Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Unbearable Lightness of Power Play Opportunities

Everyone is frustrated with the awful state of refereeing in the NHL.

When you look at how rare power play opportunities have been, though, no-one else has the right to be as frustrated as the Edmonton Oilers.

The fact that the Oilers rank dead last in the league in power plays, and Connor McDavid sits seven spots behind Matthew Tkaslewfoot in penalties drawn … well frankly, that reeks.

But it’s not just that the Oilers are last in power plays – it’s by how wide a margin.


Here, for example, is a graphical view of the power play counts as of March 12th:

See that drop off a cliff at the very end? That’s the Oilers. (note: data from nhl.com)

So again, it’s not just that the Oilers are last on this chart – the reality is that even in a perfectly fair league, someone would be first and someone would be last – it’s by how much.


To dig a little deeper, you can list the teams in order of most to last power plays, and then calculate the difference between each team and throw that on a histogram. Here’s what it looks like:

As you’d expect, the majority of teams are bunched up on the left, with very little difference from their neighbours. A handful of teams push the envelope.

And then … there’s the Oilers. Anything about this look fishy to you?


I should also mention that because the Oilers have so few power plays, that gap is all the more enormous when you express it in percentage terms. The gap between Chicago and Colorado (9 opportunities) is just 3.7% when you consider that the Hawks have had 245 power plays.  Only one other gap (St. Louis to Pittsburgh, a difference of 7 power plays, which equates to 3.2%) hits over the 3% mark.

The Oilers? A gap of 13 power plays on just 171 opportunities is 7.6%. Basically double the next nearest gap, which is itself already an outlier.


(h/t to @kirkr55)

To put this in historical context, here are the two worst (lowest) power play per game rates for each of the 48, 80, and 82 game seasons, going back to 1977.

Unless the rate at which the Oilers are getting man advantages increases noticeably, the Oilers are on track to have the second worst rate of power plays in the last 40+ years!


Without getting too far into the tinfoil hattery, this stinks to high heaven. When you watch a dozen uncalled fouls on McDavid every period, then consistently watch a power play go to the other team for less, sorry, I’m not buying that this is just variance or coincidence.

While the last few games have seemed a bit better, it’s still brutal to watch. If I were Katz or Chiarelli, I would be absolutely livid, and I’d be on the phone to Bettman and Campbell every damn day until I got an explanation. And a fix.

Side note: Maybe the reason the Oilers power play stunk this year is because they hardly ever get to practice in game situations?

    • Ommmzzz

      Last year McDavid had 58 penalties drawn in 95 games (including playoffs) for 0.611 per game. This year he’s at 29 penalties drawn in 68 games for 0.426 per game. A 95 game pace would get him to 40-41 penalties drawn. So a full 17-18 less this year. I guess the game is too fast for the refs nowadays…or at least that’s their excuse.

      • A-co

        Not to sound like a Homer but when you watch Connor there could be a slashing penalty called almost every shift…not many can keep up to him..including the refs apparently

  • Twitch

    Ever since that Kane bull excrement non-call that directly led to a goal vs. the Sharks I’ve been wondering about this stat. The eye test this year has supported these stats. It’s mind boggling to think the fastest player in the league gets hacked and slashed numerous times per game and has a lower drawn penalty rate than the guy(Tkachuk) officials want to suspend almost as much as Marchand(for good reason for both btw).

    • Glencontrolurstik

      I’m glad you mentioned that. Because I have been thinking the same thing. To take it further, that article about teams not being able to call out the reffing & the impression that the relationship between the Media & the League lately has been like a Big Brother TV episode. The build-up, the drama? Was it goalie interference? Was it off side? You decide (insert dramatic music here)… We’ll find out next time on HNIC…
      My question is, when did this all change? Was it the Rogers/NHL partnership that’s turning this into WWE type entertainment?
      And I thought it was just me? If it keeps up, a small market NHL team will not, ever go deep in the playoffs, unless they set-up a huge upset or news around a dominant small market being taken out by a lesser large market team. That has viewership written all over it.

