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JONES: Home-ice advantage lost without fans

Fans celebrate Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl's game-winning goal over the New York Rangers during NHL action at Rogers Place in Edmonton on March 11, 2019.
Fans celebrate Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl's game-winning goal over the New York Rangers during NHL action at Rogers Place in Edmonton on March 11, 2019.

Will there be a home-ice advantage in the NHL’s Canadian Division this year?

Or does COVID-19 take that away?

As the NHL heads to the starting gate with a compact 56-game season Wednesday, you have to wonder.

There certainly was no home-ice advantage in the NHL Hub Cities Stanley Cup playoffs.

Both the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs lost Qualifying Series in Rogers Place and Scotiabank Arena.

This time, though, the Leafs and Oilers won’t be rotated in and out of other dressing rooms in their own buildings as in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They’ll have their home digs for all 28 home games. They’ll sleep in their own beds not hotel rooms in the bubble.

Will the Montreal Canadiens have a tougher time to win at home with the visiting teams being forced to barricade themselves in their hotel rooms and avoid visits to Crescent Street?

When Toronto and Montreal come West they won‘t skate on the ice in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver feeling like the home team. It has always infuriated Western Canadian teams, especially the Oilers dating back to the Gretzky Glory Gang days, that so many Canadiens and Leaf fans manage to get their hands on tickets for the Montreal and Toronto visits.

This year there won’t be one damn fan in their buildings cheering for the Habs or the Leafs.

But there also won’t be 18,000 fans there to pump the tires of the home sides like Team Canada most certainly could have used in the gold medal game of the world junior.

For the first time since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, home teams posted a losing record this year. The host teams ended up going 127-128-1 (.498) during the regular season. The Raiders were 2-6 at home and 6-2 on the road.

Kansas City went a perfect 8-0 on the road but lost a couple at home.

In soccer’s Premier League in England, only Liverpool (seven wins, one draw, no losses) has had a dominant record at home. Most of the top teams in the tables have lost two or three of their eight or nine home games so far this season and most have two or three draws as well.

Leicester City has only three wins at home but seven on the road. Manchester United, with four wins, three losses and two draws at home, is undefeated with six wins and a draw on the road. The home teams had won 63, lost 59 and tied 40.

It’s a little early to make a statement on the NBA but the two Los Angeles teams, the Lakers and Clippers, are a combined 8-1 on the road and 4-5 at home.

Baseball, however, was a different deal.

During the early weeks the home game winning percentage was just over .500. But the home teams ended up doing rather well in empty parks in 2020 with a win percentage of .557 — the highest since 2010.

In hockey, the KHL is playing before fans in Russia, so there’s little to learn there. In Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic, the home-away records are about the same this year with no fans in the stands as they were pre-pandemic. So maybe it’s different in hockey.

When it comes to home-away records last season, the three Eastern teams did far better at home than on the road — Toronto 18-9-7 (H) 18-18-2 (A), Montreal 14-7-6 (H) 10-20-4 (A) and Ottawa 18-13-6 (H) 7-21-6 (A). The West teams ended up with Edmonton 17-11-6 (H) 20-14-3 (A), Vancouver 22-9.4 (H) 14-18-2 (A), Calgary 16-13-4 (H) 20-14-3 (A) and Winnipeg 20-14-3 (H) 17-14-3.

“I think the only thing that would be different in hockey is the technical advantage of last change,” said Oilers head coach Dave Tippett.

“It’s interesting with that because sometimes I think coaches overthink it and other times I think it can become a factor.

“There used to be a bigger home ice factor in hockey than there is today. There used to be different sizes of rinks. You go to the old Boston Garden or Buffalo and the rink was smaller. In Chicago the neutral zone was real small. There were teams where the home ice was more distinct. Now every rink is a lot more generic.”

I mentioned the Crescent Street factor in Montreal.

“OK, there you go, that’s another one. Boston had small corners and a small rink, Buffalo had a small rink, Chicago had a small neutral zone a Montreal had Crescent Street.”

As for sleeping in their own bed at home and having their own pre-game routines with their families, Tippett says he’s never been sure about that.

“I think it’s sometimes a plus and sometimes a minus.”

But as for the fans, Tippett says they’ll really being missed.

“I think there will be less home-ice advantage right now because no fans will take away the atmosphere in the buildings.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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