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NHL and MGM Resorts team up for landmark sports betting partnership

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NHL and MGM Resorts team up for landmark sports betting partnership

NEW YORK -- The NHL announced a multiyear agreement Monday to provide MGM Resorts International with data for use in betting, the second major U.S. professional sports league to strike a deal with the casino giant since the Supreme Court opened the way to expanded gambling last spring.

Las Vegas-based MGM is the league's first official sports betting partner, just as it is with the NBA and WNBA. That deal was reached in July.

As part of the agreement, MGM gains access to proprietary NHL data that could eventually include puck and player tracking information once that goes through a testing phase. Access to that data will allow MGM to provide customized game details along with betting opportunities for U.S. customers where gambling is legally available.

The NHL is not getting a cut of gambling profits, but other terms were not disclosed.

"The new sports betting landscape presents a unique opportunity for fan engagement utilizing technology and data that are exclusive to our league," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "Fan engagement, technological advancement and innovation are paramount to our progressive approach and will be at the forefront of everything we do."

MGM and other casino operators are moving aggressively to be able to capitalize on the U.S. sports betting market, which is expanding after the Supreme Court ruled in May that states could take sports bets if they wanted. MGM has made a series of significant moves, including the multiyear deal with the NBA and WNBA.

Earlier this year, bookmaker William Hill reached agreements that allow odds and other promotional efforts at the home arenas of the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the New Jersey Devils.

"We couldn't be more excited to enter into this historic partnership with the NHL," MGM Resorts Chairman and CEO Jim Murren said.

NHL executive vice president and chief revenue officers Keith Wachtel said being able to provide enhanced data and analytics to MGM will allow "some creative and unique things that don't really exist in the sport right now."

"The more data and analytics that a gaming operator can have, the better it will be in enabling them to set odds," Wachtel told The Associated Press. "Whether or not they're using the data for actual purposes of creating prop bets and things like that certainly is something (that's possible). But more importantly, they're going to use it to be able to set odds and proper odds that they're going to be able to create."

Some leagues, including the Major League Baseball and the NBA, had called for an "integrity fee" -- essentially, states would give leagues a cut of the money wagered on their games to pay for expanded monitoring of suspicious betting and to protect their intellectual property. The effort has been largely unsuccessful thus far.

"We have no concerns about the integrity of our game, of our players, our officials," Wachtel said. "We've never had an issue. Secondly, the integrity of the sports betting landscape is just as important to the bookmakers, which is why the NHL does not have a discussion and we don't talk about this notion of integrity fees."

Scott Butera, MGM Resorts' president of interactive gaming and a former Arena Football League commissioner, outlined how the puck and playing tracking data will help bettors.

"If I know one player is faster than the other, if I know one expends less energy than the other, if I know one has a faster slap shot than the other, it gives me information that I can bet," he said. "If I'm betting on who will score the most goals, I have that tool. Ultimately when enough data is collected on that, we'll be able to actually bet on that data itself. So you could have a bet on which player's going to have the highest average slap shot throughout the game."

Butera said MGM believes expanded sports betting will eventually be available in 25 to 30 states. The 24 U.S.-based NHL teams play in 18 different states, with seven more in Canada. The league is moving toward adding a 32nd team, in Seattle and what would be its 19th state (Washington).


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Winners and losers from the NHL's 2020 playoff format

Winners and losers from the NHL's 2020 playoff format

Hockey is not back quite yet, but we know what it is going to look like when it does return. The NHL revealed its playoff format for when the 2019-20 season resumes and 24 teams will get the chance to compete for Lord Stanley's Cup. Since finishing the regular season was not feasible, a change to the playoff format for this season was warranted. When you change the postseason rules midseason, however, it is not going to affect every team the same way. Some teams will benefit from those changes and others will not.

After a few days to digest and analyze the new format and what it will mean, here are the big winners and losers.

