Wednesday, January 11, 2012
The Bell Centre is one of the loudest buildings in the league. The Montreal faithful pack the 21,000+ arena every night and have been accused of swaying the referees to their side by more than a few angry coaches.
But Montreal can no longer lay claim to the title of "loudest building in the league". That prestigious honour now goes to Winnipeg and the MTS Centre, home of the relocated Jets.
The MTS Centre barely holds over 15,000 and is quite small, which actually works to make the building itself louder. Plus, Winnipeg hasn't had hockey in 15 years, so the fans are just a little pent up.
And in addition to being one of the most wild, passionate buildings in the league, it seems like the fans are actually helping the Jets win games. The popular joke is that Winnipeg is the Jets at home and the Thrashers on the road. It looks like the transformation has something to do with the crowd.
To find out what type of a role the crowd is having on the Jets - and other teams in the league - I examined the amount of powerplays a team gets at home and on the road. If the team is getting way more powerplays at home - more than the league average - you could argue that the crowd is helping influence the referees.
On average, most teams are better at drawing penalties at home than they are when they're in the opposition's rink. This just makes intuitive sense. No matter how unflappable a referee might seem, the home crowd is yelling and screaming at every perceived slight; you don't think that's going to play some role in the calls that get made? What if a referee just sees a player go down out of the corner of their eye and the home crowd immediately rains down protests?
I'm sure it isn't something referees do consciously in an attempt to appease the home fans, but teams get an average of .29 more powerplays at home than when they're away (that works out to about 30 more seconds of PP time).
But there are some teams that get a lot more powerplays when they're at home.
|Team||Home PP/game||Road PP/game||Difference|
It's important to note that teams that have a low to non-existent differential are just as good at home as on the road at drawing penalties, which means they aren't really gaining anything extra from the home crowd. This doesn't mean the home crowd isn't doing a good job of influencing the officials, but rather that the team is good enough to draw penalties wherever they play.
Now from this list there are a lot of loud buildings and a lot of strong hockey markets that know the game, which fits with the argument that noisy fans are buying their team some penalties. However, there are a few interesting teams on the list - namely the New York Islanders, Anaheim, and Dallas - none of which are typically seen as loud, raucous arenas.
Maybe the Islanders are good at drawing penalties at home because the rink is so sparsely populated that when they get mad about something it's truly shocking for the refs and they think something bad must have happened, they've been listening to crickets all night. I'm reaching here, I know. I'm not sure I really have an explanation for why they too have a disproportionate amount of powerplays per game at home.
Regardless, the majority of teams on that list have loud buildings. Something is going on here.
Side note: one of the most interesting teams is the Vancouver Canucks. They have the second lowest differential in the entire league. The Canucks actually get .38 powerplays more when they're the visitors than when they are at home. My theory on this is that referees consciously know about Vancouver's reputation as divers and fakers, so they try not to let the pro-Canucks crowd influence them and actually seem to overcompensate for it.
But what if the difference in powerplays isn't due to the fans' ability to sway a referee, but just that these teams are playing much better at home than on the road. You can't draw penalties if you aren't playing well.
But if a team is playing much better at home, doesn't that also speak to the power of the crowd? I don't think there's any real way to answer why a team gets a boost playing at home - it could be because the noise in the building pumps the home team and gives them more energy, or maybe the crowd helps swing momentum. Or maybe it's the simple fact that at home they have spent time with their family, they don't have to sleep in a hotel, or any other sort of comforts that come with playing in your own rink. I don't know the answer, and no stat can really explain that.
So to look at the home-ice advantage in another simpler way, I found the points a team has accumulated at home and on the road and calculated how many points each team should have by the end of the year. Comparing the two extrapolated point totals will give us an idea of which teams do better at home versus on the road, and which teams get a bigger boost than most from playing at home.
And what we see is that, in general, teams are usually better at home than they are on the road. This is the proverbial home-ice advantage at work. On average, over the course of this season, teams will accumulate about 8-10 more points at home than they will on the road.
But again, there are teams that show a much bigger difference between the points they get at home and those they get on the road.
You might say that teams that are getting more powerplays at home are probably going to do better at home, and this is true, to an extent. There is a slight positive correlation, meaning the more powerplays a team gets at home compared to the road, the more points they are going to accumulate at home compared to the road.
The top half of the league in home/away powerplay differential average should end up with around 11 more points banked at home than on the road by year's end, and the teams in the bottom half in home/away powerplay differential should average between 8-9 more points at home than on the road. So getting those extra powerplays at home might translate into one more win a season than the teams that don't draw as many penalties at home. Not a huge difference
Now let's look again at the teams that gain more powerplays at home than the league average.
|Team||Home Pts/82 gms||Road Pts/82 gms||Difference|
As we can see, not every one of these teams is translating their extra powerplays into extra points at home. In fact, there are a few teams that are below average at home, two of them who own the top powerplay differentials, New York and Buffalo.
Now one of the most important things to remember is that if a team doesn't show a huge difference between home and away, that could mean one of two things: 1) they are just as good on the road and they don't really benefit too much more from playing in front of their hometown fans (i.e. the Rangers); or 2) they are just as bad at home as they are on the road, and not even a crazy home crowd can do much for them (i.e. the Sabres).
But looking back at the chart, four of the teams that have fans able to swing the referees in their favour have massive home/road splits: Detroit, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Edmonton. All four teams have been some kind of bad on the road, Detroit being the only one close to .500.
My guess would be that Detroit is a good team that is underachieving on the road and eventually, over the course of the season, the home/road split will be a little closer to the league average once they start playing better away from Joe Louis Arena. Plus, they are playing at a ridiculous clip at home, losing only three games, which probably won't last all season.
But the most interesting teams are Calgary, Winnipeg, and Edmonton because none of them were generally regarded as being very good heading into the season and only the most optimistic predictions had them making the playoffs. And for the most part, these teams are bad. Right now none of them are in the playoffs (although Winnipeg is only one point out).
Yet it seems like playing at home really is doing something special for them. The home crowd is helping transform them from duds to studs. The fans are helping influence the referees and the teams are all playing way better at home than the rest of the league.
Most teams are better at home, but these teams are way better than they should be. There is something special about playing at home.
Detroit is the best home team in the league, playing at a pace that would net them 140 points if they played all 82 games at home. It isn't surprising to know Detroit is this good at home, but you might not realize that Winnipeg is the 5th best team based on home record (hypothetical 113 point pace) and Calgary is 8th (hypothetical 109 point pace). Edmonton is 19th, which is still good enough for a hypothetical 100 point pace, but sadly highlights just how bad they are on the road. If Edmonton played all 82 games on the road they would end up with a pitiful 46 points.
Home-ice advantage certainly exists, but for some teams, namely Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton, home ice is somehow able to transform them into world beaters, a team much greater than the sum of its parts.