The main differences between the KHL and the NHL

The article compares the major hockey leagues in the world – NHL and KHL, tells about the key differences between them. Players will learn what to consider first when placing bets on the matches of these tournaments.

The Kontinental Hockey League unites not only Russian clubs, but also a number of teams from other countries of Europe and Asia, and is unanimously recognized by experts as the second most powerful in the world after the National Hockey League. Even despite its youth, the KHL has long surpassed in popularity not only the championships of the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland or Switzerland, but also the European hockey Champions League.

Hockey players play here, many of whom have experience of playing overseas, but at present, due to lack of demand in the NHL or for other, sometimes unsportsmanlike reasons, who have found themselves in the KHL; there are many well-known names among them, and not only among Russians. In general, the betting markets for both leagues are similar, but there are some differences between them.

Key differences

The National Hockey League currently unites 31 clubs (the maximum number for the entire period of its existence), while each of the teams has farm clubs in the AHL, from where it periodically “pulls up” players, mostly young ones, when the leading hockey players of the base are injured , are not in the best shape, or there is simply a need to rotate the composition. There is also a reverse exchange. In total, each club can count on approximately 50 players during the season.

In the NHL, there is a system that provides approximately equal chances for each team to win the tournament and win the Stanley Cup – a trophy awarded to the winner of the playoffs. This is ensured, first of all, by a clearly built draft system, in which the clubs that took the lowest places in the previous season have the primary right to buy promising hockey players from all over the world. In addition, there is a payroll limit that is the same for each club.

The KHL is still only striving for this, but up to the level of the NHL, it still, as they say, swim and swim. Yes, there are also payroll limits and maximum salary limits for hockey players, but due to the opaque budgets of most clubs, they actually do not work, so the leading teams spend about ten times more money on paying their players than modest and poor clubs … According to some reports, this figure is approximately US $ 10 million; by comparison, the NHL has a payroll limit of $ 81.5 million.

Such imbalances in the KHL lead to the creation of initially unequal conditions for its participants, so that poor clubs can hardly claim high places here. The draft system introduced at first in the KHL practically did not work, and as a result, the Youth Hockey League (MHL) was created, where almost every KHL team has its own farm club, which includes young athletes.

In addition, the KHL also has restrictions on the number of contracts with foreign hockey players: there can be no more than six in one club (including one goalkeeper), and a mandatory percentage of games with the participation of a Russian goalkeeper for teams from the Russian Federation is established. Non-Russian clubs must have at least five hockey players from the country they represent.

The financial inequality in the KHL and the large gap between rich and poor clubs impose other restrictions on the functioning of the latter – for example, by definition, they may have worse conditions for training, pre-season training, hotel accommodation, flights, etc. In the NHL, such differences are excluded.

Statistical differences

If the length of the ice rink is the same for all leagues and is 60 meters, then its width is significantly different. In the NHL, it is 26 meters, and in the European leagues, and in the KHL including – 30 meters (in Finland – 28 meters). This factor influences the performance of teams from these leagues.

The main statistical difference in the performance of the NHL and KHL matches is the average number of pucks per match. While in the KHL this figure has fallen short of even 5.0 for several seasons, in the KHL it almost stably exceeds 6.0. An “extra” puck for hockey is a lot.

At the same time, the number of shots on goal for the matches of both leagues is generally comparable (about 29 for the KHL and 31 for the NHL). One might get the impression that better and more reliable goalkeepers play in the KHL, however, most likely, it is a matter of lower-quality shots on goal and the execution of combinations that lead to a decisive shot.

At the same time, despite a much higher average performance, in the NHL, on average, about 23-24% of all matches in the season end with extra time. In the KHL, until recently, this figure did not exceed 22%, but in the current season, games with overtime were played on average 25.7%.

At the same time, the goals scored between the clubs that entered the playoffs and those that did not get there are distributed much more evenly in the NHL than in the KHL, which looks quite natural, given the basic differences between the two leagues. So, in the KHL this figure is 2.73 on average per match for the best teams, and 2.03 for all the rest (the difference is about 70%). In the NHL, the same figures are 3.18 and 2.75, respectively (that is, a difference of 43%).

Key factors to consider when placing bets

Now we are faced with the question – how to apply the above information in practice and benefit from it when placing bets? After all, it is obvious that bookmakers also have it, and perhaps even know a little more than we do. However, bookmakers often rely on market movements when forming quotes for matches, so if you identify certain inconsistencies, you can easily take advantage of them.

The data below is based on statistics from the last three seasons in the NHL and KHL (2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19) and the first half of the current one (2019/20). Here are the first factors to consider when placing your bets:

Favorites and outsiders

Since in the NHL the level of play of all teams is leveled to one degree or another, and in the KHL, as we have already found out, it differs significantly, it is not surprising that the statistics, according to which the favorites in the KHL, on average, win more than 62% of matches, in while in the NHL – only 57%. These figures are based on wins in extra time or penalty shootout.

At the same time, in both leagues, the number of games won by favorites outside regular time is almost the same (11.3% in the KHL versus 11.5% in the NHL). Obviously, the main difference is in the number of matches that ended with victories of the leading teams in the main 60 minutes: in the KHL there are 51% of them, and in the NHL only 45.5%.

All in all, in the KHL in 21.9% of cases, matches end in a draw in regulation time, and in the NHL there are 22.6% of them. At the same time, in both leagues, of course, the probability of the favorite winning in overtime or in shootouts is higher, but the numbers here are close to a statistical error: 51.5% for the KHL and 50.9% for the NHL.


If we start from the bookmaker’s quotes along the line, when the probability of an outcome “over / under” is close to 50% (that is, the odds will be about 2.0 or 1.95, taking into account the bookmaker’s margin), and the step on the total market is 0, 5 (for example, total is over 4.0, over 4.5, over 5.0, over 5.5, etc.), then we find that for both leagues there is approximately the same percentage of bets for which refunds were made ( 8.4% for the KHL and 8.0 for the NHL). At the same time, despite the fact that fewer goals are scored in the KHL, the bet on “total more” plays here more often – in about 50% of cases (let’s not forget that in another 8.4% of cases a return is made). For the NHL, this figure is 47.5%.

However, in general, both in our country and overseas, it is more likely that the bet “more” will play, not “less”. Accordingly, they should be preferred in the totals market.


The handicap market is very popular among players betting on ice hockey. At the same time, a goal is often scored into an empty net at the end of matches, and the difference between the pucks rarely matters, unlike, for example, football. Most often, for both the NHL and the KHL matches, a handicap of 1.5 goals is relevant (that is, the favorite must win with a difference of two goals).

In the KHL, this happens in about 36% of matches, while in the NHL – in 34.5%. Given the higher likelihood that the favorite will win in KHL matches, the small percentage difference between the two leagues may seem a little odd.

So, we have provided statistical data and formulated the basic factors that exist in the NHL and KHL matches. We hope the information provided here will help you improve your results when placing bets on these leagues.

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