Time to drop the puck on NHL playoff betting

An NHL team might be on the way to Las Vegas — check back in a couple of months when the league has its awards banquet here — and interest in the sport has been growing.

Now with the playoffs beginning today, even casual fans begin to take notice.

As do casual bettors.

“There’s so much parity in the NHL,” Sunset Station sports book director Chuck Esposito said. “If you look at this year, of the 16 teams that made the postseason, (seven) are new teams. I think more than any other sport, from a competitive-balance standpoint and parity, there’s a tremendous amount. I think that adds an excitement and an intrigue to it as well.”

Only in hockey can an eight-seed beat a No. 1 and hardly anyone is shocked.

An eight-seed can even win the Stanley Cup, as the Los Angeles Kings did in 2012.

A hot goalie, like a strong pitcher or two in baseball, can take a team an awfully long way.

Such uncertainty is why handicapper Alex B. Smith (axsmithsports.com) prefers to see how series develop before diving far in with bets. He probably won’t even bet any of the opening games and might even skip the second game of each first-round series.

“The way I approach betting hockey in the regular season is I play mostly underdogs; 75 to 85 percent of my plays are underdog plays or about pick ’em,” Smith said. In the playoffs, “I get to analyze different facets of teams I can’t really catch over a span of a full season.

“I take everything game by game. I don’t really have a system as far as looking at a series.”

Though Smith tends to shy away from betting playoff series, he said he has put money down on the third-seeded Nashville Predators to beat the No. 4 Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference.

“Everyone says the Hawks have the experience and the talent, but they haven’t played as well as they have in the past few years,” Smith said.

He also searches for value in the futures, and though Smith believes the favored New York Rangers (6-1) will win the Cup, he would prefer to put his money elsewhere. Smith doesn’t plan to make any futures plays, but for those who are interested, he suggested betting on the Ottawa Senators (16-1), Calgary Flames (20-1) or Winnipeg Jets (25-1).

“Teams like Ottawa could win out of the East, and maybe even Calgary (in the West),” Smith said. “They don’t seem to be scared of the moment. They’ve been playing high-pressured games the last two months. So while a lot of people might undervalue them as a whole, saying they’re too young, they don’t have experience, they’re playing fearless.”

Interest in NHL betting isn’t on the level as the NBA, but Esposito said the sport was growing in popularity well before talk began of the city getting a hockey team.

“The fact the Kings have had so much success over the last several years and our close proximity to Southern California has really helped,” Esposito said. “Now all the talk of Vegas possibly getting an NHL franchise can definitely help as far as the popularity and getting people more interested watching it and placing a bet on it.”

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

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