An Introduction to the National Hockey League (NHL)
Established in 1917, the National Hockey League (NHL) is recognized as the best ice hockey league in the world. The NHL is one of the “Big Four” professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada, alongside Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Football League (NFL).
Only three teams competed in the first two seasons of the NHL, but the league has expanded numerous times throughout its history and now consists of 32 teams – 25 in the United States and 7 in Canada. The Vegas Golden Knights officially became the 31st NHL franchise in 2017, while Seattle Kraken officially became the league’s 32nd franchise in 2021.
Each NHL team plays 82 games during the regular season, which runs from early October through early to mid-April. With 1,312 games in the regular season schedule, you will find plenty of ice hockey betting opportunities. That figure doesn’t include betting on preseason NHL games or the Stanley Cup playoffs.
NHL teams are split into two conferences: the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Each conference contains two divisions of eight teams. The two divisions within the East Conference are the Atlantic Division and Metropolitan Division, while the two divisions within the West Conference are the Central Division and Pacific Division.
Here’s the 32 teams competing in the 2021-22 NHL season:
|Atlantic Division||Metropolitan Division||Central Division||Pacific Division|
|Boston Bruins||Carolina Hurricanes||Arizona Coyotes||Anaheim Ducks|
|Buffalo Sabres||Columbus Blue Jackets||Chicago Blackhawks||Calgary Flames|
|Detroit Red Wings||New Jersey Devils||Colorado Avalanche||Edmonton Oilers|
|Florida Panthers||New York Islanders||Dallas Stars||Los Angeles Kings|
|Montreal Canadiens||New York Rangers||Minnesota Wild||San Jose Sharks|
|Ottawa Senators||Philadelphia Flyers||Nashville Predators||Seattle Kraken|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||Pittsburgh Penguins||St. Louis Blues||Vancouver Canucks|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||Washington Capitals||Winnipeg Jets||Vegas Golden Knights|
How to Bet on the NHL Online
Now that you know how the structure of the NHL and all 32 teams that compete for the Stanley Cup, it’s time to bet on your favorite team.
Don’t worry if you’re a beginner who is considering betting on the NHL online for the first time. At SBO.net, we’ve helped hundreds of ice hockey fans open a betting account to bet on the action-packed league.
Follow our step-by-step guide below to bet on the latest NHL games online:
Features of the Best NHL Betting Sites
With virtually every online betting site accepting wagers on the NHL, we understand it can be difficult to decide where to sign up and place your bets.
Luckily for you, we have reviewed hundreds of sports betting sites since launching in 2011. We know exactly what fellow ice hockey fans wants when betting online and we’ve done all the hard work for you. We take many factors into consideration before giving our seal of approval, including everything from licensing and banking methods to mobile compatibility and customer service.
NHL Betting – Which Team Will Win?
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 bookmakers 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. 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 the game is tied at the end of regulation, the bet is a push (stakes are refunded).
We 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.
NHL Betting – Other Types of NHL Bets
Predicting the winner of a game is only one of many NHL betting markets. Other popular wagers include:
NHL Puck Line
This 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 puck line and big on the team with a negative puck line.
NHL Total Betting
This 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.
NHL Team Totals
This is the same as total betting but is done only for a specific team. For instance, one of the best NHL betting sites might set the Chicago Blackhawks team total at 3.5. You can either bet on the Blackhawks scoring less than four goals (under) or at least four goals (over). It’s an exciting bet that will have you on the edge of your seat every time the team attacks.
NHL Correct Score
Correct score is a wager on the exact final score. It can be big odds such as +1300 if you bet a team to win by exactly 3-1. Unfortunately, most US-friendly betting sites do not offer NHL correct score betting. But it’s a bet that can be very lucrative if you pour over the stats and predict exactly what will happen.
This wager is similar to the moneyline, but it only applies to one period. For instance, you might place a wager on the Montreal Canadiens winning the third period against the Toronto Maple Leads at odds of -200. It doesn’t matter what the score is when the third period begins – all that matter is that the Canadiens outscore the Maple Leafs in the final 20 minutes of the game.
These are like puck line bets and are often called NHL betting lines, but the number added or subtracted isn’t fixed at 1.5. For instance, you might back the Detroit Red Wings at -2.5 against Ottawa Senators. This means the Red Wings must win by three or more goals to cover your bet. If they lose or win by one or two goals, you lose.
NHL Futures Betting Markets
As its name suggests, a futures bet is a wager on an event that will be determined in the future. NHL futures are an exciting way to have action on your favourite team all season long.
