UNDERSTANDING HOCKEY BETTING LINES
Hockey is Canada’s ‘national sport’ and a huge sport on United States betting sites as well. It’s popular all over the world and particularly in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. It’s also a great betting sport—it combines many of the elements that bettors love in basketball with baseball moneylines that provide excellent value opportunities. Hockey offers a variety of different betting options on every game and that provides handicappers with a multitude of ways to turn a profit.
Despite hockey being an excellent fit for sports bettors at any level, it lags behind football and basketball in terms of popularity. One possible reason for this is that hockey betting odds can be intimidating to a newcomer. Not only are there several different types of odds with the exception of straight moneylines none are especially intuitive for a novice gambler. The good news is that hockey odds are easy to understand:
Hockey betting changed dramatically in 2005 when the NHL added a game deciding shootout to their overtime rules. Before that, games could end in a tie. The National Hockey League used an overtime period up until 1943 before they eliminated it due to personnel shortages caused by World War II. After that, games that were tied after 60 minutes ended as a tie. That changed in 1983 when the NHL introduced a five minute overtime period. It was a big move, but didn’t really change hockey handicapping much.
The shootout was a complete gamechanger for hockey bettors. In the past, teams would frequently ‘play for a tie’. Most hockey betting odds involved a puckline of +1/2 goal or -1/2 goal. Wiseguys loved to find average home teams playing against superior road teams getting a half goal. In matchups of this type, everyone concerned was happy playing for the tie and the bettor getting a half goal cashed his ticket. Now, all hockey games were played to a conclusion either in overtime or in the shootout. The overtime rules have changed over the years going from 5 on 5 to 4 on 4 and for the first time this year 3 on 3. The end result is the same—playing for the tie is no longer possible and that had a dramatic impact on betting.
With every NHL game now guaranteed to have a winner and a loser straight moneylines are a very common bet format. A typical NHL moneyline might look like this:
NEW JERSEY DEVILS +220
SAN JOSE SHARKS -260
If you want to bet the Sharks in this matchup you’ll have to lay -260 to win 100. Another way of putting it—you have to bet $2.60 for each $1.00 you want to win on San Jose. If you want to back the Devils, you’d bet 100 and receive a payout of 220 if they win. It’s the same as getting $2.20 back for every $1.00 you bet. Most straight moneyline bets include overtime but some sportsbooks offer moneyline bets on the ‘first sixty minutes’ only. With a ‘first sixty minute’ bet your team has to win in regulation to cash the bet. If the game goes to overtime, it’s a ‘push’.
Puck lines were the ‘bread and butter’ of hockey bets prior to the shootout and still exist today, albeit in a slightly different format. Until the late 1970’s, the puck line was often referred to as the ‘Canadian Line’ but as hockey (and hockey betting) exploded in popularity worldwide this term fell into disuse. A puck line is essentially a combination of a moneyline and a pointspread based on goals scored. For example:
NEW JERSEY DEVILS +1.5 -150
SAN JOSE SHARKS -1.5 +130
Here’s how to read this line—if you want to bet the San Jose Sharks you’ll lay 100 to win 130 or $1.00 for every $1.30 you want to win BUT they must win by two goals and cover the -1.5 puck line. This means that if the game goes to OT or shootout, the underdog wins. If the Sharks win by 1 goal in regulation, the underdog also wins.
If you want to bet on the New Jersey Devils you must lay -150 to win 100 (or $1.50 for every $1.00 you want to win). You’ll cash your ticket if the Devils win the game in regulation, overtime or shootout OR lose by 1 in any manner.
The ½ goal puck line popular before the introduction of the shootout still exists, but now it’s limited to ‘first 60 minutes’ wagers. Like the straight moneyline wager discussed above, this bet is based on the result of regulation time only. This means if you’re laying -1/2 goal you have to win in regulation. If you’re getting the +1/2 goal you have to win in regulation or lose in overtime or shootout (where regulation will end in a tie). Here’s a sample of a ‘first 60 minute’ puck line bet:
NEW JERSEY DEVILS +1/2 +125
SAN JOSE SHARKS -1/2 -145
Ideally, your sportsbook should offer both moneyline and puckline for the full game and first sixty minutes. It’s helpful to make different bets for different tactical reasons depending on the circumstances of a matchup.
Totals should be familiar to anyone with experience betting on football, basketball, baseball or soccer. The bookmaker sets a total number of goals and you can bet ‘Over’ or ‘Under’, usually with a moneyline attached:
NEW JERSEY DEVILS OV 5 -115
SAN JOSE SHARKS UN 5 -105
Some sportsbooks also offer team totals, which are Over/Under bets based only on one team’s output. For example:
NEW JERSEY DEVILS: OV 1.5 -190 UN 1.5 +165
SAN JOSE SHARKS OV 2.5 -170 UN 2.5 +150
OTHER HOCKEY BETS
There are several other types of hockey bets that you’ll find at better sportsbooks. You can bet on games by period:
NEW JERSEY DEVILS +1/2 -150 OV 1.5 +130 +175
SAN JOSE SHARKS -1/2 +130 UN 1.5 -150 -210
In the example above we have a puckline, over/under total and moneyline based ONLY on the result of the first period. Some books will offer similar bets for all three periods. You can even find bets on the first five, ten and fifteen minutes of a period.
Finally, some sportsbooks allow you to wager on a simple proposition bet:
SAN JOSE SHARKS/NEW JERSEY DEVILS–WILL GAME GO TO OVERTIME
YES, GAME GOES TO OT +315
NO, NO OVERTIME -380
If you want to bet this prop bet don’t forget that roughly 14% of NHL games go to overtime and some teams play more overtime games than others.