Tag: officials

Tampa Bay Lightning v Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers reaped referees’ rewards the most this season


Along with celebrating goals, making fun of opposing and “bandwagon” fans and eating greasy, overpriced food, there’s one activity that tends to bond fans of all 30 NHL teams: mercilessly booing officials. Chances are, every fan base has cursed a ref for (what’s usually) a human mistake while fastening a tin foil hat of suspicion.

It brings up an interesting question, though: which fans are most justified in their (assumed) metaphorical fashion statements? Following in last year’s footsteps, I decided to use NHL.com’s team stats to find out which squads have benefited and lost the most from the referees’ whistle.

(Key: “PP Opp” = power-play opportunities, “TS” = times shorthanded and net chances represents the difference between the two.)

Team PP Opp TS Net chances
FLA 286 239 47
SJS 270 225 45
CHI 277 233 44
CBJ 317 274 43
CAR 294 252 42
TOR 267 242 25
DET 298 274 24
NYR 280 260 20
PIT 289 270 19
PHI 335 319 16
NJD 267 259 8
NYI 243 236 7
NSH 250 244 6
PHX 251 249 2
VAN 288 286 2
BUF 258 257 1
LAK 289 293 -4
CGY 260 268 -8
BOS 250 260 -10
ANA 271 283 -12
STL 270 282 -12
MTL 301 315 -14
TBL 269 284 -15
WSH 245 266 -21
MIN 258 285 -27
EDM 262 296 -34
OTT 270 310 -40
WPG 251 292 -41
COL 223 277 -54
DAL 244 303 -59

Some observations

As you can see, the Florida Panthers didn’t just have charity points on their side this season – they also drew 47 more power plays than penalties received. Meanwhile, Dallas Stars fans will nod their heads sadly when they notice that their team went on the PK 59 more times than they had man advantages. That’s essentially an extra penalty to kill in two out of every three games.

You only need to reach down to the fourth-ranked Columbus Blue Jackets to see the first team that couldn’t take advantage of such a disparity. One cannot help but wonder if the Blue Jackets could make a huge turnaround next season if they receive the same advantages (317 power play opportunities!), which is obviously no guarantee. Yet with a potentially luckier James Wisniewski and a full season of Jack Johnson in tow, you never know if they did generate a lot of 5-on-4’s in 2012-13. The Carolina Hurricanes also failed to take advantage of penalty perks by missing the postseason. (Toronto rounds out that group, but they didn’t have quite as much of a dramatic advantage.)

Meanwhile, the five teams that received the worst “treatment” missed the playoffs, while sixth-worst Washington (-21) barely squeaked in as the seventh seed.

Coming soon: A look at which teams benefited or suffered the most from officiating since the lockout.

Official benefits: How NHL teams have been drawing and taking penalties since the lockout

Tuomo Ruutu, Joe Corvo, Bryan Rodney, Ray Whitney, Niklas Backstrom

Last night’s foray into the land of non-traditional stats focused on special teams, power play and penalty kill plus minus totals for the 2010-11 season, but perhaps to little surprise, it sparked a deeper journey down the numerical rabbit hole.

The Special Teams Plus/Minus post featured a bonus stat that I called “Special Teams Opportunity Plus/Minus.” Much like the others, this stat is resoundingly simple: you just subtract the power play opportunities a team receives minus the times that team goes shorthanded.

It seems like an interesting stat for the 2010-11 season, but even an 82-game campaign can bring about some anomalies. One could imagine that at least a small set of fans for all 30 NHL teams feel like officials are “out to get them” so I felt the need to take the experiment a little further.

With that in mind, I decided to see which teams have benefited the most (or suffered the greatest) from officials’ calls by combining the opportunity plus/minus totals from every post-lockout season. Naturally, it’s important to note that this list doesn’t necessarily prove that a team has a preferential relationship (especially considering how NHL teams’ schemes vary in aggressiveness). It’s just interesting food for thought – and yes – maybe a little fuel for the fire.

