Welcome back to my weekly "Hunting The NHL" betting strategy column that will continue to focus on overall hockey trends and where we can take advantage as sports bettors. The goal of this piece will be to give you, the reader/bettor, valuable information that will allow you to have the best edge in beating the sports books, not just for a given weekend of games, but for the long term. Please note that each of these articles will be written on Wednesday and published on Thursday with a macro, "big picture" focus on all-around NHL betting strategy, as well as looking ahead to the upcoming weekend slate of hockey games.
Author's Note: Due to COVID-19, the 2021 NHL regular season will not just be shorter (56 games instead of 82), but teams will only play opponents within their own divisions. This means that teams will play each other 8-10 times in a condensed schedule type of format, which is unprecedented. I will monitor this throughout the season and adjusting my own betting strategy accordingly as we gather more data.
This week I'm focusing on a hockey betting strategy that can be utilized throughout the course of the NHL season. Much like most other professional sports, in the NHL there are a few contenders each season that from the start look like the team to beat come playoffs. At the same time, there are always a few teams that are the dumpsters of the league that the other teams tend to beat up on. In this article we will focus on how to target teams who are susceptible to covering and not covering the "Puckline" in hockey.
For those unfamiliar with the "Puckline," it is hockey's version of the spread in football, and it's very similar to the "Runline" in baseball. Very rarely in hockey is the Puckline greater than 1.5 goals, although you can find alternative lines at most books for both the favorite and dog that come with ridiculous odds/juice.
Every season in hockey, again, there are a couple brutal teams that will win under 30 games in a full 82 game season. Though these would be the teams we are often fading throughout the season, the odds on the Moneyline for the opposing favorites are usually pretty terrible regardless on the other side. The value that remains therefore is on the Puckline. Now let’s look at an example: the Detroit Red Wings from 2019-2020 had a 17-49-5 record, one of the worst in the last decade. Detroit had 54 total losses, 49 of which came in regulation; the Red Wings averaged 2.04 goals per game while allowing 3.5 per game.
And here is where it gets interesting: they lost 41 games by 2 or more, failing to cover the Puckline as a dog in 76% of their total losses and 58% of their total games (this isn assuming they were a dog in every game, as they were just so much worse than every other team in 2020). Now only are they losing here, but they are getting dominated. Let’s take a look also now at the 2019 Senators, who had a 29-47-6 record and had more of the standard "worst team" type of season. They lost a total of 35 games by 2 or more goals, which accounts for 66% of their total losses while still accounting for 42% of their total games.
I bring all of this up because in a regular NHL season you would play every team a minimum of two times, teams within your own conference four times and teams your own division 6 times. This schedule really spreads around the competition. But this season, 2020-21, is like no other, with every team strictly playing within their own division for the entire year. And it could prove true that targeting the weak teams in a division can be more beneficial this season than any other. Take the Senators this season already:
We are only 10 games into the season and the Senators sit at 1-8-1 while losing a total of 9 games (8 in regulation). Of those, 7 losses are by two or more goals (!). Things can change, sure, but having to play the juggernaut offenses of Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Toronto for the entire season will not be ideal for the Sens, to say the least. Not that all of these NHL teams are Stanley Cup contenders, but the Sens are just that much worse than all of them, making them a Puckline special.
As the season continues, we can also look to take advantage of other lowly teams, like the Red Wings (again), who sport a 2-6-2 record and have lost four of those games by 2+ goals. The thing to watch out for in that division, however, is that it's a tad more balanced and the Wings can keep some games close with teams like Florida, Nashville, Chicago and Columbus. There are a couple of other teams that are also in this "fade range" that are seemingly an injury or two away from being just as bad as the Sens/Wings. I will be monitoring these teams throughout the season and updating this weekly column accordingly.
Keep in mind that the NHL is a tough league to bet on. There are a lot of factors that go into each game -travel, injuries, goalies, time zone, and now COVID - so I'm not here to suggest that you blindly place wagers on Ottawa to lose by -1.5 every game. Pick and choose your spots by always check for injuries, starting goaltenders and team travel when making a play. Check up often on these bottom-feeder NHL teams to see how they are trending, and then look to take advantage of the Puckline when appropriate.
Now let's get into our target trend and player prop values for this weekend's upcoming NHL main slate:
For this week’s target trend I'm heading back to game totals. After watching the high flying Canadian North Division closely, I have decided that it will again be my point of attack for this weekend. The Canucks meet up with the Maple Leafs on Thursday, Saturday and Monday of this weekend and come into this series 8-4 to the over while the Leafs are 5-4-1 to the over. While there are three games in this weekend series, it's definitely not likely that all three games will go over the total, therefore I recommend looking for the games when Canucks goalie Braeden Holtby plays and if and when the Leafs play their backup. Holtby has been below average this season, allowing three or more goals in five of six games while having a poor save percentage under .900. I left the Leafs back up unnamed, as their regular backup is out with an injury and therefore we might see the third stringer in at some point. That is when I like the Canucks to put up some more goals here. Keep an eye out for those starting goalies and make your best wagers accordingly.
Player Prop Value
I can’t seem to get away from the Toronto Maples Leafs and Vancouver Canucks matchup this weekend when it comes to props as well, looking to play top power play guys on the Leafs to get a PP point. The Leafs have the number one ranked power play with 13 goals on 30 opportunities for a 43% conversion rate this season while the Canucks have an average penalty kill but have taken a league-high 56 penalties. Although they have played the most games in the league, the Canucks are still allowing opponents 4.3 power plays per game. These prop odds usually range from +150 to +350 depending on the player, and defensemen are actually great value plays here because they often also get their fair share of PP points.