Hockey Betting 101: Puck Lines, Moneylines or Totals

As the most popular sport across the nation, hockey gets a tons of attention at the betting window and is featured prominently now that legal Ontario sportsbooks are online.

The primary hockey betting volume comes in on three main pregame bets:

Is one of these bet types better than the others? Does one offer more profit potential than the rest? We’ll answer those questions and more as we explore the “Big 3” hockey bets in full detail.

How hockey betting works

For every NHL game, you’ll find multiple odds posted at legal Ontario sportsbooks. The main game listing revolves around the big three pregame bet types. It’ll look something like this with decimal odds.

 MoneylinePuck LineTotals
Ottawa Senators2+1.5 (1.6)Over 5.5 (1.9)
Toronto Maple Leafs6-1.5 (2.4)Under 5.5 (1.9)

When reading decimal moneyline odds, the lower number is for the favoured side, with the value being higher for the underdog. The side with the negative puck line is also the favourite. For the puck line and totals, you’ll see the line set by oddsmakers and the odds for the bet. When viewing a listing with American odds, you’ll see the following.

 MoneylinePuck LineTotals
Ottawa Senators+120+1.5 (-155)Over 5.5 (-110)
Toronto Maple Leafs-180                       -1.5 (+135)Under 5.5 (-110)

Here are a few important points to know when reading American odds.

  • Negative moneyline odds are for favourites, positive for underdogs. The range between the numbers tells you how close the matchup is expected to be.
  • Puck line and totals have two components: the line listed by the sportsbook and the odds for placing the bets.
  • Just like the moneyline, the direction of the numbers is key on the puck line: negative for favourites and positive for underdogs.

All three bet types bring in plenty of betting action at the legal sportsbooks. Let’s take a closer look at how they work.

Puck line bets

The puck line works just like the spread bet that’s found in other sports. You can choose the favourite minus the designated number of goals or go with the underdog plus the line. Unlike the spread, the puck line is set at a specific number for each game.

 DecimalAmerican
Winnipeg Jets+1.5 (1.6)+1.5 (-175)
Montreal Canadiens-1.5 (2.5)-1.5 (+150)

While many books will offer alternative lines for NHL games, 1.5 goals is the standard in the main game listings. The side you select has to cover the puck line. For our example, the Montreal Canadiens cover by winning the game by two goals or more.

The Winnipeg Jets cover by keeping their losing margin to one goal or by pulling out the upset. Odds can vary widely with puck line wagering, so be sure to take the time to shop around and compare prices at multiple sportsbooks.

  • Pro: Adds more of a strategic element to pregame wagers.
  • Con: Odds aren’t always attractive on the side you’re interested in.

Moneyline bets

The moneyline is the most straightforward of the big three bet types. You simply have to choose which side you think will win the game. The range between the odds tells you how oddsmakers see the game: tight for close games, large for paper mismatches.

 DecimalAmerican
Vancouver Canucks2+120
Calgary Flames7-140

For the above example, there’s not a huge range between the numbers, so the matchup is relatively close on paper. If the span was much wider, such as 1.5/2.8 or -220/+180, then you can perceive a line like that as the oddsmakers seeing a mismatch brewing.

At times, you’ll even see tighter lines that indicate a game looks like a toss-up. Unless otherwise specified in the bet terms, moneyline bet settlement will include the results from any overtime or shootout periods.

  • Pro: A simple bet type with clear results.
  • Con: Projecting long-term returns can be challenging due to odds variances.

Over/Under or Totals bets

Also known as an over/under bet, this wager revolves around the total number of goals scored in the game. Sportsbooks set the bar with an estimated number and place odds on both sides of the equation for bettors.

 DecimalAmerican
Over5 (1.9)5.5 (-110)
Under5 (1.9)5.5 (-110)

You’ll find many hockey totals listed at 5.5 goals. A game with a total of 5.0 can be interpreted as defensive minded, while a contest with totals of 6.0 or 6.5 projects as more of a high-scoring affair.

Odds for totals bets are generally the same on both sides upon release. They’ll move from there in response to betting action, and it’s possible to see the total itself tick up or down by a half-goal in advance of the first puck drop.

  • Pro: Range of odds stays pretty consistent in comparison to other hockey bets.
  • Con: Totals fall into a distinct range for all games.

