Does David Backes’ pivot make head contact unavoidable? That’s the question the NHL will face when it decides whether or not to suspend Chicago’s Brent Seabrook, for this devastating bodycheck. Read more
As the second period of Friday’s Game 1 between Boston and Detroit wound down, Milan Lucic gave Danny DeKeyser a nasty slash to the groin from behind. The Red Wings defenseman dropped to the ice and Lucic was not penalized.
But he was fined $5,000 for the infraction Saturday and discussed it with the media after practice. He did not call DeKeyser a chicken. Read more
Back in 2001, the Colorado Avalanche had a chance to win the franchise’s second Stanley Cup in six years. Cornerstones such as Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy and Adam Foote already had their names on the chalice, but the addition of future Hall of Famer Ray Bourque the year before had given the crew extra incentive. Bourque, the longtime Boston Bruins stalwart, saw his dreams crash down in 2000 when Dallas eliminated Colorado in the Western Conference final. But he still wanted that elusive Cup, so he came back to Denver for one more season and his teammates instituted “Mission 16W,” a.k.a. Get Bourque his Cup. As a greying veteran he finally hoisted the trophy after a harrowing seven-game series against New Jersey and the iconic moment was his forever.
Fast-forward to present day and gaze upon the situation of Jarome Iginla. Like Bourque, he toiled for years with a franchise that came close, but could not grasp Stanley’s prize. Then the window closed, and despite the noblest of intentions to go down with the ship, Iginla was finally dealt away from his beloved Calgary Flames so the erstwhile captain could earn his championship ring. And like Bourque’s, Iginla’s first attempt went sideways. He joined Pittsburgh via trade, only to see the Penguins maced by Boston in the conference final. This summer, he decided to join the ones who beat him, and now the Bruins have a little added incentive to win their second Cup in four years.
“With ‘Iggy,’ he’s had a phenomenal career, he’s one of the best to ever play the game, and it would be a huge accomplishment if we could win,” says left winger Brad Marchand. “It would be a great honor to be part of that, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
Playoff pressure. Players feel it. Coaches try to control it. Fans freak out over it. And according to a recent study, referees can crack under it.
Michael Lopez, a doctoral student in biostatistics at Brown University, and Kevin Snyder, an assistant professor of sport management at Southern New Hampshire University, assessed the frequency of even-up calls in their paper, “Biased Impartiality among National Hockey League Referees,” published in the International Journal of Sport Finance. Lopez and Snyder found that referees exhibit what they call “biased impartiality.” Meaning, referees subconsciously try to make games as balanced as possible to achieve a perception of fairness.
Nothing nefarious there. The problem is referees may make even-up calls that unfairly balance the number of penalties between teams, and this can actually affect who wins. So despite their best attempts otherwise, refs often have a huge impact on playoff games.
Lopez, a diehard Boston fan, got the idea for the study while watching the fifth game of the 2011 Stanley Cup final. His Bruins were tied with the Canucks 2-2 in the series and early in Game 5 the B’s had their chances to win. Vancouver was called for three straight penalties in the first, and after offsetting minors to Milan Lucic and Alex Burrows late in the period, the Canucks got another penalty early in the second. Sure enough, the penalty pendulum swung the other way. Boston was called for three straight minors and didn’t get another power play the rest of the game, losing 1-0.
“We had our chances and now we’re not going to get the calls,” Lopez said. “We didn’t get the calls, and I finally just thought to myself, ‘Well, what if I just measured this?’ ”
Lopez and Snyder crunched the numbers for all playoff games between 2006 and 2012. They found that the likelihood of even-up calls grew as the pressure situations for referees increased. Teams with a higher number of first-period penalties were 75 percent more likely to have fewer second-period penalties than their opponent. This difference was higher for home teams (which were 140 percent more likely to have fewer second-period penalties) and teams in the Stanley Cup final (150 percent), with the largest difference found among teams in a Game 7 (about 10 times as likely to receive even-up calls). Third-period numbers showed similar relationships. What’s more, it didn’t matter what the score was.
“That’s an important point, because obviously the thought would be if you’re playing with the lead, you’re going to be playing differently, which is going to impact the number of penalties you have,” Lopez said. “But the results we found were that the number of penalties you have is independent of the score entering the period…Whether you were ahead a goal or behind a goal, it didn’t seem to have an impact on the number of penalties.”
