Betting hockey is no easy task for the uninitiated. In no way would anyone be expected to simply check the odds and feel confident in placing a wager. There is a lot to learn before you even get started. You’ll need to learn how to understand what all of the numbers mean, as well as all of the options that are out there. We’ve done our best to cover it all for you in our guide to betting hockey!
Reading NHL Odds
Getting yourself acquainted with how to read the odds for hockey games obviously important if you want to bet on them! When you view NHL odds you are typically going to see a money line on each team and a total for the game. If you are familiar how to bet baseball, hockey betting works very much the same way. Let’s look at how to read the money line and the total.
For the purposes of this article we will use a fictional matchup between the Canadiens and Bruins. Here is what you would see at the sportsbook:
Montreal Canadiens +120
Boston Bruins -130
When we talk about money line bets, the important thing to keep in mind is that you are simply picking who you think will win the game, there is no point spread to worry about. What you do have to worry about is the vig or juice (that’s the number following the team name).
Sportsbooks aren’t dumb, they know that some teams are better than others (or have a better chance of winning a particular matchup), so they aren’t going to allow you to just bet $100 to win a $100 on either side. This is where the money line comes in. Think of it as each team being weighted based on their perceived expectation to win the game.
If you want to delve into this further, our money line to win percentage conversion chart shows the hypothetical percentage a team is expected to win at a given money line.
Just like with point spreads in other sports, the negative number represents the favorite and the positive number represents the underdog in the matchup. In our example, the Boston Bruins are small favorites. If you wanted to bet on the Bruins to win have to pay a premium since they are the favorite. The simple formula for calculating how much you will need to risk to win a given amount is:
(Favorite Money Line/100) x Amount to Win = Risk Amount
For a bet on the Bruins to win $75, this plugs in as:
(-130/100) = -1.3
-1.3 x 75 = -97.5
This means I would need to risk $97.50 in order to win $75.00 on the Bruins.
The formula for underdogs is just the opposite:
Risk Amount x (Underdog Money Line/100) = Win Amount
So, a $75 bet on the Canadiens +120 would look like this:
75 x (120/100)
75 x (1.2) = 90
This means a $75 bet on the Canadiens would pay $90.00 if they won the game.
Totals (Over/Under Bets)
With hockey totals books set a hypothetical number of total goals to be scored in a given game and you would wager on if you think there will be more goals than that number (the over) or less goals than that number (the under). For example, let’s set the total in our fictional Canadiens/Bruins matchup at 5 goals. If you think the teams will combine to score more than five goals, you would wager on the over.
An important note to consider when betting hockey totals is whether or not your sports book includes overtime/shootouts when they settle their totals. This can vary from book to book, so be sure to check the rules before placing a wager so you are not caught off guard when it comes time to collect!
Other Hockey Wager Types
The puck line is a 1.5 goal “spread” on the game with an adjusted money line. About 47% of all NHL games are decided by just one goal, so you take some added risk (albeit with a better payout) if you take the favorite on the puck line. On the flip side, because so many games are decided by one goal, you pay a premium to take the underdog on the puck line.
If you take a favorite on the puck line, they must win by two or more goals. If you take an underdog on the puck line, they must either win the game outright or lose by exactly one goal.
Here’s an example:
Detroit Red Wings +1.5 -260
Chicago Blackhawks -1.5 +210
Now, to understand just how big of an impact the puck line has on that vig, consider that this is what the normal money line would look like for this same game:
Detroit Red Wings +120
Chicago Blackhawks -140
The closer the game is expected to be (note the small money line in the example), the bigger the payout is going to be on the favorite and the bigger the risk will be on the underdog. The favorite on the puck line is a classic “too good to be true” scenario. It almost always looks tempting because of the payout and the fact you are betting on the better team! Unfortunately books wouldn’t offer them if they were easy winners. Let’s look at why it’s not a good idea to just jump on the puck line bandwagon blindly.
Looking back over the last decade, favorites in the NHL win by two or more goals right about 32% of the time. That other 68% of the time they either win by exactly one goal (25%) or lose the game outright (43%) – either would be a loss betting the favorite on the puck line. For simplicity let’s say we bet $100 on 100 games with a puck line of -1.5 +200 (note that you obviously wouldn’t get exactly +200 on every puck line, but we can assume that is near average). Here’s what we get:
68 losing bets at -$100 = -$6,800
32 winning bets at $200 = $6,400
Total Win/Loss: -$400
Now, just to be thorough we should look at the flip side and see how we’d do betting underdogs. In this case we’d win 68% of the time (one goal losses + outright wins from above) and lose 32% of the time. We’ll go $100 per game for 100 games again, but we’ll need to use -220 as the approximate average vig:
68 winning bets at $100 = $6,800
32 losing bets at -220 = -$7040
Total Win/Loss: -$240
This information isn’t provided to deter you from betting on the puck line at all, it’s simply here so that you know the underlying expectations that the sports books use to set the lines in their favor, regardless of the outcome. There are definitely situations where it makes sense to take either a favorite or an underdog on the puck line in hockey betting, just don’t make a habit of doing it blindly.
Futures are a type of bet you make on a…wait for it…future event. In the NHL this is typically going to be the playoffs or the Stanley Cup, but it can really be anything. The book sets the odds for each team in the league to win the event, then adjusts throughout the season based on the results. For example, you might see the NY Rangers at +700 (or 7/1) to win the Stanley Cup before the season starts, but they lose their first five games in a row and the odds are adjusted to +1000 (10 to 1).
Futures are usually presented in one of two ways:
Money Line Style: NY Rangers +700
Fractional: NY Rangers 7/1
Both of these mean the exact same thing. Fractional odds for futures can sometimes be easier to understand, which is why you will see them often in this format. In the example above 7/1 simply means for every $1 bet, you win $7 if your bet ends up winning, so a $10 bet would win you $70 and so on (remember our money line formula from above: $10 x (700/100) = $70).
Props (or propositional bets) cover a wide variety of situations and outcomes to bet on. Props can literally be anything a sportsbook thinks of. These can be yes/no situations, bets based on player performance, even silly things like the color of a coach’s tie. Some common hockey props might be:
Will Patrick Kane Score a Goal Tonight?
How many saves will Jake Allen Have Against the Avalanche?
Over 30.5 -110
Under 30.5 -115
What Color Jacket Will Joel Quenneville Wear at Tonight’s Game?
Any Other Color -120
Season Win Totals
Before the start of a season oddsmakers set a number of games each team will win and give the option to bet over (more wins) or under (less wins) than that number. These are called win totals and are pretty straightforward. Here’s an example:
Pittsburgh Penguins Over 46.5 Wins -110
Pittsburgh Penguins Under 46.5 Wins -135
Most of the time you’ll see a fractional number to avoid pushes on season win totals.
A parlay is a group of multiple bets you make for an increased payout on the condition that all of the games in the group must win. Calculating odds for hockey parlays can be a little tricky, particularly with money lines, so I’d suggest using our parlay calculator. Remember that parlays can be great, but that the increased risk that comes with lumping all of your games together can come at a hefty price. For example, if you had a five team parlay that ended up going 4-1, a very profitable day betting each game individually turns into a total loss.
First, Second, & Third Period Bets
You can also bet hockey by period instead of on the full game. This is simply an adjusted money line or total for that specific period. The first period lines are set prior to the game, with the second and third period lines getting created and updated during intermissions.