that unthinkable goal. Think about all the Vegas Golden Knights have accomplished. They won their division, notching 109 points during the regular season.
They swept the Los Angeles Kings, winners of two Stanley Cups this decade, in four straight games in the opening round of the playoffs and they closed out a very experienced and gritty San Jose Sharks team in six games, finishing that series in impressive fashion on the road. All of that culminating in a conference finals appearance in their first year of existence.
However, while the party is running rampant for the residents of Sin City and the fans of the team, it’s not as much of a festive feeling or atmosphere for many sportsbook directors in town who have significant betting liability on the Golden Knights if they manage to go all the way and win the Stanley Cup.
Most directors are saying the same thing. Ever since last June, mid-hundred dollar bets on Vegas to win the Stanley Cup are starting to add up and the total of those bets just kept on climbing in the fall once the Golden Knights’ season started off so strong and locals started flocking to sportsbooks to place their own futures wagers on the Golden Knights to win the Cup.
As a result, many shops in Vegas are facing six to seven figure losses with most of those hundred dollar futures tickets paying out multiple six figure amounts, proving to be potentially a very costly payout for bookmakers in town. Many sportsbook operators are trying to paint a positive picture of a Vegas title run by saying this is good for business long-term and great for the city and its citizens. But make no mistake about it, the short-term impact of a Vegas Stanley Cup win would be severe from a financial standpoint.
As for the Vegas team on the ice, they will await the winner of the Winnipeg Jets/Nashville Predators series to determine who they face in the West Final. Vegas had a head-to-head record of 2-1 against both Nashville and Winnipeg during the regular season. The Golden Knights’ most outstanding attribute this postseason, in my mind, has not been their ability to score and get contributions from a wide variety of different sources because they have been able to do that all season long.
My question about this team heading into the playoffs was whether or not they could defend at a playoff caliber level and do all the little things, the intangible things required to win in the playoffs. Would they be responsible defensively in terms of positioning? Would they be committed to blocking shots to help their goalie? Would Marc-Andre-Fleury prove in the post-Pittsburgh Penguins era that he could return to being one of the best goalies in the NHL at playoff time once again after a few years of struggles in Pittsburgh?
The answers to all those questions through the first two rounds of the playoffs has been a resounding yes. As a perfect example, just watch the nearly perfect, textbook 3rd Period they played on the road in Game 6 against San Jose on Sunday night as they efficiently and effectively stifled and suffocated the Sharks, not allowing them anything in terms of a decent scoring chance.
Once the Golden Knights grabbed control of that game, which was an elimination game on the road where it is never easy to finish off a team, they never let go of that control. And that type of win for this team clearly shows me they are ready for primetime and ready to finish the deal in terms of hoisting the Stanley Cup in their first year as a franchise in the NHL.
Head coach Gerard Gallant and his staff have pushed the right buttons and made the correct lineup adjustments throughout this playoff run and this team was masterfully assembled by General Manager George McPhee and his management group. All the pieces have come together with this team and we are past the point of realizing this is not a fluke and this is not just some expansion team.
This is simply an excellent, elite level hockey team that is now just eight wins away from achieving the ultimate goal in the sport. Viva Las Vegas indeed!