Leave it to a team in Las Vegas to defy the odds.
The expansion Vegas Golden Knights have gone from the biggest underdog in NHL preseason wagering to just 12 wins from perhaps the most unexpected championship in pro sports history. They've converted hordes of nonbelievers during their 109-point season, a record for a first-year franchise. But Montreal's Kar Yung Tom believed in them even before a single player had been added to the roster.
He believed in them enough to put $200 on the Golden Knights at 200-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup in their first season. His betting slip is worth $40,000 if they do.
"They have a reasonable shot. They're insane at home. I just wish they won the Presidents' Trophy, because that would have made me more confident," he said, adding that he intends to fly in for a game if they're close to winning the Cup.
Tom is one of hundreds of people who bet on the Golden Knights at inflated odds to win the Stanley Cup and now look like prophets of profit, with the team entering the second round against the San Jose Sharks as the odds-on favorite to win the Cup at 9-2. Some locked them in at 200-1, others at between 150-1 and 100-1. According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, just 13 fans managed to lock in the Golden Knights at 500-1 from Oct. 4 to 8.
In speaking to some of them, it's clear that the motivations go beyond this being a lark or the sports equivalent of a lottery drawing.
Tom, a media coordinator for Face to Face Games in Montreal, was in Las Vegas for a competitive Magic: The Gathering tournament. He had a healthy showing at the poker table while in town for the event, so he decided to put $200 on a futures bet for the Knights to win the Cup. It's something he has had success with, winning on previous preseason Cup wagers for the Los Angeles Kings and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Vegas team, at those odds, seemed like a good prospect.
"I was really excited by all these articles about what their team might look like after the draft," said Tom, referencing one piece by Dom Luszczyszyn in The Athletic that projected what the roster might look like before the expansion draft.
Then the expansion draft happened, and Tom figured his bet wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.
"I was disappointed when they drafted their team. People were making fun of me, saying I should burn the ticket because they drafted, like, infinite depth defensemen. I thought it was dead money," he said. "Although not anymore."
Tom believes the Knights can win, but he's also a realist. So Tom decided to hedge his bet, inviting some friends to buy in on the action. "The Jets and Predators scare me to death," he said. He has received roughly $2,000 from his "investors" and is still in line to win over $20,000 himself if Vegas hoists the Cup.
Brian Belisle from Quebec got the Knights at 250-1 for $20 and was a believer because of the way the NHL altered its expansion draft rules in their favor.
"I knew they would be a good team when the rules of the expansion draft were revealed. And with the parity in the league now, every team has their chances," he said. "It feels good to be close to a big win like this. It would be my biggest win in sports betting."
Matthew Boyer of Las Vegas doesn't bet futures. He hadn't watched hockey since he was 12 years old. The Knights convinced him he should do both, and his $11 bet at 150-1 on Oct. 13 will net him $1,650 if they win the Cup.
"I feel really good. People are always talking about how they wish they could have gotten the Knights at like 100-1, and I'm like, 'I got it, I got it!' I tell everyone any time it's bought up. It's a proud moment of my life. Which is really sad, but it's still a proud moment, yeah," Boyer said.
Boyer made the bet when Las Vegas was in the midst of emotional turmoil after the mass shooting in the city on Oct. 1. The Knights' first home game was a celebration of hockey arriving in Las Vegas, but more than that, it was a memorial and tribute to those affected by the shooting. It bonded the team to the fans, and the fans -- like Boyer -- to the team.
"It's hard to explain, really. But watching the Knights ... I didn't know anything about hockey, but they looked so good. And I'm like, 'How can the odds be 200-1?' So it was a combination of that and the whole city just rallying around them, getting caught up in them, being Vegas Strong. It was inspiring," said Boyer, who works in the oil industry.
The Knights have already made Boyer a profit. Like many fans, he wagered on them throughout the regular season.
"Early in the season, I crushed it. I just got goose bumps thinking about it. They were plus-$200 every night," he said.
Boyer has felt goose bumps since the Knights made the playoffs too. Not because he has money on the team, but because they're his team.
"I've never experienced something like this. I never had a team to call my own. Everything that happens, it feels like it's happening to me. I didn't grow up rooting for a team. Now, with them here, it's almost like they were born. Like a child. It's really weird," Boyer said.
Ken Boehlke has been a Knights fan since before they were the Knights and before they were even formally a team. His site, SinBin.vegas, tracked the progress of owner Bill Foley's journey to secure the expansion franchise. He wagered on the Knights to win the Stanley Cup this season back in January 2017 -- six months before the expansion draft.
"I made the bet because I thought it would be funny, and a keepsake," said Boehlke, who wagered $5 at 100-1 on the Knights. It was one of several futures bets he made on the team, with varying degrees of silliness: His favorite was whether the Knights would finish with more points than Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman would have rushing yards in Super Bowl LI against the New England Patriots. Freeman rushed for 75 yards. The Golden Knights reached 109 points.
Boehlke's plan was to place a futures bet on the Knights to win the Cup in each of their first six seasons, as Foley said he expected the team to win the championship in its sixth season.
It might happen a heck of a lot quicker than that.
"I said they were going to make the playoffs before Thanksgiving, when they beat up Anaheim in Anaheim," Boehlke said. "I think it's foolish to pick against them. You're better off being safe and saying that they're going to win the Cup; if you're wrong, then you were wrong 45 times before. But honestly, deep down, I think they're going to win."
For some it was a goof or a spiritual thing, for others it was a smart play based on what the Golden Knights could do in a parity-filled league. Whatever the motivation, there are fans riding along on this expansion team's journey, inching closer to a long-shot jackpot with each victory. As the Vegas players dream of winning the Stanley Cup, these fans can't help but dream about what'll happen if they do.
Belisle said he'll transfer some of the money to a Cup wager next year and also put some cash down for a boat.
Tom said he has a more immediate need for the $20,000 he could collect from a Golden Knights' championship: "I'm actually getting married this year. This would help a lot."
If there was ever a more compelling reason for a honeymoon in Las Vegas, we haven't seen it.