Despite its status as the least popular member of North America’s “Big Four,” the National Hockey League (NHL) has long been a bonanza for sports bettors and bookmakers alike. Fans love pro hockey because of the game’s sheer speed and intensity, but bettors appreciate the NHL for serving up an endless slate of juicy wagering opportunities.
In a sport where one bad bounce of the puck, or a single slip up by the goaltender, can determine victory and defeat, underdogs always have their day on the ice. If you’re interested in improving your own bottom line as a pro hockey bettor, check out the five tips below to sharpen your skills like a good pair of skates.
1 – Beware the Empty Net Ending
I’ve known my fair share of beginning hockey bettors over the years, and to a man (or woman), they’ve all endured a similarly tragic scene involving empty net endings.
Let’s say you like the scrappy Arizona Coyotes to turn in the upset by overcoming the Colorado Avalanche. Of course, the Desert Dogs are pretty hefty underdogs on the moneyline at (+220), and the Avs are riding a seven-game win streak, so you’re not too confident in this spot.
Seeking a middle ground, you elect to take Arizona on the (+1.5) “puck line” at more modest (+110) odds instead. In hockey betting, the puck line is akin to a point spread used in other sports like football and basketball. Essentially, as a Coyotes bettor backing the underdog, that (+1.5) puck line means your side benefits from an extra goal and a half on the scoreboard.
In other words, if the final score reads 4-3 in Colorado’s favor, you’d still win your wager thanks to that additional 1.5 goals in your favor. Conversely, fans who like to take favorites can opt for the (-1.5) puck line, so they’ll need to win by at least two goals to “cover” the margin.
Sticking with puck line underdogs, imagine the game is still 4-3 Avalanche with only three minutes or so left on the clock. In this all too common scenario, Arizona’s coach is a lock to pull the team’s goalie off the ice. In doing so, the ‘Yotes can add another offensive skater to gain a brief 6 on 5 advantage.
Pulling the goalie is obviously a desperation play, as the opposition can now ice the game with a single well-aimed clearing attempt into the open net.
And wouldn’t you know it? Puck line underdog tickets are killed each and every night courtesy of the dreaded empty net goal. You’ve been covering thanks to that (+1.5) puck line all game, and in an instant, a meaningless empty netter costs you the score.
If you’re looking at a puck line underdog, do yourself a favor by doing your due diligence first. Check up on the team’s approach to empty net situations, as some coaches pull the goalie with more time left than others. Clearly, a coach who goes empty net with three minutes to play instead of two puts your bet at greater peril.
On the flip side, look to bet against favorites who seem to play conservatively against empty nets. Experienced squads lined with veteran players know it’s safer to kill clock than shoot at an empty net, so these teams are less likely to kill your puck line bet at the last second.
2 – Avoid Parlays Due to Hockey’s Unpredictability
Linking two or more bets together in a parlay is a fun way for bettors to increase their potential profit margin.
Suddenly, three separate (-110) moneyline tickets can produce a single parlay that will pay out (+600) – but only when all three sides win. Should any of the three “legs” in your parlay fail to come through, the entire ticket is summarily tossed in the trashcan.
Parlay bets work best in moderation, and only when you have a high degree of confidence in each side winding up as the winner.
Unfortunately for hockey bettors, the NHL isn’t exactly known for its predictability…
In this league, all it takes is one missed assignment, one turnover to spark a breakaway, or one brain fart behind the net by the goalie to turn a sure win into a crushing loss. Even the worst bottom-feeder teams can capitalize on these random breaks to knock off Stanley Cup contenders. And given the grind of an 82-game schedule, the best teams can be forgiven for taking a night off here and there.
Given those factors, parlay betting on the NHL is even riskier than it is in other sports. Unless you can stomach some truly brutal bad beats, sticking with straight bets instead is the more palatable play.
3 – Find a Hot Goalie to Bet on
One of the main factors driving NHL hockey’s unpredictable nature is the outsized influence played by goaltenders.
Just like starting pitchers in baseball, goalies are the only constant. They start the game, ND they take on all comers from the opposition. And when things go right, they finish the game, too.
Longtime “puck heads” know all too well how important a good goalie can be. When a netminder is standing on their head and making mind-blowing saves left and right, you can practically feel the frustration emanating from opposing offenses.
Take the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2020-21 as the perfect example. Still smarting from a 1-6-0 run, the Leafs turned to journeyman goalie Jack Campbell looking for a spark.
Making his first start of the season, Campbell ended Toronto’s losing jag with a strong performance in a 4-0 shutout over the Edmonton Oilers. From there, Campbell could do no wrong, winning his next nine games while posting a sizzling stat line of 1.58 goals against average (GAA) and a .944 save percentage.
Even if we assume a conservative average moneyline of (-150) on those 10 games, blindly betting on the hot goalie here would’ve been a goldmine. A $100 bettor who took Campbell during his electric streak stood to collect a total profit of $666.67 by the time he finally lost.
Hot goalies are a hot tactic when considering what kind of bet to place on the NHL, and as Campbell proved, they can emerge from the unlikeliest of places. When you spot one, do your best to hitch your wagon to a rising star.
4 – Target Teams in the Second Leg of a Back-to-Back
This one is rather obvious, so we’ll keep it short and sweet.
NHL teams must face “back-to-back” situations, in which they play twice in two nights, 12 times on average during the regular season. And when they do, both the offensive and defensive units suffer the consequences.
Goalies playing for the second consecutive night see their save percentage dip from a baseline of .910 down to .892, a fairly dramatic swing all things considered. Team scoring dips from an average of 3.2 goals per game to just 2.7 goals.
Hockey is a physically punishing sport even under optimal circumstances, so teams facing short rest are almost always at a sharp disadvantage. Whenever you can, look to fade NHL teams suffering from fatigue as they face the second leg of a back-to-back.
5 – Pick the Top Teams When the Playoffs Begin
If regular season hockey is the most punishing sport, the Stanley Cup Playoff tournament takes things to an entirely different level.
Every puck is fiercely contested. Every single body check is delivered with a little extra “oomph.” Every line change is carefully calibrated by the coaching staff.
And every game boasts an intensity that must be felt to be believed…
When playoff season arrives in May and June, savvy hockey bettors know to hone in on the league’s perennial powerhouses. The playoffs have a way of weeding out the pretenders and elevating the contenders, which is why organizations like the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Pittsburgh Penguins always seem to find themselves competing for the Cup come Finals time.
By placing a few futures bets on the elite teams to hoist the Cup early in the year, you can ensure yourself a sweat or two when the NHL’s second season gets underway.
When sports fans who think they don’t like hockey watch an NHL game for the first time, they realize their mistake within a few minutes of action. Simply put, there’s nothing quite like the spectacle of a tight game late, when the next goal will either send the crowd into a frenzy – or silence them in an instant.
Sports bettors often feel the same sensation when they start wagering on the NHL. Other sports can become stale and predictable, but when you’re betting on pro hockey, you never quite know what the next night will bring.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...
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