The National Hockey League is not one of the most-popular sports across the US market. The league is extremely-popular in certain regions of the country (and hugely-popular in Canada), but it doesn’t yet have the widespread appeal of the NFL, MLB, or the NBA.
Sportsbooks post lines on the NHL about on par with the action they offer on college basketball; that means bettors will find lines and bet variations for every pro hockey game, but nothing like the variety available to baseball or NBA bettors.
In addition, since there is no shortage of NHL teams there’s definitely no shortage of games to wager on. We’ll take a look at the pros and cons of betting hockey, as well as break down the most popular bets the public normally takes advantage of both online and in Vegas.
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Pros & Cons of Betting on NHL Hockey
A common myth in sports betting circles is that oddsmakers don’t spend as much time researching and setting a smart line for NHL games as they do for the other major sports. It makes sense, on the one hand, that a sport with less betting action would attract less attention. Think of it as a shelf-space problem for the books more than anything else – if an item at the grocery store has low sales, it is given less shelf space than big-sellers.
But the truth is modern lines are more solid than ever, both because of increased fan support from the US and around the world, and the existence of so many oddsmakers in the industry, all competing for a pool of gamblers that’s not growing nearly as fast as the industry.
That means it’s sort of a draw, here, between the bettor and the house when it comes to hockey betting. The two are on an even playing field, provided the bettor is doing the proper research and applying it to a defined overall strategy.
A disadvantage for NHL bettors is the fact that, at most online books and even in land-based sportsbook venues, hockey game bets are restricted far more than wagers placed on the larger sports, like NFL or NBA games. Sportsbooks limit wagers in part because of the smaller volume of action coming in for these contests and in part because the league can be difficult to handicap.
A mark in favor of betting on NHL games is the entertaining variety of bets available. No, most bettors don’t have access to the lengthy props for NFL games or the reverse run line exotics in the MLB, but the variety that does exist covers different types of bets and different ways to approach the sport itself.
How to Bet on the NHL
Here is a breakdown of the most-popular wagers on National Hockey League games. For bettors used to the “big three” sports, there are some important distinctions between those types of wagers and the ones found in the NHL.
A great debate exists among hockey fans over whether it makes more sense to bet on the popular moneyline or the “over/under” line. The moneyline is the most popular version of pro hockey wagering, identical to moneyline betting in other sports.
A distinction in the world of NHL betting is the standard 20-cent line; this means that books tend to separate the odds between the favored team and the underdog by 20 points. This is even true in the case where there is a heavy favorite, meaning the NHL sometimes offers high-value wagers on favorites.
An example of an NHL moneyline:
Notice the 20 point differential between the odds – that’s the infamous “20-cent line” at work. This collection of letters and numbers actually transmits a lot of information – the minus symbol (“-“) indicates the favored team, in this case Montreal. The number next to the symbol tells bettors how much they’d have to wager to earn a $100 payout.
The plus symbol (“+) next to Calgary’s name identifies that team as the underdog. The number +100 means that a winning wager on Calgary pays out $100 for every $100 wagered.
Game Totals Bets
The game total is the total number of points scored by both sides in a given hockey game. When it comes to game totals betting in the NHL, most sportsbooks will set the number between 5 and 6.5; this is based on a historical understanding of how hockey scoring works at the professional level.
Bettors who think a game will feature more points than the book says bet what’s called the “over,” while those who think a game will be a lower-scoring affair bet the “under.”
Veteran sports gamblers familiar with betting game totals outside the NHL take note – the lower number of points scored in a hockey game compared to the NFL or NBA means there isn’t much room for books to move the line. NHL game totals numbers include odds that the book can shift to attempt to equalize their books.
Puck Line Bets
Unique to the NHL is a bet called the puck line – bettors who wager on Major League Baseball can think of this as the same thing as the run line in that sport’s betting scene.
Betting the puck line means wagering that the favorite will win by 2 goals or that the underdog will lose by less than 2 goals or win outright. This is a simpler bet than it sounds, as indicated by the way a typical puck line set of odds would look:
Dallas +1.5 (-180)
Vancouver -1.5 (+200)
As with the moneyline, the minus symbol indicates the favorite, and the numbers in parentheses transfer details about each wager. If underdog Dallas wins the game outright (or loses by one goal), the bet pays out $180 for every $100 wagered. If the Vancouver Canucks win by a total of two or more points, a wager on that team is a winner, but it costs $200 to win a $100 payout.
NHL’s Grand Salami Bet
The Grand Salami is NHL betting’s Mona Lisa; it’s the one thing even a casual sports betting fan probably knows about betting on pro hockey. It’s essentially a parlay bet with slightly different rules and expectations. Betting on the Grand Salami means wagering on every single National Hockey League game occurring on a given day with a single outlay.
Unlike parlays in other sports, though, hockey’s version asks bettors to bet “over” or “under” on the total number of goals scored in all games for a given day’s action. Because sportsbooks know about how much NHL teams tend to score, with few outlying totals per season, it’s fair to say that Grand Salami numbers average between 50 and 62 depending on what games are on the card. The Grand Salami is essentially a day-long over/under bet for all active teams in the National Hockey League.
