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PASS IT ON: Finding the advantage in home ice

Dave Hodge (@TSNDaveHodge) Apr. 7, 2014 9:35 PM
Chicago Blackhawks Fans Photo: Harry How/Getty Images
In advance of next week's start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, here are some quotes from NHL coaches that you have heard before, quotes that will surely be uttered again.

"Actually, I prefer to open on the road. We'll be happy to split the first two games and then home-ice advantage will be ours" — Positive-thinking NHL coach of a third-place or wild-card team.

"We were uptight and the other team was loose. In some ways, it might be better to be away from home for the first two games" — Excuse-making coach whose team is down 1-0 following a home-ice loss.

Think about it - the NHL conducts a regular-season schedule of 1230 games, the purpose of which, apart from selling tickets, is to determine the identity of 16 playoff teams and to reward eight of them with the privilege of home-ice advantage in the first playoff round. And even before the first games have been played, or immediately after the first result that goes against the home-ice form chart, the only tangible reward provided by the regular season is often dismissed, or is regarded as an impediment to success.

Many years ago, that led me to ask every NHL coach I encountered how he really felt about home-ice advantage, and I heard the same answer almost every time - "The thing I like about it is that game seven, if it's necessary, is in our building".

So never mind game one, it's game seven at home that matters.

That led me to ask a different question. I wondered how NHL coaches would feel about a playoff schedule that allowed them to open a best-of-seven series on the road, which many claim to favour, yet still gave them the precious home-ice edge for a seventh game.

How would that work, you ask, as they did?

Pretty simple, really - the higher-placed team would play the first two games on the road, and then get its home-ice advantage in four of the remaining five contests, excepting game six and including game seven.

Overwhelmingly, the NHL coaches who were presented with this idea said they would opt for it if given the choice.

That led me to wonder how the NHL would feel about a playoff system that gave the higher-placed team the option of playing at home for games 1,2,5,7, or for games 3,4,5, 7.

The league's schedule-maker wondered why he should make changes based on the apparent whims of coaches. It was pointed out to him that the alternative plan might be even more attractive to NHL owners and NHL players than to NHL coaches.

That's because it requires less travel over the course of a seven-game series. Traditionally, there is travel following games 2, 4, 5, and 6. In the new model, teams would switch sites only three times, after games 2, 5 and 6.

Teams would save money, players would be fresher, and coaches would get what many say they prefer.

At the very least, there would be an actual reward for a good regular-season record—the advantage of deciding what the real advantage is over a seven-game series, never mind the supposed and dictated advantage of opening at home.

The next time you hear the coach of a team favoured to win lament the pressure that comes with game one at home, think of this way to end that complaint forever, and PASS IT ON.