NHL betting guide: Where and how to bet on NHL games

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Phil Agius

NHL · 1 month ago

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I've been writing about the NFL and a host of other sports for the UK's top daily betting paper the Racing Post for more than 20 years. An incurable Browns fan (1-31 survivor), I also specialise in all kinds of motorsport betting including F1, MotoGP, IndyCar and NASCAR.

With the NHL season starting in October and running through to the following June, there are always opportunities to bet on hockey on the horizon. In this educational betting guide, we’ll be outlining where you can legally bet on NHL games, looking at the various markets that are available throughout the season and the best way to play them, plus some strategies and hints to help you bet smarter and more profitably.

Where Is NHL betting legal?

For many years, states were prevented from legalizing sports betting by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, aka PASPA. PASPA was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2018, paving the way for legal sports betting in the United States. As of August 2022, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington D.C. and West Virginia have all legalized online sports betting.

Numerous other states have legal sports betting, but only in person. Several states, most recently Massachusetts and Maryland, have just legalized sports betting and will have online sports betting available in the coming months. Most other states have at the very least introduced bills to get the process started, so it’s likely only a matter of a couple of years before the rest of the states have legalized betting on NHL games.

As of August 2022, The following states all have a legal and regulated sports betting industry, where you can wager on the NHL:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Washington DC
  • West Virginia

Best online NHL betting sites and mobile apps

Picking a shop to do your betting at is extremely important. They aren’t all the same, and each sportsbook will have different odds and promotions. Each site will have their own unique quirks and offerings, and it can’t hurt to look around as much as possible before settling on a new betting home.

It’s always a good idea to have multiple accounts at different sportsbooks, so you can shop around and compare odds. One site might usually have better juice or better parlay payouts, but another might have better live-betting software. There are already a lot of great operators out there, and with legalization spreading across the country, the number of options for bettors will only continue to increase.

Check out Pickswise’s NHL Picks for every single game this season!

How to bet on the NHL 

In the NHL you’ve got plenty of options for betting. You can bet on the money line, the puck line, the total in the game, or a whole slew of props. Just find the best odds by shopping around at different sportsbooks for whatever wager you want to make, then add it to your bet slip and lock it in. The key to betting on NHL games is finding teams that are undervalued in the market, and that’s where Pickswise can help.

Here at Pickswise we’re a one-stop shop for everything NHL, as we put in the time and crunch the numbers to come up with the best free picks around. Check out our NHL predictions all through the hockey season, since we’ll be providing free picks on the side and total of every game. We’ll also have tons of free prop bets, same game parlays, and regular parlays, so don’t miss out!

Ways to bet on the NHL 

The NHL is one of the most popular sports to bet on, and there are so many markets to wager on within it. You can bet on an individual game, or bet on futures markets such as the Stanley Cup or the conference winners. In the next section, we’ll be taking a look at each of those markets. Each one has different strategies and angles to exploit, and the money line and puck line can be treated as entirely different handicaps. Let’s break each one down, starting with money line NHL betting.

Money line betting 

Money line betting in the NHL is as basic as it gets. You’re simply betting on which team will win the game, the margin of victory doesn’t matter. With money line betting one team will be the underdog and one team will be the favorite. The favorite will be identified by a minus sign (-), while the underdog will be identified by a plus sign (+) next to their odds. For example, the Penguins might be an underdog in a game against the Flyers. You’d see something like Penguins +175 and Flyers -200.

There will always be a gap between the odds, so you’ll never see Penguins +200 and Flyers -200. That gap is called the vig, and it’s how oddsmakers make their money. The bigger favorite a team is on the money line, the bigger favorite they’ll be on the spread as well. Money line betting comes with different strategies than puck line betting. On a money line, you might be more inclined to back a conservative defensive-minded team that will grind out games but not win them by large margins. 

Puck line betting (point spreads)

Puck line betting in the NHL is the equivalent of point spread betting with most other sports. You’re betting on a team to win or lose by more than or less than a certain amount, not just on who will win the game. Bookmakers offer one of the teams with a head start, if the underdogs win or lose by fewer goals than the puck line, you win. If you back the favorites, they need to win by more than the puck line for you to cash your ticket. Puck lines in the NHL will almost always be -1.5/+1.5.

There are occasions where a big favorite will be -2.5 on the puck line however. Betting the puck line is all about what the odds are. A team might be -110 on the -1.5 puck line, or they might be +160 on the -1.5 puck line. NHL betting is like any other financial market, the price point is everything. Getting the best number on a puck line is the key to long-term success.

