NHL Playoffs: Penalty Calls Favour US Teams

Maybe the Canadian teams play dirtier; perhaps they’re sloppier; or, just unlucky.

But the FACTS show that, in the first 11 games (till Monday midnight), Canada’s teams in the First Round of the NHL playoffs are on the losing end of Penalty calls.

I had been watching … and feeling frustrated as I often do when I tune in to Canadian NHL teams taking on their American rivals: seemed to me that the number of Penalty calls were … uneven, to put it politely.

So I went over the Official NHL Statistics Tuesday morning … in First Round games featuring Canadian vs American teams, so far.

Here are the FACTS:

In 11 games played to date: Canadian teams received MORE Penalties than their US counterparts in SEVEN games; US teams received MORE Penalties in THREE games; and, in only one game, were the Penalty calls equal.

In fact, in the Calgary Flames vs Dallas Stars series, there has not been a single game yet of the four played where the US team has had more Penalty calls than their Canadian rival. NOT ONE, in the entire series!

I’ll leave to the professional Sports “reporters” … are they’re any out there who aren’t just cheerleaders?… to assess/calculate/determine how many goals were scored short-handed during any of the games played so far and thus may have affected game outcomes

Admittedly, I’m no sports or refereeing expert: just a spectator and a retired journalist who spent 12 years in print and 26 years in television news … much of it covering politics (municipal, regional, provincial and eight years on Parliament Hill) so I’m a bit cynical! Untrusting of anyone in charge 🙂

But I watch … and hate unfairness. I think I still suffer PTSD from the early years of watching refereeing when Canada played Russia/European teams in International Hockey!

Nevertheless, I won’t argue that ANY of the Penalties called against Canadian teams so far in Round One have been unfairly handed out: let’s assume they have ALL been justifiable calls.

But clearly there IS a gap!!!

When SEVEN of the 11 games played so far have given a Penalty advantage to US teams, I worry.

Are the Canadian teams and so many of their players so much more GUILTY of dirty, sloppy, amateurish, incompetent play? Are the American teams cleaner, better, more sportsmanlike prudent players?

I doubt it!!!

When I watch, I see all kinds of what I believe are UNCALLED penalties (TV commentators have even pointed some of them out) that the Referees are missing.

“Tripping”, I have shouted at the TV; “Interference” I have yelled … but no one was listening.

But now my own admittedly biased point of view is backed up by the STATISTICS: in Round One so far, Canadian teams ARE consistently having more Penalties called against them.

The numbers don’t lie: ELEVEN games; SEVEN in which the Penalty advantage has gone to US teams; only THREE to Canadian teams.

Is there a bias? Or harsher standard? Or subliminal preference?

Readers of this Blog will recall that as far back as 2010 and again in 2012 I have Blogged that I felt the NHL was so intent on developing and building up its US presence/market/base that Canadian teams/fans were paying the price.

I argued at that time that I felt the last thing owners would likely want to see would be an NHL final pitting one Canadian team against another. The BIG bucks are in building up the TV viewing base … and advertising revenues … in the US markets.

And surely, the Referees would have been aware of that: no one had to tell them. Just as any of us who work for any large corporation would be aware of where the company’s main expansion focus or favorite customers were, without declaring who/where were less important .

Those were just my own sentiments reflecting my own bias watching as a Canadian fan.

But NOW there are actual statistics … and they make me worry even more.

Harv Oberfeld

(Reminder: You can get First Alerts of this Canadian Blog by following @harveyoberfeld on Twitter. And remember, Comments on topics raised are welcome!)

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19 Responses to NHL Playoffs: Penalty Calls Favour US Teams

  1. Horace B. says:

    Mr. Oberfeld: Any right thinking Canadian will agree with you.
    And right now is the time for action. I’ve already sent your column to relatives but I don’t think that is enough.
    I’d like to see a cartoon with with a Canadian team facing against an American team with a squad of big mean looking Refs on their side. Any political cartoonists amongst your readership?
    Let us tease the heck out of our American cousins.

