Last week Elliot Friedman mentioned on Hockey Night in Canada how the league and the Flames brass sat down to talk about the ‘alleged’ increase in Flames penalty calls. The cause of the unusual increase? Refs taking revenge on the club for the Dennis Wideman hit on linesman Don Henderson (who still hasn’t fully recovered).
One referee did not find that funny. The next day, he phoned to complain and dropped a bit of a bombshell: The NHL and the Flames met to discuss the way Calgary games are officiated. They went through a ton of video, and even talked about calls not made — including some specifically against Wideman.
From what I was told, it was very tense at times. The Flames lead the league in penalties taken and penalty minutes per game. Last year, they were 26th and 19th, respectively, in those categories.
In the meeting the league proved to the club called penalties were in fact penalties. Imagine being in that room with the league showing the Flames what a penalty was/is. They must have been seething. For what it’s worth, of course a penalty is a penalty, it’s what you don’t call that matters. Have a read of what former official Kerry Fraser has to say about that.
But let’s go back to the topic at hand, is there referee bias against the Flames? The answer is yes if you look at specific evidence. What we may be seeing, however, is the targeting may be coming to an end as the playoffs draw closer.
This is the one graph you need to pay attention to put together by statsbylopez.com. It’s a comparison of ALL teams, both pre and post-Wideman hit.
Yes, Tkachuk takes way more penalties, but the monumental difference is statistically significant. That’s a fancy way to say it’s not ordinary, there’s another reason why the Flames are in the penalty box more than any other team.
Another graph of particular interest pre and post-Wideman hit. This one will show how post-hit the Flames, up until recently, averaged one extra penalty a game.
Head on over to Statsbylopez to see the analysis of the data in full.
What can we make of all the evidence? Well, we’re just armchair critics, and we can assume the Flames have been doing the same analysis AND have better insight. There’s nothing you can do about the past, but we can be certain of one thing, the NHL and the referees have intentionally punished the team because of their ‘implicit’ bias that’s had a direct correlation on the team’s ability to win hockey games. I would go so far as saying the bias is explicit, meaning it’s intentional.
Hopefully, the trend is going to end soon, but you still have to wonder at what point when the game is on the line, maybe the playoffs, that a boneheaded call or non-call will be made. Any move the officials make will be put to the microscope after Wideman-gate.
But that’s just me. Others disagree.
Update: FlamesNation recently did a piece that suggests it’s all about Calgary’s increased aggressiveness (or Bennett and Tkachuck combined). What do you think?
- The featured line graph courtesy of Reddit user Thumper (https://www.reddit.com/user/Thumper86).