26 Sep

How to Bet on the NHL: The Basics

The NHL, much like the majority of its fanbase, is exceptionally idiosyncratic. Figuring out the mechanics of how to be a successful NHL bettor can often be complicated and confusing.

Thankfully, we’ve been betting on the NHL since Jagr’s hair had no grey in it whatsoever, and we’ve created this handy and helpful resource for understanding all constituent parts of betting on the NHL. From straightforward bets like the NHL Moneyline to the Puckline, all the way to the complex world of parlays, we’ve got you covered.

Single Game NHL Bets

The bets you’ll notice first at sportsbook are puck line bets, moneyline bets, and totals bets. The nexus of these bets is that they all involve the outcome of a single game and that they can not be altered or withdrawn once the specific game commences.

Undoubtedly, this is where most of the money falls in NHL betting, and once you understand the structure and operation of the single-game bets you’ll be equipped with a solid foundation to read and analyze the entire breadth of NHL lines.

Betting the Puckline

To begin, let’s look at an example of how the puck line, total, and over/under will read on a typical NHL line at your sports betting site of choice.

Betting on the puck line is directly analogous to betting on the run line in baseball, or betting on the spread in football. In other contexts, you might hear the puck line referred to as betting the spread; point spread betting, ATS, amongst a whole host of other nicknames.

Obviously, in the NHL, you’re betting on goals and not points, but the underlying mechanics are identical to betting on the spread in any other major North American professional league.

What is unique about betting on the puck line compared to the moneyline is that you are not betting on an outright winner, nor are you betting on an outright loser. Betting on the favorite means that the favorite has to win by a specified number of goals; conversely betting on the underdog means they have to not lose by a specific number of goals.

Puckline Example

Tampa Bay Lighting Spread: -1.5 (-110) Moneyline -175 Total 5.5 (-110) o

Washington Capitals Spread +1.5 (-110) Moneyline +150 Total 5.5 (-110) u

The puck line might look a little complicated at first, so let’s walk through the sample line above to understand how it works in practice. The team with the negative number next to it, the Tampa Bay Lightning, is the favorite. If you were to bet on the Tampa Bay Lighting, they’d have to beat Ovechkin’s Capitals by at least two goals in order to cover the puck line.

Another way of understanding and interpreting the puckline would be to subtract 1.5 goals from Tampa’s total and see if they still win the game. For example, if the Lightning won by a score of 4-2, they would still win the game. However, if they were to achieve victory by a score of 5-4, they would not have covered the puck line.

Conversely, if you bet on Washington, they would either have to win the game outright or lose by less than 1 goal in order for your bet to success. A “+” sign in front of the puck line will denote the underdog, and this is a sure-fire way to ascertain who bookmakers believe is the inferior of the two teams.

The puck line can be confusing in the sense that it will always include a half goal. E.g. in our example, where the puck line is set at 1.5 instead of 1 or 2. Sportsbooks deploy half goals to avoid the possibility of a tie, or a “push,” and these half points are referred to as the “hook.” Either team getting a half goal is impossible, so bettors will either definitely win or lose their wagers.

The puck line works to create an equitable line between two teams, as its intended purpose is to level the playing field when selecting an outcome for both teams. Sports betting sites use the puck line to create both a balanced and active market on their lines, as it is not in a sportsbook’s ideal risk profile to have the majority of bets placed on one team or outcome.

As long as the money bettors lay down is distributed approximately equitably on both teams, the sportsbooks can pay out successful bettors from the pool of money collected from the losers, all while receiving the 5%-10% “vig” they collect on everyone. (More on this later!)

Further, the NHL puck line is unique in the respect that the line is always set at either above or below 1.5. Due to the historical parity in the NHL, in addition to the low average goal totals in the post-lockout NHL (hovering around 5.5 for the last 8 or so years), it just doesn’t make sense for sportsbooks to create a larger (or smaller) puck line. In practice, this means that bettors will always have the option to bet on the favorite to win by two goals (or more), or they can bet on the underdog to lose by no more than one goal or win outright.

Betting the Moneyline

The most straightforward NHL bet is unquestionably the moneyline; it is also the most popular NHL bet. When you place a bet on the moneyline, you’re betting on who is going to win the game, and that alone. There are no contingencies; victory is all that matters!

Tampa Bay Lighting Spread: -1.5 (-110) Moneyline -175 Total 5.5 (-110) o

Washington Capitals Spread +1.5 (-110) Moneyline +150 Total 5.5 (-110) u

Similar to when you’re placing a bet on the puck line, the team that has a “+” sign on next to its moneyline number is the underdog, while the team with “-“ next to its moneyline number is regarded as the favorite. These figures mark your potential payout, as well as the probability that your sportsbook has assigned to each team’s prospective chances of winning the game.