    (Response: I’m surprised no one in the Sports “world” has caught onto this. I know the coaches or team brass or even the players will say anything, but where are the fans, the Sports columnists , all the radio types and sports stations that “analyze” sports and stats all day and sometimes all night long? SEVEN games vs THREE: certainly worth at least talking about … and it may even result in more even calls! h.o)

  2. nonconfidencevote says:

    Lets face it.
    The ONLY reason this Stanley Cup Playoff “season” exists at all is due to tv.

    The TV sponsers threatened to pull their billions if the season didnt play out as was contractually obligated by the NHL and the owners.

    If the finals are between two Canadian teams……..poof goes the viewership.

    Fair officiating? I’m sure the refs are worried about their jobs and know how to string out the games………

    Not to worry.
    Stanley Cup “Finally” will be exciting…..with or without Canadian teams.
    Since most of the players are ….still…..Canadian.

    (Response: I wonder what the ratings …. and the revenues … would be in the US on NBC and ESPN if the Finals were between Montreal and Vancouver or Calgary, as opposed to Dallas vs Philly. Hopefully, we’ll soon find out! h.o)

  3. nonconfidencevote says:

    I dare say….. if a US team or both teams are American.
    The ratings will be through the roof.
    The NHL wont squander a golden opportunity to grab bored, sports starved, US viewers.

    TV money decides the winner!

    Steven King’s novel. The Running Man was a cynical example of what we are devolving into.
    Circus Maximus ….on tv.

    (Response: I can’t blame the US owners or broadcasters or advertisers for wanting a US playoff final, but the refereeing … and the number of penalties assessed each side …should be at least close to equal. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I don’t see SEVEN to THREE as even close. h.o)

  4. hawgwash says:

    I haven’t watched any; so what were the total penalty minutes, per side and were there any five on threes?
    How many power play goals?

    (Response: You can check all that out on http://www.NHL.com … every penalty, every goal, every game when you have a few free hours to collate it all. h.o)

  5. nvg says:

    Nationality of Vancouver Canuck players (they’re not all Canadians)(they’re not all Americans) a few Europeans ….

    Nationality of Referees, who call the penalties? Not all are Americans

    As to ….. “I’ll leave to the professional Sports “reporters” … are they’re any out there who aren’t just cheerleaders?…” OUCH!!

    …. journalists … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NHL_on_Sportsnet_commentators
    eg. John Shorthouse https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Shorthouse
    How many are Americans?

    (Response: I personally don’t think it matters at all where the players (or referees or coaches) are from: I believe it’s about the TEAMS and broadcast appearance, audience appeal and ultimately advertising revenues. I really stand by my opinion, held for years now, that the NHL owners and executives prefer seeing two US based teams in the finals, rather than two Canadian teams. If that is indeed the case, no one has to tell the referees: they understand the modern NHL is primarily about BUSINESS, not SPORT and at least subliminally the penalty figures so far seem to support that possibility…. or it’s quite a coincidence that the calls in ALL three Canada/US team series are lopsided. h.o)

  6. Steve Cooley says:

    Years ago arena organists were banned from playing “Three Blind Mice”. Is it time to allow that jingle to be heard at home key games again?

    (Response: No …because that would mean we believe they aren’t seeing things. I think it’s worse than that … I believe they they SEE infractions but for whatever reasons, the numbers sure make it look like they are not calling them as frequently when committed by US teams. h.o)

  7. DBW says:

    You might be on to something Harvey. I read somewhere that the NHL was rigged. In fact a lot of people are saying it is rigged. Canadian teams don’t lose unless the system is rigged. That’s what I heard anyway.

    Gary Bettman became commissioner in Feb of 1993 and his plot took form that year. An underdog Los Angeles Kings led by Wayne Gretzky beat Calgary, Vancouver, and Toronto to reach the final. Somehow they were thwarted by Montreal in that final series but nary a Canadian team has won since. Coincidence?

