NBC Airing NHL Playoffs Boosts Wagers as Penguins Favored to Win

Sidney Crosby
The Pittsburgh Penguins, led by All-Star forward Sidney Crosby, are the favorites at 4-1 to take the trophy in June. Photographer: Elsa/Getty Images

The first Stanley Cup playoffs under the National Hockey League’s 10-year television contract with NBC has Nevada bookmakers expecting a 20 percent increase in betting.

The New York Rangers are second-favorite to win the title with 9-2 odds, their best chance since New York’s most-recent Stanley Cup championship in 1994. The Pittsburgh Penguins, led by All-Star forward Sidney Crosby, are the favorites at 4-1 to take the trophy in June.

The NHL’s $2 billion contract with Comcast Corp.’s NBC, signed last year, will allow every game of the postseason to be televised nationally in the U.S. for the first time in league history, Commissioner Gary Bettman said this week. The increased exposure will benefit hockey fans as well as sports books, according to RJ Bell, founder of the handicapping information website Pregame.com.

“Betting handle is directly correlated to the general interest level in the games, and one of the strongest drivers of interest is television coverage,” Bell said in an e-mail.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board doesn’t require sports books to report the amount wagered on hockey.

The playoffs open tonight with the Philadelphia Flyers at the Penguins, the Detroit Red Wings at the Nashville Predators and the Los Angeles Kings at the Vancouver Canucks. Every postseason game will be shown nationally in the U.S. on NBC, NBC Sports Network, CNBC or NHL Network.

“There will be no gaps for fans trying to guess or pick up a series midstream,” NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus said this week during a discussion with reporters at the league’s New York office. “We think that the number of people who will have seen NHL hockey this year will be the most ever throughout a season.”

Rangers Opener

The Rangers, who had an Eastern Conference-high 109 points during the regular season, will open tomorrow against the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators, a team that beat them in three of four games this season. The Rangers need to be more consistent offensively if they expect to play into June, NBC analyst Pierre McGuire, a former NHL coach, scout and assistant general manager, said this week in a conference call with reporters.

“They play playoff-style hockey, shot blocking, aggressive forecheck, clearing their crease,” McGuire said. “The only fear I have, will they have enough sustained offense for a long run? They just don’t have a lot of balanced offense.”

The fourth-seeded Penguins emerged as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup when Crosby, the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2007, returned last month after missing 59 games during the past two seasons because of concussions.

Scoring Edge

The most recent No. 4 seed to win the Stanley Cup was the Penguins in 2009, and a team with a seeding that high hasn’t entered the postseason as the favorite in at least 13 seasons, according to oddsmaker Andrew Patterson of the Las Vegas Sports Consultants Inc. Pittsburgh has outscored opponents by 61 goals this season, compared with the Rangers’ plus-39 differential, a statistic that Patterson said oddsmakers find more telling than a team’s overall record.

“The odds are not so much reflective based on the seeding because of the high potential for upsets,” Jeff Sherman, assistant manager of the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino’s sport book, said in a telephone interview. “Home ice doesn’t really mean that much in hockey -- teams go and win the first game on the road and it switches just like that.”

The Canucks, the top seed in the Western Conference, are listed at 5-1, according to Sherman, the third favorite after losing in the finals last year to the Boston Bruins. The Bruins are fourth, with 8-1 odds to become the first team since the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998 to win back-to-back titles.

‘Most Important Promise’

Televising every playoff game to a national audience was “perhaps the most important promise” of the new TV deal, according to Bettman. NBC Sports Network and the main network channel have had about a 40 percent increase in NHL advertising and media revenue this season, up to around $100 million, Seth Winter, NBC’s executive vice president for sales and marketing, said in an interview.

“The success of the NHL as an advertising platform exceeded our own expectations,” Winter said. “We were virtually sold out of the first quarter of the regular season in January, which is unprecedented.”

Eight different teams have won the past eight Stanley Cup titles. Rangers forward Brad Richards said this week in a conference call with reporters that the team’s work ethic sets it apart from other clubs.

“We probably don’t have as much talent as some of the top teams throughout the lineup, but we make up for it,” Richards said. “It’s a team-first, defensive-minded, grind-it-out type of style, but it’s worked. Everybody has bought into it.”

TEAM                       ODDS
Pittsburgh Penguins         4-1
New York Rangers            9-2
Vancouver Canucks           5-1
Boston Bruins               8-1
St. Louis Blues             8-1
Detroit Red Wings          12-1
Chicago Blackhawks         15-1
Philadelphia Flyers        15-1
Nashville Predators        15-1
Los Angeles Kings          20-1
San Jose Sharks            20-1
New Jersey Devils          20-1
Washington Capitals        30-1
Phoenix Coyotes            30-1
Florida Panthers           40-1
Ottawa Senators            40-1

Source: Las Vegas Hotel & Casino

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