Of the four major American pro sports leagues, the NHL takes the least amount of betting action. There are a few reasons for that.
One is that many casual bettors don’t understand the rules. What’s icing? What’s a two-line pass? How do line changes work? Power play?! Power play!? Another is that Americans simply like a lot of scoring, and that’s obviously not the case in the NHL when the average score of a game is around 3-2.
The NFL uses college football as a glorified minor league, so stars are made in the NCAA before they even reach the pros. They are household names. Ditto with the NBA and college basketball even though many of the top players only stay one year in college these days. No one has any clue who the top up-and-coming NHL prospects are. They are generally from Europe or Canada. While it’s easy to name the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA or NFL Draft over the past decade, good luck getting more than a couple of those correct in the NHL.
All that said, hockey remains the king of sports for our Canadian friends and NHL fans are some of the most loyal in the world. It’s one of those rare sports where it’s a much better experience to see in person than sitting on your couch trying to follow that little puck all over the ice.
Types of Bets
Another reason that Americans aren’t overly keen on betting the NHL, much like baseball, is there is no point spread. Probably 90% of all wagers on football or basketball games in this country are on the spread. That’s not an option in the NHL because most games end with a one-goal margin.
The three primary types of NHL bets that you will find on sportsbooks are the puck line, the moneyline and the over/under total. The puck line essentially works as the point spread and is always set at -1.5. You might see a bigger puck line in Olympic hockey, etc., but not in the NHL where the teams are largely equal. So, if the Pittsburgh Penguins are at home and clearly a better team than the visiting Chicago Blackhawks, the Penguins would have a puck line of -1.5 and Chicago +1.5. That simply means a puck line bet on Pittsburgh would mean the Pens must win by at least two goals; a bet on Chicago means to only lose by one goal. Alternate puck lines of 2.5 and 3.5 are usually available but the prices are drastically different.
A moneyline simply a wager on which team wins. Those can be vary greatly. Between two equal teams, the moneyline on both teams could be the same: -110. Or, one clearly better team could be -450 and its opponent +330. That would mean it would take a bet of $450 on the favorite to return $100, while a $100 bet on the underdog returns $330.
The puck lines all have moneylines attached to both teams. Almost always, the team getting 1.5 goals is the favorite – rarely over -300. Very rare to see an NHL team giving 1.5 goals heavily favored.
The total is just as it sounds: Total goals scored in the game, with a moneyline attached to both the over and under. Those prices can be the same and generally don’t vary bigger than -135 & +115. These days, totals in the NHL usually are set between 5.0-7.0. Alternate totals also are offered (say 4.5 or 7.5) but the prices dramatically change. Totals often have a half-goal added to avoid a “push” or tie, where money is returned.
Overtime plays a huge role in NHL betting. If you wagered a total of under 6.5 goals and two teams enter overtime tied 3-3, then you know that bet is lost. Either a team is going to win in overtime – when it’s 3-on-3 instead of 5-on-5 – or it will win in the shootout and a goal is added to the winning team’s total.
There also are three-way moneylines offered, pricing each team to win in regulation time as well as a draw through regulation.
The most popular futures bet on the NHL is often simply which team wins the Stanley Cup, probably the most recognized trophy in U.S. pro sports. No postseason is more grueling than the NHL’s as team must win four seven-game series to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. Wagers are also offered on winning the Eastern or Western Conference or any of the four divisions: Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific.
Popular player prop futures are betting on the Hart Trophy (league MVP), Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year), Vezina Trophy (top goaltender), Jack Adams Award (top coach), Art Ross Trophy (points leader), Norris Trophy (top defenseman), Rocket Richard Trophy (leading goalscorer) and Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP). All team or individual options will have a moneyline attached, and those numbers change all during the season.
Props bets during games are numerous. Which team scores first? Does the team that scores first win the game? Will both teams score? Will the game go to overtime? Will Sidney Crosby score a goal in the game? Who has more points in a game, Crosby or Alex Ovechkin? Plus many, many more. Betting live on the NHL can be difficult because it’s such a fast-paced game with few stoppages.
Home teams do have a strategic edge in the NHL because they get the last line change after a stoppage in play. That means a coach can determine matchups.
Like any major sport, determining injuries entering any game are very important. However, the No. 1 factor on betting an NHL game is each team’s goaltender. Much like a starting pitcher in baseball, a goaltender can win or lose a game by himself. Back a red-hot goaltender until he cools off. More than a few lesser-talented teams have won Stanley Cups simply because their goaltender got hot at the right time.
Also smart to bet against teams playing the second of a back-to-back. Hockey is a grueling sport, so guys are going to have tired legs playing a second game in 24 hours – doubly so if they had to travel in between. This is when you can really take advantage of a goaltending situation because coaches rarely play their No. 1 goalie in both ends of a back-to-back in order to keep them fresh and healthy during the regular season. In the playoffs, a goalie, if he’s good, will play every game because there’s almost always at least one day off in between.
This writer also recommends staying away from totals that don’t have a half-goal attached. That way you are assured of avoiding a push.
The Montreal Canadiens are the NHL’s marquee franchise. They have appeared in 34 Stanley Cup Finals and won 24 of them, both by far the most of any team. The 1976-77 Canadiens are considered by many the greatest team of all-time and set the league record with 132 points in the regular season. That was in 80 games, not the 82 that teams play today. There were also ties back then. However, no team from Canada has won the Cup since Montreal in 1993. The Detroit Red Wings lead all American teams with 11 Stanley Cups.