  • Snoop Scottie Dogg

    I read an interesting article from a former ref; I believe it was Kerry Frazer. He said that because Connor is so fast he catches them out of position. It makes sense I guess. If he is blowing by world class dmen a 45 year old ref doesn’t stand a chance.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      I don’t totally buy that. This is the reason they have 2 refs now.
      Plus, they are friggen reviewing every play after the fact.
      We have all seen blatant calls reviewed & ignored.
      If the refs can’t do their job, what are they doing there?
      A player on the ice also is much less able to talk to a ref than in Fraser’s Day.
      I used to like the “Ask a Ref” column on TSN web a few years ago, when you could ask Kerry a question about a recent game & why refs called or didn’t on a play. They probably dropped that because Kerry was saying too many “I don’t knows?” I am one fan that would like to see Fraser or Van Hellemand (sp) head up the Reffing. Take these amateurs out or at least train them?

        • Glencontrolurstik

          That’s your opinion. His games were generally reffed fairly. The most important thing is the players both liked and respected him. He definitely had control of the ice & talked to the players when asked a question.
          What we have now on the ice a just plain “wanna-be” cops. One step up from a security guard or a night-club bouncer. That’s the way they are acting toward the players as well. These refs are out of there league in comparison to what we are used to. Just watch the “melodrama when they make the call of a reviewed goal. Like WWE, it’s sickening.
          The other bad thing that happened when Kerry Fraser left the game was that hair spray companies sales dropped by half.

  • QuitForRealThisTime

    The PP has been bad this year but it makes you wonder where the Oil may be in the standings with even an extra PP opp per game. So assuming the league that prides itself on consistency and parity the Oil will not find themselves at the bottom next year on this stat. If the PP have have a little more success percentage wise and the home PK is not record breakingly bad even if there a no major personnel changes this could put hem into playoff contention.

    • 24% body fat

      true, but there is two refs and they dont need to stay on side, no reason to be so far behind the play, and i would wager that if you looked at the non calls on connor, and even guys like Geudreau, etc. the refs are not out of position and are perfectly able to make the call.

  • QuitForRealThisTime

    I would love to see the unofficial handbook of NHL reffing get leaked…the one that actually describes calling penalties. When to call one and when not to rather then calling a penalty because of an illegal play. Ie…it is overtime and and McD is on a breakaway, if an Anaheim player literally have is arms wrapped around him, this is apparently not a a penalty because? It is a tough job and would not want to do it but would it not be a much easier job for these guys if they took out all the “Game Managing” part of the job and just called a penalty when an illegal play is made?

  • Ryan Jones Is Still My Hero

    I hate to hop on this bandwagon because I try to give the refs the benefit of the doubt as much as possible, I used to ref and I realize that its a thankless job. But I will always remember the day that I blew a tripping call at center ice, right in front of me, and the coach yelled, “You’ve go to call the obvious ones!” Not crude or absurd like many of the shouts I heard, just plainly calling me out for something I knew I should have called. That struck me, and I never forgot it.

    That’s what I feel like the problem is with most of the officiating. They make these ticky-tack calls that have the players, coaches and fans all scratching their heads, but refuse to call the blatant ones which leads to more confusion (ie. Kane hitting Benning from behind). The Coyotes game the other day was a prime example. With about 10 minutes left, the Oilers are up 3-1 and Pakarinen gets picked away from the puck on an attempted cycle play, its not even close. Obvious interference, no call. Then, after a stoppage and about 30 seconds later, Slepyshev gets tripped in the corner going for a loose puck, again its obvious (the defender looked at the ref directly after), but no call. Then the Coyotes proceed to score a goal within a minute to get back in the game at 3-2. If the ref makes either one of those calls, the Oilers have a chance to put the game away, but the refs decided that they weren’t going to give the Oilers the opportunity, and the Coyotes managed to use it to their advantage.

    Now I’m not saying specifically that the refs led us to OT in that game, because we all know these Oilers may have found a way, but damn it just call the obvious ones! The Coyotes would have had no room to complain on either call, and the refs unfairly took away the Oilers’ chance to extend their lead twice. And I just feel like that has been a theme all season long, which frustrates me beyond belief. I don’t know if its the refs egos, game management, or just incompetence, but something has to change. The stats in the article don’t lie, and on a team with Connor McDavid, that’s just not fathomable.

