Best Ice Hockey Leagues Ranked | Top 10 in 2023
The NHL may be the most popular hockey league in the world, but there are tons of other big hockey leagues in Europe, Asia, and even elsewhere in North America worth keeping an eye on if you like betting on hockey. In this article, we’ll tell you about some of the most popular hockey leagues in the world to bet on and some key things to look out for when betting on those leagues.
Which 10 leagues will make the cut? Before we get into the more under-the-radar leagues, here is a brief list of the most commonly bets placed on ice hockey events.
- Stanley Cup
- IIHF World Championship
- Continental Cup (KHL regular season)
While these are the most popular ice hockey leagues, they are far from the only competitions worth keeping an eye on if you like betting on the sport. Keep reading for a full breakdown of the top ice hockey leagues.
Professional ice hockey is played all around the world in various tournaments every year, but some leagues stand out above the rest. Here are the best hockey leagues in the world, along with some league-specific concerns you should look out for when betting on these leagues.
#1. NHL: National Hockey League
The NHL is the best hockey league in the world. It’s made up of 32 teams in the US and Canada. Teams are divided into two conferences and four divisions. Each team plays 82 games per season. The top eight teams from each conference make it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs to fight for the Stanley Cup and the right to call themselves NHL champions.
Hockey’s most prestigious league contains some of the best hockey teams in the world. The 2022-23 Boston Bruins are a great example of the quality in the NHL. The Bruins recorded the most wins and points in an NHL season with 65 wins and 135 points, respectively.
Historically, the Montreal Canadiens have been the most successful NHL team, with 24 Stanley Cup wins. The Canadiens are also among the most profitable NHL teams, along with the New York Rangers, LA Kings, and Toronto Maple Leafs.
💡 Expert Tip: For hockey bettors, the NHL is the most popular league in the world. If you’re thinking of getting in on the action, there are loads of things you should keep in mind. For the NHL bets specifically, I suggest taking a close look at goalie and power play statistics.
#2. KHL: Kontinental Hockey League
The KHL is Russia’s top hockey league. It’s also widely considered to be the second-best hockey league in the world and fertile ground for future global superstars in the world of hockey. The league contains 22 teams, including one from each of Kazakhstan, China, and Belarus. Teams play a 62-game regular season, followed by a 16-team playoff to determine the league champion.
CSKA Moscow is the current KHL champion. They are also very popular among bettors due to their historic success going all the way back to the early Soviet League. Ak Bars Kazan is another popular team among bettors due to their recent success in the KHL. Since the Russian top division formally rebranded to the KHL in 2008, Ak Bars has been the most successful team in Russia.
💡 Expert Tip: Betting on the KHL is like betting on the NHL since most of the available bets are the same. However, there is a bigger disparity between teams in the KHL, so betting on favourites might not be as profitable. Travel and home-ice advantage is the major thing you should consider when betting on a league spanning four countries across Europe and Asia.
#3. SHL: Swedish Hockey League
The SHL is another big hockey league in the world, but definitely a step down from the NHL and the KHL. The SHL has 14 teams that play 52 games. It’s considered to be one of the closest contested leagues in the world.
While the SHL is known for parity, Växjö Lakers, Färjestad BK, and Frölunda HC have won 8 out of the last 10 SHL championships. In addition to the champions, hockey bettors like to bet on the bottom of the table in the SHL since the worst teams get relegated from the league every year via a playoff with the top second-division teams.
The addition of relegation should really change how you bet on the SHL, especially later in the season.
💡 Expert Tip: Look out for games where one team has everything to play for and the other is, metaphorically speaking, at the beach.
#4. Liiga: Finnish Elite League
The Finnish Elite League, commonly just called the Liiga, is an underrated favourite among hockey bettors. The Liiga consistently ranks among the top in Europe. 15 teams play 60 games every season, culminating in a 10-game playoff to determine the champion.
Tappara of Tampere has been the Liiga’s most popular team over the past decade. Kärpät is also popular after winning 4 of the last 10 Liiga championships.
💡 Expert Tip: With smaller leagues like the Liiga, my best betting advice is to watch the games and become a fan. This applies to all leagues, but it really helps when betting on a league that does not get much coverage outside of Finland.
