While I’ve bet on the NHL numerous times, I’ve mostly washed my hands of the sport in recent years, and have been watching and focusing on other sports. I often clash with friends on the entertainment factor of hockey (or lack thereof), and they normally get quite animated in their disagreement.
After all, I hail from Pittsburgh, PA, home to the Pittsburgh Penguins who won a Stanley Cup in 2009 and who are continually atop of the Eastern Conference standings. While I won a gratifying mid-four figure sum on a Stanley Cup futures bet on the Pens in 2009, I have not watched the Penguins too much other than in their playoff appearances.
There you have it. I confess – I’m not a hockey fan. So, when writing this article I had to do a ton of research into what bettors are doing these days and the strategies that are working.
I’m actually pretty juiced for the pucks this coming season after all the I’ve work done learning more about NHL betting markets. Hopefully, those who are just casual gamblers or fans will be able to develop a core winning strategy for NHL markets. NHL odds have a reputation among experienced sports bettors as being among the best around due to the smaller amount of action on the games. Some sportsbooks may take their NHL odds for granted to a certain extent and may not be as sharp on their lines compared to other sports.
While many sports fans in the US might consider the NHL the black sheep of the four major American sports, it still has competitive numbers across key TV networks across the US and its viewership in Canada is always strong.
Also, consider the league has had four lockouts and/or strikes in the past two decades. The 2004-2005 NHL lockout cancelled the entire season. As recent as 2012-2013 the league was forced to cancel nearly half the regular season due to another labor dispute.
The National Hockey League’s season is essentially identical to that of the NBA. It has the same number of franchises (30) and also has an 82-game regular season. Eight teams from both the Western and Eastern Conferences make the playoffs in an elimination tournament to crown a Stanley Cup Champion. The teams are seeded and play best-of-7 game series elimination rounds with the winner moving on to the next round.
This starts with the Divisional Semi-Finals, then moves on to the Divisional Finals. The field is then whittled down to four where the two remaining teams face off against each other in the Conference Finals. The winners of the two Conference Finals then battle it out for a championship in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The NHL has refined their product from the goon filled “garage league” as Mario Lemieux famously called it in the early 90s, and is now quick to call penalties. Since the lost season in 2004-2005, they have brought in several rule changes including allowing two-line passes and overtime becoming a 4 on 4 five minute extra period, which then goes directly to a shootout.
The National Hockey League has 30 teams, each competing for the season ending Stanley Cup title
NHL Money line Odds
Hockey has a wide range of bets, but the most popular of these is known as the money line, with the odds being referred to as money line odds or American odds.
Like with MLB baseball betting, due to the low scoring nature of the game, there is no traditional point spread.
Here’s an example of how a line might look:
Philadelphia Flyers +150 Pittsburgh Penguins -130
The Flyers are the away team and underdog. A wager of $100 will win $150 if Philly pulls off the moderate upset. The Penguins are the home team and the favorite, bettors must wager $130 bucks to win $100.
The difference between the favorite and the underdog is crucial to your overall bottom line. In the example above, the sportsbook has a 20-cent line, seen by the different of 20 between 150 and 130. A line of +180/-170 would be referred to as a 10 cent line.
The smaller the difference between the favorite and the underdog, the better price you are getting, as this simply means the sportsbook’s edge is lower. I always look for the best price possible before betting – if you’re paying 20-cents or more on your wagers, you need to find yourself a new book.
Out of the books I recommend on this page, some of them do have a 20c line, but they are rated lower than those at the top of my list. They make the list because they are excellent all-rounders. While they might have worse lines for hockey, they make up for it with their lines in other sports and have other great features that make them worth recommending.
NHL Puck Lines
Puck lines add a point spread element to hockey wagering and should be familiar to those who know baseball’s run lines. While they normally have -1.5 and +1.5 handicaps for the favorite and underdog, there are still odds involved.
Let’s take a look at an example:
Columbus Blue Jackets +1.5 (+190)
Toronto Maple Leafs -1.5 (-180)
As you can see this type of bet cannot end in a push. If the Maple Leafs win by 2 goals, their side of the bet wins. Anyone picking Columbus has to hope for either a win or a one goal loss and they will receive a nice underdog payout.
Puck lines are a rather new way of betting on hockey, only coming to prominence in the past decade. Some swear by them while others seem to hate them. I’ll let you make your own mind up.
One aspect that I look to utilize with puck lines is the ability to get a cheaper price on a large favorite without paying the large odds to win. If you think the game will be a blowout, you will save a bunch by opting for the puck line rather than the money line. Of course, your team could win by just one goal, dealing you a loss – that is why the puck line is a double edged sword.
But, in the grand scheme of things, few can beat the sportsbooks laying -200 and -300 on large favorites. The puck line offers a chance to take these favorites at a reduced price, in games that they should – based on the odds – beat their opponents handily.
Another strategy I found is to bet puck lines in combination with middle to low priced money lines as part of a parlay. This will increase the overall price of the parlay and can pay off big if you cash. I’ll talk more about parlays in a later section.
