Friday, March 24, 2006


Home vs Road Coaching

Robert Cleave and Cosh suggest in the comments of an older post that the Oilers "bizarre home-road split is pretty damning" with respect to Mac-T's coaching abilities.

The assumption here, if I have read them correctly, is that because home coaches have the last change, they are more able to influence the outcome of the game than when they are on the road and don't have the opportunity to match lines. In other words, coaches at home do more coaching than coaches on the road.

Balderdash! I don't buy for one minute the argument that road coaches are simply passive puppets reacting to the whims of the home coach. If anything, road coaches have to be more active and savvy with respect to switching line combos in order to get favourable mismatches -- something the Oilers have apparently been successful at as evidenced by their favourable road record. Or are we really suggesting that the Oilers are winning on the road because . . . what, all those other coaches turn even stupider than Mac-T when the Oilers happen to come to town?

Obviously the last change is an advantage -- especially in certain circumstances late in the game when there is a faceoff and you really want a certain matchup -- but I don't think it is nearly the advantage some seem to think it is.

Cleave doesn't like the pressure-cooker theory either, noting that fans in all Canadian cities are demanding. Fair enough. But to my eye, Mac-T's line-combo blender has been pretty much the same on the road as at home, but the players have played tighter at home than on the road.

Tight play isn't generally a function of line-combos, it's a function of pressure and confidence.

Of course, we can argue about whether a coach in the NHL needs to be a "motivator" in addition to an x's and o's guy, but frankly if the players can't get it up for a big game without a rehashed Bear Bryant pregame speech, that isn't the coach's fault.


The assumption here, if I have read them correctly, is that because home coaches have the last change, they are more able to influence the outcome of the game than when they are on the road and don't have the opportunity to match lines.

You're mistaking a syllogism for an assumption, I'm afraid.

27 or 28 teams out of every 30 will finish the year with a better home record; I don't see how it can be improper to even ask whether home advantages have been used to maximum effect in the extreme case where the team is worse at home. In fact, I think you'd be crazy not to.

Don't agree with either the home-road split as an indictment of MacT but also don't agree with the "bear bryant" comment in this way. That's the Pat Quinn/Rick Ley school of coaching - well, they're professionals so I don't have to motivate them or teach them or ...well, do anything. They should know how to play defence and handle a big game. The thing is that MacTavish played more big games then anyone in the organization then his boss - I don't think a rah rah speech is necessary but an explanation of how to prepare and what to do when the calls go against you and how to play with controlled aggression rather then running around all bugeyed and goofy - instilling that confidence and teaching them how to handle that pressure.

1) At best what was presented is half of a syllogism.

2) Wait a second. Did I ever say that playing at home wasn't an advantage? Of course it is, for dozens of reasons besides coaches having the last line change: players can sleep in their own bed, get good food, aren't out at the clubs, crowd support, etc.

All I'm questioning is whether a worse home record than road record necessarily reflects bad coaching. It seems to me that an atypically good road record can just as easily be argued to reflect good coaching as a bad home record can be argued to reflect bad coaching.

Is it still a syllogism if the original premise is wrong? I honestly don't know.

Maybe the Oilers haven't really been worse at home, just had fewer good bounces. In fact I'm sure they haven't been worse at home.

Think back on all of the games in which the Oilers were outplayed but still managed a W through the good graces of the hockey gods, and back on the games in which the Oilers clearly outplayed the opposition but were poked in the eye by spiteful hockey gods. A helluva lot more of the good fortune has happened on the road, just has.

Fans of math can read the first post I ever made on the blog, the 'National Coin Flipping League' thing. (I don't know how to link that, the archives link there should work, or just scrolling down to the very bottom at vhockey.blogspot gets you there though.)

Two other funfacts:

* Over the three previous seasons MacTavish's Oilers have garned 54.9% of their points at home ... the league as a whole is 54.4% ( lists out these years nicely for simple cut and paste stuff)

* At the time I dug up the results for the Coin Flipping analogy ... Ken Hitchcock coached the team with the worst relative home record (PHI).

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