Jan 24, 2020
Jan 24, 2020

KHL vs. NHL: What is the difference?

Key and statistical differences between KHL and NHL

What to think about when betting

Favourites vs. Underdogs, Handicap and Over/Under

Hockey stats and insights

KHL vs. NHL: What is the difference?

The Russian-based KHL is touted as the second best ice hockey league in the world after the NHL. The league features many of the best players in Europe, who are not good enough to make it in the NHL or have other reasons to ply their trade outside of North America. Betting on the KHL is increasingly popular and the available markets resemble those for the NHL. These are the differences between the two to consider when assessing the betting value.

Differences between NHL and KHL

The NHL is without a doubt the best league in the world, with the best players divided more or less evenly among the 31 teams. The comprehensive farm-system, featuring AHL-affiliate teams allow the NHL sides to employ some 50 players to compete for their place in the top tier.

The playing and training conditions, traveling options and other, immeasurable circumstances can vary greatly between KHL clubs.

In the NHL, a hard salary cap and other restrictions to players’ contracts is meant to even the playing field and, in theory, each team should have an equal chance of winning in the long run. The NHL also features a draft-system, favouring teams that are less competitive by allowing them to bind down the most promising youngsters all over the world. In short, NHL has created a system which aims to keep the teams equally competitive.

In KHL, the current system is gradually changing towards that of the NHL but is still some way off. There is a salary cap of sorts, with luxury tax and maximum salaries, but it is hardly enforced and not public. Reportedly the richest clubs spend nearly 10 times more in salaries than the smallest ones, with the average hovering around $10M a year (the NHL salary cap is $81.5M).

The difference in player budgets, of course, mean that the top teams attract much bigger names with much bigger paycheques, making it next to impossible for the smaller clubs to challenge for the title. While there was a draft-system in place during the early years of KHL, it was flawed to start with and didn’t turn out as planned since most of the clubs run their own junior setup, as well as lower league affiliates.

The KHL restricts their Russian clubs from signing more than five foreign players and one goalkeeper at a time, as well as making it compulsory to play a Russian goalkeeper for certain percentage of games.

While the NHL features teams from within North America, there are plenty of non-Russian teams competing in KHL. These include Jokerit from Helsinki, Barys Nur-Sultan from Kazakhstan, Kunlun from China, Dinamo Minsk from Belarus and Dinamo Riga from Latvia. These teams also have to feature five players from their respective nation, but otherwise there are no limitations or restrictions. Of course, in NHL there are no such rules.

There are also major differences in the KHL and NHL when it comes to the disparity in team finances within the leagues. The playing and training conditions, traveling options and other, immeasurable circumstances can vary greatly between the clubs and while KHL is trying to narrow that gap, the division between the rich and the poor is still massive, especially if compared to the NHL.

Statistical differences between NHL and KHL

The game of ice hockey is played very differently on different continents and different leagues – and KHL makes no exception. While there are undoubtedly world-class players in the league, the overall quality of the players is significantly lower than in the NHL.

In addition to that, the size of the rink varies between the NHL (26x60m), European (30x60m) and the Finnish size (28x60m), which in turn can affect the way teams play and might make it considerably harder for certain teams to perform in an unfamiliar setting.

One of the most radical differences between the NHL and KHL is the amount of goals scored in total. The current regular season in the KHL is approximately three quarters done and there have been 4.83 goals scored on average, down from last season’s 4.96 and the previous year before that of 4.90.

Despite KHL games featuring significantly less goals than NHL games, the goal distribution is more imbalanced.

The respective numbers from the NHL are 6.11 this season, 6.03 last season and 5.94 the season before. Over one goal difference overall is significant, especially when the amount of shots on goal are extremely close: in NHL the average is around 31.3 per team per game, while in KHL the number is 29.3.

It’s unlikely an average goalkeeper would be better in the KHL than they are in NHL, but the quality of the shots taken by KHL players are likely to be worse than those in the NHL, hence making the average KHL keeper seem better than their respective skaters or the NHL keepers.

You may think that less goals, less clinical shooting and comparatively better keepers would mean closer games and more ties in KHL. This has not been the case as there were only 22.22% of all regular season games ended up going to overtime in 2017/2018 and 20.52% in 2018/2019, when the new points system (similar to the NHL’s) was introduced.