How Many Goals Will Be Scored?
Total betting is straightforward and tabulated in the same way it is for other sports. It is a wager on the amount of goals scored in the game by both teams combined. They look something like this:
Philadelphia Flyers OverUnder 5.5 -110 Pittsburgh Penguins
Pretty self-explanatory, if you choose the ‘Over’, there will need to be 6 goals or more scored in game for you to win. If you go for the ‘Under’, the number of goals scored must 5 or fewer.
Totals betting in the NHL is about predicting the pace of a game rather than picking the outright winner. Coaching strategies, injuries and other aspects should all be factored into your selections. There is a variety of reasons to learn towards the over or under, but one notable factor is rivalry games, which the NHL is chalked full of, seemingly every night.
Rivals obviously don’t like it each other, and that normally leads to tougher, more physical play along with fights, which all lead to penalty minutes. Power plays are commonplace in these types of games, giving players a chance to score more and increase the number of goals in a game.
Parlays, called accumulators outside of North America, are multiple bets. Instead of betting on the outcome of one game, you choose multiple outcomes, all of which must win (or push) for you to get paid. I recommend going for small parlays, as the more games you bet on, the greater the book’s expected return.
Stanley Cup Winner and Other Futures
NHL Futures are one of the more rapidly expanding markets for the sport. Future bets are generally long term wagers that can last just a few days or weeks or several months. In the NHL, the most popular future wagers include odds to win the Stanley Cup, Eastern and Western Conferences, but there are many more markets. Here’s an example:
Odds to Win Stanley Cup Finals
Pittsburgh Penguins +700
Philadelphia Flyers +950
Detroit Redwings +1000
Los Angeles Kings +2000
Most books will utilize money line odds for future bets or simple fractional odds. Many sportsbooks will offer more markets, such as NHL win totals, MVP and the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender.
The knock on future bets is always that they tie up money for months at a time. If you bet before the season, your money could be tied up for 6+ months – an aspect that doesn’t exactly entice bettors.
I think that is the wrong attitude to take. Future bets are an investment which may or may not payoff when the season ends, and bettors should not view these bets part of their main bankroll for daily betting. The less-action NHL market is a bright spot to look for lucrative future wagers. There is plenty of value to be had for NHL bettors who truly know their stuff.
NHL propositions are bets that are unrelated to the final score or total in the game instead they are based around individual or team aspects of the game. Common NHL props are:
Which team will score first?
Over/Under Shots on Goal
Will the game go into overtime?
They will also be geared toward individual players and pit two players against in each other, such as;
Will Sidney Crosby or Claude Giroux score more points in the game?
Like I mentioned in my other betting guides, proposition betting can be highly profitable, because of the large difference in lines and markets at each book. This counts double or the NHL, because of the smaller pool of bettors wagering on NHL props.
One prop that is usually only available for NHL betting is the Grand Salami Bet. It is simply a totals wager on the number of goals scored on any given NHL game day. This is a popular bet among bettors and usually has -105 for each side of the total.
Find an NHL Friendly Sportsbook
Every sportsbook in the world offers NHL odds in some form, but some offer many more markets than others along with competitive pricing. If you prefer props, parlays or betting in-running, be sure to make sure the site you sign up with offers those options before depositing.
Ideally, it is best to have your money at multiple sportsbooks to line shop for the best price, but some people may not have the bankroll to do so. Furthermore, remember in the NHL lines are usually either 10cent or 20cent. You should only ever bet a 10cent line if possible. If you constantly put money a 20 cent line, you’re giving the bookie a huge edge and you’ll find your bankroll diminishing quickly over the course of a season. Make sure to stick to the sites listed on this page as they are the ones that offer the most favorable prices for the NHL.
Keepers: Hot or Cold?
A hot goaltender in a playoff series or even during stretches in the regular season can be unstoppable. Likewise, a goalie that is struggling seems to let everything through. Having an extensive knowledge of the goalies in the league (both starters and backups) is crucial. Riding a streak of saves or going against a goalie who is struggling is an excellent way to find some solid options each night. A goaltender who is dominating can single-handedly win a game for his team, especially if he has plenty of offensive support.
Obviously, the more you know about the NHL, the more knowledge you will have to add to your handicapping. Monitoring injury reports, changes in lines and which players might be in the coach’s doghouse are all relevant stuff. With blogs for nearly every team, up to the minute news updates via Twitter and other internet mediums, there is no excuse to miss out on some important news that might give you an edge.
Understanding NHL statistics is extremely important when trying to find incorrect lines. There are loads of advanced metrics on every team in the league, which are useful for predicting future performance. Every weapon you can use is another chance to beat the oddsmakers, so it is necessary to take advantage of any and all options available.
In spite of the long season hockey does not offer as many wagering opportunities as baseball. However, there are far more options than in football and basketball. Remember to be selective with your plays. The bookies and oddsmakers do a phenomenal job of pricing up games. However, they’re not always right. Because of this, there are lots of good opportunities to make a profit. You should never feel pressured to bet x number of games per day. Instead, only bet when you feel there is value in the line.