NHL Betting Strategies

NHL Betting Strategies

Malcolm Darnley
9 Min
Intermediate
Handicapping NHL Games
NHL Team Rankings
Odds And Implied Probability

As hockey fans, we all know that anything can happen on the ice once the puck has been dropped.

Thanks to goaltending, goal posts, lucky bounces, bad bounces, and a million other things that can happen during a hockey game, the better team doesn’t always skate away with the win.

There are 32 teams in the NHL and oftentimes the difference between being great or missing the playoffs comes down to just one more save a game.

Every year teams play 82 regular-season games and every year somewhere between 20-25% of those games will go to overtime.

NHL overtime can be an emotional rollercoaster for bettors watching it play out. In the regular season, the overtime rules consist of 3 on 3 hockey and then a shootout if necessary.

The offensive chances created in 3 on 3 overtime are more than double the chances created while playing 5 on 5.

All of this is to say that NHL hockey has developed into an extremely skilled game, played at an incredibly high speed and the difference between winning and losing can be razor-thin.

Betting on NHL hockey can be very entertaining and for those who develop the skill to handicap games properly, there is often a lot of value to be found with NHL moneyline odds.

What Is Handicapping A Game?

If you are a sports bettor who does more than flip a coin to decide which team or outcome you want to bet on, then you are doing some form of handicapping or at least checking advanced analytics.

There are many different ways to handicap an NHL hockey game and each bettor must figure out a handicapping style or system that works best for them.

Bettors need to understand how much time and effort they want to spend handicapping games.

They must understand if they want to do the research themselves or if they would prefer to use some of the many available resources to do the hard work for them.

Let’s analyze the two most common types of NHL handicappers:

Resource (or Expert) Based

There are many successful NHL handicappers who rely on the expertise of others.

There are a lot of mainstream websites providing all kinds of NHL information, from high-level game analysis to in-depth player statistics.

There are a huge amount of people producing some great content around the NHL and specifically around betting on the NHL.

If you are a resource or expert-based handicapper, then the trick for you is to identify the right opinions and stats that will lead you in the right direction.

Sorting through all the available information and understanding what is valuable and what isn’t useful for a bettor is a real skill set.

The right answers do exist for us out there, but there are also plenty of people pushing the wrong answers as well.

Finding interesting and relevant NHL betting information is not hard. The real skill set for resourced-based handicappers is finding the right NHL information to help us make the proper bets over time.

Research Based

There are those of us who like to outsource work to specialists in our field and there are those of us who prefer to do the work ourselves.

If your kitchen sink is clogged and not draining properly, you can call a plumber to fix it or you can grab your tools and fix it yourself.

Whichever route you choose, as long as your sink works properly again, your goal was achieved.

For many bettors, doing the research, analysis, and creating the systems or algorithms is as much fun as watching the actual hockey games play out.

However, it’s important to remember that even if we want to do all our own research and develop our own systems, there are always lots of experts who can help educate us and make us better at our trade.

Even if you consider yourself a research-based handicapper and enjoy the process of creating your own betting systems, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be learning from some of the many experts who are doing the same thing.

Developing Your Own NHL Team Rankings

If you want to be a regular and successful bettor on NHL hockey, one of the first places to start is to develop your own team rankings.

These rankings can be created before the regular season starts and can then be adjusted as often as you prefer during the season.

There are many different ways to develop your own team rankings. Some can be complicated algorithms with numerous stats and factors rolled in.

Others can be as simple as using the work that experts have already done for us.

NHL Team Total Points Market

Each year the numerous sportsbooks that provide bets on NHL hockey games will also provide a Team Total points market.

Each NHL team is assigned a point total and a bettor has a chance to decide if that team will go over or under that total.

An example of a Team Total bet is: At the start of the 2021-22 season, the Toronto Maple Leaf’s team total was set at 105.5 points.

A bettor could go over that number and bet them to finish with 106 or more points, or obviously, they could bet under that total and hope the Maple Leafs finish with 105 or less.

Many bettors will collect the team totals from 3-5 different sportsbooks and use these to form their own team rankings list.

Obviously, very few of us are better at setting odds than the professionals who do it every day.

If we can use their team total market numbers to help us develop our own team rankings, why wouldn’t we?

Collecting this information from several different sources will help us get an understanding of what the experts think of each team.

If the Colorado Avalanche is set at 111.5 total points at five different sportsbooks and they are projected to get the most points of any team at all five of those sportsbooks, we can be pretty confident that the expert opinion is the Avalanche are the best team in the NHL.

However, there will be team total point discrepancies between sportsbooks for a lot of the 32 teams.

Those differences can range from a single point or sometimes up to as many as four or five points.

