There’s an undeniable difference to playing on the road versus playing at home. Leaving aside the travel, the odd hours, and the propensity of the league to schedule back-to-back games for road teams (all of which are important factors), the home coach gets to pick his matchups, which provides an undeniable strategic advantage.

My question is ‘how much of a difference does it make for an individual player?’ Quite a bit as it turns out.

Using NHL.com’s home/road split function, I took the league’s top-30 scorers and compared their average numbers on home ice versus their average numbers on the road. The results were very interesting, particularly for those who feel that elite players should excel regardless of circumstances.

The chart below shows the average 82-game season (based on the top-30 scorer’s combined numbers to date) at home and on the road.

Situation GP G A PTS +/-
Home 82 37 61 98 31
Road 82 30 50 80 1

The difference is incredible. 20% drops in all offensive numbers, and players who averaged a plus-31 rating find themselves just breaking even.

It doesn’t seem to matter who it is, either. Plus/minus-wise, Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos sees the biggest drop – he’s a plus-16 player at home and a minus-16 player on the road, but all the top players see drop-offs. Of the league’s 10 leading scorers, only two (Marian Gaborik and Patrick Marleau) don’t see their plus/minus drop by between 16 and 25 goals so far on the season. In fact, in the top-30, only one player saw his plus/minus improve: Calgary’s Jarome Iginla, who is a minus-7 at home but a plus-9 on the road.

The application of this data is a little harder to figure out. For NHL managers, I don’t know if it matters much when comparing players, since everyone ends up playing relatively balanced home and road schedules. The exception might be goaltenders, who don’t play a balanced schedule – comparing the quality of opponent could be helpful when looking at a goalie’s numbers.

For fantasy managers who make day to day decisions, the implications are obvious: the guy playing the home game should be rated much higher than the guy playing on the road.

Comments (2)

  1. Great stuff. The only thing I have to comment on is the day to day decisions regarding fantasy. Yes, as you showed the advantage of playing at home is huge, but I just wonder how much this correlates down to depth players – not neccesarily top 30 goal scorers. Obviously, I’m going to leave Gaborik in over a home-playing (for example) Steve Ott.

    Again, great stuff though.

  2. I think, especially in +/-, you see guys like Stamkos with much more flattering stats at home in large part due to matchups.

    I can’t imagine Stamkos is a guy his coach wants out on the ice with Ovechkin. But I would suspect Boudreau is perfectly happy with that matchup. So when the games are being played in Washington, Stamkos is probably going to see more time against OV which isn’t going to give him the opportunity to put up great numbers. But when those WAS/TB games are in Florida, Tocchet will be able to give him a lighter matchup, which increase his chances of putting up points and staying on the positive side of the ledger.

    On the other side of that coin, if you’re a player who’s coach tries to match you up against the other team’s better players, then when you’re plaing in their barn, the opposing coach is probably trying to keep his top guys away from you. In theory, that should result in an easier matchup and those guys’ numbers probably actually improve on the road. Though, it’s just a theory and I haven’t done any sort of research to see if I’m right or not.

    And, of course, it all depends on whether the coach is the hard line matching type or not.

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