November 30, 2009
It has become hockey gospel that NHL referees call more penalties on road teams than home teams, but to see it broken down zebra-by-zebra like Japers' Rink and Behind The Net have today is eye-popping.
Gabriel Desjardins discovered that Mark Faucette (retired), Rob Shick (retired) and Bill McCreary (active) were the biggest homers, with their "homer bias" far beyond any of their peers. (How "McCreary" became forever married to "sucks" despite this love for the natives is beyond our comprehension.)
JP found that referee Mike Hasenfratz called 13.41-percent more road team penalties than home team penalties over the course of 558 games, while Bill McCreary was at 11.75 percent in 1,117 games. From Japers:
It's worth noting that it includes both pre-and post-lockout games and one- and two-man refereed matches. But whether we're talking "new" NHL with it's heightened enforcement of the rules on the books or the not-so-freewheelin' '90s shouldn't make a difference when we're looking at which team is getting whistled more. Neither should whether a referee was on his own calling a game (though obviously the calls made are not fully within one man's control in games with two referees)...but it does, albeit the difference is small.
McCreary, for example, doled out 10.0% more penalty minutes to visiting teams than he did to home teams in the 365 games analyzed in which he was the only referee and there was a 12.9% difference in games in which he had a partner, and that differential is pretty much in line with the overall difference here - visiting teams were assessed 6.74% more penalty minutes than their hosts in dual-reffed games and 4.26% more when only one referee was out there.
Interesting stuff, but our focus wasn't on guys like McCreary-- it was on the guys who call it more "evenly" than they probably should.
In other words, the problem isn't homers -- it's "roaders."
For example, check out these guys via JP's numbers:
Behind The Net reaffirms Devo's stats, with Devorski's "homer bias" at minus-0.74.
As both bloggers note, there logically should be more penalties called against a road team than a home team because that's the essence of home-ice advantage.
Home teams have greater swings in momentum, thanks to the energy of the building, forcing road teams into a defensive posture that leads to more penalties. Home teams have the last change for better offensive and/or defensive matchups. There's no such thing as a "road stand," either, so the home team is naturally going to be more focused and rested.
We also know -- and by no means is this tinfoil hat territory, but accepted hockey dogma -- that referees will sometimes call games based on their own invented storyline: "Make-up" calls and momentum-changing calls and those pesky late-game power plays that always seem to come the home team's way if it needs a goal late in the third, before the whistle is buried for the rest of the game. Anyone that's watched the NHL for more than 10 minutes understands this; and even the ones 9-minutes-or-less have their suspicions.
So while homers like McCreary should rightfully be spotlighted for their inequitable rule enforcement, it's almost a greater sin for referees like Devorski and Dwyer to be so far below the average (5.82 percent more road PIM than home PIM, according to JP).
With all the inherent advantages for the home team, to have the percentage difference be that minuscule is an indication that someone is working really, really hard to portray a sense of evenhandedness when it should be anything but even.