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Gambling deal signals new era for NHL

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (right) and James Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts, announced their agreement this past week in New York.Seth Wenig/AP

If the NHL and gambling were set to the tune “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” the announcement this past week of the league’s embrace of the betting world is the part where good ol’ Canadian boy Gordon Lightfoot sings, “At 7 p.m. a main hatchway caved in, he said, fellas, it been good to know ya.”

The new age has arrived. Or at least the first hint of sunlight, and all the betting action it will grow, is officially on hockey’s horizon.

The NHL and MGM, the gambling and casino giant, cut their deal that slowly but insidiously will make betting central to the NHL fan experience, be it for patrons (just over 22 million last season, league-wide) in arenas, or those listening and/or watching at home, office or ships at sea.


Details of the NHL-MGM deal were kept to a minimum, but the crux of it has MGM paying a substantial (undisclosed) fee to the league for all the data it can mine off its product. MGM then will take all those proprietary numbers to compute win/loss betting lines, and more important, the more lucrative proposition bets (example: Will Brad Marchand score a hat trick tonight?), for the betting public to devour.

No matter what side you pick in the gambling good/bad discussion, there is no question that betting changes the experience. Sure, some consumers, such as those below legal betting age in individual states, won’t be directly affected. But as certain as a tree grows in Brooklyn and a casino rises in Everett, betting action will cover our ballparks and arenas with a gambling hall’s unique patina.

We’re not simply watching wins and losses anymore, we’re watching dollars and cents being wagered, money being won and lost, with moods and fortunes rising and lowering by the shot and shift. If you don’t think that’s a game-changer, particularly in terms of an audience’s personality swings, then you likely haven’t been to a casino, or been in the company of someone laying action on fantasy sports.


Again, decide for yourself the virtues or morality of it all, but don’t deny that the games we love are about to shift in terms of how we consume them, share them, enjoy them, remember them. Betting changes everything.

The new Encore Boston Harbor casino is set to open in June 2019. Massachusetts legislature has not approved gambling on pro sports.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

As for the Bruins, and the rest of our pro teams, the Massachusetts legislature has not yet approved gambling on pro sports. The US Supreme Court gave states the go-ahead, the right to decide the issue for themselves, in the spring. So hold your bets on that over/under wager (7.5 goals) when the Stars face the Bruins Monday night at the Garden. The same for the Celtics (the NBA and WNBA were first to cut a deal with MGM in July). The Bay State remains action-free at the moment, with no start date on the books.

So hold your bets. For now. But not for long.

In theory, it’s possible we never get there in the Bay State. Which is the same theory we once held about the blue laws. Which is the same theory we once held about a lottery. Fact: The State House one day soon will be all-in on gambling, as sure as it takes real money to keep that iconic dome gilded in gold.

The bulk of the in-arena experience — i.e. the action — is all but certain to be transacted over mobile phones. Similar to the European betting experience, there could be some added betting personnel assigned to luxury suites — think: Vegas cocktail waitresses — and maybe a smattering of betting kiosks folded into, or alongside, the concessions stands.


Let’s see . . . I’ll have a dog, fries, beer . . . oh, and a $20 bet on Patrice Bergeron collecting a goal and assist.

We’re not already addicted (hand up here) enough to our cellphones, right? Now we’ll have a portion of the crowd peering into their handhelds, considering an endless stream of betting opportunities, with the game running in front of them tantamount to elevator music. I’ll be particularly eager to see how this plays out in the press box, because it’s not like any of us up there ever have engaged too much in potential addictive behavior. No way. Nothing to see here. Hey, did I just blow deadline?

Many team owners across all sports, including Jeremy Jacobs of the Bruins, originally felt leagues and teams should be compensated based on total betting action. No one on the other side (MGM, et al) felt the same. Result: The fee established for proprietary data. No doubt, as the years go by, the league will try to wring out more money for its data, not unlike it asks for higher fees when their broadcast vendors, particularly on the TV side, show higher ratings.

And, yes, the safest bet in town is that the athletes will make their voices heard emphatically about all of this as league/player collective bargaining agreements come up for renewal. In the NHL, the players share 50 percent of all hockey-related revenue. So they assuredly will deem the betting haul, received from MGM via those data fees, as part of HRR. In that sense, they will very much be in on the action, and there are all sorts of ways to interpret that.


