Despite being played on ice, the NHL season runs from crisp October all the way into sunny June, when the Stanley Cup is awarded. The betting lines for NHL games are usually released the night before the action, and there are many ways to wager
Much like baseball, hockey doesn’t offer quite as many betting options as football and basketball, given the close, usually low-scoring nature of the game. For that reason, moneyline betting is the most common option for NHL wagers. So let’s start there.
NHL moneyline betting
Even if you’re not a huge hockey fan, you might enjoy betting on NHL action, as long as you’re a fan of winning. Hockey is a notoriously tough game to predict because the gap between the best team and worst team in the league is not that big. While that makes it tough for bettors to pick winners, it makes it equally tough for bookmakers to set lines. For instance, sportsbooks treat hockey like other sports when it comes to home-ice/home-field advantage, building it into the line. But statistics and history don’t necessarily justify it, as there’s much less benefit to playing in your own barn in hockey. If you do the research, it’s not hard to find value betting hockey on the moneyline.
When you bet on the NHL moneyline, you’re simply betting who will win the game.
Side note: the NHL no longer has ties. But a large number of games are settled in overtime and shootouts, and some books will offer both a two-way and three-way moneyline. The three-way moneyline will rule a game a draw if it is tied after 60 minutes, while the two-way moneyline will give you the win no matter when the game is decided. Let’s stick with two-way betting for now, to keep things simple.
Below is the closing moneyline for a playoff game between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens in 2017.
|New York Rangers||+135|
There’s nothing complicated here. The Canadiens are on the bottom because they’re the home team. The -145 payout (bet $145 to win $100) indicates that they are the favorite, while the Rangers +135 payout (bet $100 to win $135) indicates they are the underdog.
NHL spread betting
On the rare occasions when there is a big favorite in the NHL, you may want to get more value than betting on a short moneyline, which might only payout at -250 or so (i.e. bet $250 to win $100). In such cases, the NHL’s spread option might interest you. Similar to the MLB “runline”, NHL games have a “puck line” (sometimes called a Canadian line), where the favorite has to win by 1.5 goals in order to “cover the spread.”
The table below shows what the puck line looked like for our Rangers vs Canadiens example.
|New York Rangers||+135||+1.5 (-150)|
|Montreal Canadiens||-145||-1.5 (+140)|
The 1.5-goal puck line won’t change in the lead-up to the game, unlike spreads in the NFL and NBA. However, if a lot more money is being wagered on one team than the other, the payouts will change. In our example, if 75-percent of the betting money was placed on the Canadiens in the lead-up, that +140 payout would likely shrink to +130 or thereabouts, while the payout on the Rangers would get a little better (perhaps moving from -150 to -140). (Why? Because, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, sportsbooks want to see equal betting on both teams. Changing the payouts in this fashion will encourage more wagers on the Rangers and fewer on the Canadiens.)
Because these spreads don’t move, hockey doesn’t have teaser betting [INSERT LINK TO MULTI BETS] as an option.
NHL games do have a game total option, and that number is usually set around 5.5. If two great goaltenders are playing, it can go as low as 5, and an offensive clash may see the total up at 6, but there’s not a great deal of variance on a game by game basis.
The total in our Rangers vs Canadiens example would be displayed as follows:
|Moneyline||Puck line||Total (over/under)|
|New York Rangers||+135||+1.5 (-150)||O 5.5 (-110)|
|Montreal Canadiens||-145||-1.5 (+140)||U 5.5 (-110)|
Total betting for hockey works the same as any other sport. If six or more goals are scored in the Rangers/Canadiens game, the people who bet on the over win. If five or fewer goals are scored, the under bettors win.
There is one wrinkle to keep in mind, though: should an NHL game go to a shootout (which is only possible in the regular season), only one goal will count toward the total, even if multiple shooters score during the shootout. If the example above went to a shootout and tied 1-1, and all three Ranger shooters scored while one scored for the Habs, the total would only be three because the final score of the game is 2-1 in favor of New York.
Most bigger sportsbooks offer a few props on nightly NHL games, but they’re not as extensive as other sports; given the lack of individual statistics (goals, assists, saves), bookmakers have less to work with. You’ll still be able to find intriguing bets like, “Will Sidney Crosby score a goal?” and “Will Carey Price record a shutout?”
The payouts will vary with the nature of the prop and, of course, the opponent.
In addition to individual player props, you’ll also find game props, such as whether the total number of goals will be odd or even, and whether the game will go to overtime. Each game should also have a first period moneyline, total and spread to play, as well as live-betting options for the second and third periods. (What’s live betting? You can learn about that here.)
If you’re looking to string together a few games in one bet, parlays and round robins are always an option for NHL games. We’ve already covered the basics and specifics of those multi bets here so we won’t repeat ourselves now. Just remember that:
- you can’t use a spread and moneyline pick from the same game, and
- the maximum number of games you can put in a parlay will vary by sportsbook.
Sportsbooks will post Stanley Cup odds for all 31 teams in the NHL at the start of the year (at the latest) and often sooner. Teams will only be removed from the board as they are mathematically eliminated during the season. Odds for who will win each conference (a.k.a. make the Stanley Cup final) are also available. You can even find regular season and playoff MVP odds at most sportsbooks.
However, regular season win totals are not a common occurrence for hockey, like they are in the NBA, NFL, and MLB. That is a result of hockey’s lack of popularity in the United States, in part. It’s also due to the fact that regular season wins aren’t the most accurate reflection of success in the NHL. Both 3-on-3 overtime and shootouts are seen as a virtual toss ups when it comes to deciding a game, that’s why the loser of either collects a single point each time. A team can finish with a lot of points, but not a lot of wins. That’s why the few sportsbooks that offer season long NHL over/unders generally opt for total points instead of total wins.