Over/under betting (totals)

Sometimes when handicapping a game you might have a good idea about whether it will be high-scoring or low-scoring, but no such strong opinion about which team will win. In those cases a bet on the total goals might be your best option. Oddsmakers will give their assessment of how many goals the teams will score between them and you bet either higher (over) or lower (under) than that number. Since NHL games don’t see all that many goals on average, the range for totals is pretty tight.

In the NHL a total usually will fall between 5-7 goals, with rare exceptions. Factors that influence where the line will be set include the strength of the offenses and defenses in the game, injuries, and the playing styles of the teams. A slow-paced team that relies on its defense will see totals set quite a bit lower than a team with a ton of speed that loves to run and gun, while a team with its top netminder set to start will attract a lower line than when they are putting out a backup.

Player prop bets 

Player prop markets are offered by an increasing number of sportsbooks and present a chance to support a player to have a good or bad game. Oddsmakers offer over/under prices on individual players’ total goals, assists and points – pretty much everything you can imagine. If you think a team has a weak powerplay defense and is poised to get gashed by the opposing team’s penalty unit, taking the over on the opposing player who scores the most power-play goals might make sense. It’s another area where knowledge of the individual matchups can pay off.

For offensive players, it’s all about opportunity. If the Golden Knights suffer injuries to a couple of their top-line guys, the over on their depth options might be worth a look since their volume will increase dramatically. 

At Pickswise, we have picks on NHL player prop bets throughout the hockey season

Team prop bets 

In addition to player prop bets, you can also make team prop bets in the NHL. Those include markets such as how many total goals a particular team will score, or how many shots on goal they’ll have in a game. They can also include alternate spreads. An alternate spread allows you to alter the point spread, while getting better or worse odds depending on if you gain goals or lose goals.

If the Predators are -1.5 over the Panthers, a sportsbook might allow you to bet an alternate spread of Predators -2.5 at +200 odds – they need to win by a bigger margin to cash the bet, but the rewards are accordingly greater. Team prop bets aren’t quite as common as player prop bets, but there are still plenty of opportunities for value. You can also bet on lines such as whether a team will score in the first 10 minutes of a game.

Futures bets

Futures bets allow you to invest long-term. Rather than finding out if you win or lose on any given day, a futures bet allows you to ride with a wager for the whole season. You can of course bet on the Stanley Cup winner at any point, but there are a ton of other markets. You can bet on a team to win their conference or their division. Futures bets can often offer huge payouts if you pick the right longshots, especially in hockey, where the unpredictable often happens. Remember all those people who had insane longshot futures odds on the Golden Knights during their first season in 2017?

One of the most popular futures bets in NHL betting are season win totals. Oddsmakers will set over/under lines for how many regular-season games each of the 32 teams will win. You can take the over on teams you’re high on coming out of camp, and the under on teams you expect to flop. Then you’ve got some skin in their game with each of their 82 matchups. There are also player futures markets. You can bet on a player to win the MVP award, for example, and root for them to put up big numbers all year long.

Head over to our NHL futures page to find out our best futures bets

Parlays

Parlays are high-risk and high-reward. They provide the allure of a big payday, but as a result are much harder to cash. A parlay involves stringing multiple bets together on one ticket. You need each leg of the ticket to hit in order for your parlay to be a winner. For example, if you bet a Kings, Ducks and Canucks money line parlay, all three of those teams would need to win for that to cash. If two of them win and one of them loses, you’d win nothing. If it does hit, you’d get a much bigger payout.

In all sports, it’s often popular to parlay big favorites together. Since most recreational bettors don’t want to lay -250 juice to back a big favorite on the money line, they might instead combine two or three -250 favorites together in a parlay. Others will sprinkle a few bucks on a 10-team parlay every Saturday, hoping to one day hit a jackpot. They certainly can be fun, and can sometimes be wise in the right situation, but it’s important not to get carried away. Generally speaking, oddsmakers want you to bet parlays and long-term it probably isn’t the best way to make money. But they sure are exciting.

Looking to bet an NHL parlay? Check out our parlays page throughout the season

Live betting 

However much you think you know about a game, you will know a little more once it has started. In comes live betting. Now you have a proper idea of the crowd noise rather than an estimate and precise injury news rather than relying on reports that may have involved some massaging of the truth by the teams, etc. In every way, live betting will provide you with better information than you had before the game. Right off the bat, you’ll often be able to tell how a game is going to go and how well the opponent is prepared for what’s being thrown at them. Maybe you were concerned about how one team’s penalty kill might fare, and on their first powerplay they look absolutely overwhelmed.

