Home or Away?
A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.
--Lao-Tzu (6th century Chinese philosopher)
For the Vancouver Canucks, the beginning of the 2006-07 NHL season isn't exactly a single step. It's more like a giant leap.
The Canucks find themselves in the midst of the most lop-sided road schedule to begin a season in the clubs 36 year history.
An astounding 11 of their first 15 games are on the road and they begin the season with three games in four nights.
To find the start of a Canucks season as difficult as this, one has to go back over 20 years to the early 80's when the team started 10 of their first 15 games on the road almost regularly.
Does a road heavy schedule to begin the year actually have an impact on how the team fares during the regular season and on into the playoffs? Or do the Canuck teams who start the season in the friendly confines of their own building have a better chance for success.
Let's find out.
We thought it would be interesting to compare two Canuck seasons that started mostly on the road for the first 15 games with two seasons that started mostly at home for the first 15 games. The results were staggering.
Of course, all things aren't created equal and there are many factors to consider when comparing and contrasting - but we still believe the outcome of our little experiment will lead to one obvious conclusion.
Let's take a look at the comparisons, beginning with schedules opening on the road. For these, we've chosen the 1981-82 and 1984-85 campaigns.
The Canucks opened the '81-82 season with an undefeated 2-0-2 record, but quickly lost five of their next six and sported a 5-7-3 record after starting 10 of 15 games on the road.
The team finished with 77 points, good enough for 2nd place in the Smythe Division and won the added bonus of not facing the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the playoffs.
Vancouver took advantage of some good playoff fortune to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to be defeated in four straight games by the New York Islanders.
Not too shabby.
The Canucks weren't so fortunate during the start of the '84-85 season. They lost 10 of their first 11 games and had two embarrassing defeats: 13-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers and 10-3 to the visiting Los Angeles Kings.
Not surprisingly, the Canucks floundered and finished the season 23 points behind the 4th place L.A. Kings in the Smythe division and failed to make the playoffs.
Is the conclusion obvious to you yet?
Now let's look at the flip-side. We've chosen the 1989-90 and 2000-01 campaigns for home heavy schedules.
The Canucks began the '89-90 season with 9 of their first 15 games at home, but the back and forth team alternated between wins and losses in a trend that continued for most of the season. They were an ordinary 8-6-1 after 15 games.
By the end of the year, the Canucks sub-par play left them with 64 points, 11 back of the Kings and dead last in the Smythe Division.
Shut out of the playoffs for each of the previous four seasons, the Canucks looked to the beginning of the '00-01 schedule as an opportunity to develop momentum in an effort to get back to the post-season. A generous 9 of the first 15 were played at home.
An 8-3-3-1 record (which includes an overtime loss) after 15 games spring-boarded the Canucks to a successful season of 90 points and third place in the Northwest Division, however, the playoff bound Canucks were quickly ushered out of the playoffs by the Colorado Avalanche in four straight games.
So there you have it.
Enough statistical data and not so empirical evidence from a random sample of Canucks seasons to lead you to what we think is an obvious conclusion: A Canucks team that plays most of its first 15 games on the road fares no worse than a Canucks team that plays most of its first 15 games at home.
Staggering isn't it?