#5. NLA: National League A (Switzerland)
The NLA is another very underrated league in Europe. The league averages around 7000 fans, making it one of the most attended hockey leagues in Europe. 14 teams play 52 games per season. The top 6 automatically make the playoffs, with the next four playing in a play-in round. The bottom two play in a play-out series to stay in the division. The loser then plays the winner of the second division. The winner of that series will play in the NLA in the next season.
One cool thing about the NLA is how balanced the league is. 5 different teams have won the championship over the last 10 years. SC Bern is the most successful of those teams, with 4 wins over that period. Historically, HC Davos is a big team that remains popular with bettors and fans.
💡 Expert Tip: This is another league where watching for yourself and reading expert opinions are essential. The NLA does not contain many foreign players, so you’ll really have to familiarise yourself with the Swiss talent in the league.
#6. DEL: Deutsche Eishockey Liga (Germany)
The DEL is a fast-growing hockey league in Europe. They regularly finish second in attendance behind the NLA and have a growing relationship with the NHL. For example, the LA Kings recently bought the DEL’s Eisbären Berlin.
Eisbären Berlin is one of the biggest and most popular teams in Germany. Red Bull München is increasingly becoming a dominant DEL team. However, they are less popular among fans due to their Red Bull connections, as corporate sponsorship is a touchy subject in Germany.
💡 Expert Tip: As we get down to the lower leagues, one thing you should really look out for is the best odds. Different sportsbooks will have different opinions about the leagues, so you might find better odds at one sportsbook compared to another.
#7. EBEL: Erste Bank Eishockey Liga (Austria)
The EBEL is a pan-European competition featuring teams from Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Slovenia. However, it is primarily an Austrian league, with 7 of the 11 teams coming from Austria. Additionally, Austrian teams play for the “Austrian Champion,” other teams are not eligible for.
As in Germany, Red Bull is the dominant team. Red Bull Salzburg has won 11 league titles since they were founded in 2000. Historically, Klagenfurt is the most successful team in league history and continues to battle with Red Bull. Both are popular among bettors.
💡 Expert Tip: Like with all international leagues, I suggest you consider home-ice advantage and travel when you bet on the EBEL.
#8. Extraliga: Czech Extraliga
The Extraliga comes last in our list of hockey leagues ranked by popularity, but it’s still a fun league to bet on.
HC Oceláři Třinec has won the last four Extraliga championships, but Sparta Praha and Bílí Tygři Liberec are also popular thanks to their big fan groups and historical standing.
💡 Expert Tip: This is another league where relegation can influence games later in the season, so be sure to pay attention to what’s at stake for teams when you’re researching before placing your bets.
If you’d prefer to stay closer to home when you bet on hockey, there are plenty of local minor leagues to bet on in North America.
#1. AHL: American Hockey League
The AHL is the top professional North American hockey league besides the NHL. Each team is affiliated with an NHL team, so the AHL works like Minor League Baseball (AAA) and the MLB.
The Hershey Bears are the most successful AHL team with 11 championships, but you can’t really go wrong betting on any team, provided you do your research.
💡 Expert Tip: The biggest thing you’re going to want to look out for is whether any NHL players have been sent down to the AHL. Sometimes, these NHL players will show up and dominate. Other times, they will disrupt rotations.
#2. ECHL: East Coast Hockey League
The ECHL sits below the AHL but also is affiliated with the NHL. So, if the AHL is AAA baseball, the ECHL is AA.
The league is relatively new compared to the AHL, which was founded in the 1930s, so no team has really stood out as a dominant force. The Alaska Aces and South Carolina Stingrays have the most championships, with 3 each.
💡 Expert Tip: AHL and NHL assignments are a big thing to pay attention to in the ECHL, but you should also really care about travel and home-ice advantage since these teams often travel long distances with limited resources.
#3. QMJHL: Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
The QMJHL is one of three leagues making up the Canadian Hockey League. It’s considered to be the highest-scoring of the three due to the high-flying style of play and long history of producing NHL players.