You can also identify spots where regression is likely when live betting. Say the Maple Leafs get very unlucky to start a game, there are a couple of one in a million deflections or something of that nature. You can get value by live betting them when your eyes tell you they weren’t actually playing poorly, they just made a few miscues that are easy to correct. Many sportsbooks also allow bettors to cash out existing bets in the middle of the game, so if your team is up big you can take your money and run rather than worrying about a late comeback.

NHL betting trends 

Many bettors like to rely on trends to help shape their opinions. Trends rely on historical data that might help predict the outcome of a future game. For example, maybe the Canadiens have a strong home-ice advantage, and always seem to play better as a home underdog when they have a chip on their shoulder in front of their home crowd. If there’s a strong trend that says they’re 9-2 in their last 11 games as home underdogs, it might be time to pounce. Other common trends include how a team usually fares in nationally televised games or at the end of a long road trip.

Since certain teams in the same division play often and have no love lost for each other, a lot of bettors also look at the trends within a given rivalry matchup. Maybe the under is 8-1 the last 9 times the Islanders and Rangers have played because that’s a hard-fought rivalry game that tends to be lower-scoring. Trends can be important to monitor, and they can tell you who to fade just as often as they’ll tell you who to back. Many bettors like to fade the public by betting against the teams that are heavy public sides. It’s also important to not rely on trends that might not mean much. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, after all. If someone is trying to sell you on a wager because a team is 5-2 against the spread in the last 7 times they’ve played 3 days after it last rained, you might want to pass.

Five ways to bet smarter on the NHL 

It’s all about the special teams

The NHL is the only of the major American sports where each team doesn’t always have the same amount of players. Power plays are unique to hockey, and are crucial to understand when you’re beginning to bet on the NHL. Each team has their power-play unit to score goals, and each team has their penalty-kill unit to prevent goals when they’re down a player. There will be power plays in every NHL game that you bet on, so understanding which teams have the best and worst specialty units is important. If a team that’s very efficient on the power play is playing the team that gives up the most penalty minutes in the league, it might be time to pounce.

Stay on top of the schedules

The NHL is similar to the NBA in the way its schedule is made. Unlike baseball, teams aren’t playing virtually every day, and unlike football they aren’t playing only once a week. There’s no real structure to the way the 82 games are played, it just ebbs and flows. Teams will have a couple of days off in a row sometimes, and then have to play three games in four nights. Fatigue is real, even for pro athletes. Some teams respond better than others do to shortened rest. You’re going to want to keep track of which teams struggle with back-to-backs, maybe some teams tend to play in more high-scoring affairs in the second half of back-to-backs because they don’t have the legs to play energized defense. 

Home ice isn’t everything

Home-ice advantage, like in every sport, can be a real thing. Some teams really do play better in front of their home crowd, feeding off the energy from their supportive fans. The lack of having to travel, and comfort of being in a familiar spot can also be real bonuses. But home-ice isn’t everything, and it can often be overcompensated for by oddsmakers. Home-ice advantage is baked into nearly every line, so one of the best ways to find value is identifying when it shouldn’t be. Some teams aren’t any better at home, and plenty play quite well on the road.

Tracking pace

Pace of play in the NHL varies widely from team to team. It’s actually even more complicated than that, pace can vary wildly just within a team at various points in the season. A team that is playing pretty slowly in January might decide to start pushing the tempo more in February. When things aren’t working for a coach, they’ll tinker quite heavily with their rotations and styles of play. If you do a good job staying on top of such stylistic changes, you can act on them before oddsmakers do, or at least not too far behind them. Totals in the NHL are determined heavily by how fast the teams are playing, and if you’ve got a good sense that a game is going to be played at a slower or faster pace than oddsmakers realize, you can make money.

Live betting is where it’s at

Live betting can be more lucrative in the NHL than in any other sport. Pace of play is everything for totals and you can usually tell right away if a team is coming out of the gates aggressively or conservatively. Live betting odds are usually calculated by computers, which can’t account for what your eyes are telling you in the opening couple of minutes of a game. If a game between the Ducks and Sharks has a total of only 5, but they both come out flying around on the ice and getting up plenty of shots on goal, you might want to hit the live over before the odds catch up.

Get the latest NHL analysis, which includes same game parlays and mega parlays

When to bet on the NHL throughout the season

Fortunately, NHL betting is almost year-round. Over the summer is when futures betting dominates. You can get in all your wagers for season-long bets, including Stanley Cup winner, conference winner and regular-season win totals. There’s often value in early futures betting, when oddsmakers are slowest to adjust and you can catch them sleeping. That goes all the way through to October, when the regular season starts. Before that you’ve got some preseason games to sprinkle a few bucks on while you wait for the real action to start. 

