NHL Hockey Betting–Playoff Line Movement Tactics

Not So Bad Line Betting Tactics

In the first two parts of this series we looked at the theory of why bookmakers hang what are obviously ‘bad’ lines on NHL playoff series. We then examined the tactics to employ to best capitalize on the situation. It’s important to keep in mind that even if we determine that the posted lines do not accurately reflect the qualitative differences in a specific matchup—and are thus ‘inaccurate’ lines—they may not be ‘bad’ lines from the bookmaker’s standpoint.

This is because the bookmaker’s job is not to accurately ‘predict’ the outcome of a series or to measure the relative strengths and weaknesses of the teams involved. His job is simply to set a price that results in a good ‘two way action’ flow on a game and a series. If a price that ‘sharp’ players consider to be a poor reflection of the matchup dynamics, so be it. As long as he’s keeping his books in balance that’s all he cares about. If he gets two way action he’s done his job.

In the 2016 Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Finals we had what I considered to be an ‘incorrectly priced’ series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. This was a very competitive series that I characterized as a ‘coin flip’. That’s why I was happy to take Tampa Bay in every game getting anywhere from +130 at home to +175 or higher on the road. The outcome of the individual games or series doesn’t matter in the long run. In the long term if you find the value and bet accordingly you will make money.


But what about NHL hockey betting series that are priced reasonably and that the bookmaker moves in apparent response to what happens on the ice? These may not be as obvious value finding situations but they still can be attractive enough to bet. In fact, if you have a good handle on how the series should be priced you won’t need to worry about the game by game adjustments. To some extent, games are random outcomes and don’t necessarily negate the intrinsic value of a specific matchup. It’s important not to overreact to what you see in the short term. The risk of doing so is always be ‘zigging’ when you should be ‘zagging’.

We’ll go back to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2016 Stanley Cup run but this time we’ll focus on their Final Round series against the San Jose Sharks. After the first two games, the Penguins were up 2-0 after two close wins. The kneejerk response was to overreact to the 2-0 advantage and change your position since the Penguins won the first two games. This might be a significant development in the complexion of the series but means considerably less in terms of the intrinsic value equation.

As the playoffs progress, we learn a lot about the teams involved. We’ve seen them throughout the playoffs in a variety of challenging situations and have seen how they respond. We’ve seen their tactical strengths and weakness as well as where they’re strong and weak in terms of personnel. That gives us a fairly comprehensive assessment of these teams and that allows us to make a fairly solid valuation. The game outcomes might not be to our liking, but that alone doesn’t negate or invalidate our value proposition.

This isn’t to say that there won’t be situations in which something happens mid-series to change things. Multiple injuries to key players, for example, could be a reason to ‘recalculate’ things. That being said, it’s very unwise to ‘flip flop’ against your value positions simply because a game or two went against you.