    And it’s not just the referees that subliminally understand that the games should be won by American cities. It’s the players as well. That’s why Roberto Luongo had such a poor series against Boston in 2011 He understood that Boston was supposed to win and played accordingly. At least that’s what I heard.

    What I don’t understand is those worthless Canadian journalists who are sitting on this story. Are they so busy cheerleading for their team that they can’t see the scandal that is being played out in front of them. Shameful.

    (Response: I would not say anything is actively “rigged” on the ice: that’s pretty strong stuff! I think it’s more like preferential/easier treatment, maybe even exercised unconsciously ..like some favoured kids used to consistently get in school, although the teacher(s) maybe didn’t even realize it. But the stats, collated over several games, expose actual bias …or amazing coincidence. As for the players, I can’t see ANY of them being involved in anything along those lines: after all, the further they go in the Playoffs, the more money they get …and we’re talking big bucks, that not one would sacrifice to attract more viewers in another market. h.o)

  8. G. Barry Stewart says:

    In Game 2, the Blues got away with two dirty checks from behind — one which cost the Canucks a player, Tyler Myers.

    The Canucks have had good power play opportunities in Games 3 and 4 but the Blues seem to have a shutdown plan.

    I don’t know what the refs would have done if the Canucks had pulled ahead. I’d say the calls against the Canucks have mostly been deserved… but yes: the no calls can be gifts to the Blues. They don’t need any gifts.

    (Response: As I noted in my Blog piece, I’m prepared to accept that all penalties called against the Canadian teams have been totally justifiable. However, when after 11 games, only ONE game had equal penalties called …and SEVEN of the remaining TEN saw more penalties called against the Canadian teams, compared to US teams … it can raise the question of whether the Canadian teams just play dirtier, sloppier etc or whether/why refs are somehow “missing” penalties by US teams??? To me personally, in view of the great discrepancy, it stinks. h.o)

  9. Betty Johnson says:

    I agree Harvey. The referees seem to call every infraction on the Canucks but ignored some pretty obvious infractions by the Blues. As a long suffering Canucks fan, I am more than a little biased. Lol.
    Gary Bettman’s worst nightmare would be an all Canadian Stanley Cup final. It would please me to no end to watch him suffer through one.
    Go Canucks!

    (Response: I watched parts of both the Vancouver the Montreal games and again was not impressed that the officiating was fair and equal in either. Admittedly I’m no expert, BUT I could not believe what I think I saw: a Canadiens player received a double penalty plus a game misconduct for a hit that caused a small cut on the head of a Philly player … seemed excessive to me; especially when later in the game a Canadiens player was hit square in the face, lost lots of blood and the announcers said teeth as well … yet no call. I just don’t get it … or maybe I do! h.o)

  10. DBW says:

    OK Harvey this is all fun – nothing like attacking the referees during the playoffs and complaining that your favourites are being unfairly treated – but let’s get real.

    This is your argument: Based on an 11 game sample, you concluded that there is some kind of conspiracy against Canadian teams. You’re not sure if it is subliminal with the refs but you are certain that the league does not want an all-Canadian final so something must be afoot.

    Is that about right?

    Since you wrote this, there have been three more games. All three games, the American team received more penalties. So now with a 14 game sample, the difference is 7-6 with a tie. Would your argument be as strong, if you had waited two days?

    Here are the penalty stats for the regular season sorted by minor penalties. Note that Vancouver is the most penalized Canadian team tied at 9th. Ottawa 11th. Calgary tied at 14th. Montreal at 18th. Toronto, Edmonton, and Winnipeg way down the list. Does this look like a list of teams being unfairly penalized? Or is this conspiracy just during the playoffs.


    Like I say Harvey, this is all fun. And I won’t even say you are wrong. Stranger things have happened. But that is what is frustrating about conspiracy theories. We don’t have to have a whole lot of evidence. We just have to think that it is possible. And if it fits our own narrative then we will believe it and find evidence to support it.