  • Hemmercules

    Alberta teams get no ref love thats for sure. Last years playoffs are all the proof you need. Bettman probably told them to give us a hard time, payback for stockpiling all the first overall picks and sucking hind banana for the last 10 years.

      • Disappointed

        And just to add some more absurdity (especially for those that don’t read the graph) those darlings of the league, the Toronto Maple Leaves with their star player Auston Matthews is third last. Go figure, so much for conspiracy.

  • Natejax97

    Maybe the last few games have been better because mission is accomplished. Thanks NHL and thanks Toronto guys reviewing the calls. We know the whole league hates us. Good for everyone. It will be sweet when we finally win just to shove it in all of their faces.

  • Frank Rizza

    I’m disgusted with NHL refereeing! There is a standard in the pre-season, then another standard for the first part of the regular season, then another standard for the rest of the season. Then to top it all off, the whole fu**ing thing gets thrown out the window in the playoffs.

    That’s to say nothing about how McDavid gets treated. It makes me sick that the refs call about if 20% of the calls against him. I know Crosby had to go through this too but it doesn’t make it right. Screw you NHL!

    • There is also a standard depending on which side of the border the franchise is. The league won’t change anything, as it would lose them the ability to directly affect the outcome of any given game. Tin Foil Hat my arse. We are not imagining this.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      As far as the different standards go. This is nothing new. That was Sather’s biggest complaint with the reffing. He had a McDavid type player on his team. He always said that the Refs controlled the game, especially in the playoffs by not calling blatant penalties. When the game was getting out of control they called you for swearing (unsportsmanlike conduct). Sather wanted them to call everything by the book. Cherry on Coaches Corner always said the Refs should let them play. Those two had a dislike for each other & this was the root of it. As Sather always said that “what Cherry said had a direct outcome in the decisions of the League.” The NHL looks at him as a hockey wise neutral advisor…
      If he says let em play, so be it… It’s Cherry’s fault. As I don’t think that Bettman even knows all the rules, why should he?

  • I’d like to see some sort of stat (yes I’m lazy) where the actual referees are taken into consideration. Perhaps the ones the Oilers see the most often are just bad and they’re like the home referees for the team. Watching a player go head first into the boards that turns directly into a goal is pathetic.

    • crabman

      I was thinking the same thing. I know refs do a lot of travel through the season but do we have a group that mainly does the west games or Pacific games? How do they match vets with younger refs? and how much game review does the league do of ref performance and try to educate them on how to improve? all fair questions I think

  • kelvjn

    Playing 4 on 5 is difficult work. The penalty killers got tired more quickly than the attackers because they have to react, where as the attackers more or less knows where the puck is going with set plays.

    Rather than reduced practice, a more probable cause for the lower success rate is edm are constantly facing fresher penalty killers due to fewer penalty being called for.

    That argument that McDavid is too fast so ref misses calls is bunk. McDavid is fast, but the rest of the edm line up isn’t.

  • Jukkila

    On one hand, yes, it’s extremely frustrating that many fouls aren’t called on McDavid – and you can definitely blame referees for that. On the other hand, one of the reasons that the Oilers don’t get many power plays is that players other than McDavid are slow, not very tenacious in puck battles, and prone to turnovers. How many nights have we seen the Oilers get completely dominated by another team for an extended length of time or even for an entire game. Chances are that when you’re getting dominated like that, you’re not going to draw a penalty. Missed calls are frustrating, but the real problem here is a team that plays poorly far too often.

    • Jukkila

      Oh… and the Oilers dreadful powerplay doesn’t help us draw penalties. Being up one player is a great chance to draw a second penalty. You’ve generally got the puck, ideally in a dangerous spot, defenders are aslo prone to shoot one over the glass in their zone when trying to clear.. but it all goes out the window when you’re awful powerplay gift wraps the puck for the other team.

  • Just a Fan

    Everyone has bias and I think it is fair to extend this to the NHL and to referees specifically.

    I have long believed the reffing is biased based on perceived playing style. Bigger/Heavier teams get less calls because the refs are more likely to ‘put the whistle away’ thinking that is the way they like to play. Teams that have a reputation of being a ‘skating’ team get more calls because the believe is that is what they want.

