Home-ice advantage has long been a coveted position in the NHL. A much greater incentive than the Presidents’ Trophy, teams near the top of the standings stay engaged through the regular season while fighting for the top seeds in their divisions, conferences, and the league overall. In a 2019-20 NHL postseason without fans and largely neutral host sites, though, will any teams benefit from a betting perspective?
On this page, we’ll look at how much of an advantage home ice provides in the NHL.
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Advantages of home ice in the NHL
There are several innate advantages to playing at home in the NHL and any other team sport. Some of those under normal circumstances include:
Familiarity with the environment: From sleeping in their own bed to following a proper gameday routine and enjoying a more luxurious locker room.
Rest/lack of travel: While teams can still play back-to-backs and three-in-four sets while at home, not having to travel between those games is a big advantage. Even returning home for the second half of a back-to-back is advantageous when the opposition is playing the second of two games on the road. One area to watch is when the road team has had a night off at the destination without travel. This could come into play in the postseason with multiple days off between series.
Fans: Fan support can provide as big of an advantage to the home team as it can negatively affect the play of the visitors, especially for goaltenders.
Rules: Several rules in hockey are set-up to favor the hosts. The home team is allowed the last line change after a whistle. They’re allowed to put their stick down last for face-offs, and they can choose to shoot first or second in a shootout (not an issue in the playoffs).
Does home-ice advantage exist in the NHL playoffs?
Home teams are an aggregate 2,398-1,774 in the postseason for a winning percentage of .575, according to Hockey Reference. The biggest advantages are seen in Games 5 (.640), 1 (.638), and 2 (.627). Hosts are 108-77 (.584) in Game 7.
The home-ice advantage improves to a winning percentage of .631 in closeout games, where the home team has a chance to win the series. The success rate oddly drops to .503 in overtime games and to .511 in elimination games.
When the host, or series favorite, wins Game 1, they go on to win the series 69.6 percent of the time. The Game 1 visitors win the series just 58.2 percent of the time when winning the opener. Winning Games 1 and 2 at home leads to a series win 89.3 percent of the time while winning Games 1 and 2 on the road results in a series win percentage of 81.7.
Winning Game 6 on the road to even a series at 3-3 and returning home for Game 7 leads to a series win 57.6 percent of the time. Winning Game 6 at home to go on the road for Game 7 results in a series win percentage of just 42.0 percent.
Vegas Golden Knights and the Sin City advantage
Paradise, Nevada is widely expected to be named one of the two hub-city hosts for all 12 teams from either the Eastern or Western Conference. T-Mobile Arena could, however, host the Eastern Conference teams in order to not give the Golden Knights an added advantage over their intra-conference opponents.
Vegas is 65-33-11 in 119 games at T-Mobile Arena and 68-45-11 on the road in nearly three seasons. They’re 9-4 at home and 7-7 on the road in their two trips to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The lack of fans and the hoopla that surrounded Vegas home games in the playoffs would disappear, and the Golden Knights would presumably still need to take residency in a hotel for the duration of the postseason. The in-game advantages mentioned above would likely be awarded to the higher seed or based on a coin flip, therefore negating any noteworthy advantages for all potential hosts.