I love betting on hockey. More significantly, I love betting on the puckline in hockey. Hockey doesn’t get nearly as much betting attention as other sports, and the lines aren’t set by most books until the morning of the game, so it is not at all uncommon to find a line that doesn’t seem right. In cases where the line seems suspect and you think one team has a significant advantage the puckline can be a great way to capitalize on that opinion.
Hockey betting most closely resembles baseball betting, and the puckline is closest to the runline. Both sports are bet on the moneyline, but both the runline and the puckline add in a spread element. In baseball the spread in a runline is 1.5 runs, and in hockey it is 1.5 goals. That means that the puckline favorite needs to win by two or more goals in order for you to win your bet. It is obviously harder to win by two goals than it is by one, so the risk you are taking with these bets is significantly higher than it is when you are betting just to win. Fortunately, the payoffs for the puckline are significantly higher, so in the right situations the puckline can be loaded with value for smart NHL handicappers.
On the surface there is one big difference between the puckline and the runline – teams can score more runs in baseball than hockey, so it is easier to win by two. There is one big factor that closes the gap between the two sports, though – the empty net goal. In baseball the home team doesn’t get a last chance to bat if they are ahead, so it isn’t uncommon to lose a runline bet because your team only won by one run. In hockey when a team is up by one goal late in a game they have the opportunity to score right up to the end of the game. More significantly, the team that is behind will often pull their goalie in favor of an extra attacker, so the leading team has an empty net to shoot at.
The power of a puckline bet can be very well illustrated by a game on November 5. Detroit was at Edmonton. The Red Wings were on a roll, and are one of the elite squads in the West. Edmonton is building a very strong foundation and will be tough in a year or two, but at game time they couldn’t buy a win. Detroit was strong on the road, so they were an easy choice in this game. The problem was, though, that at -140 on the moneyline they weren’t a cheap team to bet on. Given the strength of Detroit’s defense and their offensive balance combined with the struggles defensively for Edmonton and their inconsistent offense because of their youth and it wasn’t hard to imagine that they would win by two. The puckline is useful here, then, because it turns a strong favorite into one with a very generous payoff. The puckline I bet on the game was -1.5 +200. The difference between -140 and +200 is very massive – obviously. As it turned out it was a one goal game until late in the game when Edmonton pulled their goalie and Detroit scored again to win 3-1. Instead of betting $280 to win $200 on the moneyline, $200 bet on the puckline paid off a profit of $400. I don’t mind more risk when that much of a difference in reward is involved.
The power of the puckline is obvious. There are problems, though, that can lead to real trouble if you aren’t careful as a NHL handicapper. Despite the hefty payoffs when you do win you can lose a lot of money if you are betting the puckline without a plan. Here are three key things to keep in mind when you are thinking of betting the puckline:
Consider defensive matchups – When you are handicapping for the puckline you want to pay particular attention to how effectively the opposition will be able to defend your top two lines. If your team is playing on the road then the opponent will be able to match lines because they have the last line change. By looking back at how the top lines have performed against the same opponent in recent game you can get a sense of their checking ability and the likelihood that your offense can have a good day. If your top lines aren’t likely to have a big day then you absolutely should not bet the puckline.
Be very sure of your edge – When you are betting the puckline you are betting that one team will not only beat another but will dominate them. Because of that you need to put the extra work in to be sure that your edge is as big as you think it is. If your edge isn’t very, very big then you need to look elsewhere for the puckline.
Look at the history – In my NHL handicapping, if I find a game that I think has the potential to be a puckline play I look back at the last 10 games for each team. I want to make sure that the team I have bet on has won multiple games over that stretch by two or more, and that the opposition has lost multiple games by two or more over the same stretch. If it hasn’t happened regularly in the recent past then it isn’t a good bet that it will happen now.