The NHL season is here. Each year more and more people discover the joy of betting on hockey. It really is a great sport to bet on – there are games virtually every day, the lines and totals offer lots of value, and there is more than enough information available to handicap effectively. It really is the most under-appreciated betting sport in North America. If you are thinking of getting into hockey betting this year then here are five fundamentals about the sport to keep in mind:
Watch the goalies – Outside of a starting pitcher I would argue that goalies have more impact on the outcome of games than any other position in sports. A bad goalie can make a good team struggle, while a hot goalie can turn a lousy team into a winner. If you are only going to focus on one thing when handicapping hockey look at the goalies – who is starting, what kind of form is he in, and how successful has he been in the past against this opponent. That alone won’t be enough to make you a profitable bettor, but it will do more than anything else. What makes goalies so important is that they can be so streaky. It’s not at all uncommon to see a very good goalie hit a streak where they couldn’t stop a beach ball, or a weak goalie who is stopping everything that comes there way for a few games. In both cases the performance of the goalies differs significantly from the public expectations, and that can create real value for bettors.
Streaks matter – Hockey is very much a game of streaks. During every season each team will have at least one streak where they will string together several wins in a row, and at least one where they lose more than they should. In some sports having too much faith in streaks can be dangerous, but hockey isn’t necessarily one of those sports. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ever bet against a streak – you just want to make sure that you have a particularly good reason for doing so.
Any team can beat any other team on any night – One of the toughest things for people to get their minds around when they are betting sports is that any team can beat any other team on any given day. The more games a team plays in a year the more that is a factor. Even the worst NHL teams are going to win 25 or 30 games in a season, and some of those wins are inevitably going to be against top level squads. That means a couple of things. First, you need to be careful with the odds you accept when you bet on the clearly better team in a game. It can be easy for the risk of a bet to exceed the potential return, and that’s a road to financial ruin. Second, this means that – when you do it properly – hockey is a great sport to bet on underdogs.
Defense wins – The big time offensive stars – Crosby, Ovechkin, and so on – are the ones that get all of the headlines in sports. After all, people love watching goals being scored. A team can have all of the offensive power in the world, but they aren’t going to be able to win in the long term if they don’t have strong defensive play. That’s more and more true as time passes. In recent years we have seen teams investing more money into their defensive corps, and the efforts are paying off – just look at the teams that have won Stanley Cups or made deep playoff runs in recent years. Most rookie bettors will spend their effort looking at the offensive power for the teams in a game, but they would be better off focusing on the defensive strength and the matchup challenges and opportunities that creates.
Home ice – Home ice is a very big advantage in the NHL. There is one stat that makes that very clear – there was just one team in the whole league last season that lost more home games than they won, and that was Edmonton which recorded 18 home wins and 19 road losses. On the other hand, 14 teams lost more road games than they won, including division winner Vancouver. Playing on the road is tough for NHL teams, and it gets tougher when they have to go on a long road trip, or when they have to travel across the country and play at odd times. When two teams seem fairly well matched the team playing at home automatically has an advantage. In some sports it’s common for home field advantage to be overstated. That’s not nearly as common in hockey.