Sponsorship will be another huge part of the dynamic. Teams will court an “official gambling” sponsor for their venues. Once Major League Baseball signs on, presumably for a deal akin to what’s in place for the NBA and NHL, look for the Red Sox to sign up Wynn (Everett) or, say, MGM (Springfield), to be the official gambling sponsor at Fenway Park. Ditto for Gillette and TD Garden.

For a lot teams, one longtime sports marketing exec assured me last week, that will become “an annual multimillion-dollar sector . . . guaranteed.”

Place your bets, everyone, the fastest game on ice is about to shift warp speed to a place where no man has gone before. A good bet the ride will be rocky, a dead certainty the league never will be the same.


Rantanen off to a hot start

The Avalanche’s Mikko Rantanen is leading the NHL in scoring.David Zalubowski/AP

The names at the top of the NHL scoring list vary slightly, but overall the top of the order has been dominated the last three years by Patrick Kane (289 points), Sidney Crosby (277), and Connor McDavid (274). About this time each season, only a month into the grind, at least two of them have tucked themselves in among the top point-getters and remained there for the duration.


So it was a little bit of a surprise Thursday, with the calendar flipped to November, that Colorado right winger Mikko Rantanen held the No. 1 spot (21 points), followed by Patrice Bergeron and Evgeny Malkin knotted at 19 points. Of the three, Malkin was the least surprising, because he has long been one of the league’s most electric, productive point-getters, ranking No. 4 in league scoring the last 10-plus seasons with 758 points.

Bergeron, as Bruins fans are well aware, doesn’t make points a priority, but he is front and center now with two sizzling wingers, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Hub-centric hockey fans like to call it the hottest line in hockey, but that title, headed into weekend play, belonged to Rantanen and linemates Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. As of Friday morning, they had combined for 55 points, a giant step better than Bergeron and Co. with 50.

Rantanen, 22, is a load, a strapping 6 feet 4 inches and around 230 pounds. He went home to Finland over the summer, after finishing No. 16 in league scoring last season (84 points) and worked deliberately on skating strength and balance, as well as conditioning. Effort rewarded. Unless the line’s dynamics change unexpectedly, he could remain in the hunt with the usual suspects for the scoring title.

The No. 10 pick in the 2015 draft, better known as the McDavid draft, Rantanen played all but nine games in 2015-16 at AHL San Antonio. He plugged right into the varsity lineup the following October and, with his hot start this season, has approached nearly a point per game ever since. Jack Eichel, the No. 2 pick in that draft, has averaged 0.86 points per game with Buffalo, and Rantanen 0.81 with the Avalanche. Toronto’s Mitch Marner, the No. 4 pick in that draft, has clicked at 0.85.

The Bruins make their annual visit to Denver a week from Wednesday, likely with the feisty Marchand lined up against the towering Rantanen. The two hottest lines in the game should make for an interesting matchup, if they go head to head.

A last note on the 2015 draft: Of the 30 players chosen in Round 1, only three have yet to play at least one NHL game — No. 13. Jakub Zboril and No. 15 Zach Senyshyn (Boston), and No. 22 Ilya Samsonov (Washington).


Kings have not ruled the day

Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick underwent knee surgery on Thursday.AP

The Kings, already a hot mess, officially reached torched Zamboni status this past week when franchise goaltender Jonathan Quick underwent knee surgery for cartilage repair. The net’s now in the hands of backup Jack Campbell and back-backup Peter Budaj, the Slovak-born stopper who is 36 and far past the prime he never achieved.

Quick, ex-of UMass, already had been hindered by a leg injury, his numbers dreadful (0-3-1, 4.55 GAA, and .845 save percentage). The wear of two successful Cup runs — manning the pipes for 89 and 75 games in those seasons — has taken its toll.

Adding to their overall woes, if not leading the futility: The sons of the Triple Crowners can’t score. When Quick exited, the Kings were last in the league in points (7) and last in goal scoring, averaging two a game (a moment of quiet reflection here, please, for Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer, and Dave Taylor).

“Ultimately, unless they can score more goals,” opined longtime Los Angeles Times scribe Helene Elliott, “it wouldn’t matter if they put Rogie Vachon in net, and he’s 73.” Vachon was still a spry 36 when he called it a career with the Bruins in the summer of 1982.

Realistically, the Kings now have roughly three weeks (8-10 games) to prove they at least can fog a pane of plexiglass. If they’re still lost in a brown LA haze, then it could be toodle-oo time for coach John Stevens and a plotted force fail to set up the Kings for a prime lottery pick and chance to filch Jack Hughes, the undersized (5-10, 157) but dazzling pivot who typically logs two points per game for the US National Team Development Program.

