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Sport Could legalized sports gambling bring an end to NHL's injury secrecy?

22:25  17 may  2018
22:25  17 may  2018 Source:   sportingnews.com

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The Supreme Court voted down national legislature on sports gambling , and the ripple effect could impact how the NHL chooses to disclose injury information.

If you're an NHL fan, you may have noticed a trend in how coaches and team personnel choose to disclose information about player injuries. The reality is, for the most part, coaches don't really share any specific information at all. Injury designations are categorized as either "upper body" or "lower body," which really doesn't provide any kind of clue other than if it's above or below the hip.

But that could soon change, and we have sports gambling to thank.

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court voted to strike down a gambling prohibition law, opening the door for individual states to legalize sports gambling. That's a very big story for the NHL, the only major professional league in the U.S. with an active franchise in Las Vegas (though the NFL is soon to follow) and with 24 of its franchises (soon to be 25, with Seattle) located in the lower 48.

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The Supreme Court voted down national legislature on sports gambling , and the ripple effect could impact how the NHL chooses to disclose injury information.

The Supreme Court voted down national legislature on sports gambling , and the ripple effect could impact how the NHL chooses to disclose injury information.

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How this law specifically could impact the manner in which teams disclose injury information remains to be seen (states still have to legalize gambling on their own, and leagues like the NHL will surely legislate from within as private entities), but it's easy to see where this could force the NHL's normally well-disguised hand.

a close up of a sign: NHL betting slips at the Westgate Superbook © (Getty Images) NHL betting slips at the Westgate Superbook

From a coach's perspective, a reluctance to share injury information has always come down to a perceived competitive disadvantage. Teams and players have long feared that making specific injury details public would allow opposing teams to target the ailing body part. For example, if a player has an upper-body injury, it could be anywhere, but if a player has a hand injury, a few extra whacks with the stick may be in store the following game.

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Legalized gambling could impact the NFL’ s relationships with casinos. TV ratings. Same idea applies here— legalized sports gambling introduces new, creative ways to make an NFL Now should the NFL do more than it already does with injury reports and other game information to ensure

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But if states begin to legalize sports gambling, and money is being wagered and won and lost, there will be increased pressures to release as much information as possible for what figures to be a multi-billion dollar industry.

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Of course, it will never be that simple. The NHLPA wasted no time in releasing a statement of its own in the wake of the Supreme Court's vote, and part of its language is pretty key here, including a reference to rights of privacy.

While professional athletes' celebrity often means details in their private lives become public, injury and medical information is a slightly different category. Just this season, a mini debate stirred over coaches' ridiculous lengths to do anything but provide specific injury updates. It began when former Stars coach Ken Hitchcock gave a surprisingly forthcoming and informative injury update, revealing that Marc Methot had undergone knee surgery, and Martin Hanzal was out with a hand injury.

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"We collectively hate playing the game," Hitchcock said. "What I mean by that is we say upper body, then you go on the phone, and then you look up things or you go to the doctors, find out what part of the upper body. ... We try to make your work easier, quite frankly. Nobody thinks like that. Our feeling is just, tell them what the injury is and move it forward, and let's stop the dance."

Obviously, if you had a betting stake in a Stars game at the time, this information becomes highly valuable as a consumer, allowing you to make the most informed decision. But coaches like Hitchcock are few and far between, and many fall into the same school of thought as Paul Maurice.

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"You're not allowed to tell anybody what a doctor knows," he said in November. "They've got laws. People can get sued for letting that kind of information (out). I don't really have the right to come out and tell you how a guy is feeling, but we do anyway."

Maurice also maintained there's an inherent risk in making every injury detail public.

"I would think on average (that) somewhere between nine and 11 players, about half your hockey team, every single night, has something that they're dealing with," he said. "Bone bruises, I had a guy playing with cracked ribs. I don't want anybody to know that."

