The Basics of Betting on the National Hockey League

Basics of Betting on the National Hockey League Image

With the National Hockey League (NHL) regular season in full swing, and the All-Star Game just over a month away, casual bettors from Manitoba to Miami are taking an interest in the action on the ice.

Whether you wager online through a site like Bovada or Pinnacle, or you take your cash to the sportsbook at your favorite casino, hockey offers a perfect alternative when the National Football League playoffs conclude. Between the energy and excitement inherent to the game, and a league comprised mostly of evenly matched teams, the NHL attracts new fans year by year.

But while most bettors out there are familiar with wagering on football or basketball, betting on hockey can be a mystery to many NHL beginners.

As a lifelong "puck-head," I've been betting on the NHL for a long while now - longer than I'd care to admit, if I'm being honest. I'm not tout, mind you, so I'm not here to promise surefire winners or can't-miss picks.

Instead, this page is devoted to teaching NHL novices the ins and outs of betting on hockey. That means I'll walk you through all of the wager types available to NHL bettors while explaining how each one works in detail. You'll also find example wagers to help explain how things work, using the actual betting lines and win/loss records* from the current NHL season.

All betting lines and records reflect end-of-day results on December 20, 2017

Moneyline Bets

If you're familiar with wagering on other sports, this one should be a breeze, as the moneyline is the most basic bet in sports.

Simply put, when you bet on the moneyline in a hockey game, you're selecting which of the two teams will win the game. Whether that victory occurs in regulation time, overtime, or the shootout doesn't matter in the slightest - as long as the team you bet on scores the most goals, you'll win the wager.

The term "moneyline" is used to describe the odds on your money offered by a particular team. Moneylines are expressed through positive or negative numbers which are affixed to each team before the game begins. These numbers reflect that team's chances of winning against a particular opponent, based on position in the standings, injury news, and a whole host of other factors.

A negative moneyline reflects the favorite, while a positive moneyline signifies the underdog. The number itself is used to calculate how much a bettor must risk in order to win $100. Obviously, bets can come in all shapes and sizes, so you won't always be wagering a perfectly round number or a multiple of 100. But, using the power of basic math, all moneylines are easily convertible to your chosen bet size (more on this in a moment).

The most commonly encountered moneyline in all of sports betting is (-110). This means you'd need to wager $110 in order to collect a $100 profit on a winning bet. When everything else is equal, the books will throw up a (-110) for both teams, with that extra $10 tacked on acting as a surcharge, or the "vig" as it's known in the gambling world.

Once again, you don't have to bet in $100 increments, that's just the baseline amount to make the math easier. You can bet anything from $1 on up to your entire bankroll, but whatever you risk, the potential payout can be calculated using a simple formula.

Let's say you're down to your last $47 for the trip after a rough run at blackjack, and you'd like to fire it all on a Hail Mary. You like the New Jersey Devils at home against their archrivals the New York Rangers, with both teams carrying the same (-110) odds.

To determine what you might win, just take the -110 number and convert it into a one-digit decimal. That's a mouthful, so here's a visual to make things easier:

110 -> 1.1

All you're doing is chopping the last digit off, and adding a decimal place between the first and second digits. Now that you have the one-digit decimal, just divide your bet amount by that number to see what you'll win. In this case, a $47 bet would pay out a $42.73 profit (47 / 1.1 = 42.73).

If math really isn't your specialty, you can also use this handy betting odds calculator from OddsShark (// to sort through moneyline math.

If you're just starting out as a sports bettor, I'd advise taking a whirl on the odds calculator to get better acquainted with how the figures compute. Knowing how (-###) or (+###) moneyline figures work is especially important because this system of reflecting odds is also used for other bet types (as you'll learn in the subsequent sections).

And if you're more accustomed to the "X to 1" method of expressing gambling odds, that's no problem either. A moneyline of (+200) is just another way of saying 2 to 1, while (-200) equates to a 1 to 2 proposition.

When assessing moneyline bets, you'll see that the biggest favorites carry much larger negative odds. The top team in the league right now is the Tampa Bay Lightning, with a 24-7-2 record and 50 points in the standings. When they take on a team like the Ottawa Senators (11-14-7 for 29 points), it stands to reason that the Lightning will be heavily favored. Throw in home ice advantage, and Tampa Bay's moneyline odds in this matchup stand at (-240).

You'd need to put up $240 just to win $100 in this example, which should show you why moneyline bettors tend to gravitate towards underdogs. Instead of risking almost 2.5x what you'll win to bet on the Lightning, backing the underdog Senators in this game would offer (+210) odds.

Moneylines for the underdog work just like they do for favorites, only in reverse. That means a moneyline number a plus sign attached signifies what you'd win on a $100 wager ($210 for this game).

