I first want to make a confession. I am no expert in any way, shape or form betting NHL playoff hockey. Next confession, I'm very confident no one else is either.
My proof is IF they were, the lines would likely budge or change just a little every hour or even 24 hours on a game. It isn't like that on Sunday Night Football, where a barrage of last minute "smart money" can make a huge half-point difference in affecting your sleep. Either no one is really that smart or they just aren't interested. Once the lines are set on a hockey game they seem as rigid as Mt. Rushmore.
At least we have some guidelines in the NBA. We know the Warriors, Spurs, Cavaliers and likely three other teams are positively on their way to Round Two in the playoffs. It is a matter of analyzing point spread value, home court advantage, etc. per game to make a selection. Game 3 of the Warriors-Rockets series was the perfect example. After toying with Houston in Games 1 and 2, Golden State almost came back to win while the Rockets played their best game to win outright. But we know it will soon be over as the Warriors begin planning for the Spurs and likely The Finals in June. The same could be said for the San Antonio-Memphis series, Miami-Charlotte, you name it.
Hockey is Different
The NBA and even the NFL clearly define the best from the rest. The bottom from the top. The Warriors were an intimidating -150 favorite to win the NBA Championship starting the playoffs at popular offshore sportsbook Bovada. Next best odds were the Cavaliers at +333 and the Spurs at +400. Every other playoff team seems to be a waste of wagering investment at any odds.
In the NFL, the Denver Broncos overcame many pitfalls during the 2015-2016 season and managed to combine a tremendous defensive effort at the right time with Peyton Manning's farewell to win the Super Bowl. But it wasn't a huge surprise and evidently not to bettors either. The Broncos were listed among 32 teams starting the NFL season at 5-1 at most top online sportsbooks.
In hockey, there just doesn't seem to be a huge public consensus or confidence toward who will win the Stanley Cup. And maybe that is a good thing and makes it exciting for both fans and bettors as well. No doubt fans can make a reasonable case for the Washington Capitals being the best team in the NHL with their league-leading 120 points and star Alex Ovechkin. But the Anaheim Ducks and Florida Panthers, the 6th and 7th seeds are close by at 103 points and are very capable of pulling a surprise. It's happened before and why we haven't seen any recent "dynasty" team in hockey, let alone one that proves itself the team to beat.
Currently the Capitals are listed in the Stanley Cup Futures at Diamond Sports at +301. But the Panthers would not be an impossible longshot at +2278 or the San Jose Sharks at +907.
Again, being no expert, we know that any team getting a hot goaltender can win a Cup. Plus, rigorous travel is also an underappreciated factor in hockey compared to the NBA playoffs. Basketball teams get at least two days off between home sets and more as the playoffs progress. At least for now, it seems there are four NHL playoff games on television every night, keeping unknown networks in business.
Hockey Betting by the Numbers
Perusing the daily baseball or basketball lines, you'll likely find a wide array of lines to consider. In Major League Baseball, with the Cubs Jake Arrieta on the mound in Chicago against most teams you'll likely see a -240/+200 number. Many comparable baseball lines will be ranging more evenly in the -120 to -160 range but there is much disparity in odds to look at.
In NBA playoff action you might see the Warriors a -17 favorite at home compared to the Celtics -3 over the Hawks. Again, a large variety of numbers from small favorites to overwhelming favorites like the Warriors or Spurs to choose.
In comparison, daily NHL wagering action is amazingly consistent.
If you similarly wagered upon "the spread" as compared to a basketball or a football game, virtually every hockey game is listed with the same line as the home favorite being a -1.5 goal or puck favorite and the away team as a +1.5 underdog. Every game I've charted since the NHL playoffs have begun on preferred offshore sportsbooks, including BetOnline, Bovada, Diamond Sports and Heritage, have posted this -1.5/+1.5 line.
Here's where I get nervous trying this bet and again, profess to being no NHL handicapping genius. Say the Washington Capitals are winning 3-2 in the 3rd period of Game Five of their series on Friday evening. There is 1:30 to go and the Philadelphia Flyers desperate to stay alive have to pull their goalie for an extra skater. I am holding a nice bet on the Flyers +1.5. I watch in helpless horror when a puck flies 100 feet down the ice into an empty net to give the Caps a 4-2 win. I think you get the point. Except for the interception return, there are no completely defenseless touchdowns in football.
So you like to bet hockey Over/Unders? Virtually every hockey game playoffs OR regular season posts a line of 5 or 5.5 goals. Imagine that O/U scenario for an NFL Sunday afternoon. And again, those empty nets and overtime rules can surely add suspense for that wager.
Perhaps there indeed is a competitive advantage to betting NHL hockey IF you truly know what you're doing. Lines stay rigid with balanced action and most sportsbooks have virtually identical lines posted. No need to shop books compared to baseball, football or basketball to gain extra value. I would concentrate on just picking a winner of a selected game. And don't ask for my expert hockey opinion...
Glenn Greene covers the games from a betting angle every week exclusively at OSGA.com. For weekly betting insights, inlcuding previews and picks from Glenn, click here.