Hughes is the son of former Bruins assistant coach Jimmy Hughes, who played four years on the Providence College blue line. His skill set projects as another Johnny Gaudreau or Mathew Barzal (somewhat heftier) and currently is the sure-fire No. 1 pick in the June draft in Vancouver. Nice comps, but the trail of broken promises is riddled with projected stars who didn’t play to their profile (Exhibit A: Ottawa’s Alexandre Daigle).

Ilya Kovalchuk, high on the Bruins’ want list last June, entered weekend play with a respectable 3-5—8 line in 11 games with the Kings. He cannot be having fun, no matter the spending power inherent in a three-year, $18.75 million pact.

Kovalchuk has delivered at the levels close to what the Bruins envisioned, had he opted to come to Boston to ride at left wing with David Krejci. And no doubt the Bruins could use him, but general manager Don Sweeney was unwilling to go to three years on a player who will turn 38 just as that deal expires. At the moment, it appears neither side got what it wanted.

Standing by their man

The Golden Knights’ Nate Schmidt is serving a 20-game suspension after testing positive for PED use.David Becker/AP

The Golden Knights, in Boston next Sunday night, bobbed along at a mediocre 5-6-1 for October. Part of it, no doubt, has been a hangover from their near-mythical rookie season that culminated with a trip to the Cup Final.

But they’ve also had to play without valued defenseman Nate Schmidt, a Capitals castaway they picked up in the expansion draft. Schmidt plugged in and delivered 36 points, ranked 36th on the defenseman scoring list last season.

Schmidt, 27, is serving out a 20-game suspension, having tested positive for PED use over the summer. He can resume practicing with the club next Sunday.

“I will not accept being labeled a cheater,” a chagrined Schmidt said at the time, denying any PED use and calling it “utterly shocking” that he tested positive.

The Knights backed his assertion that he was not a user, and recently cut a deal with Matt Keator, his Boston-based agent, on a six-year extension worth $35.7 million, a cap hit of just under $6 million. Nevada has no state income tax. For Schmidt to equal that payout in his home state of Minnesota, he would have needed $7 million a year. In New York, it would have been $7.5 million a year.

Keator, who also represents Zdeno Chara, remains peeved over the PED charge.

“The testing is something the league needs to address, in my opinion,” noted Keator. “Examination of his hair, saliva, and blood showed zero evidence of long-term use. There needs to be some factor of tolerance. The amount detected was tantamount to a pinch of salt in the ocean.”

Loose pucks

Tyler Seguin and the Dallas Stars will play the Bruins in Boston Monday night.Richard W. Rodriguez/AP

Ex-Bruin Tyler Seguin returns to Boston Monday night with the Stars. Seguin finished October atop the Dallas scoring list (3-9—12) and was winning faceoffs at a rate (59.6 percent) he never dreamed of here. That said, teammate Jason Spezza was even better at the dot (65.7 percent) . . . Boston hockey fans finally should get their first look at slick rookie Elias Pettersson Thursday when the Canucks come to town. Pettersson was hors de combat when the Bruins were in Vancouver last month, the prized 19-year-old center working his way back from a concussion compliments of ex-Boston College blue liner Mike Matheson. Pettersson missed two weeks and picked up two goals his second game back, leaving him with a 7-3—10 line in his first eight games — a line that had him leading rookies in scoring on Nov. 1 . . . Ex-BC standout Alex Tuch, now a third-year pro, finally is back in the Vegas lineup after being sidelined nearly a month with a leg injury. The 6-4 right winger, who departed The Heights after two years with the Eagles, chipped in with 2-1—3 his first four games back in the order . . . The Panthers, after showing flashes of promise last season, have joined the Kings at the bottom of the overall standings (a dispiriting 2-5-3 after 10 games). Ex-Bruin Frank “The Shot” Vatrano added but 3-0—3 in his first eight games with the Panthers, dealt there by Boston in February for a third-round draft pick. Vatrano and Mikko Rantanen shared AHL Rookie of the Year honors in 2015-16 when Rantanen posted 24-36—60 with San Antonio and Vatrano, who turned pro as a free agent out of UMass, put up 36-19—55 with the Providence Bruins. As of Thursday morning, Rantanen had 143 NHL points to Vatrano’s 42.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.