Out of all the big North American league sports, the NHL has, by far, the most underdeveloped betting market.
That may change soon.
With the expansion into Las Vegas in 2017, and the Seattle Kraken soon joining the fray, we’re seeing more interest in hockey games and betting. An underdeveloped market means opportunity – fewer bets means more opportunities for sharps to consistently find an edge.
In this piece, we’re going to teach you exactly how to bet on NHL games. We’ll start with the basics, like how to read odds and what kinds of bets you can place. Then we’ll dive a bit into the things that you should be considering when placing your bets, to help you improve your strategy.
Sounds good? Then lace up your skates – we’re about to put other NHL betting guides on ice.
Reading NHL odds
Most bookmakers use the American odds system for the NHL – that means you’ll see a number with a + or – in front of it at the end of the line. It will look something like this:
The team with the + next to their odds is the underdog. The team with the – is the favorite – at least, when it comes to moneyline betting. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though.
When you see a + in front of your odds, that number represents how much you would win if you bet $100. In this case, a successful $100 wager on the Senators would net $130 in profit.
When you see a – in front of the odds, it tells you how much money you would need to wager in order to win $100. In this case, a successful $155 wager on the Jets would net $100 in profit.
Simple enough, right? With that out of the way, let’s look at the most common NHL bets.
The three basic NHL bets
Now that you know how to read the odds, we can delve into the three basic types of bets that make up most NHL betting traffic. They’re the same as what you see in other major North American league sports: moneyline, point spread, and Over/Under (totals).
Moneyline bets are simple: you pick who you think is going to win, and you place your bet. The example we gave above is a moneyline bet – let’s show it again for context.
When placing a moneyline bet, it’s as simple as choosing who you think is going to win, looking at your odds, and placing your bet.
Point spread bets are a bit more complicated. The reasoning behind them is simple – in any matchup, there’s going to be a favorite and an underdog. To make things more interesting, instead of a team simply having to beat the other team, they have to beat the spread – in other words, they have to beat the other team by a certain number of points.
Conversely, if the underdog loses by fewer points than the spread, they’re said to beat the spread.
Let’s look at the point spread for the Sens and the Jets to give you a more concrete idea of what we’re talking about:
|Team||Point spread (Odds)||Moneyline|
|Ottawa Senators||+1.5 (-195)||+130|
|Winnipeg Jets||-1.5 (+165)||-155|
In the NHL, the point spreads you’ll see will almost always be +/- 1.5. We’ll talk about the reasons for this a bit more in this section, and then we’ll do a deep dive in the strategy section.
You’ll notice that while the Sens are a clear underdog, they’re a favorite to beat the spread. This implies that bookmakers believe Ottawa will lose – but they’ll only lose by one point.
Are you looking for even odds in the NHL? You won’t get better than betting on Over/Under, sometimes called totals. These bets are almost always close to -110. For those not in the know, -110 implies even odds – if everyone bets $110, the losers pay the winners their $100, and the bookies keep the $10 as profit (known as the vig or juice).
Over/Under bets are simple: you’re betting on the combined score at the end of the game. Bookies will set a number, and you guess whether the score will be over or under that number – if it’s exactly that number, the bet is pushed (your wager is returned to you).
You know what time it is: time for an example!
|Team||Point spread (Odds)||Moneyline||Over/Under (Odds)|
|Ottawa Senators||+1.5 (-195)||+130||O 6 (+100)|
|Winnipeg Jets||-1.5 (+165)||-155||U 6 (-120)|
Note that the O stands for Over, and the U stands for Under. While these odds are generally displayed beside a team’s name, it doesn’t matter who wins and who loses – just whether the point total is over or under a given number (in this case, 6).
That means if the score is 3-2 in favor of the Jets or the Sens, an Under bet wins, while if the score is 4-3 in favor of either team, an Over bet wins. A 4-2 score would push.
Why are NHL odds so different?
Those of you who have done point spread betting on leagues like the NFL or NBA may have noticed that the odds for point spread in the NHL are quite a bit different than in those sports. That’s because the point spread in hockey tends to be much tighter – most games are won by a single point. We’ll talk about why this is in the strategy section.
Obviously, you can’t give a point spread of 1 or less, because then the spread would be pretty much the same as the moneyline – you can’t win by less than a point, after all. That means point spreads bets on the favorite in the NHL are, almost universally, bets that the favorite team is going to win by 2 points or more – an unlikely outcome. This means point spread bets tend to trend in favor of the underdog beating the spread – i.e. losing by one point or winning outright.
Other NHL bets
Now that we’ve covered the most common NHL bets, we can take a look at some other bets you can make. Some of these can be quite profitable (Grand Salami bets), some should only be used sparingly (parlay bets), while others are mostly just for fun (Futures and props). Any of these bets can be used as a part of your betting strategy, though – just be sure you know what you’re doing!
The Grand Salami
The Grand Salami is a kind of Over/Under bet – instead of betting on the point total of a single game, you’re betting on the total of every game played in a given night combined! This makes the Grand Salami an appealing wager for bettors who follow every team carefully.
Let’s say you have 8 different games in a given night – you might expect each game’s score to tally somewhere between 5 and 7 points. At an average of 6 points per game, that means you think about 48 points will be scored that night. If the Grand Salami Over/Under is 47.5, and you’re pretty sure your numbers are sound, you might want to bet the Over.