    (Response: Clearly the refs have read my blog! Glad I could help. 🙂 As for the regular season, that does not count: it’s the Playoffs where the biggest bucks are … and everyone … that’s EVERYONE ..is aware that an all-Canadian Final would be disastrous for ratings and revenues in the huge US market. Can’t wait for some retired official to write a tell-all book clearing up the mystery … as long as he’s a Canadian referee! h.o)

  11. DBW says:

    Here we go Harvey, the 15 hockey conspiracy theories that MIGHT actually be true.


    Scroll to #8 The playoffs are rigged to keep big market teams in longer.
    Sort of your idea but according to this theory big market teams include the Leafs. Here are the most watched Stanley Cup finals.


    Notice anything. Except for Tampa Bay, all are big market teams including Vancouver and Montreal. And I am guessing that the Ranger/Canuck series of 1994 would have replaced the Tampa series if American TV had broadcast those games.

    So no doubt league officials want a series that people will watch but that doesn’t mean a Canadian team can’t be in there, especially one led by Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid or the bunch of kids on the Canucks.

    Now scroll to #5
    Canadian teams get calls in their favour to boost playoff ratings.
    OK I will just LOL at that one, not just because it is silly but because it is the opposite of your theory. Two conflicting conspiracy theories. I think I will believe both of them because

    Scroll to #2
    Referees call penalties to make the games more exciting.
    There you go. The stars of the game are the referees and their puppetmaster Vince McMahon aka Gary Bettman.

    Anyway Harvey fun topic. But if you are worried about any kind of conspiracy against Canadian teams just remember this aphorism apparently attributed to Napoleon

    Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.

    Sure there are horrible calls but I am guessing they are spread out pretty evenly. And if they are not and you actually believe the games are unfairly weighted against Canadian teams, why would you even bother to watch.

    (Response: Actually although this “Bias Theory 7/11” is my own 2020 SCOOP!! … there have been MANY negative stories/analyses about NHL officiating… going back years. Just Google the topic. And as they say, where there’s smoke … there are lots of hockey “fans”. h.o)

  12. max avelli says:

    Obviously it must be a conspiracy, even though all games are being played in Canada.

    So there have been a total 11 games played between Canadian and American teams in Round 1 of the playoffs (through Monday, which is already outdated).

    So the Canadian team took more penalties in 7 of 11 games, the US Team in 3, and one a tie.

    Point 1) What was the penalty difference overall?

    Point 2) So we have a sample size of 11.

    If you polled 11 people and 7 said they were voting for the Conservatives, 3 for the Liberals, and one was undecided, would you conclude that the electorate was decidedly in favour of the Conservatives. I would hope not.

    Come back on this one when you have something other than addle-minded conspiracy theories to harp on.

    Oh, and

    GO CANUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Horace B. says:

    I don’t know how to look up stats for penalties in previous series. If the information is available, I don’t know how to retrieve it.
    Although hearsay, I’ve been told by 2 hockey experts that in our previous Stanley Cup run we had more penalties than our opponents. Where to go to verify?
    As for the “Conspiracy Theory” put-down, used as a rhetorical technique: Who doesn’t conspire, keeping secrets from your children, your spouse, some friends? Mankind is the conspiring species.
    It only takes three to make a conspiracy. Two to conspire and one to be conspired against (this needs cleaning up but should be a maxim).

    (Response: No idea ..and frankly no interest in spending a lot of time in going back over previous series. I think it’s good that we let the NHL know “fans” are watching … and noticing. Especially since a Google search shows that impartiality concerns have been raised several times over the years. h.o)

  14. DBW says:

    The origin of conspiracy theories.

    Someone has a gut feeling.(NHL refs are biased against Canadian teams. )
    Using a miniscule set of data (11 games) that proves the gut feeling, it is proposed as fact.
    Some people with the same gut feeling jump on board.
    When asked for further data, (it is no longer 7-3 in favour of American teams; it is 8-7), original theorist says not interested in researching but there is stuff all over the internet and a lot of people are saying. https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691188836/a-lot-of-people-are-saying

    Horace, here are the stats from the 2011 series.

