NHL Betting Guide
National Hockey League (NHL) is popular for betting all over the world. Comprised of 23 teams from USA and 7 from Canada, each can sign players of any nationality. Currently about half are Canadian and one-quarter American. Sweden, Czech Republic, Russia, and Finland have a significant number of players too. 18 nationalities in total are represented.
Deciding where to bet NHL depends largely on what country you are located in. The list below covers our top picks for players located in your country.
Top Rated NHL Sportsbooks
No matter if you are brand new to NHL betting, or are experienced and looking to handicap, this guide has you covered. I start with the various ways to bet on a match and what to look for at online bookmakers. Experienced bettors should scroll down to where I cover handicapping the market and point those looking to learn predictive NHL modeling in the right direction. First I start with basics.
How to Bet NHL
It is very important to note there are two primary ways to bet which team will win an NHL game:
- Regulation Time Only (also called 1X2) is a three way betting market where the wagering options are home team, away team, and draw. In this form of betting the game is final for wagering purposes at the end of regulation. Thus if you bet the home team, and they don’t win until overtime or shootout the bet is a loss. The winners in that scenario are those who bet the draw.
- Full Game Betting (also called moneyline betting, or home/away) is a wager on which team will win. For this overtime and shootouts count. Thus, the winning team per NHL stats is also the winner for betting purposes.
At most online sportsbooks you will find both of the above options offered. However, at some catering to specific markets this is not always the case.
In Canada regulation time only (where the draw is a betting option) has long been the most common way to bet NHL. This is how the legal betting sources Sport Select, Pari sportif, and Pro-Line first offered it. In the United States full game betting is most common. This is how Las Vegas sportsbooks first offered it. If you do not see the option to bet a draw and no wording saying regulation time only (or draw no bet), then you will know the site is offering full game betting.
Where you need to be careful is a UK / European betting option called draw no bet. This is not the primary betting option at any site, but an alternative one. This is a two-way market where you bet only on which team wins. But, it is for regulation time only. If at the end of regulation it is tied the bet is a push (stakes are refunded).
I mention the different ways to bet NHL game winner in detail because it is important when shopping the odds. Odds for a team to win in regulation (where they lose if it is a draw) will appear attractive if mistaking them as being full game odds. Don’t get caught off-guard by this.
Understanding the Odds: No matter if you are betting regulation time only (the 3-way home/draw/away market) or full game (home/away where OT/shootout is included) your wagering selection will have corresponding odds. Some sites use decimal odds format to display these and others use American odds format. With most you can change the settings to display the odds in either format. If you are brand new to betting, click and read one of those articles so you can understand how the odds work.
Other Wagering Options
Match winner is only one of many ways NHL can be wagered. Other markets available include:
- Total Betting – is a wager on whether the total goals in a match will go over or under the posted total. Say the bookmaker sets the total goals at 5.5, you can either bet it will go under 5.5 goals or bet it will go over 5.5 goals. This is generally close to an even money wagering proposition but is not always the case.
- Puckline – is a form of wagering that uses a handicap, also called a point spread. If a team is listed as -1.5 it means they need to win by 2 goals or more for the wager to be successful. If a team is listed as +1.5 then they get 1.5 goals added to their score. They are the winner for betting purposes if they win the game outright, or lose by 1. The odds are generally very small on the team with a positive puckline line and big on the team with a negative puckline.
- Correct Score: is a wager on the exact final score. It can be big odds such as 13/1 if you bet a team to win by exactly 3-1. Unfortunately most US friendly betting sites do not offer NHL correct score betting. For those outside the US, you can find this market at Bet365.
- Both Teams to Score: is a wager on whether both teams will score in the game or not. You can bet yes or no. This is not a common NHL betting market, but 10Bet is a site I know offers this.
- Double Chance: This is a regulation time only option where there are two ways to win. You can bet home/away, home/draw or away/draw. You win if either of the options picked are correct. This is a popular offer outside the US, but not found at most US sportsbooks.
- Team Totals: This is the same as total betting but is done only for a specific team. 5Dimes is a betting site that can be used by players of every country that has great odds on hockey and offers this wagering option.
Be careful of Asian handicaps and European Handicaps: These are markets that function like a puckline but are based on regulation time only. Asian bookies offer the Asian version which is straight forward and easy to understand. The European handicap is more confusing to American bettors. This is a 3-way market. If the odds are Home -1 and the home team wins by exactly 1, the correct wager was draw. In this case bettors taking home -1 and away +1 both lose. Again, these NHL alternatives to puckline are uncommon, but are worth being aware of.
Do understand that the above list of NHL wagering options is not comprehensive. At some sites you can bet the outcome of specific periods. You can also bet the game in-play at many of them. For players in some markets, Bet365 (no US players) has live streams of NHL games right on their website. For those in the US, Bookmaker, Bovada and BetOnline are decent sites to check for coverage of NHL in-play betting. Some of these also have prop bets such as if a player will score in the match, or scorecast betting. The latter is a wager generally at big odds where you pick which players will score first combined with which team will win the game.
Understanding the Betting Market
Before discussing any form of NHL betting strategy, it is important to understand it is for all intents and purposes an efficient betting market. It is handicapped using advanced statistics which include, but are not limited to, stats such as goals for, goals against, goals differential, power play success rate, power play kill rate, shot %, save %, winning streak, conference standing, fenwick close %, PDO, 5/5 goal for/against.
