by PuckStopsHere on 12/11/08 at 03:47 PM ET
We are over two months into the NHL season. That should be long enough to get a pretty good gage on how well teams are doing so far this year. There are many factors which may need to be put into context to properly make sense of the standings. One of them is a huge home/away imbalance exists at this point. On one extreme, the Edmonton Oilers have played 18 road games but only 8 home games so far. On the other extreme, the Los Angeles Kings have only 9 road games to go with 17 home games. It should be clear that teams that have spent most of the first two months of the season on the road are probably performing below their expectations and teams that have spent most of their first two months are home are probably performing above expectations.
While I do not expect that every casual hockey fan has noticed this fact, I expect better from Adam Proteau of the Hockey News. He writes the misleading sentence:
In Edmonton, it’s difficult to be cheery, what with the Oilers having won just three home games this season.
The Oilers have won three of eight home games. That’s hardly cause for alarm, but when the San Jose Sharks already have 14 home wins it sounds pretty bad. It sounds far worse than it is. Likely the Oilers are a better team than their record shows because of the amount of time they have spent on the road so far this season.
To test that theory, let’s look at the top teams with the most home games played and the top teams with the least home games played. One would expect that the teams with the least home games should be playing below expectations, while the ones with the most games should be exceeding them. As a proxy for team’s expectations, we will compare them with the pace to achieve their 2007/08 point total. This may be problematic especially for teams that are significantly changed from last season, but for the most part it should capture the trend.
The six teams with the least home games are Edmonton (8), Vancouver (11), Dallas, Nashville, Boston and Florida (12). The five teams with the most home games are Los Angeles and NY Rangers (18), Anaheim (17), San Jose and Carolina (16). These groups are not quite the same size, but they will do for a quick study.
The teams with the least home games have a combined record of 84-81 (with 18 regulation tie points). The teams with the most home games have a combined record of 71-61 (with 10 regulation tie points). Both sets of teams are above .500 when “.500” is defined in the traditional method where a loss is worth zero points. The teams with more home games have a better record than the teams that don’t. Let’s see how they compare to the paces they set last year.
The teams with the least home games project to 83-82 (with 15 regulation tie points) at last year’s rates. These teams have moderately exceeded expectations by about one game. This is explained by the presence of Boston in this group. Boston has made a huge leap to the top of the NHL, despite the fact they have been on the road more than most teams. Does this mean Boston is actually better than their record might suggest? The teams with the most home games project to 65-67 (with 14 regulation tie points) at last year’s rates. They are significantly exceeding expectations.
Note for any experts trying to replicate calculations, I projected each team independently rounding off projected wins and losses (not regulation ties) totals to the nearest integer and then set the regulation ties to preserve games played totals then I added to get the totals I report. It is possible to get slightly different values by rounding off at different points (or not at all) but it doesn’t change the result of the calculation significantly.
Thus, we see that teams that have played at home the most this season are exceeding expectations (based on last season) and teams that have not played many games at home are approximately doing the same as they did last year. This is essentially a confirmation that teams tend to have better records at home (home ice advantage). It is consistent with the idea that teams who have played a large number of games at home having records better than they will likely manage over a full season and teams that have played few games at home having records worse than they will likely have at the end of the season. It also shows that the group of teams that have played on the road (and Boston in particular) have played very well so far despite that handicap. The fact they could be doing ever better than they are now is quite amazing in some cases. As far as meaningful predictions, Edmonton will rise in the standings and Los Angeles will drop in the remainder of the season. Probably other teams on these lists will rise and drop also, but by selecting the teams with the largest home/away unbalances I have made a pretty safe prediction.
After a couple months into the season, it starts to become reasonable to gage how well teams are doing this season. One factor that has received little notice is the unbalance between home and away games that exists at this point in the season. This is a relatively important fact to keep in context when making sense of early season records.
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