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Evidence that NHL officials make fewer penalty calls late in games; A list of the worst offenders

Jul 27, 2010, 10:45 PM EDT

stephaneauger.jpgDuring the CCPT Podcast last Sunday, we eventually discussed the thankless job of officiating. My main point during that discussion was NHL referees are human and therefore imperfect, but at least they don’t provide the kind of tinfoil-hat-wearing-fodder that plagues the NBA.

Still, there’s no doubt that officials can dictate the way an NHL game is played. Igloo Dreams of Hockey Independent provided a fantastic breakdown of penalty calls during the 2009-10 season.

Here’s the first bit of information, which gives some serious justification to the statement that referees “swallow their whistles” later in games. The second part of the excerpt should send a chill down the spine of anyone who fears that the league will regress to the “clutching and grabbing” days of the pre-lockout NHL.

In the 2009-2010 season, there were 12328 penalties called, which works out to about 10 per game (as there are 1230 games in each regular season).

The breakdown by period is:

* First period: 4062
* Second period: 4420
* Third period: 3745
* Overtime: 101

[snip]

The interesting thing to note here is that there’s a drastic difference in Hooking and Interference between the first two periods and the third period. In fact, those two penalties decrease 27% between the second and the third periods. All other calls (not including Fighting) decrease just 8%.

Yeah, that’s pretty troubling. In another fascinating part of the article, the author points out the 12 referees most guilty of inconsistencies. As Igloo Dreams points out, the study isn’t ironclad because the NHL doesn’t provide information on which referee makes each call during a game; instead the blogger took a look at every call made while that official was working. In other words, there could be some guilt-by-association in this chart, but it’s still an interesting indicator regarding which zebras tend to look the other way when games are on the line. (Click to enlarge)

inconsistentrefs.JPG

(You may note that the first vs. third period differences aren’t nearly as stark in some cases, but it’s still an interesting tale of the tape.)

The author opines that Justin StPierre, Stephane Auger, Bill McCreary, Rob Martell, Brad Watson and Dennis LaRue might be the biggest problem officials (at least in the context of this study) because they seem to go from “consistent” in the first two periods to “inconsistent” afterward.

Again, being a referee in any sport is a thankless job. Sometimes you have to worry about getting hit with debris if fans think you made a mistake. Just about any time something controversial happens, one side will call you an idiot. It’s not a job for the weak-willed or thin-skinned. That being said, it’s good to have checks and balances, especially in a league that would be wise to give its talented players a fair chance to succeed.

(Want to read more about those officiating numbers? Igloo Dreams has more detailed accounts here and here.)

  1. Dollar Bill - Jul 27, 2010 at 11:04 PM

    Not very meaningful due to the way many games are played in the third period. Tie games, close games…. no one wants to take that 3rd period penalty that could change the outcome of the game.

  2. Pat - Igloo Dreams - Jul 28, 2010 at 9:49 AM

    @Dollar Bill – I thought the same way you do at first, but other calls don’t decrease the same way in the third, or at least not to the level that these two do. Holding, Roughing, Cross-checking and Slashing are all essentially flat (or have slight drops)

  3. Josh - Jul 28, 2010 at 10:37 AM

    What I find most interesting is that four of the first five have spent a LOT of time in the AHL recently (Moreso in the West Division as of late), and they are known around the AHL for swallowing the whistle in close games.

  4. Mark - Jul 28, 2010 at 10:56 AM

    Could this be interpreted as those refs having more control of their games? Instead of setting the bar of what will be/won’t be called in the 3rd period, they’re setting the bar in the 1st and 2nd periods?

  5. Pat - Igloo Dreams - Jul 28, 2010 at 12:21 PM

    @Josh – That is interesting. I wonder what level of detail is available on AHL games…
    @Mark – Maybe, but H&I are the big ones that drop. If they’ve set their bar, you’d think that some of the other biggies (Holding, Roughing, etc) would drop too… but they don’t… or, at least, not as much

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