Making the Slap Shot: How to Bet on the National Hockey League

By in Sports & Betting on
12 Minute Read

I’m a huge hockey fan. I grew up in New England and watched the Boston Bruins every year. It was a treat to make the drive into the city and sit in the old Boston Gardens and watch greats like Ray Bourque and Cam Neely play.

I got excited each time I got to see them in the Stanley Cup as a kid and teenager in 1977, 1978, and 1988 (even though they didn’t win).

Other than the occasional bet with friends, I didn’t do much betting on hockey. After all, in New England, everyone loved the Bruins (and that includes Connecticut, even though they had the Whalers).

To be honest, I never really thought much about hockey betting until I was in my 30s. I had moved away from New England, and it was hard to find a Bruins game after I moved, so I’d do my best to follow them in the news or online, but it wasn’t the same.

For me to want to bet on a sport, I have to have a connection with the sport in some way. Without being able to watch the Bruins, I was less interested in the sport.

So I turned to other sports that were available to me: football, baseball, MMA, boxing, and basketball. I used to bet (albeit not heavily) on all of them.

One day about 10 years ago, I was looking at an online sportsbook, and I saw that they were taking hockey bets.

At the time, I knew nothing about betting on National Hockey League games. I had honestly lost track of the sport to the point that I wasn’t aware of all the team changes.

I mentioned the Hartford Whalers. I had no idea that about 10 years before I was looking at the sportsbook, the Whalers had moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, and became the Carolina Hurricanes. I never thought that Raleigh was much of a hockey town, but apparently, I was mistaken.

Other teams had changed or had been created through expansion. I did know that the Minnesota North Stars became the Dallas Stars in 1993. But I had no idea that the Quebec Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche or that the Winnipeg Jets became the Arizona Coyotes.

I was also unfamiliar with expansion teams like the Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Minnesota Wild.

It was an entirely different league than the one I grew up watching.

But with all the changes and expansion from the 21 teams I knew to the 30 teams (at the time), my Bruins stood strong. They even managed to get a new arena along the way in the TD Garden, the successor to the original Boston Gardens.

So after seeing the games listed on this online sportsbook, I decided to place a hockey bet. It seemed straightforward enough. It was a moneyline bet, and I bet on the Bruins. I didn’t win. But it inspired me to look more into NHL betting.

Rules of the Game – For Wagering

By the mid-2000s, I had been wagering on sports for quite a few years. I knew that each sport had its own rules as to what makes a complete game, what happens in a tie, what happens if there’s an overtime period, etc. So I knew that my first step in betting on NHL games was to learn the “sportsbook rules” to the game.

Now, before I start, I want to make sure that it is understood that sportsbooks have their own house rules about betting in any sport. Some of the rules are tweaked because of jurisdictional rules (for example, a state may have a law that bets can’t be taken for teams that are based in the same state. Delaware has a law like that for parlay betting).

Some sportsbooks have their rules set up the way they do to meet business goals.

For instance, they may offer more favorable odds on some teams to attract more customers, or they may have increased the odds to cover the expenses related to running their services (in other words, a built-in commission).

But despite house rules, the industry does have some standards. These standards for determining the validity of the game and a bet include the following:

  • The outcome of the game (the winning and losing teams) are decided by the final score of the game. This includes any overtime periods and shootouts
  • A game must complete 55 of the 60 minutes of regulation play to validate any wagers
  • If the game is suspended before 55 minutes, the games won’t be paid out, and all wagers are refunded
  • If the game is suspended after 55 minutes, the game will be considered complete, and wagers will be paid out according to the score at the time the game was stopped
  • Payouts are determined by the final score, which includes any overtime periods and shootouts
  • If an overtime period ends in a tie and goes to a shootout, the team that wins the shootout is credited with an extra goal. However, for the purposes of “total” bets, the shootout point isn’t included

Just to reiterate, these may not be the rules for every sportsbook. Some will vary. And they may vary based on league. For instance, these may be the rules for NHL betting, but college hockey and semi-pro leagues may have different rules.

Moneyline Betting

The most common bet in sports is the moneyline bet. This holds true for hockey betting as it does other sports.

In a moneyline bet, the favored team (the one expected to win) is assigned a number with a minus sign. The underdog team (the team expected to lose) is assigned a number with a plus sign. These numbers are the indicators of how the bet will pay out.

In a moneyline bet, you don’t have to worry about point spreads. You’ll simply pick a winner or loser based on the moneyline values.