Special Teams Opportunities +/- since the lockout

Team Total 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2006-07 2005-06
CAR 362 74 12 73 65 52 86
SJS 296 15 -18 54 64 80 101
NJD 206 -4 34 -17 6 96 91
LAK 158 16 3 -2 58 31 52
DAL 137 29 40 24 0 50 -6
BUF 122 -21 29 22 33 21 38
TBL 110 34 -10 -62 -16 69 95
DET 91 1 40 26 34 -10 0
MIN 87 -16 3 37 8 38 17
TOR 79 51 27 22 -9 -17 5
PHX 51 -7 -3 51 7 -25 28
COL 39 -49 7 0 34 21 26
NSH 28 -3 28 -20 23 21 -21
PIT 26 -13 -1 13 21 44 -38
NYR 20 33 -17 17 27 6 -46
ATL 6 4 -4 -9 -38 16 37
EDM -29 -17 -4 16 -22 -9 7
VAN -39 -16 5 -14 1 -29 14
STL -48 0 -35 -6 -25 -33 51
CGY -72 36 -37 9 -37 -13 -30
OTT -101 -37 -28 -7 -52 9 14
BOS -104 0 -7 7 -13 -30 -61
MTL -110 -37 -50 4 32 -41 -18
CHI -145 22 29 33 -20 -79 -130
WSH -158 -36 -3 -50 -3 -6 -60
CBJ -172 -13 -26 -24 -22 -15 -72
PHI -181 -18 -18 -77 -3 -44 -21
NYI -199 -8 6 -41 -45 -85 -26
ANA -209 -20 -24 -76 -47 -12 -30
FLA -251 0 22 -3 -61 -106 -103


source: Getty ImagesAs it turns out, the Hurricanes’ 2010-11 lead in this category was far from a fluke. Now, before you hatch too many conspiracy theories, it’s important to note that Carolina is a team that is known for pushing the pace of play. That being said, two playoff berths since the lockout seems like an underachievement when you consider their steady stream of advantages.

Update: The Panthers had the worst relationship, but the most interesting/disturbing part is that most of the damage was done in the first two seasons (-209 disparity between 05-06 and 06-07).

The Maple Leafs have their own drought to worry about, but they came in at No. 10 with 79 more calls going their way. Sidney Crosby haters might be disappointed to see that the Penguins are almost exactly in the middle of the pack at 14th with +26.

Want to see the sheer number of power plays and penalty kills for all 30 NHL teams? Here it is. (This list is sorted by most power play opportunities received.)

Team Total PP Total PK
CAR 2450 2088
PIT 2333 2307
LAK 2309 2151
VAN 2280 2319
DAL 2264 2127
SJS 2242 1946
PHX 2227 2176
TOR 2216 2137
ATL 2213 2207
DET 2211 2120
BUF 2200 2078
CBJ 2176 2348
CGY 2175 2247
STL 2164 2212
EDM 2161 2190
TBL 2160 2050
WSH 2157 2315
NYR 2153 2133
NSH 2151 2123
MTL 2140 2250
PHI 2133 2314
ANA 2133 2342
OTT 2107 2208
MIN 2100 2013
CHI 2080 2225
COL 2075 2036
NYI 2056 2255
BOS 1992 2096
FLA 1945 2196
NJD 1943 1737


In case you’re wondering, the Blue Jackets took the most penalties (2,348) followed by the Ducks (2,342). Meanwhile, the Devils were whistled the least (1,737) by quite a margin; the Sharks were a distant second with 1,946. There probably weren’t many people out there holding onto this thought anyway, but those numbers should show that New Jersey could adapt/maintain their reputation as a responsible defensive team despite the post-lockout rule changes.

(Want even more specifics? Click here for a spreadsheet that includes all the yearly numbers.)


