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EDMONTON OILERS: HOW A NEW ARENA AFFECTS TEAM RESULTS

The Edmonton Oilers new on-ice home at Rogers Place is going to be amazing. There's really no other way to say it. Touted as one of the most impressive indoor arenas in the world, Rogers Place is a conglomeration of every good idea from every one of the best under 20,000 seat arenas ever built.


A variety of concert performances, the Edmonton Oil Kings and primarily the Edmonton Oilers will be hosted by Rogers Place and the building will be home to thousands of rabid fans excited to cheer on a new chapter — a chapter that hopefully includes a winning brand of hockey. If so, it will be a welcome site. The now former home of the Oilers, Rexall Place (formerly Northlands Coliseum), will be remembered as home to one of the best hockey teams ever assembled, but also a decade of crapping on that memory and finishing at the bottom of the NHL standings.




The Oilers in Northlands and Rexall Place


In the mid-1980's to 1990, the Edmonton Oilers who played in Rexall Place were feared and revered. Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri and Paul Coffey were just a few of the stars to skate and amaze in that building. If you were an opposing team, coming to the house the Oilers built was going to make for a long night and it was a stop on the road trip few teams looked forward to. Those days are long gone.

The Oilers of the past ten seasons have been a team doomed to dwell in the basement of the NHL, consistently a bottom-five lottery team. Not since the 2011-12 season, where Edmonton went 18-17-6 at home, have the Oilers had an above .500 winning ratio in their own building. Any visiting team, no matter what their place in the standings, had a chance at an easy two points. Rexall Place was not a feared building to play in.

As a result, Edmonton has been stock-piling number one draft selections and landed a generational talent in Connor McDavid. The winning hasn't begun yet, but most feel the tide is turning. To say it's time for a change would be an understatement and a new arena may be just what the doctor ordered. But, will Rogers Place actually play a factor?

Is a New Building Really a Recipe For Success?

Understandably, players want to play with the best. Connor McDavid has and will make it easier to sign talent. But, is there anything to this idea of a fresh start in a new building? Can a new environment make that much of a difference? Will the Oilers actually be a better team in a newer building, shedding the demons of Rexall past, or does a new arena mean everyone takes some time to adjust to their surroundings? Perhaps a new arena hurts "home-ice advantage"?

One might think with the new technology, updated amenities and state-of-the-art everything Rogers Place will provide, the Oilers simply can't be as bad as they've been — the new building wouldn't dare allow it. A fancy new address may be something that draws players in, but others might argue that in a new building, both teams are essentially strangers to the ice surface. That outside of the home team fans, neither side really knows the nuances and bounces, the tricks and the secrets that come with being familiar with a place you play in often.

On September 26, 2016, Edmonton will play its first game in Rogers Place when they take on the Calgary Flames in pre-season action. Prior to that game, there won't be a lot of time to test and feel out their new home. Both the Flames and Oilers will be playing on relatively unfamiliar ground. Will it matter? In sports, does being familiar with your building really mean all that much?

The idea raises some intriguing questions. Sam Neumann wrote an interesting piece over at vikingsterritory.com showing how a new arena has affected NFL teams. The results are staggeringly boring, in that, there is no clear evidence — at least not in the NFL — that teams are affected by moving buildings. You can see in the chart below (which I borrowed from his article), just how irregular the changing of a building impacts the new team that inhabits it.


Along a similar line, I wondered something when it came to the NHL. Did teams who played home games in a new building, either as a result of relocating or simply getting a new arena, have an advantage? Were they a distinctly better team in their new environment over teams who were visiting? After all, neither team would have a rich history in said new environment.