Regular-season weekly games will dominate the betting picture all the way from the beginning of October through the start of the playoffs in April. That’s when you’ll need to be your sharpest. Regular-season games are great for finding spots, since oddsmakers have to hang lines on the seemingly endless number of games, while you can selectively choose which games to play. You can also bet futures throughout the season during times when there are no games going on. That’s often the best time to find value, when oddsmakers might overreact to the current standings.

There are few things more exciting than playoff hockey, which goes through June. The Stanley Cup is the holy grail of NHL betting, with an endless amount of props and wagering opportunities available. The fun doesn’t stop there though, as right after the Stanley Cup you’ll be able to bet on draft props. After that, it’s pretty much time to start getting your futures bets ready again.

NHL betting strategies

Basic

NHL betting is a lot of fun, but it’s also complex. Oddsmakers are sharp, and they’re tough to beat. As such, you have to work hard in order to find an edge. There are a number of strategies you’ll need to implement to become a successful NHL bettor. Bankroll management is one of the most important ones. There are going to be ups and downs, even the sharpest bettor in the world is going to endure a losing streak.

It’s crucial that you don’t get sloppy with your money and bet too much on any one game. If you don’t have smart bankroll management, one cold stretch could leave you with nothing left to bet when you start to heat up again. You’ll need to have knowledge of all 32 teams, and pay enough attention to the latest news on who is injured and which teams are hot etc.

Intermediate

Once you’ve got the basics down, you can start going deeper with your NHL betting strategies. In order to beat oddsmakers, you have to find an edge you can exploit. You can’t simply bet against the team that has a star player hurt as that’s probably already being factored into the line. To find your edge, you need to identify factors that aren’t already baked into the line. It can be wise to stake out a niche, finding something that you do well and stick with it. Maybe you develop a system for first-period totals betting, identifying which coaches like to play it conservatively or open things up in the first 10 minutes.

Another crucial element of NHL betting is getting the best odds. Have multiple accounts with different sportsbooks, so you can compare odds and make sure you’re getting the best value. Just like how you’d check the price of an item from multiple retailers when doing online shopping. It’s the same principle. The difference between -114 and -110 might not seem huge on the surface, but it’ll make a big impact on your bankroll in the long-term if you get a few extra cents from each win.

Advanced

Once you become a seasoned NHL bettor you can take your game to the next level. That involves a lot of data. To be a true pro you’ll need to start logging all of your bets. This allows you to manage your bankroll most effectively, and to identify what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. Don’t leave anything up to your gut or hunch, you can see exactly how you’ve done on every type of bet. Keeping a log will tell you what your strengths are, you might notice you’ve been picking poorly on puck lines, but are hitting 60% of your overs.

Once you’ve got everything down to a science, you can come up with your own power rankings and numbers to rival oddsmakers’. You’ll be able to start setting your own lines based on your rankings (which you’ll make by closely observing all 32 teams), and then seeing how they differ from the lines that oddsmakers actually set. If you make a game Blue Jackets -150 but oddsmakers open them at -115, your power numbers will show you that’s a lot of free value. Another concept experienced bettors need to understand is that in hockey, it’s all about the number. Lines fluctuate right up until gametime, and numbers will move back and forth just like in the stock market. Treat your betting just like you would any financial market, because timing is everything. If you can consistently beat the closing line, you’ll be profitable long-term.

Things to avoid when betting on the NHL 

There are plenty of pitfalls with NHL betting, and many things you need to avoid. For starters, bet with your head and not your heart. Don’t let emotions get the best of you, never bet a team just because you want them to win. Bet on them because you think they will win. 

Treat your betting like you would any other business, and take it seriously. Don’t chase your losses. If you go 0-5 in the early slate of games on a Saturday, don’t bet 10 units on the nightcap just because you feel like you’ve got to make it all back in one game.

An easy trap to fall into is betting teams based on records. If a 20-30 team is a favorite against a 32-18 team, don’t just assume oddsmakers have made a grave mistake, there’s probably a pretty good reason why.

It’s also important to know when to not bet on a game, even if you really like one side, if you don’t get the best number. If you identify the over 5.5 in a game between Calgary and Edmonton as a spot you really like early in the day, but by the time you go to bet the line has shifted to 6.0, it’s likely going to be wise to pass.

Pickswise is the home of free NHL Picks and NHL PredictionsCheck back for our daily NHL Best Betsincluding our favorite NHL Prop Bets.

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