The NHL season is still paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, and what happens next is truly anyone’s guess. The season could be cancelled. It could resume some time in June or July and roll right into the playoffs. There could be a play-in series for the last few teams on the bubble, or there could be a conclusion to the regular season (which had about three and a half weeks left when the season was paused) in some form or fashion. We have absolutely no idea. (If you would like to actually find out how this season will end, fucking wash your hands and stay in your homes!)
We did get some sense over the weekend of what folks expect to happen on the ice if the NHL does roll straight into the playoffs, though. Jeff Sherman of the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas tweeted the following odds out over the weekend, projecting what to expect if the matchups reflected by the current NHL standings ended up playing out — which would mean that the first round would feature the Flyers squaring off with none other than the Pittsburgh Penguins:
IF the NHL returns and goes right to regular playoff format, here is what @SuperBookUSA would have 1st Round series prices— Jeff Sherman (@golfodds) March 29, 2020
(For the unaware: in gambling terms, “-110” means a bettor would have to bet $110 to win $100 on a successful bet.)
Yes, Vegas seems to see a series between the Flyers and Penguins as essentially a coin flip, as the two teams would start out with the same odds to win the series. This may come as a slight surprise to Flyers fans, who are surely remembering right now that when the season stopped, the Flyers were ahead of the Penguins in the standings, not to mention they’ve clearly just been the better team for a couple of months now.
There are two notes on that front. Sherman talked to the Inquirer’s Ed Barkowitz about the odds he laid in this series (as well as potential odds for the Sixers’ hypothetical first-round series against the Boston Celtics) and essentially said that while the Flyers are probably the on-ice favorite, the books need to be ready for a lot of bets on the Penguins because they’re a popular team for bettors:
The Flyers would draw the Penguins in the first round; the Sixers would get the Celtics. April would have been terrific. Though each series would have been a pick-’em, the Flyers would have been favored if their opponent were different.
“If you looked at before the stoppage, the Flyers had a ton of momentum,” Sherman said. “But the one thing we have to consider when putting lines like these up are how popular the Penguins are in postseason, how much betting support they would get. We almost have to put a lineup leaning somewhat to them rather than what’s indicative of what we’ve seen recently.”
In other words, Crosby & Malkin bring the money.
So, from a betting perspective, the fact that the Flyers have been slightly better and would have home ice is washed out by a public preference for the Pens. It’s OK, we know the truth deep down.
Barkowitz also noted the following about how current injuries factored in to the lines Sherman set:
Sherman’s lines assume that injured players at the time of the stoppage, such as Ben Simmons (stiff back), would have healed for the postseason. The Sixers announced on March 11 that their All-Star point guard would have been evaluated this week.
An extended break leading to healed injuries would have meaningful implications for a Flyers-Penguins series. The Flyers were without James van Riemsdyk (hand) and Phil Myers (knee) at the time the season was paused with what were deemed four-week injuries, and one assumes they would be healthy for this hypothetical series. And who knows, it’s possible that Nolan Patrick would have been deemed ready to play based on the progress he’d been making in working through his migraine issues. On the other hand, the Penguins have had more than their fair share of injuries this season, and a series that starts in June or July would probably see them get a few key players back, chief among them Jake Guentzel, who suffered a four-to-six-month injury earlier in the season.
In any case, the thought of a Flyers-Penguins first-round series sounds nice right now, and the fact that the Flyers are somewhere between a toss-up and a very slight favorite to win such a series shows how far we’ve come given that they were very obviously underdogs in the series they went on to lose two years ago. It’s fun to think about the playoffs. Let’s hope they happen.