Grand Salami wagers reward bettors who are very knowledgeable about every game happening on a given night. Check out our Grand Salami guide in the Resources page for more tips!
Futures bets are all about betting on events that are – you guessed it – far in the future. Instead of betting on the outcome of a single game, you can bet on who is going to win the Stanley Cup – right now!
Do we recommend making these bets? No. There’s far too much variance at the start of the season – you don’t know who is going to make the playoffs or what the matchups are going to be like. The appeal is the massive potential payout, but don’t be fooled – these are fun bets. They’re rarely profitable bets.
Continuing our conversation about fun-but-rarely-profitable NHL bets, we have prop bets! What’s interesting about prop bets is that you can sometimes find a decent edge. In our Sens vs. Jets game, you could bet that the Jets are going to score first. Maybe the Sens are starting with their backup goalie, or maybe you know there are some injuries on their blueline.
Other prop bets are harder to find an edge on – things like which player is going to score first. New bettors should avoid prop bets altogether, while experienced bettors can add them to their portfolio when they think they’ll get an edge.
We have a whole guide to parlay bets, so we’ll keep it brief here. Parlays are bets on two or more different games. For example, we might bet the moneyline on Jets vs. Sens and the moneyline on Kings vs. Blues on the same night. To win the parlay, we’d have to hit on both of our moneylines – a loss on either would mean we lose the parlay bet.
Parlays tend to be trickier in the NHL, because you’re far less likely to get what are known as “parlay odds” – static odds that can make your wager more profitable if you win. Parlay odds are only available when the odds for each of your lines are the same (usually -110) – a 3-team parlay, for example, can pay out 6 to 1, which is more than the “true odds” would pay out.
If that’s all Greek to you (or, if you speak Greek, some other language you don’t speak), check out the parlay betting guide linked above – it will all make sense.
Period betting is exactly what it sounds like – betting on how individual periods of the game are going to play out. These bets are made independently of the total score in the game. The most common period bets are Over/Under bets for goals scored in that period – first period bets are popular (the first period is the highest scoring), while third period bets can be a good way of recouping money if you think you’re going to lose on a full game bet you made.
NHL betting strategy
Now that you know about what kinds of bets you can place, let’s take a brief look at some of the things you’ll want to keep in mind when betting on hockey games.
Hockey is a tough game to bet on
Hockey odds are a lot less stable than the odds you’ll see in, say, the NFL or NBA. That’s, in part, because of the problems with NHL point spread that we’ve already discussed, and it’s, in part, because the NHL betting market is a bit underdeveloped.
That means if you’re placing a bet, you’d best be sure you’ve got an edge. In all betting, it’s important to do your research – when betting on NHL games, it’s imperative.
Look for the best odds
This is a generic tip, but an important one – in this day and age, we have ready access to all kinds of different betting sites and bookmakers. Do your research, and find the ones that are offering the best odds for the line you like. Of course, you’ll also want to delve into how legitimate those sites/bookies are, whether or not they offer any sign-up bonuses, and other things of that nature.
Remember, knowing what the best odds being offered are is as important as knowing which line you think you have an edge on. Better lines effectively amplify your edge – you can see what we mean by using this implied probability calculator.
Before you bet, you should figure out how much of an edge you think a given line has, then compare your edge to the implied probability of the odds being given. If your edge is higher than the implied odds, it may well be a good bet.
Get as much data as possible
To successfully calculate your edge, you need as much data as possible. How does home ice advantage affect your chosen team? Are you tracking injuries? Individual player matchups? Starting lineups? Both team’s goalies’ success rates? There’s a lot you can sink your teeth into – if you’re not sure where to start your research, check out Meta Hockey’s Resource Page and start plunging down the rabbit hole.
Understanding game dynamics
As you all (hopefully) know, the dynamics in a hockey game change dramatically as the game goes on. The first period tends to be the highest scoring period – subsequent periods are lower scoring, with the exception of some 3rd period ends. At the end of the 3rd period, a team that’s down a goal (or two) will almost always pull their goalie – that creates an uptick in goals (for both sides) at the end of the 3rd.
5 is the magic number
5 is the most important number to look at in NHL Over/Under betting – that’s because more games end with 5 total points scored than any other number. That’s, in part, because ties are so common in the NHL, but games can’t actually end in ties. There’s always overtime, or even a shootout.
Ties, you’ll notice, always add up to an even number – that makes odd numbers a big deal in the NHL. This makes betting the Over/Under on 5 a very good idea (as pushes are quite likely), but it makes betting the Over on 5.5 a risky proposition (while the Under often looks good).
Get a handicapper
We’re only touching on the wide variety of factors that play into NHL betting here – we couldn’t possibly go over everything, because there’s honestly too much to cover in a readable format – that is, until Kyle releases his tell-all book. And even if this fictitious book I made up for the purpose of rhetoric was released, the betting game changes so fast, it couldn’t possibly break down every matchup between every team for you. Factors change way too quickly!
That’s why we offer expert NHL picks and parlays – Kyle’s always thinking about the best picks (we hear him muttering about odds in his sleep – he’s even on his game when he’s dreaming). Hockey’s a tough game to bet on, but it gets a lot easier when you have a sharp making the picks for you!