The moneyline bet pays on different schedules, which can be the most confusing part of this type of bet. One schedule is based on the positive (or underdog) team’s number and the other based on the negative (or favored) team’s number.

Let’s look at this example:
  • Boston Bruins -150
  • Vegas Golden Knights +300

On this bet, a bet of $150 on the Boston Bruins will win $100 (plus the initial $150 back) if the Bruins win. A bet of $100 on the Golden Knights will win $300 (plus the initial bet) if Vegas wins.

So you can see the two different pay schedules at work here.

If you see a negative number in the moneyline, you must bet that number to win $100.

If you see a positive number, then you must bet $100 to win the amount listed as the positive number.

As you can see, the moneyline is essentially the mathematical converse of each other. While the hockey bet is not a simple one, it is easy to comprehend.

The moneylines are generally determined by the point spread. In hockey betting, you generally don’t see point spreads that are very high. Most games in hockey are generally decided by one or two goals. But if oddsmakers see a blowout on the horizon, that will drive up the moneyline.

Totals

Sometimes I like a bet with less risk. With moneyline betting, you have so many variables that can affect which team wins and which team loses.

That’s why I like to bet on totals. Totals betting is a simple over/under bet that combines the score of both teams.

Let’s say that the Boston Bruins are playing the Chicago Blackhawks. The oddsmakers will first figure out, based on whatever algorithm they use, what the score will be.

For example, the oddsmakers may determine the score to wind up:
  • Boston Bruins: 5
  • Chicago Blackhawks: 3

So in total, they believe the game will have 8 goals scored. Now, because of other factors, they may inflate or deflate the total. For example, the 8-goal barrier may be increased to 8.5.

We all know that no one can score 1/2 a goal in hockey, so that 8.5 acts as a buffer of sorts. Now the over/under has a definitive way to win. If you choose over, the teams must total 9 or more goals. If you choose under, the teams must score 8 or fewer goals. It allows for no ambiguity as it would with 8 as the teams would be required to score 8 or more for the over and 7 or less for the under. The whole number confuses some bettors, especially newer ones.

To help develop a strategy for totals betting, there are a few things to consider.

First, you want to take a look at who’s playing. Let’s say that the Bruins are slated to beat the Blackhawks by 3 as in the example above. But you know Zdeno Chára of the Bruins is injured, and you think that Jonathan Toews on the Blackhawks likes to sit on the puck as to not lose control to the other team. In this case, you may want to bet under. Because, while statistically, these teams may look on paper like they will score 8 goals, the reality is that the injury and the way the players play may keep the score low.

Another thing to consider is odd and even numbers. Because hockey is a low-scoring game, you are likely to see ties at the end of regulation play. If you have a team that has a propensity for going into overtime against a certain team, or even in general, you should look for over/unders with odd numbers, because a tie will total an even number, so that tiebreaker will be odd.

The big thing to look for is the payouts on an over/under. If I see too high of a payout, I know that in all likelihood, it’s a lock to go the other way, and I bet accordingly or just don’t bet at all if it’s not worth the money.

Puck Line Betting

A puck line bet is related to the run line bet in a baseball game. It is betting based on a point spread in the game. The puck line spread is usually +/-1.5 but can be +/-2.5, or +/-3.5 in some sportsbooks.

I’ve gone over the moneyline bet, which is the most popular of all the hockey bets. In a moneyline bet, you are simply choosing an outright winner. There are no point spreads or any other factors to worry about.

A puck line wager would look something like this:
  • Boston Bruins +1.5 (-250)
  • Dallas Stars -1.5 (+175)

It may seem a bit confusing because the projected winner is now the underdog, and the underdog now looks like it is projected to win if you go by the moneyline. This, however, isn’t the case. In actuality, the oddsmakers are creating a spread of 1.5 goals.

The confusing part is the moneyline, because if you were to look at the same game in a straight moneyline wager, it may look similar to this:

  • Boston Bruins +1.5 (+190)
  • Dallas Stars -1.5 (-135)

Because 1.5 points are added or subtracted from the teams score to win this bet, the moneyline is affected.

And in the case where the sportsbook offers +/-2.5 or +/-3.5, the moneylines will be affected even more.

Sometimes, it makes more sense to place a puck line bet instead of a straight moneyline bet. Usually, in these cases, a dominant team is facing a very weak team. In these cases, you can reasonably pick the better team to get the 2, 3, or even 4 goals needed to beat the puck line bet.