Three Must-Bet NHL Games
Casual bettors interested in the NHL may not be interested in a mid-season game they know nothing about – instead of jumping in to a more anonymous contest, it may be wise to start a hockey betting hobby by laying wagers during one of these three events.
Stanley Cup Finals
Obviously, as with any sport, bettors should pay attention during the Finals. This is the final event of the NHL season, and it attracts the most action on hockey at sportsbooks in any given year. Besides the increased action (and implied line movement) that the Final’s popularity brings, it is an entertaining spectacle to see a team lift Lord Stanley’s Cup.
This is a newer addition to the hockey schedule; a game played outdoors in the coldest part of the season. It is a strange game, both because the audience is larger and further from the action and because of the outdoors atmosphere and influence of the weather. If for no other reason than the chance to see hockey in a Major League Baseball stadium on artificial ice, it’s smart to lay wagers during this brand-new New Year’s Day tradition.
NHL All-Star Game
Like Major League Baseball, hockey’s All-Star Game is actually exciting and meaningful to the sport. Not only is it quite a show, featuring the fastest and highest-scoring players in the league, it is probably the second most wagered-on NHL event of the year behind the Finals.
Four NHL Betting Strategy Tips
1. Research Injury Reports & Lineups Daily
Hockey is a brutal contact sport. Combined with the regularity of games, that means injuries are common and roster changes even more so. This is one area that all bettors should pay attention to, even if they aren’t statistically-minded. Rosters change often enough that many NHL bettors wait until just before game time to lay their wagers.
2. Consider Wear & Tear on Goalkeepers
The toughest position in the sport is similar to a starting pitcher’s role in baseball, except that in the NHL, the entire other team is flying toward you intending to knock you out. Goalkeepers face serious wear and tear issues over the course of the season. Just because a goalie is in doesn’t mean he’ll be at his best. This requires paying a little more attention to teams and their players over a long chunk of the season, in order to notice trends in how often goalies play and how it affects their performance.
3. Know When to Bet the Puck Line
Two statistically-superior opportunities to bet the puck line exist in the world of hockey wagering. One is when there is a clear favorite playing an underdog that doesn’t offer any real positive value expectation. In the case of a conference-dominating favorite competing against a rebuilding cellar-dweller, there is a lot to be gained in a wager that they’ll take the contest by two or more, well worth the added risk.
The second time it is statistically-smart to be the puck line in hockey is as a means of parlaying a standard moneyline wager. Bettors who take the line on a heavy favorite, as in the above example, and also wager a win by two or more goals stand to earn a good deal more cash for reduced risk.
4. Learn & Use Alternate Statistics
Hockey stats above and beyond the basic box scores seen on Sportscenter do exist; they just aren’t easy to find. Some stats, developed along the lines of baseball’s Sabermetrics, require bettors do a little simple math on their own. Often, these advanced stats offer bettors more insight into a game.
An example is a stat known to stat geeks as PDO – this number is a one-glance measurement of a team or individual athlete’s hot or cold streaking. PDO is derived by adding a player’s even-strength save percentage and his shooting percentage. This can also be extended team-wide for a long look at team trends.
The point of using PDO is to see players and teams trending upward before other fans and bettors do – or identify an athlete or squad that may be over-rated over the course of a season. This is not by any means the only advanced stat necessary for an NHL betting strategy – these obscure stats derived from other basic hockey numbers make it easier for a player to make a confident pick. Use these numbers whenever possible.
The NHL has the same number of games as the NBA – 82 regular-season contests for each time. Bettors familiar with the strategy behind that style of betting could do well in the NHL if they can learn to change the way they look at stats and wrap their heads around the different types of bets available to hockey fans. Though it can be tougher to research teams head-to-head (thanks to a smaller pool of statistics) the sport offers gamblers a unique set of ways to lay their wagers.
Reading NHL Statistics
The statistics that most people look at are: goals scored, assists recorded, shots on goal, saves, save percentage and penalty minutes. Most sports websites will look the league leaders for these categories, as long as many others.
Goals scored is the “sexiest” stat in NHL stats, because to win games you need to score goals. The top goals scorers are always the first one people talk about. The most underrated stat is the +/- (plus/minus), which is a combination of goals, assists and how many penalty minutes.
Team stats is also a very important category, because it will give you which teams have scored the most goals in the NHL, which teams have allowed the least amount of goals, which team has committed the most penalty minutes, etc.
Often times when you are looking at team stats, you can sort teams according to whichever stat you would like to look at closely. They will list teams according to the most amount of goals scored, but then if you want to see the team with the most assists, they can arrange that as well. You can find out alot about a team by looking at the Team Stats.
You can check out individual stats, and see if a certain player is going to play a huge key in a game, or look through the team stats, and determine what type of team they are, and their style of play. Regardless what you want to look at, keeping up on NHL stats is a big help to those betting on the game.