In some cases, both teams will have “-“ signs next to them; in this case, the team with a number closer to 0 should be regarded as the favorite, i.e., – 105 would be the favorite over – 120.

If any of this is at all confusing, or you need a quick reminder on how to interpret the moneyline and how it interacts with your payout, read this moneyline article.

Let’s brush up quickly, using our example above. A positive moneyline indicates how much money you would win if you were to bet $100; a negative moneyline shows you how much money you would have to bet in order to win $100. So, let’s take a look at this in practice. If you were to bet on a negative moneyline (i.e. Tampa Bay Lighting, at -175), you’re required to bet $175 in order to win $100. Conversely, if you bet $100 on the Washington Capitals, you’d walk away with $250 ($100 from your stake, and $150 of profit.)

Totals Betting

Totals betting, also known as the over/under, is just as a simple to understand as the puck line and the moneyline. For a totals bet, you are simply betting on whether the total score of a single NHL game, both teams combined, will be above or below a stipulated number. It is very rare that this number will be different from 5.5, but there are select exceptions to this rule.

In our example, we use 5.5. If you were to place a bet on the over, you’d be wagering that Tampa Bay and Washington would combine for 6 goals or more. Just like we talked about in regards to the puck line, half goals are used to any chance of the sportsbook being stuck with a “push,” or a tie.

You’ll notice that the odds corresponding to both the over and the under, in our example, have -110 next to them. The odds attached to the over and the under, just like the moneyline, indicate the payout. In our example, its impossible to double your money betting on either the over or the under; this is relatively common practice on NHL over/under, as many times sportsbooks decide that there is the equitable probability of the goal total going in either direction.

However, this is far from dogmatic, and if there are two notoriously high scoring teams with shoddy defenses, you may see your sportsbook assign the over as the favorite. Similarly, if both teams top-6 forwards could barely score if they were playing in the ECHL and there are two Vezina candidates in net, the under may be the favorite.

It might not seem entirely fair, or reasonable, that you have to bet $110 in order to win $100, especially when even your sportsbook is telling you that there’s a 50/50 probability of either outcome. However, this is simply part and parcel of using an online sports betting site; this 10% “vig,” or “juice,” is how sportsbooks stay afloat and profitable, and it’s a price you’ll often have to pay to bet on the NHL.

Multiple Game Bets

Multiple game bets aren’t as popular in the NHL as they are in the sports like the NFL, MLB, and NBA, but they are still available on many different sports betting sites. They might not get enough press as their rival league’s counterparts, but they’re still a great way to add layers of both complexity and excitement to your NHL bets.

Without a doubt, betting on the NHL becomes a little more complicated as soon as more than one game is involved; with a more significant number of games included, there are a higher number of variables. However, with a high number of variables, comes the chance of a much higher payout. For this reason, multiple game NHL bets are a favorite of “sharps,” as they offer massive monetary rewards when successful. We break all the different multiple game NHL events down for you below.

Parlay Bets

A parlay is any type of bet that involves more than one specific event; this can be within a single game, or across several games. The possibilities of what a parlay can be are expansive, and sports betting sites will generally let you create custom parlays in whatever fashion you desire. This affords the bettor a ton of autonomy in creating a bet, allowing for bettors to leverage specific information and expertise they hold.

Tampa Bay Lighting Spread: -1.5 (-110) Moneyline -175 Total 5.5 (-110) o

Washington Capitals Spread: +1.5 (-110) Moneyline +150 Total 5.5 (-110) Toronto

Maple Leafs Spread: -1.5 (-110) Moneyline -200 Total 5.5 (-110) o

Florida Panthers Spread: +1.5 (-110) Moneyline +165 Total 5.5 (-110) u

Let’s look at our sample line once more to see a parlay in action. Thanks to parlays, its possible to bet on both the Washington Capitals winning the game, and the total being over 5.5. If you wanted to add another event to that stake, say, the Panthers beating the Leafs, that would be possible as well. The more constituent events you tack onto your parlay, the greater your payout.

The reward for guessing every event in your parlay correctly can be massive, but it’s important to know that there’s no pot of gold waiting for you if you predict three out of four events correctly, or even nine out of ten events. In order to be successful, every single event within your parlay must be a winner. Consequently, you can stand to win a huge amount of money on a relatively small wager, but that’s only because the probability of every event within your parlay going the way you envision is generally small.

