How to Bet on NHL
Most Americans prefer to sit home and watch live sports on their 65-inch 4K ultra-high definition televisions. It’s why attendance is shrinking in pretty much every U.S. sports league. Why do we bring this up? Because there’s one sport that’s really not suffering a hit in attendance: The National Hockey League (NHL).
Anyone who has seen an NHL game in person will tell you that it’s the best sport to attend live instead of watching on television. It’s hard to follow the puck on TV, for one thing. Viewers also can’t really get a feel for how big and fast NHL players are. True, hockey is niche sport in this country and below football, basketball, baseball and probably even mixed martial arts at this point. But the NHL’s fan base is perhaps more dedicated than any other and it’s why those arenas around the league sell out every night.
For our purposes here, we will simply use the NHL as our reference point for how to bet on hockey even though there are plenty of top leagues in Europe, led by Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. In fact, most of the best NHL players are either from Canada or Europe, although America is catching up from a talent perspective. The most popular hockey event on the planet isn’t the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals but the Olympic men’s tournament, but that’s once every four years.
The Olympic tournament got a massive boost in popularity when NHL started taking a winter break and allowing players to represent their countries, but the league didn’t do that in 2018 in South Korea. The NHL’s decision to pull out of the Games were over a series of disputes between the league and the International Olympic Committee over the costs incurred by NHL athletes and who would cover them. The IOC had paid for the travel, insurance, accommodations and other costs for NHL players but refused to continue to do so for 2018.
As of this writing, it’s not clear if the NHL will change its mind for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. The league should because it’s the best worldwide marketing for NHL hockey.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet for how to bet on NHL games.
Like in football, basketball or baseball, a moneyline bet on the NHL is simply a wager on which team wins the game regardless of score or regardless of whether it’s in regulation time, overtime or a shootout.
All things being equal, a home team would be favored in an NHL game because home teams have one major advantage other than the crowd and knowing the ice surface better: The last line change after a stoppage of play. That’s a big advantage in terms of strategy.
Let’s use an Original Six matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks. Original Six refers to the first six teams ever in the NHL, which were Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Montreal, Toronto and the New York Rangers. Here’s how an NHL moneyline betting menu would look, with the home team always on the bottom:
Detroit Red Wings +140
Chicago Blackhawks -160
This means a $100 bet on Detroit to win – again, score doesn’t matter – returns $140, while it would take a $160 bet on Chicago to return $100. All moneylines are based on a $100 wager.
While there are point spreads in both football and basketball, there aren’t any in baseball and hockey because most games in those lower-scoring sports end in a margin of one run/goal. The vast majority of NHL games do.
All pucklines are set at 1.5 goals, so this is where a bettor would have to take overtime into consideration. If the Red Wings and Blackhawks finish regulation tied 3-3, then it’s impossible for Detroit to lose by more than one goal or for Chicago to win by more than one. Either it ends 4-3 after the five-minute overtime or 4-3 after the shootout results. Note that there are no shootouts in the NHL playoffs. Overtime keeps going (with breaks after each 20-minute overtime like it is a regular period) until one team scores.
A moneyline favorite in an NHL game is usually going to be a puckline underdog because oddsmakers are so confident a game will end in a margin of one goal. However, there are times when a team is a very slight moneyline favorite that it could be a puckline underdog. Each puckline result will be given a moneyline price.
Here is how a puckline might look for Red Wings-Blackhawks
Detroit Red Wings +1.5 (-180)
Chicago Blackhawks -1.5 (+160)
A $180 bet on Detroit would be a winner if the Red Wings win outright or lose by only one goal. A $100 wager on Chicago would be a winner only if the Blackhawks win by at least two goals. Thus, any game that goes to overtime would be a puckline loser for a Blackhawks bettor.
The vast majority of NHL totals will be either set at 5.5 goals, 6 or 6.5. There are times in the playoffs, which are generally lower-scoring games, that a total can be set at 5. It’s quite rare for a regular-season game to get to 7 on the total but it might happen a few times a season if both teams are spectacular offensive clubs.
A total simply means how many goals are scored in the game, and both the over and under are assigned a moneyline price. Again, overtime and a shootout come into play here. If a total is set at 6.5 and the Red Wings and Blackhawks go to overtime tied 3-3, then the under can’t win because the game must end by a score of 4-3 either in OT or a shootout.
Detroit Red Wings Ov 6.5 (-120)
Chicago Blackhawks Un 6.5 (Even)
It would cost $120 to win $100 on the game going over 6.5 total goals, while a $100 bet would return exactly $100 on a game staying under 6.5 Many totals are given a half-goal so there is no tie or push. There also will be occurrences where both the under and over totals have the exact same moneyline price of -115 or something like that.
Once the basics of hockey betting are learned, there are numerous prop options like NHL futures odds (who wins the Stanley Cup?), a three-way moneyline, over/under total goals for each team, team to score first, will both teams score?, first team to three goals, whether the game goes to overtime, margin of victory and much more. All those props will be attached moneyline prices.