Watching that Oilers game last night, the Oilers looked a little dead. I’m not really a basketball fan but I’ve seen the term “schedule loss” thrown around with basketball – basically, a loss that a team is doomed to suffer because of the schedule. Edmonton played the night before in Calgary and was playing their third game in four nights. The Canucks had two off days before the game. Intuitively, it seems like there’d be an advantage for Vancouver there.
I went back and looked at all the games between 2005-12 to try and get a sense of how big an advantage it might be. We know that home ice advantage is a thing that’s real: between 2005-12, the home team went 3732-2864-2014 in regulation, a .550 winning percentage. It turns out that there’s a real difference and that being more rested or less rested matters.
I’m basing rest on the number of days since a team played it’s last game. It’s funny how the home team is 74% more likely to be the more rested team in a game and, indeed, kind of aggravating – while I assume that the NHL would say that it all balances out over the course of the season (and you’d think every team would be screaming at the schedule maker to make sure it would), it’s kind of aggravating that the league systemically tilts the ice in the home team’s favour.
This is just a high level look at it – I also broke it down more specifically by the amount of rest each team had. The winning percentages are the home team’s winning percentage in games where the road team has had X days rest and the home team had Y days rest. There aren’t a ton of games where one team has had 3 or 4+ days off so there’s a SSS warning on that.
I’ve highlighted the part of the table that doesn’t really have the SSS problems – 82.7% of NHL games between 2005-12 match a description in that part of the table and it’s exactly what you’d expect – home teams do best when they’ve had two clear days off and the road team played the night before; road teams do best when they’ve had two clear days off and the home team played the night before.
So, last night was about as tough as it could get for Edmonton. If an average home team had two nights rest and was playing a road team that played the night before, we’d expect them to win in regulation 59% of the time. Vancouver’s probably better than average and the Oilers are probably averageish, maybe a touch worse, so Vancouver probably wins that game in regulation more than 60% of the time.
The thing with talking about schedule losses, of course, is that they don’t really exist. It wasn’t preordained that Edmonton would lose last night; it was just more likely that they’d lose than in a game against Vancouver where both the Oilers and Canucks had equal rest. It’s more of a schedule tax – a team with a tough schedule in terms of facing rested teams after they play will pay a price in terms of a reduced win expectancy.
Once you’ve generated these values, it’s easy enough to see who the schedule helps and hurts by virtue of rest – who’s paying schedule tax and who’s collecting it. Oiler fans have spent no small amount of time complaining about the schedule this year – it seems like all 24 of Calgary’s home games are against teams that have played in Edmonton the night before or against the Oilers.
It turns out that, actually, the amount of schedule tax paid by the most heavily taxed team and collected by the team most favoured by the schedule makers is pretty small. The Maple Leafs have the worst schedule in terms of playing tired and playing rested teams – their schedule would see an average team generate 47.4 points in regulation. The Oilers, of all teams, have the best schedule – their schedule would see the average team pick up 48.4 points in regulation. (It goes without saying but I’m ignoring opponent/team strength in this; this is purely rest and home effects). Calgary’s basically got a bang average schedule.
I doubt that this is a coincidence – I assume that the NHL has a variety of criteria that their schedules have to meet and I would bet that one of those criteria is that the schedule is roughly equal in terms of playing tired or facing tired teams, because there is a competitive advantage/disadvantage associated with it. I’d guess that they’ve got a spreadsheet or a piece of software that they use to try and balance this.
The Edmonton/Calgary aspects of this seemed sort of weird to me – the Oilers schedule hasn’t seemed notably friendly this year while Calgary’s has seemed awfully generous, so I looked at games remaining. That would seem to be where the difference lies. I mentioned that the Oilers’ schedule would see an average team generate 48.8 points. Their final eleven games would see an average team generate 11.6 points – most of the Oilers’ schedule advantage comes this month. Calgary, on the other hand, has thirteen games left in which an average team would generate 12.4 points – this implies that their schedule has been easier to date if we know that they end up at average.
Other notables of interest to Oiler fans: Columbus has the toughest remaining schedule in the NHL. I like what the Blue Jackets did on deadline day but they’re a problem for next year, not this year. Intriguingly, both San Jose (25th) and Detroit (20th) have reasonably tough schedules remaining as well.
The Oilers are going to need some breaks to get into the playoffs – they’re down to a 27.4% chance of doing so, according to Sports Club Stats but some of the stuff that isn’t quite as obvious does seem to me to be lined up in their favour. I kind of think that Detroit is the target for the Oilers – *mutters expletives about a blown two goal lead at home against Detroit* – and the remaining schedule gives the Oilers an edge.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org