Every seasoned hockey fan knows it’s foolish to take anything for granted when the Stanley Cup Playoffs roll around thanks to the incredibly unpredictable nature of the NHL postseason.
That historic volatility is always a hot topic of conversation whenever the hunt for the most iconic trophy in any sport officially kicks off—as is the case with another tried-and-true topic that will be discussed by fans, players, and analysts alike during the playoffs: home-ice advantage.
Like many leagues, the NHL uses the records playoff teams racked up in the regular season to determine seeding in the postseason.
It does harness a somewhat unnecessarily convoluted system to determine which squads face off against each other, which includes granting home-ice advantage to the team that finished higher in the standings in the first two rounds before giving it to the team with the best overall record in the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals.
Players, coaches, and talking heads around the hockey world will inevitably devote a fair amount of time to discussing the potential perils of playing in hostile territory during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but do those fears really have any merit?
Here’s a look at what the data says.
How important is home-ice advantage for NHL teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
It’s a widely accepted fact that teams playing in front of a home crowd are able to benefit from the perks that come with doing their thing in a familiar stadium or arena packed with fans who are rooting them on.
That may be the case in hockey, but when it comes to the NHL, the advantage isn’t really that drastic when you compare it to other sports—especially in the playoffs.
Teams in the MLB, NFL, and NBA tend to win a higher percentage of games at home in the playoffs than they do in the regular season, but based on data ranging from 2005 to 2021, NHL teams actually fare slightly worse in friendly territory when the postseason arrives (and by “slightly” I mean their overall win percentage dips from 54.9% to 54.8%).
The somewhat random nature of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is solidified by numbers concerning home-ice advantage stemming back to 2008.
The team with home-ice advantage won between 50% and 61% of their games in the majority of those postseason campaigns, but there were also two years (2012 and 2018) where the visitors ultimately fared better across the board (2013 was an anomaly for the opposite reason, as the home team won 69% of the time).
There’s no definitive breakdown of how big of a role home-ice advantage plays as far as the results of each round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs are concerned, but based on the overall parity, it wouldn’t really be worth exerting the time and effort required to dive in that deep.
However, we can examine the one round that really matters: the Stanley Cup Finals.
It’s also hard to parse a set of data that stretches all the way back to 1893 (the first year the Stanley Cup was handed out), but I can give you a look at what’s transpired since 1995.
Over that span, the team with home-ice advantage has raised Lord Stanley’s trophy on 20 of 27 occasions (74% of the time), so while it may be somewhat overrated on a larger scale, it’s safe to say it comes in handy when it really matters most.