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.
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.