The upshot of all this is that referees’ bias toward balance can end up favoring one team. Lopez and Snyder found that in playoff games tied at the end of the first period, the team with more penalties was about 15 percent more likely to win than the team with fewer penalties, perhaps due to the even-up calls it is likely to receive later on. Among teams with a higher number of first- and second-period penalties, it was 10 percent, for tie games heading into the third period.
The NHL didn’t respond to a request for an interview.
The study doesn’t suggest referees are doing anything malicious or conspiratorial. Lopez and Snyder are just pointing out how playoff pressure subconsciously affects how refs call a game. To their credit, referees are just trying to “let the players decide the game,” as the old adage goes. To do that, they need to be fair, and to be fair they feel they have to be balanced by calling penalties as evenly as possible. Retired ref Kerry Fraser officiated almost 2,000 regular season and more than 250 playoffs games. He knows well the pressures officials face in the post-season.
“Any referee that would not admit to making a judgment that would be deemed to be an even-up call would not be honest,” he said. “Each referee wants to think that he’s bigger than making an even-up call, but we’ve all done it because of that need to be fair and balanced. So the fair element of it may, at times, create the need to balance things out, for sure.”
Ronnie Shuker is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRonnieShuker.
As the Winnipeg Jets’ season wound down, a controversy involving one of their players flared up. Interim coach Paul Maurice made star winger Evander Kane a healthy scratch for a game in Toronto – and just like that, harsh words were hauled out to criticize the 22-year-old: he had an attitude; he was arrogant; he wasn’t a good fit with the Jets; he needed to be traded post-haste. If it sounded familiar, that’s because it was. Ever since the franchise relocated to Manitoba from Atlanta, Kane has been a target for critics.
Some of that, he’s earned. When he posed during the 2012-13 lockout in front of the lights of Las Vegas pretending a giant stack of money was his cell phone, fans and media rightfully ripped him for not understanding how it would be perceived.
But put aside the specifics of that situation for a second and answer these questions: Were you ever 21? Did you ever make a mistake at that age? Do you think that, if you were making millions of dollars and existed in a massive public fishbowl at that age, you might make the odd error in judgment?
The answer should be “yes.” That’s why there’s something about the relentless negativity surrounding Kane that doesn’t sit right. I’m not pointing to anyone specific when I say this, but I have to say it: some of the criticism hurled at Kane – as well as teammate Dustin Byfuglien and Canadiens star P.K. Subban – is about his race more than his character. It’s what Kane referred to last year when he told THN’s Ken Campbell “a good portion” of the criticism is racially motivated.
The NHL playoffs are famous for their increased physicality, but we’re only three days into the 2014 post-season and the nastiness is already starting to boil over. On Friday night alone, NHLers Jamie Benn and Danny Dekeyser found that out the hard way when both were speared in the groin area by Corey Perry and Milan Lucic respectively.
Lucic attacked the Red Wings defenseman from behind in Detroit’s 1-0 Game One first round win over Boston, jamming his stick into Dekeyser’s lower mid-section. No penalty was called on the play.
With four minutes remaining in Game One of Boston’s first-round playoff series against Detroit, neither team had scored. Then Red Wings star center Pavel Datsyuk put on a one-man clinic to score a dazzling goal – and the only one in a 1-0 win over the Bruins.
Datsyuk began the play by reaching back at his own blueline and corraling the puck in traffic; he then moved quickly up the ice and across Boston’s blueline before beating goalie Tuukka Rask with a perfectly placed wrist shot at the 16:59 mark of the third period.
Since arriving from Calgary in a trade two years ago, Rene Bourque hasn’t lived up to expectations as a member of the Canadiens. But in Game Two of Montreal’s first-round series against Tampa Bay, he scored a nifty little goal that stood up as the game-winner in the Habs’ 4-1 win over the Lightning.
Halfway through the first period, Bourque split Tampa Bay’s defense and delicately pushed the puck to the outside of netminder Anders Lindback for the Canadiens’ second goal of the night. The 32-year-old winger – who added a second goal against Tampa late in the third period of Game Two – had just nine goals and 16 points in 63 games with Montreal this season, but he did have a pair of goals and three points in five post-season games with the Habs last year. He’s matched that goal total in just two playoff games this year and if he can continue producing, star goalie Carey Price will have a lot more room to breathe.