The Chicken/Egg Paradox

Jonathan Willis
March 02 2009 12:40PM

referee

There’s a great article in the Edmonton Journal today about biased refereeing. After looking at more than 2300 power-plays, the Journal and a Vancouver-based researcher discovered that the home team had 11.5% more power-play advantages than the road team.

Curtis Stock, who wrote the article, did a good job getting quotes from different sources. Flames head coach Mike Keenan and Dr. Patrick Keelan, a Calgary-based psychologist, both felt that the referees were being influenced by noise from the crowd.

Stephen Walkom, the NHL’s director of officiating, unsurprisingly disagreed. To quote him exactly:

"I think it's more about the players than it is about the referees," said Walkom. "I think there is more conscious pressure on the players to play better and harder in front of their home crowd than what affects the referee."

I think both parties are a little off here. Here’s my personal theory:

1. A team is more likely to be penalized when they’re at a competitive disadvantage – whether that’s being stuck in their own zone, playing against opponents with a higher talent level, playing against more rested opponents, whatever. 2. The NHL systematically slants their schedule in favour of the home team – Tyler over at mc79hockey.com had a great post on this (though I can’t seem to find it at the moment) which conclusively showed that the overwhelming majority of teams playing their second game in two nights were visitors. 3. The NHL has subtle rules that benefit the home team – most notably, last change. This means that unless the visiting coach is willing to jump through hoops, the home team coach gets his preferred matchup. 4. Because the home team has systematic advantages built in, the visiting team is more likely to take a penalty because they are more likely to be at a competitive disadvantage.

In other words, I think that the (roughly) 55%/45% penalty differential in favour of the home team is more likely a result of the (roughly) 55%/45% win record than a cause of it. Let’s open it up though – what do you think?

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 jeanshorts
March 02 2009, 12:57PM
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What the hell, was there a backlog of articles that weren't posted over the weekend? I can't keep up here!

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#2 Fiveandagame
March 02 2009, 01:01PM
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I'd say you're spot on. the NHL needs their teams to win at home.

Doesn't explain the Oilers woes BUT, if you are in charge of selling a product you want that product to look as good as possible in front of the consumer.

It does sound like a conspiracy. I would suggest there are several factors that go into this 55-45 split.

What bothers me about the NHL is the "even up" BS calls we see game in and game out.

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#3 Deep Oil
March 02 2009, 01:10PM
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It really depends on what the NHL head office wants in terms of teams making the playoffs - such as the Oil getting the shaft in Nashville to help an American team make the playoffs - Bettmans legacy is his sunbelt and NASCAR cities - still no magical investor for Glendale.

I really think hockey had half a chance in Scottsdale - Tempe where the demo had more disposable money, more restaurants with the high DUI arrest rate in that region... but then again the team needed to win and where 99 goes - bankruptcy and jail seems to follow as per McNall, Argos and so on..... but for 99 to pull in 3.5 to 4.0 mm per year and keep his name in hockey for the endorsement money coming in to keep his family a float in California while he lives alone in Paradise Valley at the compound with all the FORDS.....

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#4 The Towel Boy
March 02 2009, 01:24PM
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jeanshorts wrote:

What the hell, was there a backlog of articles that weren’t posted over the weekend? I can’t keep up here!

I can't even hear myself blink!

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#5 Jack "FMNF" Bauer
March 02 2009, 01:39PM
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I will always maintain, and this has been proven every year since the lockout. The referees in the NHL are the absolute worst in all of professional sport. How can having 2 officals, and 2 linesman screw up so many calls, miss so many things that should be penalties, and influence the game as greatly as they do night in and night out? The game against LA. How did 4 of these useless jerk offs get that call so wrong?

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#6 TSN?
March 02 2009, 02:24PM
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Did anyone notice that on the latest version of the Power Rankings on TSN they have "None." listed as "Key Injuries" for the Oilers?? These supposed Power Rakings were updated this morning. How ridiculous is this? Anyone else hate TSN?

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#7 TSN?
March 02 2009, 02:29PM
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@ TSN?:

Here is a quote from the TSN website:

"If you would like to voice your opinion regarding the NHL Power Rankings please e-mail Scott Cullen at scott.cullen@ctv.ca."

Email away - my opinion was that the Power Rankings are stupid.

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#8 Jonathan Willis
March 02 2009, 02:38PM
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jeanshorts wrote:

What the hell, was there a backlog of articles that weren’t posted over the weekend? I can’t keep up here!

In addition to new articles by Wanye, Brownlee, Gregor and three by me over here, I've got two more over at Copper and Blue.

Feel free to complain about the quality (at least of my work) but there's no arguing with the quantity today!

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