Which hockey bet has the best odds?

In leagues like the NFL and NBA, spread and total bets start with baseline odds of 1.91 or -110 on both sides. In hockey, it’s the same story on totals, but the odds for the puck line can be all over the map. Meanwhile, moneyline odds are based on the matchup and will vary.

If you’re on the hunt for odds that stay within a consistent range, then totals is the ticket. For moneyline and puck line bettors, the variance in the odds is just part of the game. The best advice is to wager when you’re happy with the potential return and pass when you’re not.

What is or isn’t an acceptable return will vary by bettor, so it really comes down to your personal comfort level. For a benchmark rule, it may be helpful to think of odds of 1.5 or -200 as the line in the sand. If you place a bet at those odds or less, such as 1.7 or -150, you have a shot at a return of 50 percent or more. At 1.5 or -200, the returns land at exactly that number, while the potential will diminish from there, such as at odds of 1.4 or -220.

When betting on underdogs, the returns can be much greater, but don’t fall into the trap of chasing potential at the expense of making wise calls. Once you find your sweet spot with the odds, you can focus on games in that range and pass on the rest.

What’s the best bet for hockey?

Opportunities abound for hockey bettors in Ontario these days. The best hockey bet type will vary based on the situation at hand. As such, it’s a good idea to be up to speed with all of the main pregame bet types.

After you have a full understanding of how they all work, implement your approach and see what works best for you. While some bettors may like the full range of choices, others may prefer to stick with one or two.

Exactly what you choose doesn’t matter in the long run. If you’re having fun, betting responsibly and finding some success, then you’re on the right track. Until you fall into that category, continue learning and improving your strategy with the goal of getting there.

Payouts by hockey bet type

After you add your wagers to the betting slip and plug in your stake, sportsbooks will display the potential return. There are also plenty of online handicapping calculators that you can lean on. That said, knowing how to calculate the potential return with a simple glance at the board is a great addition to a fine-tuned hockey handicapping approach.

For decimal odds, you can use the following formula.

  • Potential profit = Stake * (Odds – 1)
    • $100 stake at odds of 2.2
    • $100 * (2.2-1)
    • $100 * 1.2
    • Potential profit = $120

For wagers with American odds, here are two simple rules to remember about potential returns.

  • When the odds are negative, that’s how much you have to bet to get back $100, i.e. $150 at odds of -150.
  • When the odds are positive, that’s how much you’ll get back on a winning $100 bet, i.e. $130 at odds of +130.

Which sportsbooks have the best NHL odds?

Once upon a time, bettors seeking the best hockey odds looked toward Las Vegas and compared the offerings from top sportsbooks that way. As legal sports betting continues to expand, the story has changed.

When sportsbooks set up shop in new markets like Ontario, they’re delivering numbers that stack up very well with what you’ll find out in Sin City. That doesn’t mean they’ll be exactly the same, but it does mean you’ll find fair prices based on the overall market.

Ice hockey betting is a big attraction at top legal shops like DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM and Caesars. Of the big four, there’s no one book that’s always better than the others when it comes to the odds. However, there are differences to be found between the shops. As a result, line shopping is important for hockey bettors and all other types of sports wagers. This simply means that you’re comparing the odds at multiple books before deciding where to bet.

We have a dedicated odds feed that pulls together the real-time data from all of the top sportsbooks. It’s a great tool to lean on as part of your research routine. Small differences may not seem like much, but they can absolutely add up over the long run.

When are hockey odds released?

As a general rule, odds for hockey games will begin trickling in the day before the contest. You’ll see them listed everywhere on the morning of game day. If there happens to be a delay, that means oddsmakers are waiting on a key piece of news.

Examples include uncertainty over the injury status of a key player. If the sportsbook hasn’t released the odds just yet, you can be certain there’s a good reason for that. After the initial release, betting action starts flowing in right up until game time.

At times, you’ll see the odds come out well in advance of a game, such as during the NHL All-Star Break or in the days leading up to a playoff series or international competition. There’s extra time for research when that happens but also more time for line moves.

Betting on the NHL vs. other hockey leagues

The NHL is the star attraction for hockey betting in Ontario, but it’s not the only game in town. You can spread your wings with other leagues like the KHL and SHL, the top competitions in Russia and Sweden respectively.

