Journal of the Operational Research Society

, Volume 68, Issue 9, pp 1006–1018 | Cite as

In search of goals: increasing ice hockey’s attractiveness by a sides swap

  • Michal Friesl
  • Liam J. A. Lenten
  • Jan Libich
  • Petr Stehlík


The popularity and business impact of major sports have been growing globally over time. This paper focuses on ice hockey, specifically the National Hockey League in North America. It reports a striking irregularity in ice hockey’s scoring dynamics relative to comparable sports such as soccer and rugby, namely a scoring surge in the middle section of the game. We explore an explanation for this irregularity related to the convention on the spatial location of the teams’ benches (which are fixed throughout the game) and on-ice sides (which are switched every period). Because a large number of the players’ substitutions occur while the play is in progress, this convention determines the distance forwards and defenders need to travel to make a substitution, and thus indirectly substitution strategies and scoring. We consider two simple operational changes that could increase the number of goals in the NHL by approximately 5 and 10%, respectively, corresponding to roughly 350 and 700 additional goals each season. This would partly offset the current downward scoring trend and thus enhance the game’s attractiveness. The estimated impact of the proposed reforms, one of which is largely costless, is robust across several specifications—using per-minute and per-second scoring data and controlling for various factors, such as bookmakers’ odds.


sport ice hockey discrete choice models scoring dynamics 


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Copyright information

© The Operational Research Society 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michal Friesl
    • 1
  • Liam J. A. Lenten
    • 2
  • Jan Libich
    • 2
    • 3
  • Petr Stehlík
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Mathematics, NTISUniversity of West BohemiaPlzeňCzech Republic
  2. 2.Department of Economics and FinanceLa Trobe UniversityBundooraAustralia
  3. 3.VŠB-TU OstravaOstravaCzech Republic

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