Fans have complained about referees since the day it was determined that officials were needed to maintain some kind of organized structure at sporting events. Their calls are simultaneously booed and cheered, they’re told that they smell, that they need glasses, and particularly unruly crowds even insult mothers. It’s a thankless job in which the only reward is hopefully not being mentioned in any post-game recap, and a job which allows you the unique experience of sampling the breath of each coach throughout the league.

So no, whining about officiating certainly isn’t a new hobby for sports fans. This is especially true in the NHL and in this Stanley Cup Final, where the seed for highly creative conspiracy theories in Vancouver was planted six feet deep long ago. Maybe that’s why often during these playoffs if you peruse the instant mouthpiece that is Twitter while the Canucks are losing, you’ll likely notice an abundance of referee finger-pointing coming from the left coast.

Maybe that’s just been my observation, but I doubt it. Others have often noticed the particular loudness of Canucks complaints, and how it quiets to a dull roar whenever the score is favourable. There isn’t a conspiracy against Vancouver, and there never has been, but the few missed calls can easily be attributed to the neck-snapping from the likes of Alex Burrows and Maxim Lapierre. Telling penalty from non-penalty becomes considerably more difficult when even the slightest contact looks similar to a major crosscheck.

There are those who would call that being biased against Lapierre and Burrows. As Sportsnet’s Mark Spector argues, it’s simply human nature:

Even if it is only by a small increment, the actions of Lapierre and Burrows make it harder to win. The calls that aren’t made, the Lucic powerplay evened out by Burrows’ perceived dive — how could the ref possibly tell? — they are going to cost you.

The goal of the referee is that the player’s own teammates and coaches cure him. Why that has not happened in Vancouver, under a solid man like Alain Vigneault, we just don’t know.

With the antics of Lapierre and Burrows firmly embedded into the mind of every official by now, it’s reasonable to expect that we’d see some significant discrepancy in penalties throughout the playoffs for Vancouver. We’d see a sizable gap between the amount of penalties given to Vancouver, and the amount given to the opposition. By comparison, we’d also see a difference in the amount of penalties given to other teams that went deep into the playoffs.

None of that exists.

Using the teams that made this year’s final four as a barometer, I went back through the boxscores to see how many penalties were handed out. This includes all penalties, whether it was a minor, major, a game misconduct, or a penalty that didn’t result in a powerplay. The wide net was cast to allow the greatest opportunity to asses possible bias no matter what the circumstance, whether the penalty was a physical confrontation after a whistle, or a minor stick infraction. Finally, the final four teams were used simply because they’re the most comparable to the Canucks in terms of games played.

The purpose was simple: to see if we can make a case for the officials having a more critical eye towards any one team, and to see if that team is indeed Vancouver.

Team Games played Penalties against Penalties for opposition Powerplays per game PP goals
Vancouver 23 137 132 3.7 18
Boston 23 124 99 3.4 8
Tampa Bay 18 81 78 3.7 17
San Jose 18 100 102 4.1 14

The Sharks are the only team that saw the opposition penalized more. Overall the differences between the penalties for and against are minimal, with Boston the glaring exception. Perhaps the tinfoil hats will be put to better use in Beantown, where the men in bumblebee suits have sat in the sin bin 25 more times than the opposition. Or maybe Boston is just more physical and brutish, a style of play that’s earned the Bruins a trip to the final, but still has its consequences.

Either way, Boston’s penalty time makes Vancouver’s differential of nine look pretty meager. Throw in the extra little ditty of the Canucks leading the playoffs with 85 powerplay opportunities to Boston’s 82, and suddenly the boys in zebra stripes and orange armbands don’t look so bad after all.

But who cares, right? One more win and Vancouver will have beaten everyone, including the refs.

Comments (2)

  1. Sean Tomlison,

    I applaud your attempt at putting some time of rational to the debate. However, statisticaly you come up very short. First, you can not use the calls them self as they are influenced by the subjects you want to analyse.

    Lets look at it this way Gilles had a far better argument in the previous round of ref bias and infact the refs change the way the next game was called. In your case you don t analyse, when, what was, was not called, and the degree of in fraction that got a call or was not called. For instance, why do the Canucks get the first penalties then there is a balancing to even the penalties (which has totally change the out come of the games). Ex how does a player punch a Canuck in the face six times after a whistle and he also gets a penalty? How does a player get slewfooted to the ice before the puck is dropped and he also gets a penalty for being the recipient of the infraction?

    The statistic analyst that you present fails the test of creditably.

    As far as the punches to the face it is nothing more than ASSAULT! That is not hockey nor part of any acceptable behavior in a developed society. I applaud the Crown Council in Vancouver that charged MacSorly with assault on Brashure. The NHL figures they beyond approach to infractions of our society and actually condone this behavior.

    • @John

      Sigh. You had me thinking that you were one of the few fans able to actually present a point objectively until the very end when you compared Marchand to McSorley. Marchand can certainly be a twerp, but whether you like it or not the role of the pest has existed for quite some time in hockey. I believe the Canucks employ a player named Maxim Lapierre…

      As far as the stats are concerned, it’s been my observation throughout the playoffs that Canucks fans saw a significant discrepancy in penalties, which was the genesis for this post. You want anecdotal “evidence” to be introduced into a statistical debate, which usually makes the stats useless.

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