Penalty Calls and the Calgary Flames

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 1:08 am by RexLibris

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(Charles LeClaire / USA Today Sports)

I don’t believe in the Wideman curse.

It isn’t that I refuse to acknowledge that the Flames are being penalized more heavily this season than last, but rather it is that I don’t believe it is entirely due to the incident where Dennis Wideman cross checked Don Henderson into the boards. 

Kerry Fraser wrote a piece in late January responding directly to the question of whether the Flames are being unfairly targeted by the officials because of Wideman. I’ve recommended it to not only Flames fans, but fans of any team. 

But back to the Wideman curse, the Flames are simultaneously receiving more penalties than any other team in the league (ahead of Colorado by 0.03 penalty kills per game) and being penalized at around a league-average rate of 18%. 

How is that possible? 

They are committing a greater number of infractions. 

This season I have tracked a number of Flames games for
penalty infractions committed by both the Flames and their opponents, logging
those infractions which were called and which were uncalled.

I did something similar at the end of last season and
decided to repeat it again this season but over a longer period.

In all I logged data on twelve games, or roughly 15% of the
entire Flames’ season, and compared that data to an equal or greater number of
non-Flames games from around the NHL. (Be warned – image-heavy after the jump.)

The games included in this review are the following:

Oct 18 vs Buffalo

Oct 24 vs Chicago

Oct 28 vs Ottawa

Nov 10 vs Dallas

Nov 16 vs Arizona

Nov 21 vs Buffalo

Nov 27 vs Philadelphia

Dec 27 vs Colorado

Jan 6 vs Vancouver

Jan 14 vs Edmonton

Jan 17 vs Florida

Jan 21 vs Edmonton

Feb 21 vs Nashville

I tried to get an even split of Eastern and Western
conference teams, teams both in and outside of the Pacific Division and across
the spectrum of strength of opposition.

For those unfamiliar with my methodology, here’s what I do:

I record a random sampling of games and review every played
minute, rewinding multiple times as the situation requires, in order to
identify infractions, the severity and the two parties involved.

I use the NHL’s own
rulebook
 when assessing whether an infraction has occurred,
putting it into one of two categories, Physical or Technical, and then
assigning a severity ranking of phantom, weak, fair or obvious, as well as the
time of the infraction and the jersey number of the player who committed the
infraction and against whom it was committed. All infractions are marked as
either Called or Missed.

This provides a rolling picture of the officiating process
that takes place in a game, and gives us an idea specifically of whether one
team was penalized more than their opposition, relative to the number of
infractions committed.

Here is my coding criteria:

Missed (M) or Called (C), depending
on whether the infraction was a called penalty or not.

Physical infractions (P) include
elbowing, cross-checking, slashing, high-sticking, boarding, hits to the head,
charging, kneeing and such.

Technical infractions (T) include
interference, tripping, hooking, holding the stick, delay of game, and so on.

Severity (0, 1, 2, 3)

• 0 is a phantom call.
• 1 is a weak call of the sort that I wouldn’t want routinely enforced because
it would distract from the physicality and emotion of the game.
• 2 is a fair called, an earned penalty that fits the letter of the law and is
apparent enough to warrant being enforced.
• 3 is a blatant or obvious call, an egregious infraction within sight of the
officials (presumably, at least) whose not being called is an act in and of
itself.

I record the kind of infraction committed; high-sticking,
interference, elbowing, cross-checking, slashing, and so on.

I add the time of the event using the game clock and the
jersey numbers of the players involved.

So a missed slashing infraction by Corey Perry on Sam
Bennett might look something like this: M, 2P Sl, 10, 93, 15:54.

Altogether, the percentage of times a penalty is called
compared to how often it isn’t I refer to as a Rate of Call (RoC).

I’ll be posting raw game data at the conclusion of the
article so that anyone interested in reviewing it can do so.

There is a lot of ground to cover here, so let’s get
started.

Summary Findings

The graph below demonstrates the difference in the number of penalties called to either the Flames or their opposition based on the type and severity of each penalty, graded against an equal sized data set I collected from NHL games that did not feature either the Flames or the Oilers. 

The red line indicates how often the Flames would be penalized for a particular type of infraction, the black line the Flames’ opposition, and the gray line is the league average as determined by my control group. The Flames are close to league average in every category save the 3P category, egregious physical fouls. The Flames’ opposition, by comparison, is penalized far more often than the Flames or the league average when committing 2P infractions, fairly earned physical fouls. 