When you see a positive moneyline number, and want to make a mental calculation of what it will pay out in terms of profit, you can use the same one-digit decimal concept from earlier. But in this case, you're multiplying the wager size by the one-digit decimal, rather than dividing.

Thus, a $47 bet on the Senators at (+210) would return $98.7 in profit (47 x 2.1 = 98.7)

Three-Way Moneyline

Taking a cue from soccer, the three-way moneyline accounts for the possibility of overtime.

When you place a standard moneyline wager, all that matters is the final score - including overtime and/or a shootout.

But a three-way moneyline, also known as a 60-minute line, allows bettors to back the possibility of a regulation draw. With the draw option on the table, your team must win in regulation to pay out. You'll get better odds because of this, but overtime instantly renders the ticket worthless.

Puck Line Bets

Using the same Lightning vs. Senators example, let's say you're a committed Tampa Bay fan and just want to back your hometown team by taking a $100 shot.

Using the moneyline odds of (-240), that c-note would only bring back $41.67 in profit. That's just not enough "juice" to keep you interested, but such is life for a Stanley Cup contending powerhouse - or is it?

Football bettors are familiar with the point spread concept, which is used to level the proverbial playing field between talented teams and doormats. The Patriots have always been a better team than the Jets, but by attaching a 10-point spread for New England to cover, the bookies give New York backers a realistic chance to compete.

In the world of hockey betting, where even the best teams will only win by a few goals, the idea of a point spread is rendered irrelevant. Instead, hockey fans use the puck line to level things out between teams that don't quite match up.

Diverging heavily from football point spreads, the hockey puck line is always expressed as either (-1.5) or (+1.5). In each case, the numbers refer to the amount of goals subtracted or added to a team's final score.

Favorites carry the (-1.5) puck line, and as you might have surmised by now, that simply means the team must win by at least two goals to cover.

Underdogs are tagged with the (+1.5) puck line, which means they can afford to lose by a single goal and still cover. Put another way, when betting on an underdog puck line, you'll lose only when the other team wins by two goals or more.

Back to that Lightning/Senators tilt for a moment. Obviously, the high-powered Lightning coupled with home ice advantage makes them the favorite, so they'll get the (-1.5) puck line. Along with that figure, the books will post another number alongside the puck line to reflect the odds on that particular bet.

I told you earlier that the moneyline format of (-###) or (+###) would be quite important, and this is why. When betting on the puck line - or any wager type in hockey for that matter - the bet's specific odds will be expressed using a moneyline figure.

For the Lightning, a (-1.5) puck line bet brings the original (-240) odds down to a much more reasonable (+110). So long as your team can win by two goals or more, you'll wind up turning your $100 into $110 profit by taking the puck line - a far cry from the $41.67 you'd profit by backing the basic money line.

Top Tip

Even Teams: Puck line bets between two disparately talented teams work to bring the odds back down to earth, but what happens when two evenly matched teams take the ice? In that case, the puck line odds inflate significantly, because a two-goal (or more) margin between teams of nearly identical talent would be the exception, rather than the rule.

Using the Rangers/Devils game I mentioned earlier, with both teams offering standard (-110) moneyline odds, you can see how this process plays out.

In this game, even with the Rangers on the road, they've been dubbed as the puck line favorites. But as an incentive to take New York at (-1.5), the books offer odds of (+250). On the flip side, the Devils are puck line underdogs, and betting New Jersey at (+1.5) carries odds of (-300).

One big reason for the inflated puck line odds when two evenly matched teams play is the nature of hockey scoring. Games are just close, by and large, and most games wind up with a one-goal margin. As the old hockey saying goes, the most dangerous lead in hockey is a two-goal advantage, which is why you'll see so many 2-1 and 3-2 final scores.

And just like football bettors who prefer dogs to sneak through the "back door" with a late touchdown to cover, hockey has its own version thanks to the empty net strategy.

Whenever a team is trailing late, especially by just one goal, the coach will typically pull his goalie and replace them with a skater/shooter. This turns the offense into a 6 on 5 attack, and gives the trailing team a better chance of scoring the tying goal.

But as anybody who has lost a (+1.5) puck line bet knows by now, that empty net makes scoring so much easier for the team holding a lead. Nothing hurts more than watching your beloved underdog keep things close for 59 minutes in a tight 3-2 affair, only to see the opponent ice an empty netter to create a 4-2 final score.

Puck line bettors tend to gravitate towards high-scoring offenses for this reason. Even if the game has been close throughout, a team with a late lead will almost always have a minute or two to take potshots at an unguarded net. Whenever you see somebody celebrating what looks like a meaningless goal into an empty net, you know they've got a (-1.5) puck line ticket in their pocket.

