It's been a long, arduous fifteen year countdown for Winnipeg Jets fans.
After watching the original inception of their Jets blossom from their days in the WHA to joining the bright lights of the NHL, it came as a shock to many that a team so dear to their hearts could face potential uprooting due to the economic downturn plaguing Canada in the mid nineties.
The year 1996 saw fans worst dreams painfully unfold as real life nightmares. The Jets were purchased by Jerry Colangelo and his group of investors, whisked away to a warmer southern climate and re-branded as the Phoenix Coyotes for the start of the 1996-97 season. A team that anchored the city for fourteen years was now gone; erased from existence. Only memories would remain.
That year, the countdown began.
A lot can change in a city over a decade and a half. Winnipeg's population continued to grow as their infrastructure and economic development continued to flourish, despite the lack of a big-league sports team to dominate the cities headlines.
Still, former Jets fans yearned to regain what they once had; to quell a hunger that the American Hockey League just couldn't satisfy.
In 2011, their wish was granted - the countdown had officially ended. The NHL was headed north to once again reside in the heart of the prairies, as well as the hearts of a new collective fan base.
Winnipeg is now home to one one of the loudest rinks in the NHL. The Jets play in an arena that will be sold out for at least the next five years. At present, Winnipeg ranks (unofficially) in the upper echelon of NHL teams in regards to per-game revenue.
While the return of the Jets is lining the collective pockets of True North Sports and Entertainment, one wonders whether or not moving the Thrashers has had any impact on the team in terms of on-ice improvement?
The following article examines the statistical breakdown of home record, goals for and against as well as special teams play over the past five years in comparing the former Thrashers to their current incarnation.
Does playing games at the MTS Centre have any statistical advantage to playing in the Phillips Arena (Atlanta, GA)?
Find out after the jump:
REGULAR SEASON RECORD
We will start by dissecting Winnipeg's home record in comparing it to four previous seasons in Atlanta. With fifteen games remaining on the Jets schedule, the data now presented is incomplete, but it still offers a good barometer into how much better their record at home has been. In only twenty-five games this season, Winnipeg has won fifteen to date, which projects to twenty-five over a full forty-one game schedule. They are on pace to shatter their previous highs in wins (19 in 07-08 and 09-10) as well as best the career record for wins at home, set in 2006-07 when the Thrashers won the Southeast Division (23).
GOALS FOR/GOALS AGAINST
|SEASON||GF||GF AVG||RANK||GA||GA AVG||RANK|
Over the past four seasons in Atlanta, the Thrashers had a difficult time finding consistent scorers as they fluctuated between an average scoring team to well below league averages after the departures of Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk crippled their line-up. The only thing worse than lacking pure goal scoring was the inability to keep the puck out of their own net. In each of the past four seasons in Atlanta, the Thrashers ranked no higher than twenty-fifth in goals allowed, once finishing dead last in goals against at home in 2008-09. The Jets do still possess sub-par scoring (21st at home), but their goals against at the MTS Centre ranks among the best in the NHL. If current statistics continue to materialize, the Jets will concede less than one hundred goals against this season. At 2.2 goals against per game, Winnipeg is well on pace to best their previous marks in this category by a wide margin.
The final statistical category we will analyze is the special teams production of the franchise at home. In the past four years, Atlanta's power play never ranked higher than nineteenth in overall efficiency, only twice scoring more than thirty goals. If current trends continue, the Jets will finish with approximately thirty-one power play goals this year as they flirt around an efficiency rating of 21.4%. Their output is fifth best in the league, a vast improvement over 2010-11 when they finished twentieth after adding Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd to their power play units. The penalty kill has also seen marked improvement since moving to the MTS Centre, operating at an efficiency rating of 85.6%. For comparison sake, Winnipeg's road penalty kill efficiency is four marks lower, presently at 81.0%. Atlanta's numbers at home when down a man collate to Winnipeg's road numbers which frequently hovered in the high seventies to low eighties. Should the Jets home penalty kill continue to function at close to their average this season, it would be the first time they ranked outside the bottom ten in league efficiency in the past five years.
What can we conclude from all of this data? Well, firstly we must note that the off-season additions of Eric Fehr, Kyle Wellwood, Derek Meech, Tanner Glass, Mark Flood, Randy Jones and Kenndal McArdle did very little to influence these stats. Basing our thesis entirely off of the construction of this team to date, it appears that General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is using a "Money Puck" mentality with the personnel he has brought in. Building through the draft, making value signings as opposed to big splashes and rewarding his in-house players with long contracts when warranted seems the route this team will travel.
In reaching our conclusion, we have compared all the data collected above while also creating this Excel Chart to compare both home and away statistics for Winnipeg's 2011-12 season. The disparaging differences we have found during our research are staggering. Therefore, it is of our utmost belief that playing in the confines of the MTS Centre does elevate the teams on-ice production tenfold.
Give yourselves a round of applause Jets fans, as your boisterous demeanor helps this team collect wins. Stay loud, stay proud and above all else, continue to support your home team. The results speak for themselves. The countdown is over. The celebration lives on.
*All statisitcal data collected for this entry was provided by www.nhl.com as of Saturday, February 4, 2012.
Ed. Note: This is not an attempt to discredit the Atlanta Thrashers organization by any means. While certain fans or members of the media may lend condescending views on the NHL's southern expansion, the object of this article was to determine if home ice has truly been an advantage for the Winnipeg Jets this season, and I stand behind the statistics provided. It is of my personal opinion that hockey is a global sport. It is not confined by any geographic barriers. It is no more at home in Winnipeg, Manitoba than it is in Sunrise, Florida and we should all embrace the unique community that this great sport has given us rather than try to conclude where the game works and where it does not. Hockey is carried in the hearts of many, spread far and wide across North America. That is where hockey belongs. That is what makes this sport the greatest in the world.