A big hello to all my fellow Puckheads! Today I will discuss some basic theories of ways to be successful at sports betting in general, and in the NHL in particular.
There are certain threads which hold true for handicapping all sports, which include statistical analysis, situational variations, and proper money management. If winning was simply a matter of determining which team was better, based solely on stats, we’d all be rich! A good example of this flawed belief can be observed in horse racing, where guys spend countless hours studying the racing form for speed ratings, past performances, breeding, trainer & jockey ratings, track biases, dirt v turf ratings, etc., as they try to pick a one winner from a large field of horses. More often than not, the conclusion of all this research will usually lead to the favorite in the race, and favorites only win about 1/3 of all horse races and an even lower percentage of turf races! So let’s think of sports betting as a two horse race, and all we have to do is pick one horse!
There are 4 ways to bet any game, favorite-underdog-over-under. Of those 4 ways my preferred choice is “over” the total because the other 3 ways can always be in doubt until the end of the game, but once a game goes “over” it can never go back “under”. Second choice would be the underdog because there are two ways to win. Either you can cover the spread, or win outright. The worst bet, which is usually the public’s choice, is the favorite, where you not only have to win, but also cover a point spread, leaving you only 1 way to win. The NHL is primarily, like baseball, a money line league, where the “spread” is built into the price. Like baseball’s “run line” hockey can also be bet on the “puck line” where you can take or lay 1 1/2 goals. Taking 1 1/2 goals in a hockey game can be a huge advantage, but the cost is usually prohibitive, in the -250 to -300 range. In the past, I’ve loved taking 1 1/2 goals because of the number of one goal games, but the recent trend of pulling the goalie with a substantial amount of time left in the game, or even more frightening, pulling him when a team is down more than one goal, has made taking 1 1/2 goals much less attractive when you’re laying that kind of price, and even less attractive when you’re betting under 5 1/2 goals in a 3-2 situation at the end of a game.
So let’s talk about situational variables, X-factors, if you will. Let’s start with back-to-back games, which are common in the NHL. NFL players make me laugh when they talk about how it takes them a week to recover physically from an NFL game, where an average play lasts about 7 seconds, followed by another 30 seconds until the next snap is made. Having played hockey I can tell you that, as evidenced by the fact that line changes are mandatory after approximately 1 minute of maximum effort, hockey is the most physically demanding sport there is, even more so than boxing, where 3 minute rounds are the norm. Asking a player to play a 60- minute game and take a physical beating, then get on a plane and fly to another city and play the next night takes it’s toll. The NHL has more parity than any other league. If you don’t play well, you can lose to any of the teams which are perceived by the public to be “bad” teams. Unlike the NBA, which is a “star” driven league, the games of which can be dominated by two or three outstanding players, it’s simply impossible for any one player to dominate an NHL game due to many factors. In back-to-back situations, teams will often use their backup goalie to give their starter a break and allow him to recuperate from the previous night. NHL goalie is truly the most physically demanding position in all of sports and these guys need a break to keep them fresh during the season so they can handle the bulk of the work at playoff time. One of my favorite betting situations is to bet on backup goalies whenever I get a chance for a couple of reasons. No. 1, they are underrated and perceived by the line maker and the public to be weaker than the starter. No 2, they are always fresh and eager to show how good they really are, and to me, the dropoff in talent is minimal, there are backups like Al Montoya of Florida, Scott Darling of the Blackhawks, Keith Kincaid of New Jersey, and Carter Hutton of Nashvillle who are all outstanding. Believe me, if you’re an NHL goalie, you’re a great player. So be wary of teams going back-to back, and don’t be afraid to bet on a team’s backup goalie! Betting the NHL is always exciting and can be profitable if you do your usual research on day-to-day situations such as injuries, travel and reasons for motivation. Puck Luck is always a factor, so don’t get discouraged if you lose a game because of a goal that went in off a defender’s skate or somebody’s helmet! That kind of stuff happens all the time but it should all even out in the end! Good luck to all of you Puckheads, the playoffs are coming soon, the most exciting time of the year for all NHL fans!