On that same note, if you see someone tearing up their ticket immediately after the regulation buzzer in a tied game, it's clear they're betting on the puck line too. That's because the two-goal margin they need to win has been rendered impossible by the arrival of sudden death overtime. When the next goal wins, all puck line bets are sure losers - which is why the house loves these longshot wagers.

Game Total Bets

Most bettors spend their time and money backing one team or another to outscore its opponent, but a select few specialize in handicapping the final score itself.

When betting on a game total - which may be referred to as the goal total depending on your book - the objective is to guess whether two teams will combine to score a set number of goals.

In the world of NFL betting, game totals can vary wildly depending on the defensive prowess or offensive ineptitude of the combatants. You'll see totals as low as 40 when bad, backup quarterbacks are at the helm, or totals that reach into the 60s and beyond with two star-studded teams prepared for a shootout.

But just like the puck line, game total wagers in hockey are simplified based on the sport's low-scoring nature. In today's day and age, the standard NHL game total is 5.5 goals. A decade back, when the post-lockout rule changes opened the ice for offenses, you'd find a few 6-goal totals floating around, but those times have changed.

Because it's much more difficult to handicap game totals than moneyline or puck line wagers, the odds attached tend to fall into a certain range. When the books don't really have a read on the situation, you'll see both sides of the total tabbed with (-110), (-105), or (EVEN) odds. And if the linemakers have a decent lean one way or another, the odds can lengthen to (-140) at the most for the favored side.

This level of parity ensures that betting NHL game totals turns into an essentially even-money experience, leaving aside the vig of course. For this reason, many conservative bettors prefer game totals to the traditional moneyline and puck line options.

When you back the over on a 5.5-goal total, you'll need the two teams to combine for at least six goals to turn a winner. Any 3-2 or 4-1 scores, while close to the mark, just won't cut it. You'll need a high-scoring affair, something like 4-3 or 5-1 to make it work.

For those backing the under on a 5.5-goal total, goalies are your best friend, and shutouts are as close as it gets to a sure profit.

Parlay Bets

Speaking of profit, the most popular way to turn a small stake into a significant score when betting on the NHL is a parlay bet.

In the simplest terms, a parlay bet is just a string of individual wagers which have been linked together. You can combine two bets into a two-leg parlay, add another for a three-leg parlay, or go for the gusto by parlaying ten or more bets at once.

In order to win an NHL parlay bet, all legs must wind up as winners, and any losing wager sinks the whole thing.

As the number of legs in your parlay goes up, the odds offered on the wager increase in kind. Take a look below for an example of the standard parlay odds table used by major online and land-based sportsbooks:

Parlay Payouts (All Odds -110)

# of Legs Payout Odds Moneyline Odds
2 2.64 to 1 (+264)
3 6 to 1 (+600)
4 12.28 to 1 (+1228)
5 24.35 to 1 (+2435)
6 47.41 to 1 (+4741)
7 91.42 to 1 (+9142)
8 175.44 to 1 (+17544)
9 335.85 to 1 (+33585)
10 642.08 to 1 (+64208)

Bear in mind that these odds are based on all legs of the parlay using (-110) odds, so your true payout will fluctuate wildly depending on the base wagers you choose.

String four heavy (-250) favorites together, and your parlay will pay out (+284) rather than the much larger (+1228) displayed in the table. Change the bet to four major (+250) dogs, on the other hand, and a winning parlay would pay out (+14906).

Prop Bets

Another way to bet on NHL hockey involves backing player or team-specific results.

Proposition bets, or prop bets as they're commonly referred to, can concern any aspect of the game.

You might want to bet that Sidney Crosby will score multiple goals tonight on home ice with the Columbus Blue Jackets in town. A "Yes" bet offers odds of (+500), as even Sid the Kid is a longshot to pot a pair in one night, while a "No" wager carries (-1000) odds.

Maybe you think Columbus (+105) will score the game's first goal, rather than Pittsburgh (-135).

Every game has dozens of prop bets to work with, involving everything from the exact final score, scores at each intermission, player-vs-player point scoring, and if a shootout will be needed.

Futures Bets

Betting on NHL futures involves backing teams to reach certain benchmarks by season's end. You can wager on season win totals, whether a team will reach the playoffs, or who will claim the Stanley Cup.

Before the season started, the Vegas Golden Knights - a newly minted expansion team - were massive (+20000) longshots to win the Stanley Cup.

Fast forward 33 games, and Vegas leads the Western Conference at 22-9-2 for 46 points. Accordingly, their Cup odds have plummeted to just (+1200).

Futures betting is inherently volatile, but splashing a few bucks around provides a season full of sweat - and there's nothing quite as sweet as cashing a futures ticket that few others saw coming.


The first time you look at NHL lines, they can be confusing. Use this guide to the basics of betting on the National Hockey League to learn everything you need to know about your wagering options.