NHL Hockey Betting–Tactical Strategies for Bad Playoff Lines

Bad Line Betting Tactics

In the first part of this discussion we talked about the theoretical basis for bad playoff lines. We learned that playoff hockey lines that seem ‘out of whack’ and don’t change in reaction to what happens in the first couple of games are usually due to ‘public perception’. If the public keeps betting one team and the bookmaker is getting good two way action he has little incentive to change his price structure. Remember, the purpose of betting lines is simply to divide action. If the bookie has roughly the same liability on each side of a proposition he’s doing his job.

There are situations when a line is really ‘off’ due to the above phenomenon. The 2016 Eastern Conference Finals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins was a perfect example. The Penguins were around a -200 favorite in every game at home and a -130 to -150 favorite in Tampa. In a very closely contested series where it’s apparent that both teams are of similar skill you would think that the betting lines would begin to reflect that. Instead, Pittsburgh remains a huge chalk. Tampa Bay went 25-13-3 at home this year and head into Game Six with a 10-4 record in the playoffs. Yet they have been underdogs in all three games at home.

Situations like this happen fairly often during the NHL playoffs. Most hockey playoff series are competitive with some like Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay being essentially a ‘coin flip’. And if you know anything about probability a coin flip is a 50/50 proposition which would make it’s ‘true odds’ in moneyline form +100. So if we’re betting Tampa Bay on the road we’re getting +175 on one side of a coin flip. Do this over the long haul and you’ll make a lot of money betting sports.


Here are a few tactical suggestions for how to take advantage of a ‘bad playoff line’:

–BET EARLY AND OFTEN: I’ll reiterate a point I made in the previous section since there may be nothing you’ll ever learn about sports betting that is more important: ‘Squares’ try to ‘pick winners’, ‘Sharps’ try to ‘find value’. It’s like in the example just above—if you continually find the value in any wagering proposition you’ll make a lot of money betting on sports.

When you find a matchup such as the one I’ve described above you want to bet it ‘early and often’. In the Tampa Bay/Pittsburgh series I bet Tampa Bay +175 for the series and +170 for Game One. When I saw the line wasn’t going to change for Game Two I bet the series again at +125 (despite Tampa having won the first game which is somewhat absurd) and again at +175 for Game Two. When I saw the Penguins favored once again for Game Three in Tampa I bet the Lightning again at +125.

–UNDERSTAND THE MATH: Another valuable handicapping lesson: ‘Squares’ bet teams, ‘Sharps’ bet numbers. I had this matchup pegged as dead even before it started and nothing has happened in the ensuing six games to change my mind. I’m not necessarily ‘picking’ Tampa Bay to win these games but in each instance the Lightning represent the value side. At -200, the implied probability is 66.7%. This means that if these teams played 100 times Pittsburgh would have to win 67% of the time just to break even. So would you—if you’re betting -200 chalk prices you’ll have to hit well over 70% to make any money.

Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has to win only 36.36% of the time to break even. And if I’m betting +175 underdogs I just have hit 40% or so to turn a nice profit. In this instance, I’ve got this matchup graded as dead even meaning any time I’m getting plus money I’m reaching for the bankroll.

–DON’T BECOME A FAN: I’ve bet Tampa Bay in every game in this series simply because they’ve been the underdog. In another series I might bet whichever team is the underdog on a given night. The dynamic of most NHL series is such that you can flip flop from one side to another several times betting the underdog and cashing tickets. We’ll talk more about this in the future.

Once again, I don’t worry about handicapping each individual game. Sure, if there’s something that changes the qualitative strength of one team or another I’ll re-evaluate but by this point I’ve watched these teams play all season and I’ve watched them play each other six times. Nothing has changed that would suggest that my strategy should change.

–HAVE CONFIDENCE IN YOUR POSITION: When I was first coming up in the handicapping world I’d get really nervous if I liked a big underdog. No matter how compelling the case, if I had a +180 dog I’d start to second guess myself thinking that the ‘public’ or bookmaker knew something I didn’t. Now I don’t care if I’m the only person in the world that likes a big underdog. I have complete confidence in my numbers. Obviously, you’ve got to do the work. If you’ve done a good job handicapping a matchup and the value is on the underdog side don’t second guess yourself—have confidence in your position and don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on your bets.