However, the ongoing season seems to have made an exception, with 25.7% finishing after going to overtime. In the NHL, the probability for overtime has hovered around 23-24%, despite more goals being scored.

It is also interesting to note that the goals scored seem to be divided more unevenly in the KHL than they are in the NHL – which comes as no surprise when keeping in mind the fundamental differences. Comparing the teams making it to the playoffs in KHL to those left stranded, the top teams scored on average 2.73 goals and the rest scored only 2.03 goals (a difference of 0.70).

In the NHL, these numbers were 3.18 and 2.75 with a difference of 0.43. This shows that despite KHL games featuring significantly fewer goals than the NHL games, the goal distribution is more imbalanced in the KHL. In short, the good teams score more and bad teams score fewer in comparison to NHL.

NHL vs. KHL: What to think about when betting

What is most interesting, and probably why you’re reading this article is how to apply all this knowledge in the betting markets. This part is especially tricky, since bookmakers will have the exact same information that is listed above likely much, much more. However, these bookmakers will also rely on the market to help form their lines and if you can be ahead of other bettors it will help you pick off the inefficiencies when they are there.

We can look at some of Accuscore’s historical betting data to see if anything of note emerges in terms of differences between NHL and KHL from a betting perspective. The sample we have used only features regular season games from the past three seasons, starting from 2016/2017 up until January 14, 2020.

Favourites vs. Underdogs

Since we have already established that the quality of the teams differ more in the KHL than in the NHL, it comes as no surprise that KHL sees more favourites winning the games than the NHL. In KHL the favourites win 62.32% of the time and in the NHL the number is only 56.99%. This is with the overtime or shootout included and based on Money Line odds.

Interestingly, both leagues have almost exactly the same percentage of favourite wins after regular time – in the KHL the number is 11.28% and in the NHL 11.49%. From the other perspective, KHL favourites win 51.04% of the games in regulation, while in NHL the number is 45.50%.

Of all the games ending up in the overtime or shootout (in KHL 21.90% and NHL 22.58%), the favourites are, unsurprisingly, more likely to win. However, the margin is perhaps surprisingly small. In the KHL, favourites win 51.51% of the time, while in the NHL the number is 50.89%.


Another popular market, the Over/Under or Total Goals sees a lot of fluctuation between the matchups with some teams being more likely to score more than some others. Accuscore uses the lines closest to even odds, with 0.5 goal interval, so it is possible for the result to be push/void.

Both leagues seem to favour the over in total goals.

In both of the leagues, the percentage of push/void goal totals is almost the same: 8.42% in KHL and 8.04% in NHL. In the KHL, while fewer goals are scored in general, the goal total is more likely to go over than in the NHL. Nearly 50% (49.93%) of the games in KHL go over and in the NHL the percentage is 47.54%.

Interestingly, in both leagues the over is more likely than the under. In KHL the difference between the two is remarkably larger, with 41.64% of the games finishing under, making the difference to over -8.3%. In the NHL the options are much closer together, under with 44.42% with a difference to over -3.12%. Still, both leagues seem to favour the over in total goals.


Quite popular but rather unpredictable aspect of ice hockey betting is the handicap, which usually is set at 1.5 goals. Empty net goals and the fact that it rarely matters if the game is won by one or more goals makes it a difficult market to predict, but one that bettors seems to like due to the potential value on offer. Let’s have a glance at the data from the past two-and-half seasons.

Using data from the past two and a half seasons, we have used the 1.5 Handicap mark (meaning that the favourite has to win by two goals or more). In the KHL, that happens in 36.02% of the games and 34.28% of the games in the NHL. Taking into consideration that the favourites are much more likely to win in the KHL, the fact that there is only a small difference in percentages between the two leagues might be quite surprising.

To sum up our short research, there are fundamental and statistical differences between the KHL and the NHL, which will of course affect the betting markets. Within the leagues there are several factors tipping the scales one way or another, but keeping these baselines in mind when setting bets in both leagues might be useful.

In general the good teams in KHL are relatively better than the good teams in NHL, when compared to the lesser teams in their respective leagues. This makes a win for the favourites more probable in KHL than in NHL. The scoring patterns are built into bookmaker’s lines and although there are fewer goals in the average KHL game, it is more likely that the over lands on the total goals line.

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