Accounting for the home ice advantage NHL teams enjoy should always be something you consider when betting on hockey.
But how much is home ice advantage actually worth to the betting line?
In this article, we’ll look at general advantages teams enjoy when playing at home. Then we’ll look at other sports to see how their home field/court/advantage is priced into the betting lines.
Finally, we’ll look at home team advantages that are unique to hockey, and use NHL home ice advantage statistics from the past 5 years to measure how home ice advantage should be factored into the odds.
General Advantages Of Playing At Home
Regardless of the sport, there’s no question that teams enjoy advantages when they play at home.
Here are a few that are true in all sports:
- Being in a familiar environment – home teams can feel more comfortable playing in familiar surroundings, and they can even get an advantage from knowing the playing surface better than opponents (ie. how a baseball will bounce off the backstop, how the puck will bounce off the glass, etc.)
- Rest/not having to travel far to the game – unless the home team played on the road the previous night, the players can drive to the game from their houses while the visiting team had to fly in late the night before and stay in a hotel
- Having a supportive crowd behind them – studies have shown a correlation between the size of the crowd and the performance of the home team
- Favourable officiating – several published works, most notably the book Scorecasting by Jon Wertheim and Toby Moscowitz, have concluded that officials are biased to favour the home team because they subconsciously want to please the crowd
How Home Team Advantage Is Priced In Other Sports
There are also sport-specific advantages that home teams can enjoy.
Here’s a quick look at professional basketball, football and baseball, and how much those advantages are factored into the betting lines:
Basketball features the largest disparities between home and away records, with home teams boasting a .590 winning percentage (3,488-2,426) from 2011-12 to 2015-16.
The NBA is considered the sport in which officials are most influenced by the crowd. Unfamiliarity with lighting and arena sightlines can also have a negative effect on players’ shooting percentage.
The home team’s .590 winning percentage would be worth 45 cents on the moneyline, but NBA is predominantly bet against the point spread. Home court advantage in the NBA is commonly valued as approximately 3 points on the spread.
From 2011-15, NFL home teams posted a winning percentage of .569 (727-550).
Crowd noise can make the road team struggle to communicate on offence, often leading to false start penalties and other issues. Weather is also often an important factor.
A fair adjustment for a .569 winning percentage is 32 cents on the moneyline, although the more common home team adjustment for NFL odds is approximately 3 points on the spread.
Major League Baseball appears to have the smallest home field advantage of the four main professional sports, as home teams had a winning percentage of .534 (6,493-5,657) from 2012-16.
The biggest advantage of playing at home in baseball is having the last at-bat, which allows you to know exactly how many runs you need to tie or win the game. Pitchers’ familiarity with the pitching mound and fielders’ familiarity with the ballpark dimensions are also under-rated factors.
A .534 winning percentage would be worth approximately 15 cents on the moneyline.
Unique Home Ice Advantage NHL Teams Have
Hockey has three advantages of playing at home that are unique to other sports:
- The home team gets last change on substitutions made after a whistle, allowing their coach to exploit matchup advantages
- The home team is allowed to put their stick down last in a face-off, which slightly improves their chances of winning the face-off
- The home team gets to choose whether to shoot first or second in a shootout (this advantage is no longer relevant in the playoffs, when overtime is played until there is a winner)
These advantages are in addition to the general advantages of playing at home (familiarity with the environment, rest/lack of travel, fan support, favourable officiating, etc.).
So how can we measure the true value of home ice advantage NHL teams have?
The simplest way is by looking at the winning percentage of all NHL teams combined when playing at home, compared to their collective winning percentage on the road.
Here are NHL home ice advantage statistics from the past 5 years (total home wins in the NHL that season, followed by total road wins in the NHL that season:
- 2015-16: 651-579
- 2014-15: 666-564
- 2013-14: 660-570
- 2012-13: 409-311 (lockout-shortened season)
- 2011-12: 687-543
Over those five years, home teams were a combined 3,073-2,567 for a winning percentage of .545.
So in a game between evenly-matched teams, the home team should hypothetically have a 54.5% chance of winning the game.
A 54.5% probability translates to being worth approximately 20 cents on the moneyline.
Remember, not all home ice advantage is equal
Valuing the home ice advantage NHL teams have as 20 cents on the moneyline is just a general baseline. You can’t apply a 20-cent adjustment to the betting odds on every home team in the NHL because some teams have a bigger home ice advantage than others.
For example, the Tampa Bay Lightning won 50% more games at home than on the road from 2011-12 to 2015-16. And the New York Islanders actually won less games at home than on the road during that same 5-year span.
If you like betting on home teams because of their home ice advantage, you should also look to bet against teams with poor road records. Just like certain teams flourish on home ice more than others, there are always teams that stick out each year for their very bad records (often young teams that lack confidence) when playing away from home.
For a full list of how teams fared at home compared to the road from 2011-16, check our our article on the best home ice advantage in the NHL.