How to win money from the opening NHL faceoff

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NHL betting tips for the opening faceoff

If you’ve seen me on The Handle, Sharp Money or The Lombardi Line then you know I am always looking for smaller markets that are being overlooked by bookmakers. Last year, first-period betting in the NHL was a market that was incorrectly adjusted year over year for the score difference that we were seeing. This year, I am going further off the board to target a market that there is value in. so let’s take faceoffs.

Specifically, let’s talk about the opening faceoff in NHL games. Before we talk about players and teams, let’s talk about some general theory. Every book that I have found that offers the opening faceoff bet is phoning in the number. You will find both sides at an equal price anywhere from -108/-108 to -115/-115. That is incorrectly priced. Unlike flipping a coin where you have a very, very close to 50/50 chance of a result, each opening faceoff is between two unique skaters that have past results and percentages that give you insight into the likely winner. Based off the pricing, you can tell the market is not efficient.

 

Now let’s look at the players. The two centermen who take the opening draw are announced well before the faceoff takes place each day. You can check a team’s website or follow their beat writer on Twitter for that information. You can also check the past game results by checking Play by Play and look at the opening faceoff which will tell you who won and lost the draw. The general assumption is that the best player at faceoffs on a team will take the opening draw, but that is rarely correct. Most of the time, a team will start its first line, or best offensive players, which does not feature their best player at faceoffs. In some cases, like the Maple Leafs, they will have their best player at faceoffs on the ice but not take the opening draw. That is generally due to the players’ ability to be better on the left or right side of the ice at faceoffs due to their sticks’ curve.

With the information above, the key to beating the -115 number is to target starting centers that are very good or struggle with faceoffs and lean toward playing home teams.

Sidney Crosby is a great example. He is winning faceoffs at a 60% rate this season and takes most opening faceoffs for the Penguins. He has also won four of the last five opening faceoffs that he has taken. Two nights ago, he beat Nick Suzuki, who wins about 54% of his faceoffs. Without any situational adjustment (home vs road, past results, etc.), we now have an edge that would be over the 50/50 proposition that we are betting.

In some cases, there are good players to fade as well. For example, Jason Dickinson has taken the last five opening faceoffs for the Blackhawks. He’s lost four of the five and is currently 47% on the year in the faceoff circle. There is no way he should be evenly juiced in the opening faceoff, especially when you have a top-tier faceoff man entering the circle with him for the opening draw.

The key issue with this market is the ability to get a large amount of money down, which is why the books do not put much work into it. Most places will offer limits anywhere from $100 to $200. While that is a deterrent for people who are trying to make a living betting sports, it creates an opportunity for recreational bettors to be able to add plus expected value bets to their card each day.