NHL Underdogs – Wise Wager or Terrible Trap

We’re going to examine whether betting on NHL underdogs is a wise wager or a terrible trap. We’ll also explain what NHL underdogs are, analyze NHL betting data and formulate strategies for making money. If you’re new to betting on hockey, don’t worry, it’s really quite simple.

The biggest difference between wagering on hockey, and let’s say football, is the score. Typically, NHL totals close between 5.5 and 6.5, while NFL totals close around 47-50. With so few goals, National Hockey League teams are susceptible to bad games. These down games provide tons of value to anyone looking to bet on NHL underdogs.

San Jose Sharks team members
NHL underdogs offer more value than NFL dogs

Ice hockey is primarily a moneyline sport. With that being said, it’s important to know where to pick your spots. You also need to know about the puck line.

What Are NHL Underdogs?

In NHL betting, the “underdog” is the team expected to lose the game, based solely on the odds. Bets on NHL underdogs offer the potential to win more profit than the amount you risk.

We’ll look at two examples of NHL wagers to illustrate how to identify the underdog:

  • NHL Moneyline Bet: Rangers (-150) vs. Islanders (+130)

When dealing with moneyline bets, the underdog is the team with positive odds.

  • NHL Puck Line Bet: Devils -1.5 (+125) vs. Sabres +1.5 (-145)

When dealing with puck line bets, the underdog is the team with a positive goal spread. The Sabres +1.5 are the underdog in our example. The +1.5 is a goal spread. A bet on the Sabres +1.5 will win if Buffalo wins the game or if they lose the game by one goal. The odds can be negative or positive.

How Often Do NHL Underdogs Win?

Over the long-term, NHL underdogs have won at about a 40% rate, but that varies season-to-season.

For example, betting on underdogs during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 regular seasons was profitable, but favorites have been profitable to bet on blindly over the last three NHL regular seasons.

NHL underdogs only won at a 37.7% rate during the 2020-21 regular season and 35.1% rate during the 2021-22 regular season. That number improved to around 40% during the 2022-23 regular season.

In the NHL playoffs, underdogs perform better than during the regular season.

Teams that returned a profit on the moneyline in the regular season in 2023
Teams that returned a profit on the moneyline in the regular season in 2023

Looking back at the last six years of NHL playoffs, underdogs have been profitable to bet blindly in five of those six years. The only year it wasn’t profitable to bet underdogs blindly was the 2022 NHL playoffs.

In the 2023 NHL playoffs, underdogs ended up going 43-41 straight-up (four games were a pick’em). That includes the Stanley Cup Finals where favorites went 5-0. Prior to the Stanley Cup series, underdogs had a 43-36 (54.4%) record.

The playoffs are often profitable when you target NHL underdogs. When betting the NHL Playoffs, some of our exclusive handicappers, including Sal Lombardi, crushed it.

Should You Bet on NHL Underdogs?

You should bet on NHL underdogs, but not blindly. If you bet on every underdog during the regular season in the NHL, you’ll generate profits some years and losses other years, but you’ll struggle to profit over the long-term. In the NHL playoffs, it’s often profitable to bet every underdog, but it’s still not recommended.

The reason you should bet on underdogs in the NHL instead of favorites is because you can turn a profit with a much lower winning percentage. If your average odds are -150, you need to win 60% of your bets to breakeven, but at average odds of +150, you only need to win 40% of your bets to breakeven.

Betting odds on NHL underdogs increase profits
Betting odds on NHL underdogs increase profits

There’s a bit more variance when betting on NHL underdogs, but you don’t even need to win 50% of your bets to make a profit. As long as you manage your bankroll and don’t run out of money, your chances of winning money over the course of a full season is better when betting on underdogs in the NHL.

Don’t forget about the puck line bet either. During the 2022-23 NHL regular season, underdogs covered the puck line in over 60% of the games with road underdogs performing even better.

However, with puck line bets, the odds on the underdog at +1.5 goals will often be negative. This means you need to risk more than the potential profits you can win and therefore need a higher win percentage.

NHL Underdogs Betting Strategy

We’re now going to look at formulating some strategies and tips for betting on NHL underdogs. Picking your spots wisely is imperative when betting on underdogs during the NHL regular season.

1. Target Winning Teams

You don’t need to bet on the worst teams in the NHL when betting on underdogs. In fact, targeting good teams is often the best bet. During the 2022-23 NHL regular season, there were four teams that had a winning percentage of 60% or better as underdogs. Those four teams were the Maple Leafs, Devils, Oilers and Bruins. These four teams went a combined 45-20-0-6 as underdogs.

2. Target Road Teams

Home teams are generally overvalued in the NHL during the regular season and playoffs. There’s value in targeting road underdogs, especially when the teams are fairly evenly matched. For example, the Sabres are an improved team, but they were underdogs in 31 of 41 road games during the 2022-23 season. They ended up going 17-14 as a road underdog and making a profit of $1385 on $100 bets.


3. Avoid Public NHL Underdogs

There’s lots of NHL information available to handicappers. NHL betting percentages should be a tool that you use. Once I’m done handicapping the day’s slate, I’ll check the betting percentages. I avoid betting on underdogs that the public are backing and I recommend you do the same. Fading the public when they’re hammering a favorite to win in the NHL is often a profitable angle you should look at as well.

4. Starting Lineups and Injuries

You need to stay up-to-date on NHL injuries and check the starting lineups before betting on underdogs. A team might be an underdog because they’re resting their starting goalie for a game or because they have injuries to key players. These types of situations should be avoided when betting on the NHL.

an injured goalie for the bruins
Injuries and backup goalies can move odds

While I avoid underdogs missing key players or starting a backup goalie, analyzing starting lineups and injuries can help identify potential underdogs offering value. If the favored team is starting a backup or missing key players, you should dig deeper into the matchup to see if you should bet on the underdog.

5. Analyze Recent Performances

NHL teams are often streaky. During the 2022-23 NHL regular season, the Devils had the longest winning streak (13 games), while the Ducks had the longest losing streak (13 games). Teams can get hot and get in ruts throughout the 82-game season. I value recent performances highly when handicapping games. 

I don’t care how a team has done against another team in the last five years. I want to know how teams are performing recently when I’m considering placing a wager on the game.

NHL Underdogs – Wise Wager or Terrible Trap?

My goal with writing this NHL underdogs betting guide was to illustrate the value underdogs have and why you should start focusing on betting underdogs instead of favorites in the NHL.

Underdogs often dominate during the NHL playoffs, hit at around 40% during the regular season and depending upon the average odds you get during the season, you can make money with a low winning percentage. You may be smart to angle some of your hockey picks in this direction.

At the end of the day, NHL underdogs are a wise wager, but you still need to put in the work everyday to find the best spots to invest your money during the NHL regular season and playoffs.

About the Author
Joe Berra
Joe Berra
Sports Writer
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Joe takes care of the bits and pieces that sometimes slip through the cracks of the sports world. Efficiency and consistency is what makes SportsHub.com different. JB helps keep Sports Hub’s content fresh and exciting, managing its many authors. From the New York area, Joe knew he had a knack for sports betting when his uncle was always asking him which side he was on as a young boy. His meticulous approach to the numbers formed his career path as a professional handicapper. Joe is sometimes called Jimmy Bagpipes, JB or Mr. B.