Ranking the 7 Best Home-Ice Advantages in the NHL

Franklin Steele@SteeleOnIceFeatured Columnist IIINovember 17, 2021

Ranking the 7 Best Home-Ice Advantages in the NHL

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    Every season we hear about how teams across the NHL are vying for home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It's why all matches matter, whether they are divisional matchups down the stretch, a bottom-feeding squad taking on a Conference leader with 20 games left in the season or why a team vying for the Presidents' Trophy doesn't start resting their best players five weeks before the regular season ends.

    Home ice matters in the NHL. Maybe not as much as some folks think, but it's far from inconsequential.

    Conventional wisdom says it's much better to play a series-defining Game 7 on home ice for a reason. We even saw the advantage matter during the postseason last year, when fans were less of a factor (if at all).

    It is the home team that gets to pick the player matchups, which can have a huge impact if the home coach has identified a particular advantage they want to press when possible.

    If you're the Edmonton Oilers, would you rather have Connor McDavid face Cale Makar or Erik Johnson? Both are NHL-caliber players, but McDavid should, in theory at least, have an easier time going against the latter.

    Some NHL teams seem to have a bit more of an edge in terms of home-ice advantage, however. Every sports arena is special in the eyes of the fans that pay to see games there, but which organizations have an advantage that goes beyond the norm?

    Here are our picks, and if you disagree we'd love to hear your stories down in the comments section.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Yes, we left your favorite NHL team off the best home-ice advantages list for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

    We'll get to the organizations that pack their arenas to the rafters in seemingly every game, but sometimes having an advantage at home boils down to more than just crowd noise. And in Columbus, they have the cannon.

    Yes, that damn cannon.

    Everyone who isn't a part of the Blue Jackets, be it as a player or a fan, hates the cannon. See? And here's another example. The prop has been a part of the team's identity since it was placed at Nationwide Arena, and seems to catch opposing players and fans off guard every time it fires following a Blue Jackets goal.

    Is it obnoxious to anyone besides Columbus players, as former captain Nick Foligno spoke about in 2017, telling NHL.com the following:

    "Other teams hate it. My brother, Marcus...and every guy I know in the league, just says 'that damn cannon.' It's great. It's such a good thing for our home fans, and it represents holding 'our territory.'"

    A cannon that fires off after every goal that the home team scores seems as good a place as any to start.

6. Vegas Golden Knights

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    Anyone who has seen the Vegas Golden Knights' pregame show knows what we're talking about here. They are a spectacle by design.

    Golden Knights' vice president of entertainment experience and production Tyler Cofer spoke to Ross DiMattei of KTNV.com in October about what the endgame of each home game is for the organization:

    "Our goal is to create the biggest party on the strip every night that we have a game. Our goal is to create an atmosphere that the players enjoy to play in and can put their best game forward, and then the fans can have a good time as well."

    Any thought that the Golden Knights were a fad early in their time in Vegas has gone out the window.

    They continue to sell out home games well as any team in the NHL. Having a stellar and fun team also doesn't hurt. All the fireworks and skating knights in the world won't matter if you're getting blown out by four goals every night.

    But the Golden Knights have found the perfect mix of style and entertainment in "The Fortress," and it's a tough place to play for opposing clubs. If/when they manage to win the Stanley Cup, it might be the wildest championship parade in the history of the league.

5. Winnipeg Jets

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    One cannot make a list of the best home-ice advantages in the NHL and leave off the Winnipeg Jets. 

    This is a city that sells out junior league games and gets so rowdy that it makes some NHL home openers look tame by comparison. And how can you not adore the White Out? Winnipeg's first home playoff game since getting the Jets back is enough to give one chills. 

    Winnipeg, population 825,000, always shows up for the Jets. No matter what's going on with the team in the standings, the team's faithful are always there. In 2019-20, only the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars sold their arena out at a higher average percentage than Winnipeg.

    Dallas and Chicago are two of the largest metro areas in the United States, finishing inside the top five in that regard. Then we have Winnipeg, home to fewer than one million people packing the Canada Life Centre 41 times a year.