You’ll also find odds for the top international competitions like the IIHF World Hockey Championships and the Olympics when they’re on tap. In short, those who live and breathe hockey will have plenty of options to explore.

That said, there are some differences to keep in mind, such as the rink size on international circuits and the overall styles of play. Additionally, the odds and lines can be different than what you’re used to seeing in the NHL. For example, the puck line might be just 0.5 goals, while some totals could be as low as 4.0 or 4.5. Last but not least, information can be tougher to come by on games that are taking place in far-off lands. By comparison, breaking news in the NHL can become common knowledge rather quickly on our shores.

Other common types of hockey bets

The main pregame hockey bets attract plenty of attention, but they’re not the only ways to get in on the action. There’s a whole menu of other choices to consider at the legal Ontario sportsbooks. Here’s a quick run-through of the most popular hockey bets.

Props

If you click through on the main game listing, you’ll find all of the available props for the contest. They’re basically side wagers, many of which will revolve around player stats.

How many total points for Auston Matthews?

  • Over 1.5  3       (+125)
  • Under 1.5  9       (-115)

Futures

These are long-term wagers on season-long outcomes, such as the winner of the next Stanley Cup or the player who will take down the Hart Trophy. You’ll also find futures markets for things like team regular season point totals.

Regular season points for Toronto Maple Leafs:

  • Over 101.5  7       (-140)
  • Under 101.5  2       (+120)

Live betting

You can wager along in real time as the action plays out on the ice. Odds and offerings move fast, but you’ll see things like updated odds for the pregame bets and chances to bet on the individual periods.

Total goals scored in period two:

  • Over 2.5 5       (+150)
  • Under 2.5 6       (-170)

Parlays

These are bets in which you tie together multiple wagers on the same betting slip. If you’re right on all of them, you can make a great return, but one wrong selection makes the whole bet a loser.

Two-team NHL moneyline parlay:

  • Toronto Maple Leafs over Buffalo Sabres 6       -180
  • Ottawa Senators over Boston Bruins 7       +170
  • Total parlay odds: 2       +320

Alternate Lines

After clicking through game listings, you’ll find some alternate lines in addition to the props. These are variances from the listed numbers for the puck line and totals with the odds adjusted to the offer.

Alternate puck line for Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens

  • Canadiens 4       +2.5 (-225)
  • Maple Leafs 5       -2.5 (+250)

In short, if you’re looking to bet on hockey, you won’t run out of options anytime soon. For those new to the game, starting with a favourite bet type or two makes sense, but there’s also a lot to be said for spreading your wings to see what works best for you.

Tips for choosing the best type of hockey bet

The best bets are always the ones in which you have the most confidence. Naturally, the hope is that you’ll win every time, but that’s impossible. Anything can happen on the ice, and bets can turn with every puck bounce as a result.

When you view the pregame hockey betting lines, the best opportunities for a given day will vary. There will be times when it’s the moneyline that looks like the right call, others where the puck line seems worth the risk and then situations where the total makes a ton of sense.

As you examine a busy slate of games, it can be helpful to cut down the field of options by some specific parameters. Here are some tips on how you can do so for each of the main pregame bet types.

  • Moneyline: Eliminate all favourites with odds greater than 1.5 or -200. For those same contests, see if any of the underdogs are actually worth researching further. Once complete, you’ll have a smaller set of contests to sort through and research.
  • Puck line: Look for the games with the tighter ranges in between the odds on both sides and eliminate those with a big disparity. Once again, the goal is to find the games worth betting on while whittling down the field.
  • Totals: Make note of the games that have two teams of similar playing styles facing off. The goal is to find the potentially low- and high-scoring games. When mismatched styles clash, totals can be tougher to predict.

By following the above tips, you’ll be able to focus your research efforts. Once you have the slate slimmed down, you’ll be able to continue doing the same as you break down the matchups.

There will be toss-ups that you decide to pass on, others that require additional research, and even a few that look like really solid opportunities. The ultimate goal is to find what you view to be the optimal plays for the day. You might walk away with a number of bets that you want to place, but there will also be times when the choices seem very few and far between. There are always plenty of hockey betting opportunities to consider, so don’t force it. Take a disciplined approach.