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It's the same song and dance coaches have performed for years, perhaps most notoriously this past season. While star forward Auston Matthews missed 20 games combined over two separate injury absences, updates from Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock were vague and left a good deal of gray area into what was keeping Matthews out the lineup for such an extended period, leading to speculation.

Weeks later, Matthews himself revealed he had a concussion, as was suspected by many. The situation fell in line with how Babcock had described his approach to sharing injury information earlier in the season.

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"[Hitchcock said we should reveal everything and I don't disagree, except I don't like talking about head injuries," Babcock said. "Because as soon as you say there's a head injury, then there are all these things about concussions and half the time it's the neck or something and I never want to talk about that.

"I want the player and th right people to work that out, not for [other] people to get involved. I don't disagree with anything except that. We're going to sticky simply with upper and lower, but the great thing about the league is every coach can do what he wants."

(One could logically argue that a good way for Babcock to avoid said confusion would be to call a neck injury a neck injury.)

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The NHL seems stuck in its ways on a number of things, but a plausible common ground on injury disclosures could be to follow the NFL. The NFL's 2017 injury report policy has three major tiers: The practice report, the game status report, and the in-game injury report.

  • If any player has a significant or noteworthy injury, it must be listed on the practice report, even if he fully participates in practice and the team expects that he will play in the team’s next game. This is especially important for key players whose injuries may be covered extensively by the media.
  • Teams must notify the league, their opponent, local and national media, and the league’s broadcast partners of the status of their injured players by 4 p.m. ET the day before their next scheduled game.
  • In-game injury updates must be disseminated to the broadcast partner, the media and the fans in the stadium at the same time. Clubs must post injury updates on the stadium video boards, scoreboards or ribbon boards so fans at NFL games are also informed.

There's a bit to unpack there, but a bunch of immediate applications that could apply to recent NHL examples. Capitals coach Barry Trotz wouldn't be able to give his broken-record response that center Nicklas Backstrom is a "game-time decision," allowing bettors some peace of mind when it comes to wagering on (or against) the Capitals.

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Or what about the Devils' first-round series against the Lightning, when defenseman Sami Vatanen was injured after a hit by Nikita Kucherov? Would in-game lines have shifted if they'd known sooner that Vatanen was done for the game?

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Even if the specifics of the injuries are still kept under lock and key, at the very least having definitive "this player is playing, or this player isn't" type of information would be a big change. But like anything, this could also come down to money. ESPN's Darren Rovell said he took the NHLPA statement to be the players laying the groundwork to making sure they're compensated when the sports gambling-related money begins to pour in.

"There's opportunity, if it's done right," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday appearing on CNBC to discuss the Supreme Court decision.

Bettman pointed out the different ways the NHL can monetize business with legal sports gambling, with some different ideas.

"There's going to be a need for data, access to our games, our trademarks ... so there are things that if you're going to run a successful sportsbook you're going to need for us," Bettman said. "And from our standpoint we want to make sure it's done right."

(Done "right" means gambling becomes a profitable endeavor for the league.)

Even that could create another sticking point, though. For years, the NHL has talked about increasing tracking on player performance.

"We're in the process from a technology standpoint of working what we call puck and player tracking," Bettman said. "The amount of data that we can create in the course of a game that currently now you can't pull out of a game officially, once we that in place that may create enormous opportunities.

"The Supreme Court has spoken, so we have to deal with the realities of our world."

(The "reality" is a chance at a major money grab.)

It's easy to see where that can get sticky, though. The NHL has discussed player and puck tracking for years, but must first sort out the ethical implications and navigate vocal opposition to producing this type of information. Like many things, it will likely come down to a cost-benefit analysis: How much would the players stand to lose in both making injury information and some of this tracking data more public versus the monetary gains to be had from getting a share of the gambling pot.

The timing of this could fit neatly for a team in need of a new collective bargaining agreement, with the current CBA expiring after the 2021-22 season, but containing an out clause the players can (and will) exercise as of September 19, 2019, expiring after that following season.

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