For the sake of illustration, let’s say you decide that you’re going to create the following three-event parlay bet: (1) Tampa at -1.5, (2) the Tampa/Washington game under 5.5, and (3) The Panthers moneyline at +165. For the sake of argument, let’s say that all three events have a 50% chance of succeeding, individually. A rough payout on a three-event parlay like the one we just described would be about +550 or +600 (of course, this means that you would win either $550 or $600, plus your initial stake.)

Well, that would be perfect! But hold your horses, because your chances of winning when you combine the probabilities are hovering around 12.5%. We don’t advocate you shying away from parlays just because they have a lower likelihood of success, but you should be aware of the risks.

Parlay’s can involve any myriad number of combinations of moneyline, puck line, or over/under bets from either one game or multiple games. However, very few sportsbooks will let you include a bet on both the moneyline and the puck line of the same game. Sportsbooks do this to protect their financial interests and mitigate potential losses.

The bulk of sports betting sites will allow you to create parlays with a limitless number of events, but some will place a cap on the number of events you’re authorized to bet on.

Other NHL Bets

Much like any professional sports league, there are a ton of narratives outside of single games themselves that are captivating over the long run. In addition, there are aspects of single games that don’t involve the outcome of one specific game that can pique interest, like tracking which player will continue a hot streak, or bust a slump.

Whether these storylines are individual player point totals, awards races, or teams meeting or falling short of expectations, the NHL has a lot to offer in the way of intrigue. As betting on the NHL continues to grow in popularity, online sportsbooks are now offering bettors the possibility of placing cash down on how outcomes of some of these storylines are going to unfold.

NHL Prop Bets

NHL Prop Betting, technically known as propositional betting, allows you to bet on events within the game itself. Instead of wagering on the outcome of the game itself, you can wager on specific players and events within the game. The options for what specifically you can bet on vary from sportsbook to sportsbook, but bets like who scores the first goal of the game, if a player will score a goal, etc. are nearly unanimous in a sportsbooks NHL props lines.

If you’ve got a feeling McDavid is undoubtedly going to pot one (or two), a prop bet allows you to win some cash if your gut ends up being right!

NHL Futures Bets

After the NHL season comes to a conclusion and Stanley’s Cup is handed out, a multitude of Futures bets will appear on our sportsbook: the winner of the cup, conference, and regular season the following year, and the destinations of marquee free agents.

Many sportsbooks will allow you to bet on the over/under of a team’s prospective win totals for the following season; these will often come with a “hook” to avoid the possibility of a push. These are technically referred to as season props, and the odds sportsbooks offer will vary as information about specific teams comes to light.

For example, on July 1, the odds of Pittsburgh winning over 38 games would likely be low, set around -110. However, if during training camp, Crosby and Malkin both suffered season-ending injuries, the odds would shot up, likely somewhere around +400. For this reason, always exercise caution when placing your futures bets; not only because your money is tied up until the conclusion of the season, but because your bet is locked in at the odds you placed it at.

Betting on the NHL playoffs is an undoubtedly the most popular form of NHL futures betting, despite the fact that these futures don’t open until the NHL playoff’s seeding has officially been determined. Many sportsbooks will allow you to bet on the winner of not only individual series, but also of respective conferences. In addition, bets on who will win the Stanley Cup are offered again, often at significantly different odds than were available when the season commenced.

Additional futures bets include individual awards; these will also allow you to select a “FIELD” option, offering flexibility if you believe a player stands to win who is not listed as an option.

Further, if two marquee players are traded for each other (think something of the magnitude of Weber for Subban, Eberle for Strome, not Reaves for Sundqvist), sportsbooks may offer a futures bet of which player will end up with more points, assists, or goals at the conclusion of the season.

For the most part, sportsbooks will close futures bets once the season commences; again, this part of how sportsbooks protect themselves from significant financial losses.

NHL Futures: Playoff Bets

Betting on the NHL playoffs is an extremely popular form of NHL futures betting. Many sportsbooks will allow you to bet on the eventual winner of the playoff round as the series progresses, in addition to the winners of specific games.

In Game NHL Bets

While this feature is not ubiquitous quite yet, many sportsbooks are beginning to offer Live Betting on the NHL. As the name suggests, this means placing bets on games that have already started; just like betting on a game before it starts, you are given the option of betting on the moneyline, puck line, and totals. However, the puck line and odds may be modified in real-time, predicated on both the changing score of the game and the volume of bets.

Want to learn more about betting on the NHL? Check out our Stanley Cup Odds Tracker! 

Meet the authors

Matt McEwan
Dave F.
Sports Writer
William Hill
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