A note about the +/-2.5 or +/-3.5:

These bets are not available at all sportsbooks. As a matter of fact, they may be hard to find. In these bets, it may cost more to place your bet and may have lower payouts. They definitely will not pay out the same as the +/-1.5, so be sure to pay attention when placing these bets to see if they are worth it.

The Grand Salami

In the NHL, there may be as many as 10 games in one day. Decades ago, sportsbooks looked to take advantage of this and created a bet that would encompass all games played on the same day.

The result? The grand salami.

The grand salami was imported from baseball. That’s where it gets its name (a take on the name grand slam).

A grand salami is a bet on the total goals of all games played in a single day. Now, you don’t have to guess the number and bet on it. That would be extremely hard. In a grand salami, the oddsmakers choose the total for the day, and you place an over/under bet based on that total.

A grand salami wager would look something like this:
  • Grand Salami: Over 60.5(+190), Under 60.5 (-165).

So with this bet, a bet of $100 on over would win $190 plus the original $100. A bet on under would cost $165 and win an additional $100.

Now, some people will say if you want to win the grand salami, total up the total goal predictions from the individual games and then bet accordingly.

But that isn’t always the best modus operandi.

The reason is odds shaving. This is a practice done by some sportsbooks to have a built-in commission or vigorish (vig) to make the bet more palatable to take.

Now, this is different from point shaving, which is the illegal practice of game fixing where the perpetrators try to prevent a team from covering a published point spread. A sportsbook who shaves odds is not in cahoots with the team in any way. They are simply looking at the total goals and adding or subtracting a few to make a profit. After all, a sportsbook is not in business to lose money.

I tend to look at the total goals expected from each game and compare them to the grand salami total. I look for a score in the 50 to 60 range (lower if less than 6 games, higher if more than 10).

As I said, the grand salami was imported from baseball, but it has become a standard in most sports. But it is especially popular with low-scoring sports like hockey.

Parlay Bets

Oddsmakers allow bettors to place a single bet on multiple games at the same time. These bets are called parlay bets.

A parlay bet requires a bettor to choose between 3 and 12 teams on a single bet. The more teams that are chosen, the higher the payout.

Most parlays are based on the moneyline bet. When betting, you’d simply go through and choose the winners.

Some parlay bets can be more complicated. For example, you can parlay totals and chose the over/under for multiple games.

To win a parlay, all of your choices must win. If you choose 12 games and one loses, you lose your bet.

If a team ties, then that game is eliminated from your bet choices. For example, if you pick 12 games, and one of the games ends in a tie, the tie game is eliminated from your bet, and you’ll be paid out as if you only chose 11 games.

The exception would be with sportsbooks that operate “ties win” and “ties lose” parlay betting. In these cases, if a game you bet on ended in a tie, it would be considered a win or loss accordingly.

Parlay bets usually pay better than moneyline bets because of the difficulty in selecting all the winners.

Prop Bets

Along with all the standard betting I’ve listed, you can also find a number of proposition bets or prop bets which you can place.

Some common prop bets include:

  • Who’ll win the Stanley Cup? (This is also known as a “futures” bet)
  • Who’ll win the (insert conference) championship?
  • Who’ll win the (insert division) championship?
  • Which team (in a game) will score first?
  • Which team (in a game) will score last?
  • Will a player (in a game) get a hat trick?
  • How many goals would be scored in the first period?
  • How many fights will break out during the game? (over/under)
  • Will (insert player’s name) score a goal during the game?
  • Which team will have the best point percentage in the league for the season?
  • Will a team go scoreless (in a game)?
  • How many goals + assists will (insert player name) have in the game?
  • (Insert player’s name) total points for the season (over/under)
  • (Insert player’s name) total penalty minutes for the season (over/under)
  • Total penalty minutes for (insert team) in a game (over/under)
  • Total penalty minutes for both teams in a game (over/under)
  • Number of power plays in a game (over/under)
  • Who’ll be the most valuable player in a game?
  • How many penalty shots will be made in a game? (over/under)

These are just some of the examples you might find from a sportsbook. Not all sportsbooks offer the same prop bets. Some may not offer any, so you may need to look around to find one that offers the props you’re looking for.

Conclusion

I can honestly say that hockey betting renewed the love I had for the game.

It allows me to feel like I’m actually part of the game because I’m invested in it…literally.

I spent a few years reacquainting myself with the league and getting to know all the new teams. But I also used that time to learn how to bet effectively.

Knowing the stats is only one aspect of gambling on the NHL. You must know how the players play the game. These two factors can make for a very profitable day of wagering.

Go, Bruins!

Michael Stevens

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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