The NHL season got underway on Saturday night after a four-month-long lockout. The lockout has created labor peace (we hope) and a 48-game shortened season. Hockey fans in North America and around the world celebrated the return of the game they love Saturday, and even beleaguered Toronto Maple Leaf fans like me could celebrate, if only for a night, as the Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 to open the season.
Hockey isn't the most popular sport to bet on in the sportsbooks (brick and mortar or online), and there are several reasons for that. One of the main reasons is that some sportsbooks place more vig or juice on hockey games, because they tend to be a little more unpredictable. Another is that it's a lower scoring game. And of course, it's not as popular as football, basketball or baseball here in the U.S., and is leagues behind soccer in support worldwide.
But hockey is an exciting sport to watch, especially in person. And putting a little money on the game can make it even more thrilling. Whether you're a novice to the game or someone who makes a backyard rink for his kids every winter, give these hockey bets a chance.
10. Pass the cup
Derived from a classic baseball game wager, this is a great way to bet socially if you're going to a game with a small group (three to six people).
Get an empty plastic cup and have everyone throw in a buck (you can increase or decrease the wager depending on the action you're looking for). One person holds the cup until the next whistle, at which point it is passed to the next person. The cup keeps getting passed until one of the teams scores a goal and the player holding the cup gets to take the money. Then everyone contributes another dollar and the game starts over.
Bonus tip: To generate larger prizes, you can add a $1 penalty for penalties. If you're holding the cup when a penalty is called, you throw in another dollar. And if it's a five-minute major, make it $5.
9. Money line bet
While football and basketball feature point spreads, which gives you the chance to bet on either team with the same (or very close to the same) payout, the money line bet in all sports simply states, "I'm picking this team to win the game." On the face of it, it's a much simpler bet, but the odds that bettors are offered complicate things a bit. For instance, if you want to bet $100 on the Bruins in their game against the Winnipeg Jets tonight at bet365 Sportsbook & Racebook, you only get $150 if you win, as Boston's a 2-1 favorite ($100 stake back, plus $50 in profit). But if you put $100 on the Jets, you'll get $270 if they win, as they're a pretty big underdog ($100 stake back, plus $170 in profit). If you're going to bet the money line, keep an eye out on the underdogs. In this case, the Jets would only need to win 3-of-8 against odds like that to be a profitable wager, while the Bruins have to win 2-of-3 just to break even.
8. Reason for the next whistle
Sportsbooks don't offer this in-play wager yet (at least not that I could find), but they're growing more and more sophisticated by the day, so this may be coming down the road. And even if you can't wager on the reason for the next whistle at a sportsbook yet, you can have a draft-style wager on it if you're attending a game with your friends. Reasons for a whistle can be an offsides call, icing, the puck leaving the ice, a high-stick or hand pass infraction, the goalie freezing the puck, another player freezing the puck along the boards, an injury, the net leaving its moorings, a penalty call or a goal. I'm sure I'm forgetting some. Regardless, there are plenty of options to choose from, and if you're at a game with friends, it can be comical to be rooting for an icing call just so you can win a bet. And the best part? After each whistle, you get to have another draft. Just make sure you mix up who gets to draft first.
Another common bet in most sports is the over/under, and hockey is no slouch in this regard, either. The line is usually set at 5.0 or 5.5, though it can be higher or lower. Betting the over can be fun, especially when the two teams are on a goal-scoring spree in the first period. Keep in mind that all NHL regular-season games will go to a shootout if the game remains tied after the overtime period, and that whichever team wins the shootout gets another goal added to its total. So if you picked over 5.0 and the game is tied 2-2, you're freerolling the rest of the game. Alternatively, if the line is 5.5 and you picked the under and the game goes to overtime tied 2-2, you're going to win the bet, regardless of who wins the game. (Editor’s note: Some sportsbooks only count regulation goals, so check the rules before you wager!)
6. Race to three goals
This is one of Casino City Editor-in-Chief Vin Narayanan's favorite bets. Simply pick the team you think is going to get to three goals first. Keep in mind that there's a "neither" option, as some games end before a team gets to three goals. One of the nice things about this bet is that it often pays better than even money on every option, though it is harder to hit, as there are three possible outcomes.
5. Next player to get a penalty
This works best as an in-person bet with friends. Hold a draft and let everyone pick a player. If your player is the next one to be called for a penalty, you win. Simple as that.
4. Puck line
I consider this to be an advanced sportsbook bet. The puck line is an attempt to emulate the spread bet available in basketball and hockey, only it's a little harder to do, because sportsbooks would get killed by sharps if they offered spread bets in hockey with similar payouts for both teams. The puck line almost always handicaps the game by 1.5 goals, so if you pick the underdog in the game, you need them to win or lose by one, while picking the favorite will require a margin of victory of two goals or more for a winning wager. If you really like a favorite but are deterred by the low payout on the money line, the puck line might be the way to go. Tonight's Jets/Bruins game, for instance, lists the Bruins at +155 ($255 back for a winning $100 wager) if you take the -1.5 puck line. That's a much better payout than the -200 you get on the money line. But keep in mind that while just six of the 19 games held in the first two days of this season have been one-goal games, historically close to 50 percent of NHL games are decided by one goal.
3. Money line three-way
This bet is for the hockey purists who still can't believe that regular-season NHL games are decided by shootouts when they remain tied after overtime. The money line three-way bet allows you to pick who will be winning at the end of regulation. If you like a favorite but don't like the price you have to pay on the regular money line, this might be the bet for you. For instance, in tonight's Jets/Bruins game, you get the Bruins at -125 (paid $180 for a $100 bet), a much better price than the -200 you get for a straight money line win. If the game goes into overtime, you lose, but if you think the Bruins will win in regulation but don't want the added risk of the puck line bet where they have to win by 2 or more, bet the money line three-way. And if you think there's a good chance that this game is going to go into overtime, you'll love the +300 ($400 for a $100 bet) you get on a regulation tie.
2. Grand Salami
This is my favorite sportsbook hockey bet. The Grand Salami is an over/under bet for all the NHL games on the slate for that day. This bet is for hard-core hockey fans who plan to sit down with NHL Center Ice and flip through games all night, staying up to watch the West Coast games and see all the final results. It's fun to pick the over, because every time the game you're watching cuts away to another game to show a highlight, you can celebrate if it's for a goal (and with hockey, that's almost always the reason they cut away to show a highlight). Or, if you pick the under and you're watching two goalies duke it out in a scoreless tie, you can cheer like crazy when one of them stones a player on a breakaway. It's a great action bet and a ton of fun to watch develop as the night goes on.
1. Next goal scorer
Next time you go to a hockey game, keep an eye on the press box after the first goal is scored. Don't be surprised if you look up and see some money changing hands between reporters. There's a tradition of "first goal" pools among hockey media types, and this often extends to overtime game-winners, too. But there's no reason that the fun has to stop after the first goal. Run a pool with your friends, and every time a goal is scored, pay off the winner and run another draft. This bet may be available for in-game betting at some sportsbooks, especially during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi. Follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.