A couple of days ago, retired NHLer Martin St. Louis put out a tweet that reminded me of a topic that I had experimented with earlier in the spring.

Now, as it turns out, St. Louis might be misremembering his full NHL career. According to Hockey-Reference, the Tampa Bay Lightning legend and Calgary Flames / New York Rangers occasional averaged 20:26 of ice time per game at home and 20:19 on the road; an insignificant difference with a slight tick in the opposite direction.

Breaking his career down into seasons, though, you’ll see that he averaged more ice time on the road in five of his first seven seasons, including his Hart, Pearson/Lindsay, Art Ross, and Stanley Cup winning seasons. Once he became a known superstar, though, the tables turned, and between 2006/07 and his last year in 2014/15, he only played more on the road just once: 2013/14, the year where he requested a trade and was eventually moved to the Rangers.

So maybe there’s a point to be made there: that his coaches weren’t likely to send him out to play “matchup” hockey when he was unproven, but leaned on him more and put him in tougher situations at home. After all, that’s one of the big things we hear about great coaches, right? That they know how to match lines, and really take advantage of last change?

Moving away from St. Louis, and over to the thought I was already operating with: my “eye test” wasn’t overly happy with how Mike Babcock had matched players up at times. It felt like the team leaned far too hard on players that it felt to be defensively responsible, even when it was clear that those players; the Ron Hainsey, Roman Polak, Leo Komarov types, were out of gas or in over their heads. Pertaining to the Leafs’ players specifically, I wrote a piece back in March looking at how certain players were deployed in various score situations, and how their usage connected to Toronto’s record, and while I didn’t have a firm conclusion from it, it at least gave you an idea of what matchups or deployments the team was chasing.

With that in mind, I was curious to how much Babcock, a noted line matcher and tinkerer, benefited from having the last change at home. There’s no pure, objective way to do this, but my first hunch was to split possession into home and away segments and figure out the differences, and track it over the course of Babcock’s career. In my first go-around, I looked solely at Babcock, and I used Score-Adjusted Corsi as my metric. Here’s what I came up with for him:

The result was pretty shocking; in seven of Babcock’s last ten seasons, his road possession at 5-on-5 outweighed his home possession. His two worst years were this season and 2012/13. My suspicion is that the drop in Detroit coincides with the loss of Nicklas Lidstrom; the Hall of Famer played extremely tough competition until the very end, even as his average time on ice dropped, and that 2011-2013 fall, rise, and plummet seems to mimic Lidstrom’s one poor Relative Corsi season, his rebound in his last year, and his disappearance into retirement.

As for this year, Toronto’s attempts to play “survival” or “play to not lose” hockey in pockets likely did a lot of damage. Isolating these numbers to the “Its fun, but its dumb” era, a stretch of time that began after the Leafs’ first consensus loss to Ottawa on October 23rd and ended in time for the Next Century game against Carolina in mid-December, Toronto had a 46.8% Score-Adjusted Corsi at home and a 50.8% SAC on the road. Seeing that the agreed upon worst stretch of “over-coaching” for the Leafs this year showed a very, very clear impact, I decided to look at every Head Coach that was behind an NHL bench this year, and their history since 2007/08 (the first year that we have shot attempt data for).

I did this using two methods:

  • Raw Corsi: No adjustments, just shot attempts. I figured that this should be the baseline, as it’s more than reasonable to expect a coach to have a mental note of how the flow of the game is going as its expecting, without expecting them to start weighing the flow based on the exact parameters of the scoreboard. That’s for the analysts after the fact. My feeling here is that if you’re getting beat out on the road by the raw numbers, you’re not just doing a below average job: you’ve gone straight up into bad. After all, you’d assume that just about every coach in the NHL can make a better plain-sight situation for themselves at home than on the road using their roster deployment.
  • Score-Adjusted Corsi: Again, this should smooth out some variances that you’ll get if a team had a particularly good or bad homestand or road trip, which is necessary when an absolute maximum sample here for a given year is 41 games. I also imagine that coaches who come out in the negatives here would be a bit more interesting: a negative here would mean that these coaches are maybe not being aggressive enough in trying to get that next goal, rather than just straight up having no control over the flow of the game.

For this, I also included partial seasons (coaches who were hired/fired midway through), but researched the proper date ranges to make sure that there wasn’t any overlap. I did not include Peter Laviolette’s three-game season with the Flyers in 2013/14, and in the case of Bruce Boudreau in 2012 and Claude Julien in 2017, I included their stretches with both teams that employed them.

Here’s what I ended up with:

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