    This is not about how big a team is but the style they are perceived to play. Edmonton is thought to be a heavy team along with LA, Anaheim. Colorado/Chicago are thought to play a faster skating game.

    It would be interesting to see these numbers broken down by home and away.

  • Joy S. Lee

    The thing I notice when it comes to officiating is the linesmen. They get a ton of calls wrong in the modern game, but much worse… they interfere with the flow of play CONSTANTLY. With two refs on the ice, they get in the way all of the time, pucks bounce off them and go the other way… and they get calls wrong often. Worst of all, they call offsides when it’s not offside, eliminating scoring chance after scoring chance. With today’s technology, they could have a linesman on both sides of the glass watching that line… get it right more often, and get the hell out of the way!

    The NHL’s answer is probably to put a couple more linesman on the ice, but they should really consider removing the ones on it, instead. The game is too fast and the players need all available space to work with if the product is to be what it can be.

  • Oiler Al

    Other than McDavid ,if you play lazy hockey where you are not quick and hard on the
    puck, you are likely to draw less penalties.For sure calls are missed on #97

  • Redbird62

    It certainly appears that the Oilers’ PP opportunities are a little out of whack both based on what I have watched and on the stats (though not as bad as the chart visually shows due to the axis being set at 160). While people are commenting on how slow the Oilers play, I am not sure that completely explains the drop. The Oilers have held their own 5 on 5 most of the year in possession stats so its not that the penalties aren’t being called because the Oilers don’t have the puck. I would be curious to see the cumulative data on 5×5 scoring chances and high danger scoring chances as these would be better indicators of the Oilers doing things that draw penalties. As well, the Oilers’ atrocious power play does nothing to discourage other teams from taking liberties with the Oilers’ players as they would not be afraid to be a man down.
    I wonder if there is a bias, that it is not necessarily an anti-Oiler thing, but an age bias. Veterans have always gotten more leeway from officials (unless they have a horrible rep (in the refs minds, not the fans)) than younger players. And it is your star players who draw penalties because they are the one doing things that the other team would be more desperate to stop. The Oilers are a very young team based on average age. The average age of their core players is probably even younger compared to the other teams (similar for Toronto who are also low on the list). Compound that with, as Jason Gregor pointed out a while back, good teams often seem to get more breaks from officials than bad teams, and the Oilers have had a bad record all year.

  • dsanchez1973

    If: 1) The Oilers had a league average number of PP for/against, and 2) were scoring and defending the PP/PK at league average…they would improve their goal differential by 27 goals. Special teams needs to be the main focus of this team.

  • Sorry, Oilers PP opps is so out of whack that how can we not believe that the league is influencing this somehow? Also look at the stupid goalie interference and offside call backs. It’s beyond ridiculous.

    If the league is influencing this, why? Is it because of all the number one picks and the continued hate-on for Lowe? Do they realize that if they keep this up, the Oilers will continue to be in the draft lottery?

  • crabman

    The refs influence the game in a big way. Too often depending on who is reffing the game will be played differently. A ref that let’s them play would better for a crosscheck 1st team like the ducks. A ref that calls things tighter would be to the advantage of a team like the pens that rely on skill and can kill you with the pp.
    The rules, for the most part, are black and white. A slash or a trip is very clear in the rule book. It needs to be called by the book regardless of game situations. The refs shouldn’t be controlling the flow of the game or managing it to keep it close. That is not their job. But that is what’s happening.
    I don’t know how the ref union works. Whether it is just for the NHL or if it includes AHL and ECHL. But I would like to see every game watched and reviewed by a group responsible for ebaluating the refs. Score them on calls made and calls missed. Just like baseball does with home umpires with balls and strikes. And the better refs stay in the NHL and get paid like NHL refs. The bad ones move down a league and get paid accordingly. And the better refs in lower league’s move up. To top it off, all this ref evaluating should be public record. It would be an expensive endeavour but the league could afford it and it would show they are serious about being the best league in the world. The entertainment value would go up and there would be no doubt that they take officiating seriously and want to put the best product on the ice.