Historically, the best QMJHL teams of all time are the Gatineau Olympiques and the Saint John Sea Dogs. The latter of the two has enjoyed their success very recently.
💡 Expert Tip: QMJHL rosters can have a lot of turnovers year-on-year, so this is a league where you really should become a fan and pay attention to players and QMJHL hockey scores before placing your bets.
While the national club competitions we’ve talked about so far are definitely fun, there is another whole world of hockey we still need to cover. Let’s get into the beautiful and passionate world of international ice hockey.
#1. IIHF: International Ice Hockey Federation
The IIHF is the top international ice hockey governing body. It has governed the game and hosted international competitions for over 100 years.
The most prestigious IIHF tournament is the IIHF World Championship. At this event, the world’s best national teams come together to determine a world champion. This event includes a preliminary round-robin tournament where teams can be promoted to the final round. The final round also includes a round-robin tournament where the top teams play in a playoff to determine the championship. Both the men’s and women’s editions are held annually.
The 2022 IIHF World Championship standings saw Switzerland finish atop the table, and Finland beat Canada in the playoff final to win the tournament overall.
#2. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey
Like the IIHF World Championships, the Olympics are between the best international teams in the world. However, the Olympics are more prestigious considering its long history and the fact the games only come around every four years. Finland beat Russia 2-1 to win the 2022 hockey gold medal.
There are virtually endless things you should consider when betting on hockey. The first thing is obviously the quality of the team. If one team is top of the standings and the other is at the bottom, there is a reason for that. The next thing you should look at is the things that can level the playing field. For example, some questions you should ask include:
- Is one team considerably worse on the road versus at home?
- Are either team missing players due to injury?
- Is the team on a winning/losing streak?
- What are the past results between these teams?
You also should look to the stats to help you make your bets. Goalie stats, power play, and penalty kill numbers will be helpful in all leagues, but you may be able to find more advanced numbers, like Corsi and Fenwick stats in the NHL, that could help you. Shots on goal and faceoff percentage are the other stats we would suggest you look at.
Our final piece of advice is to seek out expert opinions by seeing what others have to say. No matter how much research you do, there’s always a chance you missed something.
Expert's Conclusion on The Best Ice Hockey Leagues
As much as we would like to pick an out-of-the-box pick, the NHL really is the best hockey league in the world to bet on. Our reason for this is that there is so much information available for the NHL compared to other hockey leagues.
Though the National Hockey League is considered king, there are plenty of other areas where the game is excelling. A major hockey league can be found in countries around the world, ensuring that the game will live on and thrive.More info on Rowan Fisher-Shotton
❓ FAQs About The Best Ice Hockey Leagues
Here are some of the most common questions regarding the best ice hockey leagues in the world.
Yes. The AHL is a fully professional league containing senior players who are just one step away from the NHL. The OHL is a minor league for players under 20 years old. Many of these players will never play in a league as high as the AHL.
Generally speaking, the KHL is a better league. However, the AHL is a far more evenly balanced league, so weak AHL teams are comparable to weak KHL teams. At the top end, though, it is not as close.
The answer to this question depends on the year, but generally speaking, the top end of the WHL is better than the top end of the OHL. Overall, the OHL might edge out of the WHL.
The NHL is the best hockey league in the world and the one that bettors like to bet on the most.
Historically speaking, the Montreal Canadiens have been the best Canadian hockey team. More recently, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers have been the best Canadian hockey teams.
Canada and Russia are historically the best countries at ice hockey. Canada has 9 Olympic gold medals. Russia follows behind with 7. Both countries have 27 IIHF World Championship titles.
The KHL is widely considered to be the world’s second-best hockey league. In North America, the AHL is the second-best league behind the NHL.
The following reliable sources will provide you with comprehensive information about the top ice hockey leagues, including news, statistics, and other relevant details for your ice hockey bets.
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Rowan is a sports betting journalist with an established presence in the sports media industry through his thought-invoking coverage and commentary surrounding major leagues like the NBA, NFL, and NCAA. While Rowan specializes in NBA, NFL, and NCAA college sports coverage, he consistently follows and reports on every major sport in North America.