NHL Results

  • in 2011, the Atlanta Thrashers moved to become the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets were 37-35-10 for 84 points that year and missed the playoffs. Prior to that year, Atlanta had missed as well with 80 points. The home and away record in 2010-11 was nearly identical wheras the home record for the Jets was dramtically improved.
  • in 2010, the Penguins moved from Civic Arena to the Console Energy Center. The Penguins were 49-25-8 after the move and 47-28-7 before it. Home and away record very similar.
  • In 1999, the Maple Leafs went 45-27-7-3 at the Air Canada Centre. They were 45-30-7 the year before. 
  • in 1998, the Florida Panters went 30-34-18 after moving to the BB&T Center. They were 24-43-15 the year before. They were four wins better at home than on the road.
  • in 1997 the Hartford Whalers moved to Carolina who after moving were 33-41-8 for 74 points and missed the playoffs. They played two years in an interim building before moving to their permanent home in Raleigh.
  • in 1996, Tampa Bay moved to the Amalie Arena and went 32-40-10. They were 38-32-12 in 1995-96. 
  • in 1996, the Winnipeg Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes. The Jets had made the playoffs the year prior and the Coyotes did as well in their first season. Neither team lasted very long.
  • In 1996, Montreal moved to the Bell Centre. They went 40-32-10 in the season prior and 31-36-15 after the move. 
  • in 1996, the Flyers move to the Wells Fargo Center and went 45-24-13. The year before they were exactly the same, going 45-24-13.  The difference at home was minuscule, going 27-9-5  in 96/96 versus 23-12-6 in 96/97. 
  • in 1995, Quebec moved to Colorado and both were strong teams. The Avs won the cup in their first season in a new arena and moved on to become a dynasty for the next eight seasons. Quebec made the playoffs the year before in a shortened season.
  • in 1993, Minnesota moved to Dallas and the Stars made the playoffs on the heel of a 42-29-13 season. Minnesota had missed the year prior. Again in 2001, Dallas moved arenas to the American Airlines Center. They missed the playoffs that year despite success the year prior.


Conclusion

Some teams did better and some teams did worse. Winnipeg was great at home in their first season, but this is the closest scenario to a team I could find being a much better home team than the year before. It may be because Jets fans were elated to have hockey back in Winnipeg and the team could feel the excitement, or it may have been a coincidence. It likely didn't help that the arena in Atlanta was often empty. This is not a problem in Edmonton.

The Dallas Stars were 23-12-7 at home and 19-17-6 on the road in the 1993-94 season. They were a clearly better team at home than away after they moved. Yet in 2001 when they moved again, they missed the playoffs.

1996 -1998 was a big year for NHL teams in new buildings. Florida was a better team after they moved with six more wins. They still were not a playoff team for the second straight season. On the opposite side of the spectrum, when Tampa Bay moved, they lost six more games in their new building. Similarly, The Phoenix Coyotes were 15-19-7 at home and 23-18-0 on the road. Clearly better away from the new building. In Montreal, they lost more games but squeaked into the playoffs.

Dominant teams were still dominant teams. Colorado and Pittsburgh and Toronto were just clearly better teams during their moves and the changes didn't help or hurt their records. 

It's a relatively small sample size and I didn't look at every team to change buildings. I stopped after a while, because, like the NFL data discovered, there's no rhyme or reason to the success of a team after taking on a new location. Typically good teams stay strong and weaker teams continue to be weaker. It became clear early, that moving to a new building shows little in the way of immediate effects to the team who takes it over.

The Oilers


There are people who want to believe that Rogers Place, being as fantastic a building as it's going to be, will contribute to the turnaround of the Edmonton Oilers. That the fresh start in a new pad may help create a boost in the standings or worth a couple extra points. If that happens, it will be a complete and total coincidence. The Oilers may be better, but if they are, it won't be because of a new building.

If the Edmonton Oilers are going to turn their season around, it will have to be because they have a better team. Better players, better coaching and better overall teamwork. History shows that these are the only things that produce better results. Without big improvements, the Oilers, who have been a poor team, will continue to be a poor team, new building or not.

It makes little to no sense to suggest that a move to Rogers Place will help the team. History shows it plays little to no role. The question is, how much better is their team this year than last? The Oilers will have one of, if not the best, arenas in hockey. It may have been enough to draw a player or two to considering the Oilers as an option, it's just not likely to help them win games.

For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.






Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about Oilersnetwork.com founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.


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