Winner: Chicago, Montreal

With tight playoff races in either conference, you can understand why the NHL felt it would be fair to allow more than just 16 teams the chance to compete for the Cup. Having said, that, most people probably would have been fine with just 20 teams, maybe even 22. But inlcuding teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens with 24 teams? That's a bit of a stretch.

Chicago and Montreal were not going to make the playoffs. Sure, we have seen some crazy finishes to the regular season before, but the Blackhawks had just 12 games left to make up a six-point gap and jump over four teams just to make the second wild card spot. The Canadiens had dug themselves an even deeper hole with 10 points separating them from the second wild card.

We all know why the NHL would want to do this. When you cast the postseason net wide enough to include Chicago and Montreal, you've just added to major markets that the league would not have gotten in a normal season. And you know what? I'm OK with it.

Every sports league that has seen its season interrupted by the coronavirus is trying to find ways to recoup losses. It's pretty obvious this is why the NHL went with 24 teams, but I'll take this approach over the MLB's. Better the NHL open the playoffs to a few extra teams to get those markets instead of the highly contentious negotiation in the MLB over how much the players will get paid this season.

Loser: Edmonton

There is only one team that sits in second place in its division that did not receive a first-round bye as a top-four seed and that team is the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers, who have 83 points, lost out on the last top seed in the west to the Dallas Stars, who have 82 points. Since the seeds are based on points percentage and not points, Dallas was able to sneak in over Edmonton.

The fact that the Oilers do not get a first round bye is not why they are one of the losers of the playoff format, however. In fact, that may actually be a good thing (we'll get into the byes later). The issue is more about their first-round opponent, Chicago.

The Blackhawks did not have a good season overall and, in a normal year, would not be in the playoffs. Having said that, now that they are in, there are few teams anyone would want to play less in the play-in round than a Chicago team featuring Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford.

If you want to win the Cup, you are going to have to beat good teams anyway and Edmonton will have no excuse if they lose to the Blackhawks, but it sure seems like the Oilers are not getting much of a reward for finishing second in their division this season.

Winners: Dallas

The Stars sat in third place in the Central Division when the season was paused. Had they remained there, it would have meant a first-round matchup against either St. Louis or Colorado. Instead, Dallas managed to sneak into the top four in the conference despite having one less point than Edmonton, get a bye through the play-in round and won't have to play St. Louis, Colorado or Vegas in the first round.


Losers: Trade deadline sellers

Chicago knew it wasn't going to make the playoff and traded goalie Robin Lehner to the Vegas Golden Knights at the trade deadline. Montreal traded away Ilya Kovalchuk, Nate Thompson and Nick Cousins.  My favorite of all is the fact that the New York Rangers traded Brady Skjei to the Carolina Hurricanes...who they will now play in the play-in round.

Are those trades still made if Chicago, Montreal and New York expected to make the playoffs? I seriously doubt it.

Winner: Teams that lose the play-in round

Getting eliminated in the play-in round and seeing the postseason end before it ever really got going would be a blow to any team, but a chance at a top-three draft pick is a pretty darn good consolation prize.

Stick with me here. The rules for the NHL draft lottery this year are complex to say the least, but I will try to explain it as best I can. The lottery will take place on June 26 and three teams will be selected. The teams in the draft lottery are the seven teams to miss the playoffs plus eight placeholder positions. Since the lottery is taking place before the play-in rounds can be played, the league is reserving eight spots for the teams that lose in that initial round. If all three lottery picks go to the seven teams that are not in the playoffs, the draft lottery is done. If a placeholder gets picked for any of those three slots, however, there will be a second phase to the lottery between the eight teams eliminated in the play-in to determine those picks. All eight teams at that point will be given equal odds of winning.

