Thursday, November 24, 2005


Home Ice Advantage: A by-product of the New NHL?

The 'Home Ice Advantage' is a hockey myth and a fact depending on how you look at it. Some people think there is no real home ice advantage (Despite the historical records showing otherwise), while the media love to play up the fact that the road team 'stole' a game and they play up home ice advantage as critically decisive in any one game.

Since we can't measure psychological effects, we could easily assume that there are little or no psychological effects or the effect is very minimal. NHL teams are generally well prepared and well coached and simply being 'at home' shouldn't mean anything entirely special. Once the puck drops, occurances are so random and so fast that the player's natural instincts should kick in above some mindless cheering.

There are, however, some REAL advantages of playing on the home rink:

  • The last line change - If you want to match up your best line against the opponents 4th line and so on, you should always get the matching advantage after each stop in play (partially negated by the new icing rules)
  • Last chance in the shootout - Similar to batting in the bottom of the 9th for a baseball team, the home ice team will always have the last chance to tie up a shootout affair.

  • Why do I bring this up? Well, the Sportsnet crew (before a Canucks game) were talking about how teams in the "New NHL" (their words, not mine) were doing incredibly well at home.

    As you can see by the table I whipped up, only a handful of teams have a below .500 record at home. The results are a small sample, but they seem even more distorted to the home team's side than in previous seasons.

    The Sportsnet guys opined that road teams usually play conservative hockey on the road, and it is backfiring on them this season. They reckon that a conversative style will lead to sitting back and taking more penalties because the home teams are more aggressive with their skating and offence.

    Fair enough. It's a logical theory, but I can't get NHL to give me road/home splits for team penalties. If the road teams were taking more penalties than home teams, it would stand to reason that the home teams would be getting a lot more Power Play chances.

    (Conspiracy Theory #1: Gary Bettman is telling the refs to give home teams more PP chances to increase home wins and leave fans feeling happy after attending a game. Is this a warped way to increase attendance and satisfaction? hmmm)

    How about travel? Road teams have to travel far less since we have had very little in the way of inter-conference play. I would have figured road teams would be less weary and more energetic.
    The last chance in the shootout might also be having effect on the standings since this should give the home team a clear advantage. Again, I don't know where to find standings that include shootout wins.

    If anyone knows where to find these type of stats, please let us know. As fun as the stat base can be, it can also leave me wanting a lot more.

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
    Always looking for some stats to back up a theory or conspiracy theory does not excuse good common sense. How about the ice itself being a contributing factor. Players will tell you that Edm and Det have the best ice in the league, and they get to play 41 games on that ice each year. Conversely teams with crappy ice, playing 41 games would be well used to those conditions, and that, too, can become an advantage.

    Note: second posting of this comment, orig was removed due to Typo's.
    Great post. Some interesting ideas.

    There is a big hole in the stats when it comes to OT and shootouts. In addition to stats on OT and Shootout wins and losses, I'd like to see shooters and goaltenders stats for shootouts.

    Last shot might have a psychological effect on players in the shootout, but if you don't buy that, (Sabermetrics has pretty effectively de-bunked the idea of clutch hitters in baseball) it shouldn't be any advantage.

    I looked at a couple of teams OT and shootout home and road records and didn't see any home advantage. I picked Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Anaheim & Pittsburgh. I know it's a tiny sample, but I'm lazy. If anyone is interested in doing a more complete analysis at the end of the season, I'd participate.

    In total their records look like this:
    Home: Regulation Wins-23 L-20 OTW-2 OTL-3 SOW-2 SOL-3
    Road: RW-19 L-24 OTW-3 OTL-3 SOW-3 SOL-4

    Remember when looking at teams records, with the way points are awarded now, it appears as if the league as a whole is over .500 because of the points awarded for OT losses. Is Anaheim's 6-5-2 really a winning home record?

    Having the last shot in the shoot-out offers no advantage whatsoever. Each team has an equal number of chances to score. Shooting last does not mean the home team gets "an extra chance".

    Secondly, you can get the home/road PP split from the NHL stats website. For the entire league so far this year (Nov 25), there have been 2101 home PP opportunities and 2076 road PP opportunities. This difference is not statistically significant.

    Note also that home PP % is around 19.9% while road PP % is 18.5%, but again, I don't think this is more than a 1sigma difference, so maybe not significant.

    After I read the anonymous comment, above, I looked around the NHL site a bit more and found the PP split. It can be found under Team Comparison - Ranking Details.

    Interesting that there doesn't seem to be a difference between home and road PP opportunities. Maybe referees aren't influenced by the home crowd.

    Including Nov. 25 games the home PP% was 18.9% (406/2153) vs. road PP% 16.7% (356/2135). This difference is almost certainly significant, as it has been in previous seasons.
    Home team advantage, whatever causes it, certainly exists and has for a long time and is remarkably consistant. I've looked at the 2 years prior to the lockout and the time since and on average the home team wins ~55% of games and scored ~10% more goals than the road team.

    Home Team Record: 598 - 474 - 158 0.550
    Home team: 3431 goals Road team: 3096 goals
    10.8% more home goals

    Home Team Record: 589 - 470 - 171 0.548
    Home team: 3303 goals Road team: 3010 goals
    9.7% more home goals

    Home Team Record: 706 - 524 - 0 0.574
    Home team: 3985 goals Road team: 3599 goals
    10.7% more home goals

    So far this year (still a bit small of sample size)
    Home Team Record: 162 - 141 - 0 0.535
    Home team: 947 goals Road team: 870 goals
    10.9% more home goals
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