The required data to handicap is widely available on the web. There is also a lot of it. An NHL regular season has 30 teams playing 82 games each for a total of 1230 regular season games. 16 make the playoffs for a best of 7 elimination tournament with no byes, adding 60-98 postseason games played to decide the eventual Stanley Cup Champion.
Casual players can benefit from this without knowing predictive modeling themselves. This starts for the reason that some bookmakers are so comfortable in their handicapping and risk management on NHL that they base their odds on a dimeline. This means teams equally matched are priced as home -105 / away -105 in American format or 1.9524/1.9524 in decimal format. Some do even better with www.5dimes.com sometimes having a nickel lines -103/-102 or 1.9756 decimal per side base.
If a casual bettor was to bet only their favorite team using a dimeline they’d expect to average a loss of 2.38% their wagering volume. If doing the same with a nickel line this falls to 1.22%. That’s using only one betting site. Shopping the odds aggressively using many sites it is possible to bet NHL against a theoretical house advantage of under 1%! With handicapping that can be cut to a fraction of a percent.
Strategy for Novice Players – Capping the Market
Again, if you use many online betting sites and bet at whichever has the best odds, you’ll have only a very tiny theoretical house advantage to overcome. It is possible for any player to get lucky as NHL betting done correctly has much better odds than most casino games. Not on average, but big scores in casinos are common enough. Here the chances are even better, but using multiple betting sites to shop odds is key.
To take it a step further, it becomes possible to predict scoring using the betting market. To do this is it important to use sites that offer NHL bets at low margins. www.5dimes.eu is a site that on average has the best hockey odds. If you don’t have an account there, open one now as you will need it.
The next step in predicting scores based on the market is to use the oddsportal.com NHL feed. Be sure to create an account and log-in as this will give you access to the highest number of bookmakers. Using the various tabs you will find odds at many betting sites for full game (home/away tab), pucklines (AH tab), and totals (over/under tab). Note that not all of 5Dimes odds are displayed on their feed and this is the site we want to give the most weight. So log in and get their odds while comparing the ones at oddsportal. Next give very strong weight to the PinnacleSports.com odds displayed on that feed, and then look at the payout % column and give the ones with the highest percentage weight too.
To show an example let’s say the betting market shows us the following odds:
For full game the market has:
Anaheim Ducks -135 (1.741 decimal) / Detroit Red Wings +125 (2.250 decimal)
And for the total there is a choice of:
Over 5 goals -133 (1.752 decimal) / under 5.5 goals +114 (2.140 decimal)
Over 5.5 goals +110 (2.10 decimal / under 5.5 goals -118 (1.8475 decimal)
In the early stages of doing this some guess work is involved and there are multiple ways to go about this. My personal estimate here is the market is predicting 5.48 goals with Ducks winning 56.4% of the time. My calculation is that this translates to a predicted exact score of Ducks 2.895 Red Wings 2.585. Knowing this, I can calculate the probability of many different outcomes occurring.
Poisson in Hockey
If you are able to predict an exact score it becomes possible to calculate odds for almost anything using a distribution model. The easiest “mostly acceptable” method is using Poisson as it can be calculated in a Microsoft Excel sheet. This formula is =POISSON(x,mean,cumulative). The last 3 items are variables. X is what we’re calculating for, mean is what we know, and cumulative is true if we want to know the odds of at least that number and false if we want to know that number exact.
If we know the Ducks are expected to score 2.895 goals and want to know the probability they score exactly 2 goals: in Microsoft excel we plug =POISSON(2, 2.895, FALSE) to any cell, hit tab, and see the cell populates with 0.231731256. This means a 23.17% chance they score exactly 2 goals. If we want to know if they’ll score 2 or more we change this to =POISSON(2, 2.895, TRUE) and see they will score 2 or more 44.71% of the time.
With this information it becomes possible to build charts of all possible scores (see our Football/Soccer example here). To handicap an exact score of 4-2 run the Ducks chances of scoring 4 exact and the Red Wings chances of scoring 2 exact. Keeping the percentages as a decimal format, multiple the two to get the probability of an exact score of 4-2. If you understand implied probability, shop betting sites offering odds on 4-2 correct score. Look for any odds where the implied probability thereof is less than the true probability just calculated using Poisson.
Furthermore, if you calculate all correct scores using Poisson you can then put them into a chart for pricing about anything. For capping Ducks -1.5 on a puckline add together the probabilities of all correct scores that have them winning by 2 or more. If you want to calculate if both teams will score add all the probabilities where teams score at least one.
Advanced NHL Handicapping
What was covered in this article was simply an introduction for novice players. To take it a step further, first understand Poisson is not exact. Not all scoring in hockey is random, because the pace of the game changes depending on the score. There is also the issue of goalies being pulled at the end of the game leading to 5 on 6 scoring and empty net goals. Advanced players factor the covariance and use a bivariate Poisson distribution. For this you can google search some and also read this article for additional discussion.
Getting highly advanced is predicting scores without relying on taking estimates from the betting market. This involves predictive modeling which requires an understanding of applied statistics, access to historical data, software, and basic programming knowledge. For those green, looking to get to that level, note that throughout the year free courses are offered online by major universities such as Duke, University of Toronto, Johns Hopkins, and Princeton. To find these just Google search: coursera statistics.
With an understanding of statistics, next know that vast research about predicting scores in hockey has already been published. To find these, simply add the word academia to your Google searches to filter out garbage results written by marketing sites. Round robin that search word with hockey score modeling, predicting hockey scores, etc to find papers on the topic.