An example could be: The New York Rangers were set at a 92.5 team total at Fanduel, while at Caesars they were set at 96.5.

This is obviously a four-point difference between the two operators.

If we had information from three to five operators we could see if one of Fanduel or Caesars was significantly higher or lower compared to the rest.

We could also see that maybe the sportsbooks were having a tough time agreeing on a consistent number for a team, which might alert us to do some more research to try and understand why.

A resource-based handicapper may collect Team Total point information from 3-5 sportsbooks, take the average total for each team and that would be the basis for their overall team rankings.

A research-based handicapper might collect that same information, but use it as only part of their rankings system.

That person might want to also research each team individually, assign their own point totals, and then compare it to numbers assigned by the sportsbooks.

Team Rankings For NHL Betting

The reason we want to develop team rankings for each NHL team before the NHL regular season begins is that this will help give us context when we begin to handicap games to bet on.

If the Colorado Avalanche are playing the Arizona Coyotes and we believe the Coyotes are the worst team in the NHL, we can start to form a narrative for the game and set expectations of what we think the moneyline odds will be.

If those same Colorado Avalanche are playing the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa and our rankings have the Lightning as the second-best team overall in the NHL, then we can once again start to form a narrative for that game.

We also can set expectations for what kind of odds we would expect on a game between the two best teams. Obviously, those odds would be much different than odds set for an Avs vs Coyotes game.

Let’s be clear, there are more factors to consider than just team rankings when making an NHL moneyline bet.

If we have the Avalanche as the number one ranked team, that doesn’t mean we should make 82 bets on the Avalanche to win this year.

What our own rankings allow us to do is give us an understanding of the long-term capabilities of each team.

Over the course of an 82 game schedule, we believe teams like Colorado, Tampa Bay, and Toronto will do very well.

However, for those who follow the NHL regularly, we know that the overwhelming majority of teams will win less than 60% of their games.

(We are counting regulation and OT losses as a loss in this case. Point totals can be slightly skewed with the addition of a single point for an OT loss. From a betting standpoint though a loss in regulation or OT counts as a loss)

In fact, if we use the NHL playoffs as an example, history tells us that the odds of a series going a full 7-games is twice as likely to happen as a series ending in a 4-game sweep.

By developing our own rankings, combined with the knowledge that only a select few teams win games above a 60% clip, we can start to spot moneylines that provide value and make sense for us to bet.

Team Rankings With Odds & Implied Probability

Most of us realize that the odds set by a sportsbook are a reflection of what they believe is the probability of that specific outcome happening.

When we see odds posted for an NHL hockey game, what we are also seeing is the implied probability of that result happening. Let’s look at some odds to get a better understanding of what I mean.

  • Boston Bruins -130
  • Montreal Canadiens +125

Veteran bettors understand how to read these odds already. At -130, the Bruins are considered the favorite for this game.

A bettor can see that to win $100 in profit, they would have to risk $130 on Boston to win.

But how many of us realize that -130 actually means that Boston has an implied win probability of 56.2%?

Meaning, if these two teams played 100 times, Boston would win somewhere very close to 56 of those 100 games and lose 44 of them.

Here is a quick chart for odds and win probabilities for favorites:

American OddsProbability %
+10050%
-12054.55%
-14058.33%
-16061.54%
-18064.29%
-20066.67%
-30075%

The first thing a sharp gambler will notice is that you pay a premium to bet on favorites, even if the odds aren’t overwhelmingly in your favor.

For example, -120 odds means you are risking $20 more than you are winning in profit for a $100 bet, even though your probability of winning that bet is less than 55%.

Savvy bettors aren’t just betting on who they think is going to win the hockey game.

The long-term formula for success in sports betting is a combination of doing the analysis on who will win the game and then comparing that to the odds set out.

If you handicap a game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, you will want to come up with your own narrative for how that game will play out, and then with experience, you could also set your own odds for that game.

If you determine that the Penguins have a 55% chance of winning the game, but the odds are Pittsburgh -145 (59.18% implied probability) then you might want to bet on the Washington Capitals instead.

Even though the Penguins are expected to win based on your projections, you would much prefer to bet them at -120, which is in line with your research instead of the -140 being offered.

The good news for hockey bettors is that we don’t have to remember the implied probabilities for all of the moneyline odds set out for each game.

BestOdds.com has an amazing calculator tool that allows you to insert the odds provided and spits out the implied win probability for that team.

Whether you are a resource-based handicapper or a research-based handicapper, It’s up to you to decide if those odds are the right odds to be betting on for that game.

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About the author

Malcolm loves to watch all kinds of different sports. He also writes about them.