So basically if you lose the play-in round and a placeholder gets selected in the draft lottery, congratulations, you now have a chance at a top-three pick.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were third place in the Metropolitan Division when the season paused, six points ahead of the first team out of the playoffs. The Penguins were going to reach the postseason which means they would not have been a lottery team and would have been out of the sweepstakes for Alexis Lafreniere, the projected first-overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft. Now they will have to face Montreal and, though they should win that series, what would happen if goalie Carey Price stands on his head and Pittsburgh is eliminated? Suddenly the Penguins would be in the running for one of those top three picks. The same goes for a team like Edmonton who will play Chicago. It is not outside the realm of possibility that the OIlers could lose to the Blackhawks, but then they could possibly get the chance of adding another star player through the draft.

Loser: The top four seeds

With no fans, the top seeds were already going to lose out on home-ice advantage, but the NHL did not do enough to reward them for their regular season. In fact, I would go so far as to say the top seeds are at a disadvantage in this playoff format.

No team is a bigger loser from this format than the Boston Bruins who boasted an eight-point lead in the conference and six-point lead in the league on March 12. The top seed in the East was all but wrapped up. Now with all four seeds competing in a round-robin tournament, the Bruins will have to earn the top spot they essentially already earned all over again or they could fall to as low as fourth in the east.

And then there's the bye. At face value, of course a bye past the play-in round is an advantage. Upsets happen all the time in the NHL so getting to skip a round is great. The problem is that the top teams will have to play teams coming off of playoff series wins and the only game action they will have to prepare is three round-robin games. I would be shocked if the top seeds have a winning record in the first game of their playoff series. There is no way a team can match the intensity and cohesion of their opponents after just three round-robin games. It's not the same as a do-or-die playoff series and I think that puts the top seeds at a disadvantage after the play-in round.

Winner: Alex Ovechkin

The end of the regular season means that Ovechkin has officially won his ninth Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's leading scorer. He finished tied with David Pastrnak with 48 goals. This is the third straight season Ovechkin has claimed the title.

Loser: Alex Ovechkin

The end of the regular season also means Ovechkin will not reach 50 goals. Had he done so, he would have joined Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy as the only players in NHL history to reach the 50-goal milestone nine times.

At 34 years old, each year it becomes less and less likely that Ovechkin will be able to continue scoring at the rate that he does. If he is not able to reach 50 goals again, it will certainly feel as if he was robbed of his chance to reach another significant career milestone by the coronavirus.

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.


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Why goalies will have the hardest time adjusting to NHL's return, per Joe Beninati

Why goalies will have the hardest time adjusting to NHL's return, per Joe Beninati

With commissioner Gary Bettman's announcement of the NHL's plan for returning to play, hockey fans and players alike can begin to gear up for a 24-team postseason frenzy at some point this summer. 

Teams will have time to shake the rust off in training camp since the league went on hiatus nearly three months ago. July 1 is the earliest camp can begin. Players like Capitals defenseman John Carlson, who admittedly hasn't touched his skates since March, will have to get back in shape quickly before the first puck drops. 

However, Capitals play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati thinks the skaters will be fine. It's the goalies that face the biggest challenge getting back to where they were when the season was suspended.

"I think the goaltending is going to be the most difficult to return," Beninati said on The Sports Junkies Wednesday. "These guys keep themselves in great shape, they'll get reacclimated, their skating muscles will return in that two-week camp period. For goalies, it's especially difficult to get that timing back and the goaltending role is so explosive. They're asking their bodies to do so many things so reflexively, so powerfully, and quickly that you may be dealing with injuries there."


Beninati also noted that with expanded rosters under this new format, teams should be able to carry as many goaltenders as they like along with 28 skaters. While having to start your third or fourth goalie in a playoff game may not be an ideal situation if players start getting hurt left and right, it's at least good the league has a preventative measure in place. 

One of the most important aspects of playoff success in the NHL is goaltending. Even if training camp begins on July 1, that'd be nearly four months to make up for physically and mentally with an apparent increased risk of injury. Then you have a massive 24-team field in an NHL playoff setting known for its unpredictability. 

It's probably safe to say the 2020 NHL playoffs will be wild. 

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.