    Boston 179 penalty minutes vs Vancouver 160 penalty minutes.

    For this season, I just google nhl scores. I get a screen with all the games of this year’s playoffs. Click on a game. Scroll to the bottom and there is a link for more info. On that page, click on team stats and you get penalty minutes, PP stats, and other stuff in an easy to read format.

    It is a bit of a pain though, so I will save you 15 minutes. I checked the preliminary round games (Van/Min; Tor/CBJ and Ed/Chi). In 17 games, the Canadian teams were penalized more often in 9; the American in 6. I am starting to lose track but seems to be a total for the playoffs so far to be Canada 17 the US 13 with 3 ties. Which is actually statistically insignificant. With 30 coin flips you are going to get 15 heads only 14% of the time. If you want to determine if a coin (or refs) are showing bias you would need hundreds of flips (games). Go for it if you want.

    Now some of you may be wondering why I care about this. I really don’t watch hockey and don’t have a favourite team. I would be fascinated if this conspiracy existed. So why do I care? Simple: Facts and evidence matter.
    Bias surrounds us. We all have it. But it should be based on reasonable facts not gut feeling.

    Harvey, there are some questions about refs and impartiality, but the evidence seems to be vendettas against individual players or make up calls after a team has been penalized etc. An NBA ref was sent to jail for making calls that influenced the point spread not the actual outcome of the game. I can find no credible site on the internet that suggests a league wide bias against Canadian teams. If you have one I would be interested to read it.

    (Response: Actually, your figures make me even more paranoid! You wrote:” the Canadian teams were penalized more often in 9; the American in 6. I am starting to lose track but seems to be a total for the playoffs so far to be Canada 17 the US 13 with 3 ties.” CLEARLY the American teams have been getting an advantage, whether it is a coincidence or not! And in very, very tight playoffs, even a little advantage can count a lot. Haven’t you noticed how many goals are scored with penalty advantages? Our national heritage is being paralyzed …stolen. Canada should take this to the UN! 🙂 h.o)

  15. DBW says:

    LOL. national heritage paralyzed Take it to the UN. Well played Harvey, well played. I really thought you were serious about this topic. You strung us (me particularly) superbly. Now, I have to wonder if you were serious about the fascists on the Parks Board or the anti-Semites in the Green Party, or the bias at the CBC or the opening of the border or whatever you write next. But seriously, well played on this one.

    (Response: I am serious … the officiating is indeed a concern. However, no need to be glum about it: especially when you consider what else is going on in the world. As for the other issues you mentioned … VERY serious … and proven correct! The Vancouver Park Board is run fascist style by the Greens/COPE … in my view, blindly devoted to their pro-bike anti-car ideology and almost totally oblivious to suffering and discrimination they’ve inflicted on the “untermenschen” like elderly and the handicapped and even families who don’t want to or can’t run/cycle/hike the entire park to get to sites they used to enjoy. And I hope you notice that AFTER i Blogged about their antics four times, people finally woke up to what was going on and now thousands have signed petitions, lawsuits are threatened and the hurt, heartache and suffering the fascists have caused on the “people” is all over the radio/tv almost every week.
    As for the Greens, the revelations of anti-Semitism and bigotry WITHIN the party did not come from me …but from one of their own leadership candidates. How can those miscreants be allowed to stay in the party??? Because the federal radical left GREENS are soft on anti-Semitism, have a proven record in that regard ,and clearly NOT rooted it out! Do you think any party member who attacked a leadership candidate for being black or Muslim or Indigenous would still be in the party???? Absolutely not! The federal GREENS reek of anti-Semitism.
    Re the CBC … anyone watching with a critical mind will soon and easily conclude it is the unofficial voice of the NDP … pushing left wing agenda. Conservative viewpoints and values are rarely … and never equally …featured in its news coverage, panels or story/topic selections.
    The border: notice it is currently closed until Sept 21: I suggested a partial opening, with quarantines, start being allowed in SEPTEMBER. Watch for it! Now back to my UN complaint: it’s Human Rights Council is waiting. h.o)

  16. G. Barry Stewart says:

    Well, the Canucks have proven that the refs don’t determine the outcome of a series!

