Betting on hockey is a bit like stargazing. The sights are breathtaking. The time is well spent. Your patience for something -- really, anything -- to happen is rewarded when you see that sudden streak across the sky. Then another. Then, hopefully, another.
Which is to say that hockey is not basketball nor football in frequency of scoring events. NHL teams averaged 2.94 goals per game last season, which ended a five-year upswing in scoring. But what the NHL lacks on the scoreboard, it makes up for in strategy. There are a number of ways to bet the sport in interesting and profitable ways.
Here's a guide to wagering on the NHL. For some expertise, we spoke with Ed Salmons, vice president of risk management for the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas. A veteran Las Vegas bookmaker, Salmons is on the SuperBook's oddsmaking team that oversees hockey for the sportsbook.
Who bets on hockey?
There are a few ways to answer this. The general answer is "not as many people who bet on other sports." Hockey is the fourth-most popular sport by betting handle. At the SuperBook, the average MLB game draws five times as much betting handle as the average NHL game. But it's difficult to really pin down specifics on hockey betting totals, as only Colorado reports bets on "ice hockey." It is lumped into categories with other sports in most states.
Another answer is "more people than used to bet on hockey." The arrival of the Vegas Golden Knights to The Strip in 2017 created heavier volume on hockey at the sportsbooks, especially from fans visiting the city to see their teams play. So did the spread of legalized single-game sports betting around the U.S., giving fans access to hockey wagering (and allowing teams to inundate them with advertising about hockey wagering).
Beyond the casual bettors, there are also those hockey wiseguys who bet the NHL frequently -- and successfully.
"One guy has been beating us for two years straight now," Salmons said. "He bets a ton of games, too. I give that guy all the credit in the world, to bet that many games and win. It's hard to do."
High-volume betting syndicates, who search for variances in odds at sportsbooks, also get involved in hockey any time a price on a game gets out of whack with the consensus market price.
What are the primary bets on hockey?
According to Salmons, the most popular wager on the NHL is the money-line bet. That's essentially betting on a team's odds to win the game outright. Let's say you like the Washington Capitals to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers and they're a -140 favorite to win that game. Bet $20 and the payout is just over $34. But let's say you like the Flyers here, and they're +115 to win the game. Your $20 will net you $43 if they win.
The next most popular bet is the "puck line." (Some people call it the "goal line," but that's a little confusing given there's an actual "goal line" on the ice in hockey.) This is essentially "betting the spread" for hockey, where you get odds based on a team winning or losing by a certain number of goals. Since hockey is a low-scoring event sport, the typical puck line is plus or minus 1.5 goals. This can change if there's a lopsided matchup or if money is flooding in on one result or another. It can also change via your wager, as "alternate puck lines" are available with longer or shorter odds.
The other popular hockey bet is the total, aka the "over/under" for a game. The total number of goals in an NHL game is usually set between 5 goals and 6.5 goals, but there are times when the total will be set higher or lower than that range based on matchups or betting trends. This is another wager where alternative totals can get bettors friendlier odds if, say, one result is more heavily favored than another.
According to Salmons, hockey fans aren't known for only betting games one way. "Tons of parlays, big parlay sport," he said. "They'll parlay the money line or the goal line."
What are some of the other ways to bet on NHL games?
To quote Anakin Skywalker in "Revenge of the Sith," this is where the fun begins. Here are a few of the prop bets on NHL games that we fancy the most:
Player props: Most of the familiar names in an NHL game will have stat props attached to them, where you can wager an over/under bet on their total number of goals, assists and points for a game.
One of our favorite wagers is betting on shot totals. Goals contain a lot of variables, from the play of teammates to the actions of the opposing goaltender. While shots can go wide or get blocked, it's a more controllable outcome and a more predictable one based on a player's typical shot generation.
Same goes for goalies and betting save totals. You can base it on the defense in front of them or the expected game situation, e.g., if his team is leading in the third period, there's a good chance he'll still be facing multitudes of shots. There are also wagers on when a player scores and player vs. player props. Much more will be available through the NHL's puck and player tracking technology, like the distance a player traveled in a game. Sportsbooks have already licensed that data.
Team props: Arguably the most popular team prop get is total goals -- not for the game, but for an individual team. This is a good wager if you think you know how one team will perform in the game but you're not sure how the opponent will hold up their end of the scoring bargain on your game total bet. There are also prop bets for when a team scores and other events.
Game props: As we said, hockey is a low-event sport. Over the last two seasons combined, 22.8% of games went to either overtime or a shootout. Well, there's a prop for that: betting on whether a game will end in regulation, or whether a team will win the game in regulation -- a bet that can give a favorite more profitable odds through specificity. There are also props regarding goals scored by period and other totals. Game props also feature more "coin flip" type bets, like whether the final score will be even or odd. (Bet as you'd like, but we'd rather separate our hockey-style bets from our roulette-style bets.)
What about future prop bets?
These are some of the most popular wagers among fans. You can bet on teams to win the Stanley Cup, either conference title or their respective divisions. There are also season wins and points total prop bets. You can also wager on whether a team will make the playoffs. (The Buffalo Sabres are +1400 to make the playoffs and -3500 to miss the playoffs, to present one extreme example.)
For individual futures, the NHL is blessed (or cursed) with no fewer than seven major awards that get odds every season, from MVP (Hart Trophy) to coach of the year (Jack Adams).
What are betting limits on hockey?
Limits vary book to book and are typically based on the size of the overall handle on a particular sport. You'll find much larger betting limits on the NFL, for example, than the NHL. A big bet on NHL is $5,000 at the SuperBook. "But on Knights games, you'll see 10- and 20-dime [$10,000/$20,000] bets all the time," Salmons said.
How much is bet on the odds to win the Stanley Cup?
Salmons compared the amount bet on his book's odds to win the Stanley Cup to how much is bet on The Masters in golf. Anecdotally, the arrival of the Golden Knights increased the amount of action on Stanley Cup futures, as fans who visited the city would drop a few dollars on their teams. But that was before legalized hockey betting started spreading through the U.S.
Who are the favorites for the 2022-23 season, from a wagering perspective?
The Colorado Avalanche (+550) are the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, followed by the Tampa Bay Lightning in a bid for a three-peat (+700), the Vegas Golden Knights (+750), the Toronto Maple Leafs (+1200) -- which would require them to win a playoff round for the first time since 2004 -- and the Boston Bruins (+1400). Along with the Avalanche (-220) and the Lightning (+130), the New York Islanders (+350) and the Golden Knights (-180) are favored to win their respective divisions.
For individual awards, Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers is the heavy favorite for the Hart Trophy (MVP) at +200; Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Lightning (+400) is the favorite to win the Vezina (best goalie); Cale Makar of the Avalanche (+500) is the favorite for the Norris (best defenseman), while Cole Caufield of the Montreal Canadiens (+300) is the favorite to win the Calder Trophy (top rookie).
What are the betting trends for the 2021-22 NHL season?
Entering October, the Islanders had received more bets to win the Stanley Cup than any other team at the SuperBook. Another interesting betting trend to watch involves the NHL's newest team, the Seattle Kraken. In July, Caesars had them at an over/under of 73.5 points. But as money surged to the over, that total is now 90.5 points -- and both the over and the under currently stand at -110.
To repeat the feat of the Vegas Golden Knights and play for the Stanley Cup in their first season? Seattle is +2200 to win the West. Odds can change fast. If you like that wager, better get ... Kraken.