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Fantasy Hockey 101: Place Your Bets

AJ Scholz

Co-Host of PuckCast with Statsman and AJ and unabashed Penguins fan.


The Golden Knights have become a reality as the first franchise among the Big Four sports to find a home in Sin City. This may leave you wondering how to properly bet on hockey, and while there are no guarantees in sports gambling -- anybody who tells you otherwise is a fraud -- the following tips should help you confidently make hockey picks based on your knowledge of todayís NHL.

Understand Basic Terminology (Hint: See live examples during the season on the RotoWire site)

Moneyline - The favorite (i.e. team to win) is represented by a negative number revealing the respective odds.
Point Spread- Take advantage of a points spread to improve the odds of winning a particular bet, generally between two teams that are otherwise unevenly matched
Over-Unders - A prediction on whether the outcome of an event will finish above (over) or below (under) a predetermined value set by a bookmarker.
Underdog - The team or individual with weaker odds of winning an event or single outcome.

Know Your Starters

You have to know who is starting in between the pipes, and itís imperative to account for last-minute changes. This is perhaps the most obvious tip, but can also be the most overlooked aspect of betting 101. Fortunately, RotoWire has you covered with our Starting Goalie Grid, which shows our best guess -- based on coaching trends, current injuries, and netminder performance -- until confirmation of who is starting comes in from official team sources. For example, you never want to bet on the Blackhawksí Corey Crawford only to get saddled with No. 3 netminder Jean-Francois Berube due to a last-minute change.

Take Advantage of Matchups

This goes hand in hand with knowing who the starters are going to be, but you will want to capitalize on elite goalies scheduled against much weaker counterparts. For example, Washington squares off against Vancouver on Thursday, October 26, 2017. While the moneyline will undoubtedly favor the Capitals -- more on this later -- it might still be worth betting on the Capitals (check out the spread for a better return) as 2016 Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby is far and away the superior netminder compared to Jacob Markstrom.

Spot the Backup

As you can see, goaltending is a priority when handicapping hockey. There are backups out there fully capable of carrying the load and you might be able to snag some favorable odds if you can distinguish the good backups from the bad. A handful of young guys -- including Aaron Dell and Laurent Brossoit -- performed well in limited action last season when called upon to man the crease. Generally speaking, you will see the No. 2 at work when the team is scheduled for a back-to-back -- although which game the backup starts varies from coach-to-coach and often depends on the quality of the upcoming opponents.

Whoís Hurting?

This is another point that may seem obvious to most, but you need to factor in all injuries -- even those affecting role players -- when placing your bets. Elite players are going to have the most obvious impact. For example, Evgeni Malkin currently averages over a point per game for his career, but hasnít played 82 games in a season since the 2008-09 campaign. If he is out, Pittsburgh is missing a major offensive contributor. Yet, it's also important to consider bottom-six guys that are out of the lineup, and to realize how a given absence impacts the team as a whole (i.e. Montrealís Tomas Plekanec getting hurt would jeopardize the Habsí third line in terms of chipping in offensively). Again, RotoWire has you covered with our comprehensive Injuries Update page.

Home Away From Home

There is a lot of debate surrounding how much of an impact home-ice advantage has on teams during the regular season. Truth be told, there is no single answer and it depends on the team. For some, at least on paper, home ice appears to be negligible. Case in point: last year, the Canadiens went 24-12-5 at home and 23-14-4 on the road. Others, like Nashville, which registered a 24-9-8 record at Bridgestone Arena, feed off the home crowd and are hard to beat as the visitors. Finally, you have the New York Rangers, who were the only team in the NHL to record more wins on the road (27) than at home (21). So what does this mean for picking your spots? Consider betting on Nashville when they are in the Music City -- unless the Rangers are coming to town.

Star-studded Affairs

NHL players -- all athletes really -- feed off competition. Exhibit A is the Crosby v Ovechkin hat trick game from 2009. When facing off against each other, those two tend to bring their very best and the same can be said for McDavid v Eichel or Laine v Matthews. In these instances, when the best players in the world are matched up against each other, it may not be the best time to take the moneyline as it becomes a 50/50 matchup with elite-level players being capable of carrying their teams to victory. Conversely, taking the over on goals scored might be a better option.

Moneyline vs Spread

Perhaps one of the biggest questions that comes up for hockey bettors is whether to take the moneyline or the spread. This basically comes down to personal preference, so Iíll outline some benefits/drawbacks of each.

Betting with the spread allows you to still pick the losing team if you think they can keep it close and, generally, comes with better return on investment. The downside is the shootout wonít factor into the decision. This means if you pick the Lightning -1, even if they win in the shootout -- you lose.

The moneyline eliminates the shootout concerns as you are picking a winner, regardless of how it happens, but the return wonít be nearly as good. Revisiting our earlier Washington v Vancouver matchup (Oct. 26), donít be surprised to see the moneyline for picking the Caps to be -200, which means your $100 bet would only net you $50.

The House Always Wins Over Time

The city of Las Vegas continues to thrive because -- surprise, surprise -- they know what they are doing when it comes to setting moneylines, point spreads, and over/unders. Thinking you are going to beat the book every time by betting the longshot will dry up your bankroll pretty quickly. Consider spreading your funds out to take into account ďsaferĒ matchups or the total in a star-studded contest if you want to select a bottom-dweller in the standings as an upset pick.

Donít Have It? Donít Bet It

if you donít have the spare change lying around to cover the loss, donít make the bet. If you think the tips above are going to help you double your kidís start-up college fund -- get up and go apologize to aforementioned child for almost ruining their future. Seriously, go to it -- Iíll wait.

Okay, youíre back? Great. Now open a new browser and start applying for a second job to help build up that college fund.

If you canít swing it, it's not worth it. Be responsible. While very few people make a career out of picking the right contests on a daily basis, hopefully the tips above can give you an edge and make this a fun hobby that nets you some extra beer money.

Let Fandom Fly

Speaking of fun, remember to enjoy making your bets and watch the games live. To that end, donít be afraid to let your fandom fly. Guess who started out the RotoWire 2017 Vegas trip in the black thanks to a season-long bet on the Pens to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions (Yes, I reinvested my winnings for a three-peat). Betting on your team makes cheering a lot more fun and when your squad does pull off that incredible upset -- Iím talking to you Arizona fans -- youíll look like a genius to your buddies thanks to putting in the research and calling the right shots.