Sunday, November 13, 2005

Travel In The West

There has been a good series of posts in the Battle of Alberta. Originally, the discussion was about coaching in the NHL and trying to quantify good coaching. They started with the hypothesis that:

Success on the road comes from playing a tight system, minimizing chances against, and not making mistakes; success at home comes from high energy, creating lots of chances, and talent riding the home crowd.

Thus, well coached teams would show up as having good road records relative to their home record.

The problem with this theory is that instead of treating each game as equally important, (and a good coach should have his team play their best each game) it claims that teams that play better on the road relative to at home are well coached. This theory is discussed here.

To this discussion, I add my where opponent's scoring is down this year post. When I wrote it, there were four teams that had allowed less goals per game this season then they did in 2003/04 despite the leaguewide rise in scoring. These teams are Detroit, New York Rangers, Ottawa and Phoenix. One common thread that unites these teams is new coaching that has brought in a successful defensive scheme. Their new coaches Mike Babcock, Tom Renney, Bryan Murray and Wayne Gretzky are doing a good job so far. This method is definitely imprecise. It shows defensive improvement from one year to the next (which I argue is due in a large part to a new coach bringing in a new defensive scheme), so it will not show teams that have the same coach with the same defensive scheme or teams that have had significant decrease in their defensive talent from one year to the next.

Teams were ranked from 1 to 30 in their home records and their road records from the years 2001 to 2004. They were ranked based on the difference between these records. Teams that had relative success on the road ranked highest. This is done here. The results:

1. New York Rangers East
2. Philadelphia Flyers East
3. Carolina Hurricanes East
4. Colorado Avalanche West
5. Florida Panthers East
6. Los Angeles Kings West
7. Toronto Maple Leafs East
8. Pittsburgh Penguins East
9. Vancouver Canucks West
10. New Jersey Devils East
11. Atlanta Thrashers East
12. New York Islanders East
13. Boston Bruins East
14. Calgary Flames West
15. Ottawa Senators East
16. Edmonton Oliers West
17. Montreal Canadiens East
18. Minnesota Wild West
19. Phoenix Coyotes West
20. Tampa Bay Lightning East
21. Dallas Stars West
22. Anaheim Mighty Ducks West
23. Washington Capitals East
24. Buffalo Sabres East
25. Detroit Red Wings West
26. St Louis Blues West
27. Chicago Blackhawks West
28. San Jose Sharks West
29. Columbus Blue Jackets West
30. Nashville Predators West

The average ranking of an east team is 11.4. The average ranking of a west team is 19.6. That difference is not just a fluke. Eastern teams have easier travel then western teams. All East Conference teams are in the east time zone. The West Conference teams are scattered throughout the Pacific, Mountain, Central and Eastern time zones. West teams have to travel a lot further then east teams. Because of travel, east teams will have better road records relative to home records. This has nothing to do with coaching. This is a theory that has long be supported by Tom Benjamin.

This method will not elucidate all travel problems. There are some home games where a team comes home after a long road trip and plays a rested team that has been waiting for them in their home city. This happens most often to west coast teams that are further from the rest of the league. There are teams in the east that play "road games" that are so close to home that they do not have to travel for them. When the New York teams, New Jersey and Philadelphia play road games against each other, the players sleep at home, drive to the game and then return home that night. Teams in more isolated regions like Vancouver do not have that option. Likely, this is part of the reason the Rangers and Flyers have the best road record relative to their home record.

The change to increased deivisional play will help many teams reduce their travel disparity, but not all of them. The Northwest Division is still very bad travel. Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Colorado and Minnesota still span three time zones. These teams will suffer relative to their other conference rivals the most due to travel.

Travel is another inequity in the NHL that punishes the western teams the most. It is interesting how a study which was intended to show something unrelated to travel showed these effects.

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