    One could argue their home arena is tiny compared to more updated NHL venues. Yet it's almost part of the charm for the Jets. That they cram themselves to the rafters in arguably the most intimate setting any pro sports franchise has to offer their fans.

4. Boston Bruins

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    We go from a home team that doesn't always see better results on their own patch to a squad that generally does. Going back to 2019-20, when fans were allowed to fill buildings to the brink, the Boston Bruins cleaned up while playing at TD Garden.

    They had the best home record in the NHL, going 22-4-9 en route to securing the Presidents' Trophy. That's an outstanding level of play to maintain, even in front of your own fans. 

    And let's not discount how awesome Boston is as a hockey city. Even their college crowds are incredible.

    Boston doesn't have a vintage reclaimed cannon, but it has the on-ice equivalent of the Death Star with its first line. The trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak are frequently called "perfect," and it's tough to argue with that assessment based on their results.

    That group will always get it done no matter who they're out on the ice against, but they get more opportunities to go to work in Boston. Opposing coaches aren't able to put out their top defenders to fend off this relentless unit, and the B's have a huge home-ice advantage because of it.

3. Montreal Canadiens

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    When the Montreal Canadiens failed to sell out a game against the Detroit Red Wings in October of 2018, it ended a 583-game sellout streak. That's a staggering number, and one that would take Habs fans another decade-and-a-half to reach again.

    Even with the streak ending in 2018, Montreal is probably the most unique place to both play and see a game in the NHL. It's impossible to miss the French connection, and the Bell Centre's anthems are electric.

    They're sung in the native language, and the renditions be breathtaking. This is one of the most historic franchises in the NHL (if not professional sports in general), and it's a feeling that resonates throughout the arena.

    There are various nods to the team's history and Montreal's sports archives too. Take the team's mascot, Youppi, for example. It was formerly the mascot of the Montreal Expos and has since been taken under the Canadiens' wing and is a part of their home-game experience.

    A lot of the same pressures that go along with playing in Toronto reappear in Montreal, but the same thing holds true here: When the team is good and the Bell Centre is full, it's a loud and intimidating place to try to win a game on the road.

2. Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Chicago Blackhawks saw their massive 535-game sellout streak end in a lopsided loss to the Detroit Red Wings in October. On the micro-level, fans and pundits alike have made the connection between how bad the 'Hawks have been to start the season.

    A "new low" as Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times called it.

    On the macro level, however, it's impossible to not be impressed by that stretch of sellouts that dated all the way back to March 8, 2008. That coincided with the Blackhawks evolving into a dynasty of sorts, and Chicago always shows up and shows out for a winning team.

    It might be a while until this organization can match the kind of success they had during a majority of that sellout streak, but that doesn't take away from the staggering noise levels at the United Center.

    They have some of the best National Anthem sing-alongs in the sport, and who can forget "Chelsea Dagger"? The members of this Vancouver Canucks team probably still have it stuck in their heads and haunting their dreams a decade later.

1. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Sometimes the passion in relationships runs so hot that the positive can quickly turn negative when things aren't going well. Such is the case in Toronto, where the Maple Leafs play in front of one of the most intense and immersed fanbases in professional sports.

    That fanbase comes with immense huge pressure, though. Some players are inspired by it, like John Tavares. It's part of why the superstar center signed with the organization in 2018. And if you help bring a Stanley Cup to this starved group of supporters, you'll be a local legend forever.

    From the backup goalie all the way to whoever scores the Cup-clinching goal, if you're on that roster, you're a made man in Toronto.

    The perception that a player can't hang in front of this tough crowd can follow them for the rest of their career, too. Some narratives that developed around Phil Kessel still trail him to this day, even though he hasn't been a member of the Maple Leafs since 2015.

    When Kessel won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, fans in Toronto still weren't happy for the man's success. Seemingly because of the idea that he couldn't cut it in Toronto.

    It's all part of skating in front of this crowd 41 times a year. If you're a Maple Leaf, you're a celebrity. If you're a good Maple Leaf, you can become an icon. Sometimes that passion shows itself in some silly ways, sure. But when Scotiabank Arena is full and the Maple Leafs are playing well, they inarguably enjoy one of the best home-ice advantages in the NHL.

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