Examples of futures bets would be betting at the beginning of the season that the Montreal Canadiens will win the Eastern Conference, or that the Detroit Red Wings will win the prestigious Stanley Cup.
Think you know who will win the Atlantic Division or Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference? Perhaps you want to predict the winner of the Central Division or Pacific Division in the Western Conference? Good news – you can place futures bets on such outcomes at the top NHL betting sites.
The winners of the Eastern Conference receive the Prince of Wales Trophy, while the winners of the Western Conference receive the Clarence S Campbell Bowl. The winning teams then compete for the Stanley Cup, the oldest professional sports trophy in North America.
Stanley Cup Winner
All 32 NHL teams begin the season hoping to end it by raising the Stanley Cup. The top eight teams in each conference advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs: the top three teams in each division and the two conference teams with the next highest number of points. Two teams play against each other to win a best-of-seven series to advance to the next round, with the elimination tournament starting in April and continuing until the beginning of June.
The two conference champions earn a place in the Stanley Cup Finals. The team with the most points during the regular season benefits from home-ice advantage, whereas fixtures in previous rounds award home-ice advantage to the higher-ranked team. This means four of the seven games in the series are played at this team’s home venue, which always affects the NHL betting lines.
Our Top Tips for Betting on the NHL
Now that you know the ins and outs of NHL betting, it’s time for us to share some tips to help you profit from wagering on the most popular ice hockey league in the world.
- Home and Away Form – Teams such as the Montreal Canadiens and the Chicago Blackhawks are notorious for long home winning streaks. The Bell Centre and United Center are recognized as fortresses, and this often means opposition teams often lack the belief to win. Of course, some teams struggle whether they play at home or away. In 2020-21, the Buffalo Sabres equaled the 2003-04 Pittsburgh Penguins record for the longest losing streak in NHL history at 18 games.
- Distance to Travel – Although all 32 NHL teams are split into four divisions across two conferences, the size of the United States and Canada means teams often travel thousands of miles. This can have a big impact on practice time and stamina. The 2011 Stanley Cup Finals clash between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks is the longest distance between two cities in Cup Finals history, with 2,504 miles separating the teams.
- Check Injury Reports – With ice hockey being such a fast-paced and aggressive sport, players often suffer injuries such as lacerations, sprains, contusions, and fractures. The hectic NHL schedule also means players are prone to overuse and suffer injuries. Checking injury reports can present valuable NHL betting opportunities. You might notice a team’s star goaltender will be on the sidelines for a few weeks and cash in by betting on the team conceding more goals than usual.
- Understand the Odds Format – 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 new to betting, click and read one of those articles so you can understand how betting odds work.
Understanding the NHL 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 32 teams playing 82 games each for a total of 1,312 regular season games. 16 teams make the playoffs for a best-of-seven 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.
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 against a theoretical house advantage of under 1%! With handicapping, that can be cut to a fraction of a percent.
Strategy for Novice NHL Bettors – 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.
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), puck lines (AH tab), and totals (over/under tab). Log in to one of the best NHL betting sites and get their odds while comparing the ones at oddsportal to ensure you don’t leave any money on the table.
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. Our estimate here is the market is predicting 5.48 goals with Ducks winning 56.4% of the time. Our calculation is that this translates to a predicted exact score of Ducks 2.895 Red Wings 2.585. Knowing this, we can calculate the probability of many different outcomes occurring.
Applying Poisson Distribution to NHL Betting
If you can 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 three 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.
This information makes it possible to build charts of all possible scores (see our soccer/football 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 the previous section was simply an introduction for novice bettors. To take it a step further, first understand Poisson is not exact. Not all scoring in ice 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. Successful NHL bettors factor the covariance and use a bivariate Poisson distribution.
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.
We have compiled a list of the best NHL betting sites on this page. Once you open a betting account, you can quickly log in and bet on everything from the game winner to the number of goals that will be scored and much more.
Absolutely! The best NHL sportsbooks welcome new customers with free bets and deposit bonuses. You may receive a free bet in exchange for registering, while other sites may refund a certain percentage of your first wager should it lose. And every site will match your first deposit to give you more funds to bet on NHL games.
Yes! The top NHL betting sites offer an intuitive mobile app with easy navigation and betting slip access. NHL betting apps are designed using HTML5 technology, meaning they are compatible with Android, iOS, and any other mobile operating system. Never again will you miss a good betting opportunity.
NHL live betting is when you wager on a game that is already underway. Changes in momentum mean the odds swing as fast as a puck, and you can take advantage by having your finger at the ready. In-play NHL betting markets cover everything from the game winner and final score to the next goal scorer.