The NHL has seen a lot of scoring this season, and that has had oversized implications for sports betting markets.
One of the largest year-to-year scoring jumps in recent history has many bettors cashing over bets this season. It’s also caused sportsbooks to rethink their totals strategy, while many bettors are still binging on over bets.
And with Ontario joining the regulated Canada sports betting last week, this is of particular interest throughout Canada, where the NHL could be king, especially as the playoffs approach.
NHL scoring on fire, bettors taking notice
Let’s face it, it’s more fun to bet the over. And NHL casual bettors and sharps alike apparently agree.
With a few weeks left in the regular season, team goals per game rose from 2.94 in 2020-21 to 3.12 through games played as of April 10.
That number has only been over 3.00 for a whole season three times in the last 20 years: 2019-20 (3.02), 2018-19 (3.01), and 2005-06 (3.08). This season’s 3.12 figure is the most in nearly 30 years when teams scored 3.24 goals in 1993-94.
Five years ago, in the 2016-17 season, the NHL had its seventh straight season of teams scoring somewhere between 2.71 and 2.79 goals per game. In a short span, that quarter-goal per game increase means totals and bets need to adjust a half-a-goal in half a decade. The adjustments are being made, and remade, daily.
With the expansion of legalized sports betting in the U.S. and Canada, the increase in NHL goal-scoring has been noticed by book operators. And it fits in with an interesting amount of action on the NHL in general, and on totals (over/unders) in particular.
NHL goals per game (per team) in recent seasons
|Season||Goals per game|
For over/under bets, a sportsbook places a number of total amount of goals scored in a game, usually around 6 goals. Bettors have the option to bet on more than 6 goals (over) or less than 6 (under) with varying odds set depending on the teams, trends, injuries, matchups, goaltenders, etc.
Several sportsbook figures spoke to PlayCanada recently on this.
PointsBet: Huge growth in NHL betting year over year
PointsBet Canada senior trader Sam Garriock said the bookmaker has seen significant NHL growth year-over-year.
“Surprisingly, we’ve actually seen a bit of an uptick in year-over-year NHL action. We’re doing almost one and a half times as much this year as we’ve done in the previous year.”
Garriock said that’s the case even after correcting for their market expansion.
“It’s kind of hard because our markets have expanded and there are different jurisdictional things, but the best figure to give is about one and a half times relative to all other action. Obviously, our whole pie has grown as we’ve entered more states, but relative to the total pie, we’ve seen about one and a half times as much NHL action this season.”
He said some of that growth is likely attributable to the NHL’s new U.S. deal with ESPN, which kicked in ahead of this season.
“It’s been spread a little wider on ESPN. That helps it get into the mainstream a little bit more. The behemoth of ESPN putting a few more dollars behind it has likely put it into people’s minds.”
Garriock said PointsBet puts a fair bit of focus on their NHL products, and they’re happy to see that rewarded with customer interest.
“It’s really good. We consider ourselves to offer a relatively strong NHL product, and we welcome any action that’s going to come through. And we do put a fair bit of time into making sure that we have player props up and all that sort of stuff on all of these games. It’s good to see that the fruits of our labor are paying off.”
PointsBet: Totals betting has risen this year, particularly on overs
On totals in particular, Garriock said those comprise a significant portion of PointsBet’s NHL handle, and they’ve risen this year.
“About 19% of our total hockey handle has been on totals, which is up a couple of percent year over year.”
He said most of the totals bets they’ve taken have been on the overs, but that’s worked out fine.
“We’ve actually done really, really well with our split on overs and unders. We’ve taken about 65% of our action on overs across the season, but we’ve held a slightly higher profitability on overs. In general, it’s gone really well. And that’s probably more just variance than anything, a few large wagers here and there will swing the profitability of it all, but it’s good to see that the bettors are climbing into overs.”
Ontario, Canada should give book interesting NHL data
And Garriock said he’s expecting further growth in PointsBet’s NHL handle now that they’ve launched in Ontario.
“Absolutely. I think the Canadian market will be very interesting to observe. We still think basketball will probably be number one in Canada [in terms of betting] because that’s kind of the way it is globally; even in Australia, basketball is our number-one sport. But the NHL is going to be a massive, massive part.”
“And we’ve invested very heavily in Canada ahead of all of this. We have an office in Canada, we have Canadian traders purposefully for this. This is a major opportunity, and we want to be really authentically Canadian in the way we go about our offers for Canadian clients. So we’ve invested pretty heavily in making sure that that’s the case.”
Garriock said he projects on a per-population basis, hockey betting in Canada will be even stronger than it is in the U.S.
“In terms of proportion, as a wild guess, I would speculate that we’re going to take about four times as much hockey handle in Canada as we do in the U.S.”
BetRivers, Michigan retail book report oversized overs handle
PointsBet isn’t the only sportsbook that’s seen significant NHL volume on totals.
Rush Street Interactive (the parent company of BetRivers Ontario Sportsbook) told PlayCanada they’re seeing 34% of handle and 28% of bets on totals this season, up from 30 and 23.5% respectively last season, with overs hitting at a 53% clip. And that’s despite more totals of 6.5 on average relative to the more common 6 and 5.5 in past years.
A retail sportsbook manager in Michigan also spoke to PlayCanada on this in late March. They said they’ve seen great interest in total markets products.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in NHL action over the last few months with Total Markets being a favorite of our customers. We have five NHL games tonight, all of them with a O/U of six or higher. Last night, we saw eight of 10 games reach seven goals. There seems to be a lot of scoring in the NHL right now, which is benefitting our customers.”
(For the record, those games on March 25 saw three finish with over six goals. The other two finished with exactly six.)
BetMGM also seeing increase in NHL overs betting
And while BetMGM Sportsbook didn’t provide PlayCanada with specific numerical data, they said they are seeing more NHL betting this season.
“We are seeing an increased number of tickets and handle on NHL games,” according to a spokesperson. “Of course, part of this is driven by the expansion of legal sports betting into new states.”
BetMGM also said they’re seeing lots of betting on overs, including from casual fans.
“Our trading team sets over/unders based on the teams, matchups and the starting goalies. Overs are always a popular bet with casual fans, as it is more fun to cheer for goals to be scored.”
We’ll see how the NHL’s scoring goes as we approach and enter the playoffs, which begin on May 2. But it seems likely for the moment that there will continue to be lots of action on the overs.