    This is one heck of an exciting team to watch.

    (Response: It was a good game to watch. But who knows, maybe with more equal calling of penalties in the first ELEVEN playoff games, another Canadian team or two would still be around! h.o)

  17. max avelli says:

    And yet the Canucks, a middling team during the regular season, knocked off the defending Stanley Cup Champions in the First Round of the Playoffs.

    Conspiracy theories should be left to die with Trump’s re-election hopes.

  18. hawgwash says:

    The only thing that is clear about this topic is, more of Mr. Oberfeld’s followers are interested in a perceived, crooked lot of NHL referees, than anti-Semites and reopening borders. By a huge fact based margin.

    I have to agree with DBW, ahhhgain, that this is just some kind of lampoonery and also question if all Keeping it Real blogs, haven’t been created by an Alfred E. Newman alum; or at least the last several.

    One clue to me, is the Murdoch headline stated as fact to grab attention, where no facts exist, except for a very small sample with an exceedingly high rate of error.

    Another clue is the anti-US slant.

    Back in the “OPEN Canada’s Borders…” blog, I offered a dissenting opinion, only to be SHOUTED AT and told that without facts, I was/am xenophobic.

    It seems to me, this blog fits that bill. very nicely.

    DBW said “well played” and I suppose at the most naked, fundamental level, it is, but I’m concerned it incites an ugly, ref bashing turn of mind, which an already angry crowd of SUV hockey moms, will latch onto.

    Could they gather at a US CBP, newly installed south Langley border fence, to burn US flags and striped shirts?

    RIP Alan Fotheringham, the last of a great batch of Canadian journalists.
    May he not turn over in his grave.

    (Response: The truth too hard to face? So you invent your own “facts”? Where did I ever write anything about gathering at the border, burning US flags, and striped shirts … you’re just being silly. And how can suggesting limited re-opening of our border to be anti-American? As for “no facts” … did you miss the actual STATISTICS quoted re NHL refereeing ? Or just ignore them to fit your own bias. h.o)

  19. nvg says:

    Expo fires youth PRO

    Montreal (CUP) – A student newspaperman who exposed at Sir George Williams University, was approached last year by the committee and offered the post of public information officer.

    Harvey Oberfield, a reporter at the Georgian, student paper at Sir George Williams University, was approached last year by the committee and offered the post of public information officer.

    But when 13 of 14 executive staff members appointed turned out to be French-Canadians, the reporter got off the Expo bandwagon.

    He then wrote a letter to the Montreal newspaper condemning this action as discriminatory, urging that action be taken to rectify further paid appointements.

    The matter was raised in the House of Commons, when Robert Coates questioned trade minister Robert Winters as to the validity of the letter.

    Meanwhile, Oberfield received a letter from the youth advisory committee informing him he had been sacked.

    The Ubyssey 1967-02-10

    Note Ubyssey spelling of Oberfeld as Oberfield

    (Response: Not sure why you brought this forward, but Thank You! As I look back on my early life, it was one of my proudest stands: born and raised in Montreal, I had never ever been West of Ottawa; as a volunteer university student participant on the Youth Committee I was up for a nice “inside” office Summer job at the Expo 67 Youth Pavilion after having saved it from being cancelled for lack of funds …. BUT when I saw that NOT A SINGLE WESTERN CANADIAN or Maritimer had been included in the “host” hirings, I objected, got nowhere, went public and, yes, it was raised in the House of Commons. I got fired from the Youth Committee for going public without board approval … in other words, approval from the discriminatingly culprits(LOL!). However, after it was raised in the Commons, the pavilion got extra federal funding and then DID hire six additional “hosts” from the West and the Maritimes. I felt so proud! And by the way, I got another job at the World’s Fair …loved every minute of it …and was elected there to my first ever Union position! 🙂 h.o)

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