Again, I want to emphasize that this post isn’t meant to “prove” that some teams get preferential treatment while others get the short end of the stick. Feel free to argue for or against such possibilities in the comments, though. (Something tells me Red Wings fans might be a little bummed out to see that Detroit came in at +91, even if this post won’t stop their loudest factions from concocting elaborate conspiracy theories anyway.)

Former official Kerry Fraser talks about ‘make-up calls’

Toronto Maple Leafs v New York Rangers

When you get down to it, the “make-up call” can be a divisive subject in the hockey world.

Fans at arenas practically expect a bad call against the home team to be patched up by a marginal penalty against the road squad later on. Then again, there are just as many people who despise the idea. After all, do two wrongs make a right?

Obviously, there’s nothing in the NHL’s rules that would indicate that the practice is encouraged. But much like the incorrect calls that prompt the instinct to even things up, human nature is the biggest culprit in that process.

That’s something former official Kerry Fraser admits in his latest column for TSN. Fraser doesn’t really give an estimate about how often “make-up calls” take place, but by admitting that he’s made a few of his own, he’s acknowledging the obvious truth.

Naturally, it’s not safe for officials to admit that they made a mistake in the heat of the action. Doing so would embolden already angry fans until things got ugly. Still, it’s refreshing to see an official be honest about the subject, even if it’s after the fact.

The most interesting tidbit isn’t really about “make-up calls” alone, but instead revolves around an experience Fraser had with legendary New York Islanders coach Al Arbour.

In 1983, I worked a game in Chicago Stadium between the New York Islanders dynasty team coached by the legendary, Al Arbour.   Discipline was the trademark of those Arbour-coached teams.   Al seldom raised his voice. When he did, I knew I screwed up. Ten minutes into this game, I had given the normally disciplined Islanders four penalties. It wasn’t that they were playing poorly; it was just that I was that awful.

The fourth penalty put the Islanders two men short and Al stood in the open door of his players’ bench with his hand on his hips while I waited in the end zone for him to place three players on the ice. His icy glare drew a bead on me as he waived his arm at me and yelled, “Kerry, get over here!”

I had such respect for Al, I skated over upon his command and stood before him like a school kid in front of the principal.  Al said, “Kerry, what the hell are you doing out here tonight?” With my eyes focused on my skates beneath me I replied, “I don’t know Al.  I’m really struggling and don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Finally, I raised my eyes to see this coaching icon scratching his head and staring back at me.  He pressed his lips together and said, “Well get the hell out there and try harder.” Like a little kid that was scolded by his father I responded, “Okay, Al, I’ll do my best.”

Fans are quick to lambaste officials for making calls they aren’t happy about (and are almost as prone to hatch conspiracy theories), but referees and linesmen have a tough job. The speed and ever-changing angles (and obstructed views) of the sport make it one of the most difficult games to officiate. Throw in angry fans, coaches and players and things get that much more complicated.

If Fraser’s column is any indication, when they make a mistake, they know it. It’s undeniable that many of them choose to make up for that mistake with another one, though.

So long to the ‘Stache: Bill McCreary will retire after Saturday

New York Islanders v New Jersey Devils

Most sports have a handful of officials who stand out, whether they do so intentionally or not. Sometimes those referees are noticed because of the bitterness caused by their mistakes (perceived or otherwise), while others are noticed more for physical attributes.

When it comes to NHL referee Bill McCreary, I cannot help but focus on his glorious mustache. His ‘stache is the kind of critter you’d find under the nose of a sports star from the 1980s or an ironic rocker now.

Hockey fans won’t be able to boo (or cheer) his decisions and bask in the hairy glory of his mustache much longer, as the veteran referee is scheduled to officiate his last game Saturday as the Buffalo Sabres visit the Washington Capitals.

Here’s the lowdown on his last game, as well as an officiating career that is noteworthy for reasons that extend beyond follicle fashion. It turns out his career will come full circle in DC.

