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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Those Damn Homer Refs": Team Edition

A little while ago, I took a look at PIM data and found that there is ample evidence that some players (and player types) receive considerably different treatment at home games than away games.  Guys like Jarome Iginla, Eric Staal, and Ryan Getzlaf have a whopping 75%-80% of their penalties called against them on the road, while Mike Knuble, Rene Bourque, and Mike Richards have 75%-80% of their penalties called against them at home.

While the disparity among players is interesting, I know a lot of you are more interested in the team PIM data.  You see, it's a bit easy to propose that players like Crosby and Ovechkin get the slip at home (which is not the case with Crosby; 56% of his penalties care called on him at home); it's not hard to follow a single player over the course of a game.  But if you really want to let your conspiracy dreams run wild, you need team data, and lots of it.

Now, I've always been one to pester and annoy, and the opportunity to add some fuel to this fire is something I simply can't resist.  Flyers fans, you might want to make sure you're sitting down.  Or at least not near any sharp objects.  Pens fans, you might want to look out for Flyers fans that haven't taken said advice.  Rangers fans, too....

And Toronto...oh man, Toronto...

(Note: Before you try to connect the dots, I want to point out that I do division breakdowns later in the post)

%Minor PIM Called at Home
1.  Philadelphia Flyers - 58.89
2.  St. Louis Blues - 56.4
3.  Ottawa Senators - 56.22
4.  Tampa Bay Lightning - 54.33
5.  Phoenix Coyotes - 52.93
6.  Boston Bruins - 51.98
7. Calgary Flames - 51.47
8. Chicago Blackhawks - 50.76
9. Colorado Avalanche - 49.91
10. Detroit Red Wings - 49.8
11. San Jose Sharks - 49.45
12. Edmonton Oilers - 49.21
13. Anaheim Ducks - 48.7
14. Atlanta Thrashers - 48.57
15. Minnesota Wild - 47.33
16. Buffalo Sabres - 47.23
17. Florida Panthers - 46.14
18. New York Islanders - 45.99
19. Washington Capitals - 45.94
20. Dallas Stars - 45.93
21. New Jersey Devils - 45.84
22. Montreal Canadiens - 45.25
23. Vancouver Canucks - 45.14
24. Nashville Predators - 43.68
25. New York Rangers - 43.06
26. Pittsburgh Penguins - 42.02
27. Columbus Blue Jackets - 41.84
28. Carolina Hurricanes - 41.17
29. Los Angeles Kings - 40.31
30. Toronto Maple Leafs - 37.76

Now, before we go too nuts on some of the teams near the middle, realize that, in general, the league is reffing at an approximate 48-52 split among minor PIM home and away.  In other words, the "homer bias" argument is slightly justified so far this year.  But in general the teams at the middle are not seeing substantive benefits or disadvantages over about 20 of the league's teams.

On the other hand, either end of the spectrum shows that some teams are likely getting some kind of edge or detriment beyond the others.  Toronto and Philadelphia are at impressively far ends, with a difference of 21 percent.

The differences in percentages among the conferences are, in general, pretty negligible, with the Western Conference seeing a 48.19%-51.81% split home and away, and the Eastern showing a 47.36%-52.64% split.  The same can even be said among the divisions; the highest division home PIM % is 48.5%, and the lowest is 47.16%.

What's more interesting is the dynamics within the division averages.  Four of the six divisions contain one team that has ~54% or higher of their minor PIM called against them at home; five of the six divisions have one team that has ~42% or lower.

Atlantic %Minor PIM at Home
Red-Headed Stepchildren: Philadelphia Flyers (58.89%)
The Gravy Train: Pittsburgh Penguins (42.02%)

RHS: Ottawa Senators (56.22%)
Gravy Train: Toronto Maple Leafs (37.76%)

RHS: Tampa Bay Lightning (54.33%)
Gravy Train: Carolina Hurricanes (41.17%)

RHS: St. Louis Blues (56.4%)
Gravy Train: Columbus Blue Jackets (41.84%)

RHS: Calgary Flames (51.47%)
Gravy Train: Vancouver Canucks (45.14%)

RHS: Phoenix Coyotes (52.93%)
Gravy Train: Los Angeles Kings (40.31%)

The Flyers, in fact, singlehandedly keep the Atlantic Division's numbers in line with the other divisions.  Every other team in the Atlantic has 45.99% (Islanders) or less of their PIM assessed at home.  The biggest in-division disparity is in the Northeast, with the difference between the Senators and Leafs a whopping 19 percent.

It will be interesting, in the future, to bring this data over a longer span of time and see if there are any trends.  What's most concerning to me is that a.) Flyers fans have another reason to be pissed, b.) Flyers fans can't complain about Crosby getting preferential treatment, which will compound the piss-itude of the previous problem, and c.) my Rangers are getting preferential treatment and still suck.  So there's that.

The last thing I want to say is this: in the NHL, the power play has returned to its early 90s strength as a legitimate opportunity.  Some teams will take more penalties, and that's fine.  But the homerism has to at least be in balance, if not consciously eliminated altogether.  When a team is getting called nearly 1/3 less at home than away, it's getting ridiculous.  When a team is at a near 15 percent disadvantage compared to the rest of its division, it's getting ridiculous.  In general, if further research uncovers trends that re-affirm these disparities, the NHL must develop a response.  There are too many teams that literally cannot afford losing seasons.

P.S. If you want any individual player data, let me know in the comments and I'll get back to you.


  1. Got to add in the Auger factor into Vancouver's Gravy Train. And the subsequent referee favoritism thereafter so as not to show any bias.

  2. Shouldn't there normally be a bias towards more penalties called against the visiting team? The reason for this is not the refs home bias, but the fact that most teams often play better at home than they do away. Meaning they should take less penalties as they spend more time attacking compared to when they play away. A 2-3% bias in favor for the home teams as it is now seems logical in that light, generally speaking. (the PHI, TOR stats are kinda crazy still)

  3. Really, I'm not too concerned about the general lean towards more penalties called on visiting teams. As long as that treatment is consistent, no big deal. But yeah, when you're getting into Philly and Toronto territory, there's just too much advantage being given (especially considering we're like 2/3 through the season).

  4. It'd be interesting to see the differences in powerplays as opposed to PIMs.


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