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How to Bet on the NHL: 5 Tips and Strategies

by June 6, 2020

Whether you’re new to sports betting or a betting pro, our Sports Betting Strategy and Advice page is for you. You can get started with our 101 section — including 10 Sports Betting Tips for Beginners — or head to more advanced strategy — like Key Numbers When Betting Against the Spread — to learn more.

It’s no secret that the NHL is the least popular of the four major professional American sports. As a result, the amount of money bet on the NHL pales in comparison to the other leagues.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t make money by betting on hockey. Like the NBA, which also plays 82 games, even the best of teams lose their share of games. Whether one sticks to traditional moneyline bets or takes a stab at the more lucrative prop bets is completely a matter of preference.

Like with any sport, there is certain betting advice that is sure to give you a leg up when placing wagers. In this article, we give our five best tips and strategies to be a successful NHL bettor.

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Bet the Puckline for Big Favorites

Very similar to the runline in baseball betting, hockey offers its version of an against the spread bet in the form of a puckline. No matter how big a favorite is, their puckline spread will always be -1.5 goals. On the flipside, all underdogs would be getting +1.5 goals. The one thing that changes for each game is the amount of “vig” or “juice” on each puckline.

If you think a favorite is destined to win, but you don’t want to pay the steep price of their moneyline, it’s worth the better odds to bet their puckline. By betting the puckline, you incur the risk of a losing bet provided that they only win by one goal. However, if they are heavy favorites, it likely means the oddsmakers think they’ll win convincingly. In addition, empty-net goals are scored with high frequency at the end of games. Therefore, if the favorite is winning by one goal late, they have a high chance of scoring an empty netter to cover the puckline.

Because empty-net goals are scored with such regularity, one should avoid wagering on an underdog’s puckline. It’s simply not worth the extra insurance to cover yourself in case an underdog loses by one goal. If you think an underdog can be competitive enough to not be losing by one goal late, then they should be worthy enough of a moneyline bet at better odds.

Empty Net Goals Can Affect a Total

If you are an avid NHL bettor, you have likely experienced getting burned on a total or over/under bet by an empty-net goal. Too often, bettors look at the teams’ offensive abilities and goaltending when deciding the right side of a total. However, the possibility of a “cheap” empty-net goal should always be factored in.

Predicting when an empty-net goal can happen is easier said than done. It seems counter-intuitive, but one should predict how the first two periods will play out when thinking of a totals bet.

If you think one team will open up a big 3-0 or 4-1 lead by the end of the second period, empty-net goals late in the game are not as likely since the trailing team will have no motivation to pull their goalie. In addition, if you think a game will be tied late, there also will not be an empty-net goal scored. However, in that scenario, there will always be an overtime or shootout goal added since a game cannot end in a tie, so factor that into your thinking as well.

Know the Schedule

Hockey is a grueling sport that demands a lot of energy. That’s why line shifts are usually not too much longer than a minute each time.

Much like in basketball, teams are often asked to play on consecutive nights. Oddsmakers will likely adjust for this scenario when setting their lines. However, teams that are playing on consecutive days should be viewed as disadvantaged against a rested team. In addition, pay attention to teams that are in the midst of a long road trip. Over time, the demands of constant travel later in their trip figures to wear on players both physically and mentally.

Ride a Hot Goaltender

Hall of Fame baseball manager Earl Weaver was quoted as saying, “momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher.” He was pointing out that since baseball uses pitching rotations, it’s hard for a baseball team to build momentum since any of their pitchers might have an off day.

In hockey, starting goaltenders play most of the games in a season. Though they may be spelled by a backup occasionally for rest, that would never happen if they were playing well. Thus, it’s much easier for a goaltender to “get hot” or “see the puck well” for an extended period.

Keep track of how teams’ goaltenders are playing. If they’re showing signs of dominant play, look into their teams’ moneylines or unders.

Avoid the Temptation for Longshot Prop Bets

There will always be bettors that eschew the traditional moneyline or puckline bets for the unique prop bets. In hockey, some of these props can result in huge four-figure payouts. However, bettors also must realize that these prop bets are almost impossible to handicap.

Most oddsmakers will offer props like predicting the final score of the game. There are close to 100 different combinations of likely scores for a hockey result. If a bettor does predict the correct score, they could turn a $100 bet into a few thousand dollars. However, it’s hard enough to predict the winner of a game. Adding the correct final score on top of that seems impossible.

Another tempting prop bet is which player will score the first goal. Bettors will argue this is much easier to predict since certain teams have tendencies to start fast or slow. However, even the biggest of underdogs can score the first goal in a game. In addition, lines get changed so frequently that there is no guarantee a goal will be scored by a team’s top line.

Prop bets that are more reasonable are things like team totals (O/U how many goals a team will score) or the O/U amount of goals scored by period. These bets won’t offer as many rewards, but they are much more likely to result in winning bets compared to the other longshots.

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Mike Spector is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeSpector01.

Betting 101, Betting Tips, Hockey, How-To