The site will be appropriate as McCreary began his four-decades-spanning NHL career by working a Capitals home game. McCreary’s debut as an NHL referee was on November 3, 1984, when the Caps hosted the New Jersey Devils at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md. Tomorrow night’s game will be the 1,737th of his accomplished career.

“Over the course of an outstanding career, Bill McCreary established a level of excellence matched by very few in the history of our profession,” said Terry Gregson, NHL Senior Vice President and Director of Officiating. “The level of esteem with which he has been regarded by his peers, officiating managers and NHL players and coaches is reflected in the number of playoff games he was selected to work – including a remarkable 15 Stanley Cup Finals.”

Regarded as one of the best ever to officiate the game, McCreary holds the League records for most playoff games (297) and most Stanley Cup Final games (44) refereed. He will finish his career second on the NHL’s all-time games-refereed list. The native of Guelph, Ontario, is one of only four referees to reach the 1,500 games mark — a feat McCreary accomplished on Feb. 16, 2008. The quality of his refereeing was recognized by selection to work the post-season 23 times.

McCreary’s long list of accomplishments includes refereeing 15 Stanley Cup Final series (13 consecutive from 1994-2007), the 1991 and 1994 Canada Cups, the 1994 NHL All-Star Game (New York), and the Winter Olympics in 1998 (Nagano), 2002 (Salt Lake City) and 2010 (Vancouver) — drawing the gold medal game assignment each time.

Whether you agree with all of his calls or not, few referees stood out like McCreary.

Is the neutral zone trap creeping back into the game?

Philadelphia Flyers v Boston Bruins

While the 2004-05 lockout was just about a complete disaster for the NHL, the league was forced to make a few changes that improved the game as a whole. It’s true that the elimination of the two-line pass rule was designed to open up the game, but the most important alterations didn’t involve the introduction of a new rule. Instead the league simply increased its emphasis on referees calling obstruction and interference penalties.

These changes helped (and still help) talented, speedy players make a bigger impact on the game and forced many plodding, low-skill skaters out of the league. While the influx of young talent during the last several seasons is evident, these changes allowed those youngsters to shine brighter and sooner.

Of course, there’s a fine line between opening up the game and neutering the physicality that helps fill the seats. Darren Eliot of Sports Illustrated writes that referees are gradually calling less penalties on minor infractions in the neutral zone and elsewhere, something that coaches such as Guy Boucher of the Tampa Bay Lightning and even typically aggressive coach Peter Laviolette of the Philadelphia Flyers are exploiting to considerable success.

Speed away from the puck was the main idea and it is the essence of the game at its best. Yet, neutral zone sludge is slowly beginning to build up across the league. The only way that happens is when defensive players who have little or no speed are allowed to clog lanes and slow their faster opponents by neutralizing them with subtle grabs, blocks and nudges instead of being forced to defend with equal quickness.

Offensive forechecking suffers when the area between the bluelines becomes a gauntlet of human speed bumps and rumble strips. Less speed means less quality time in the offensive zone, and that quality time is what the league wants. See: the recent ingenious tweaks to face-offs on icings (no personnel changes for the offending team) and for penalty calls (an offensive zone face-off no matter where the infraction occurred). But those are controlled situations that aid the offensive team. The intention of the 2005 no-interference mandate was to help the offense while play was underway.

The eyeball test tells me the game is now backsliding too much. Five players idling in the neutral zone in a 1-3-1 configuration has become more prevalent than the stretch pass. I even saw up-tempo aficionado Peter Laviolette of the Flyers pull all five of his guys into the neutral zone for long stretches recently. And why not? It conserves energy because less skating is involved. Defensive players are getting away with more while moving their feet less.

It’s not time to get alarmed, but the league must make sure that the quality of play remains at a high level. The NHL is probably feeling great about the steady overall improvement in ratings and general interest, but they shouldn’t see moderate success as an invitation to rest on their laurels.