NHL Hockey Betting Primer
by Trevor Whenham - 12/15/2006
I live in Western Canada. Unless you are here, you wouldn't realize how important hockey is to Canadians. College football barely registers, and it certainly doesn't get any time on sports talk radio or television sports shows. College basketball gets some attention in March, but that's it. The NFL is the second biggest sport, but it doesn't garner the same interest. Baseball only factors in when the Blue Jays are competitive (never, in other words), and only Steve Nash makes people care about the NBA. It's singularly about hockey. It's all sports fans talk about and you can catch games every night. Hockey commentators are national celebrities, and every move is dissected from every possible angle. The fact that there are a lot of sports I like better than hockey is like a dirty secret I have to keep to myself so I don't get kicked out of the country.
If there is one thing that confounds Canadians it's why the rest of the continent doesn't care about their beloved sport. You don't, and I have lots of theories why, but the important thing is that the general American apathy towards the sport can create profitable opportunities for the savvy bettor.
In order to make money over the long term in any kind of sports betting situation, you need to have information and analysis that gives you an edge over the general public so that you can be on the right side of bets enough times to show a profit. That's why winning consistently on the NFL is such a challenge - there is so much knowledge and information out there that unique information that gives you an edge is hard to find. Because comparatively few people care about hockey, and put the effort into handicapping hockey, exploitable situations can arise.
My home and native land may give you maple syrup, Pamela Anderson (sorry about that) and bacon that looks like ham, but we can also give you the edge you're looking for. Hockey coverage, in-depth analysis, Web sites and blogs full of opinions and statistics exist in far higher concentration in Canada than they do in the U.S. Archived content in newspapers and radio and TV websites can tell you what is going on in markets that the betting public probably isn't following. Canadian television stations show several games a night. A little bit of work on your part can lead to you having a lot more information than most people.
Another advantage presented by hockey is the relatively low volumes of bets. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington's sophomore star, is one of the truly great talents in hockey. In basketball terms, if he weren't LeBron he'd at least by Dwyane Wade. Because of the lack of national attention he gets, though, his game on Friday night against Atlanta drew about as many bets as the college basketball game between Eastern Washington and Oregon. The fewer bets there are on a game, the more potential for inefficiencies there are, and the better the chances that you can exploit a line that you perceive to be inaccurate.
The other opportunity created by hockey is that people who do bet it will often go for the teams that they do actually hear a bit about. That means that certain teams are going to be overplayed, creating lines that might create value in the fade. The Detroit Red Wings, for example, have been one of the best teams of the last decade, and they get more attention than most teams both in their local area and nationally. They are having yet another very solid year, going 18-8-4 so far. Despite that, the public affection means that they are a betting disaster for the public - they are 13-17 ATS, the have gone under 17 times in 25 tries, and they are a very solid loser on the moneyline over the season. Florida, on the other hand, is a team that no one pays attention to. Despite having a pitiful record of 10-18-6, they are a very respectable 19-15 ATS, which is the highest number of covers in the league. By paying a little attention to which teams the public likes, then, you can often make sure you find yourself on the right side of games just by avoiding what the public thinks.
Another profit opportunity in hockey, much like in basketball, is the streak. Because teams play so much it is not at all uncommon to see a team settle into long winning, or losing, streaks. By spotting those teams and riding them out you can often make a nice profit. The Anaheim Ducks, for example, have lost just once in their last 11 games. You can make money on a streak like that regardless of how low their odds are. The Calgary Flames are a particularly interesting case. They have won a team record 10 games in a row at home, and just lost their fifth straight on the road. They are on a six game road trip, so some handicapping-free profits seem to be possible unless the trend reverses itself.
Thanks to the relatively small betting pools and the relatively little attention paid to the sport there are definite opportunities to make money betting on hockey. Do Canada a favor - pay a bit of attention to their sport, eh.