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How should we measure home ice advantage and where does Joe Louis Arena rank?

Jason Mrachina

(Jason Mrachina)

I’ve seen Joe Louis Arena at full power. I’ve seen it rock, sway and finally explode.  I wonder, however, where it compares to other buildings.

Three years ago, I was an intern for a TV station. One night, I was tagged along with a reporter to a Red Wings playoff game, Detroit vs. San Jose.

At The Joe, the press box isn’t as much a ‘box’ as it is a hallway with a ledge and some chairs. It’s too small to hold everybody — especially for a playoff game — so the TV people sit in a dank press room at ice level and watch on 16-inch TVs. I saw about five minutes of the game live that night, sneaking off to the zamboni tunnel and watching through the glass. But I heard everything.

Every goal, post, save, hit, penalty, octopus, faceoff win, and icing was relayed to those sitting in the press room about seven seconds before we saw it on TV. The crowd became one breathing entity. It become a factor. That’s what good crowds do. But how do you measure that?

One take is to look at the referees. Consistently good crowds should produce an advantage for the home team in terms of officials subconsciously not wanting to feel the ire of 20,066 fans, leaving the home team with more power play time than their opponent, right?

On a macro level, the answer is no. Taking penalty data from all games played through April 19, home teams average 11:12 of penalties per game, while road teams average 11:48. That’s a less than a five percent difference between the two. Break it down by team, however, and things get a little more interesting. There’s a case that the Red Wings’ home ice isn’t an advantage at all.

I compared each team’s average penalty minute differential (its penalty minutes in a game minus their opponent’s) while playing on the road to its average penalty minute differential while playing at home. Teams ranged from averaging over four and a half penalty minutes less than their opponents at home vs. the road to averaging almost three minutes more than their opponents at home vs. the road.

Of the 30 teams in the NHL, only eight had a worse penalty minute differential at home than on the road. The Red Wings were one of them.

Here’s the full list. Keep in mind negatives mean you had less penalty minutes than your opponents, which is generally regarded as a good thing:

FLA -1.04 3.57 -4.61 19
TB -3.47 1.13 -4.6 24
STL -2.45 2.08 -4.53 25
BUF -1.36 2.4 -3.76 23
CAR -0.85 2.14 -2.99 16
SJS -1.86 0.91 -2.77 37
COL 1 3.64 -2.64 25
LAK -1.91 0.68 -2.59 35
TOR -1.13 1.43 -2.56 28
WPG -0.55 1.5 -2.05 27
NYI -1.42 0.4 -1.82 23
ANA 1.78 3.24 -1.46 33
NJ -1.81 -0.36 -1.45 24
WSH -1.67 -0.7 -0.97 26
DAL -0.96 -0.14 -0.82 24
OTT 0.29 1.1 -0.81 33
PIT -1 -0.29 -0.71 34
CHI -1.27 -0.57 -0.7 37
EDM -0.85 -0.22 -0.63 20
CBJ -0.13 0.05 -0.18 31
NYR -1 -0.87 -0.13 30
MIN -0.95 -0.87 -0.08 28
PHX 0.59 0.48 0.11 27
NSH 0.17 -0.18 0.35 24
DET -1.43 -1.95 0.52 24
MTL 0.09 -1.57 1.66 31
PHI 0.91 -1 1.91 28
VAN 0.67 -1.3 1.97 31
BOS 3.5 1.41 2.09 31
CAL 1.17 -1.55 2.72 28

Despite the top five teams being some of the worst at home, as a whole there’s no correlation one way or another between the differentials and the number of points earned. That doesn’t tell us much though.

Good teams win more games at home. They also win more games on the road. Take Montreal. Everyone agrees the Canadiens have a good home crowd. They’re a bunch of hockey-mad Canadians. They’re second in the league in attendance. They have a reputation for being loud. They’re 14-7-3 at home and 13-6-2 on the road.

Yet, look at the top teams on the chart. Florida? Tampa Bay? No Canadian team until Toronto at No. 10? They aren’t teams traditionally associated with having good home crowds. Montreal is one of the few with a worse differential than the Red Wings, averaging 1:40 more in penalties than their opponents at home than they do on the road.

So what does this mean? Joe Louis Arena’s home-crowd advantage may not be terrible. The differentials could come from a number of factors combined: the crowds, the referees, the teams. Or maybe we’ve been wrong about who the best fans in the league are all these years.

Wait a minute. Did I just imply Florida had best crowd in the league? Forget I said anything.

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