Home-Ice Advantage In The Stanley Cup Playoffs – Is It Still Relevant?

Players talk about the vital fight to gain in. Coaches wax on about its intrinsic value.

Home-ice advantage. To hear hockey people decipher this equation, you’d be led to believe it was as essential to Stanley Cup success as stellar goaltending, timely goals and staying healthy.

In point of fact, it is not. And it hasn’t been for many years. 

When betting on the NHL, especially at playoff time, this is a key nugget of information. Bettors in New Jersey might be a bit reluctant to wager on the New Jersey Devils on the road but you’d be wise to consider it as a realistic option.

Whatever sportsbook you choose as the venue to place your wagers – it could be 888Sport, for instance – you’ll find almost all the time that you can get better odds if you place a wager on the visiting team in an NHL game. 

Home Ice Advantage – Regular Season vs Playoffs

In the regular season, there’s definitive cause to give home teams an edge. Visiting teams are generally in the midst of long road trips. They could be tired. A flu bug might be working its way through the club. Perhaps they are taking the ice outside their usual time zone.

Plenty of factors come into play that offer the home team an edge during regular-season play. In the playoffs, though, things are much different.

Think of it in terms of a one-night stand versus a relationship. A regular-season game is a one-and-done event. A playoff series is a two-week long odyssey. Matchups play a significant part of the equation. Roles are specifically and structurally defined.

A coaching staff will devote hours to dissecting the opponent prior to a postseason set in order to seek out advantage and determine which lines and defense pairings will be used in which situations to avoid overmatched scenarios that can lead to disaster. 

The Theory Behind The Home-Ice Edge

The romantic notion of the home-ice advantage derives from the comfort a team draws being housed in familiar surroundings and embrace warmly by the hometown fans. The truth often tells a much different story.

Let that home team fall behind by a couple of goals and watch how quickly the home crowd turns surly. A visiting team can play a safe, dull, efficient game because there’s no expectations placed upon them to entertain the fans. The home team is under more pressure to fill that role, because while they want to win, there’s also a marketing element to encourage those fans in attendance to want to become regular viewers of the home team’s product.

Home-Ice Advantage Strategy

One of the biggest things coaches talk about when playing at home is the chance to make the last change during stoppages. In theory, this guarantees them the matchup advantage every time play starts up again.

As well, visiting players are required to put their sticks on the ice first for the faceoff. Again, the logic here is that by being able to hesitate that extra split second, it should give the home-team center an edge at the faceoff dot.

Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, who won more games (1244) and more Stanley Cups (nine) than any coach in NHL history, viewed all of this as a bunch of hogwash.

Bowman was of the belief that his team held the advantage when launching a playoff series away from home. Snatch victory in one on those first two games at the enemy rink and all of a sudden, all the pressure falls upon the home team, because they’ve immediately squandered their hard-earned home-ice advantage.

Numbers Sway To The Away Team

Studying the past seven years of Stanley Cup play, the home-ice advantage theory is quickly proven to be fake news, alternative facts.

There’s been 118 playoff series contested since the 2011-12 NHL playoffs. The home team has emerged victorious in 57 of them, or 48.3 percent. The team without the home-advantage won the series and advanced to the next round of the playoffs 61 times, or in 51.7 percent of meetings. 

Interestingly, the home-team edge decreases by each round of playoff action. In opening-round series, the home team won 36 of 64 series, or 56.25 percent. Second-round series saw things end up dead even at 16-16.

After that, things went away in a big way. Teams lacking home-ice advantage are 14-10 in conference final and Stanley Cup final series since 2012. That’s a 58.3 percent edge to the visitors.

What About Game 7?

The other oft-embraced theory regarding home-ice advantage is that teams believe it is paramount to success to be playing a decisive Game 7 of a playoff series in friendly confines of home. 

Well, they’re right, but just barely. There have been 45 Game 7 contests over the past seven years of Stanley Cup play. The home team won 23 and the visiting team emerged with 22 wins. 

Interestingly, though, what should be the most important Game 7 in any season – Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final – suddenly belongs outright to the visitors. 

From 1940, when the NHL first extended playoff series to a maximum of seven games, through 2008, the Stanley Cup final went to Game 7 on 14 occasions, 12 of which were won by the team with the home-ice advantage.

Since then, the visitors are pitching a shutout. The Pittsburgh Penguins won Game 7 of the 2009 final 2-1 at Detroit. In 2011, the Boston Bruins humbled the Canucks 4-0 at Vancouver. But last spring, the Bruins learned how much home-ice advantage had been devalued. Hosting the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 of the Cup final series, Boston was whacked 4-1.

It’s Only An NHL/MLB Trend

New York bettors looking to wager on the playoffs at a sportsbook like BetAmerica should be aware that this devaluation of home-ice advantage in postseason play is solely an anomaly of the NHL and MLB.

A 2017 study by fivethirtyeight.com broke down the home-ice success of teams in the big four North American sports – NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB – both during the regular season and playoffs since 2000.

During the regular season, the NBA (59.9 percent) showed the widest home edge, followed by the NFL (57.1), NHL (55.1) and MLB (54.0). But in the playoffs, while other leagues displayed significant upticks in wins by the home team – 64.7 percent in the NFL, 64.5 percent in the NBA – both the NHL (55.3) and MLB (54.2) basically flatlined. 

Why Is Home Ice Devalued?

Several changes to the game have led to this lowered expectation of home ice success. New arenas are all cookie cutters, with the same ice dimensions. There no longer were tiny bandbox rinks like Boston Garden and Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium, where the home team could be designed to compete and succeed in that facility.

The higher glass in all NHL rinks was designed as a safety measure to protect the fans but it’s also provided a buffer for visiting teams from the taunts and catcalls of the home crowd like an enemy club would’ve encountered at the Philadelphia Spectrum at the height of the Broad Street Bullies craze. 

The salary cap and the steady expansion from 21 teams in 1980 to the NHL’s current 31-team girth have served to balance out the talent pool. There are no longer lopsided playoff pairings where one team might be as much as 50 points better than its opponent. 

So Pennsylvania bettors looking to wager on the Flyers or the Penguins at PointsBet NJ with a promo code in the NHL playoffs, don’t overemphasize the home squad.

In the Stanley Cup playoffs, home-ice advantage is a myth. 

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