RoC

In collecting data on rule infractions I determine the percentage of times that a team is penalized for a particular family of infractions (technical or physical ranked by severity, ie: 2P, 3T, etc). This helps to wade through the mountains of information and generalize some events enough that we can see patterns without losing the details that give them context.

In the end what I come up with is what I call a Rate of Call. Essentially it is taking the number of penalties meted out within a particular grouping, say 3P (blatant physical fouls) and then dividing that by the total number of those infractions committed, both called and uncalled. This tells you, again in general terms, how often an infraction from that range is likely to be called.

It is by no means perfect, but it does help to weed out some of the situational circumstances which can blind the observer from making an objective call on the information.

For interests’ sake, I checked and Sam Bennett was the most likely Flame to commit an infraction in those games that were reviewed while Matthew Tkachuk was the most likely to be targeted by the opposition.

Below are charts that indicate the difference in infractions, called and uncalled, between the Flames and their opposition over the course of the games in question. With the two pie charts below, the important thing to look for is the relative similarity of halves between the two charts, showing that penalties that were called were more or less in line with the infractions that were committed by the Flames and their opponents. 

Totals

Here are some raw numbers to put everything above into perspective. The charts above will suggest that the Flames are running about even with their opposition in terms of penalties, but the eye-test says that the Flames generally receive more penalties than their opposition. This is because the Flames commit a higher number of infractions than their opposition. 

In other words, the Flames and their opponents both get called on 18% of the infractions they commit, but if the Flames commit 10 they’ll get 2 penalties while if their opposition commits 5 they’ll probably only get 1 penalty.  

Types Called and Uncalled

This table takes the numbers above and combines it with the above line chart that shows where the Flames and their opposition rate on the likelihood of being penalized for a particular family of infraction relative to what I’m observing from around the rest of the league. 

RoC Type Table Avgs

In Conclusion

It appears to me that the Flames are being more heavily penalized this season because they are committing a greater number of punishable infractions. Under Bob Hartley the Flames played what I call a positionally aggressive system wherein they would forecheck heavily in the offensive zone and press closely on the opposition players with the puck in their own defensive zone, taking away time and space.

Under Glen Gulutzan I would suggest they have retained that aggressiveness but are applying it with less discipline and distinction between being in position and simply being aggressive. Perhaps some of this is due to some players being out of position at times and resorting to committing infractions in order to regain a level of competitive advantage or to defuse an opposition possession.

The much-discussed Wideman effect, does not readily appear in the data. However, Kerry Fraser’s opinion on this matter, outlined in the linked article, was that an official would not necessarily target a player by way of manufactured calls, but that that player would likely receive less situational leeway (ie: instead of a warning to stop holding an opponent the player is penalized, or that slashes are called by the book rather than separating what was intentional from merely within the flow of the game). Rarely does it extend to an entire team, in Fraser’s view, but that again, in those cases an official is more likely to call the rules by the book rather than fabricate penalties or focus solely on that team’s actions.

In the end, the Flames are an aggressive team built with that characteristic in mind. From what I have observed they are being treated as fairly by the officials as most any other within the NHL. As such, the penalties they have received this season they have largely earned by their own actions.

Game-by-Game

The following is the game-by-game data I collected along with some quick information on each such as the most “active” Flames player to commit infractions and the Flame most targeted by the opposition. 

Oct 18 vs Buffalo – 4-3 win, referees were Graham Skilliter
and Brad Meier.

Bennett committed the greatest number of fouls while
Gaudreau was the most frequently targeted by the opposition. Overall, a curious
game as the two teams combined for 13 penalties on only 33 committed
infractions. CGY was called on 29% of their infractions, Buffalo on 58% of
theirs.

Buffalo Oct18

Buffalo Table Oct 18

Oct 24 vs Chicago – 3-2 win, referees were Marc Joanette and
Wes McCauley.

Matt Stajan was the instigator for the Flames while Versteeg
was the most oft-targeted Flame. Flames committed 34 uncalled infractions
drawing 2 penalties (6%). The Hawks committed 20 and were called on another 5
(20%).

Chicago Oct 24

Chicago Oct 24 Table

Oct 28 vs Ottawa – 5-2 win, referees were Dan O’Rourke and
Kevin Pollock.

Kris Versteeg led the way in a largely infraction-free match
while Frolik was the most-targeted Flame by the Senators. Infractions were few,
despite the penalties handed out as Flames committed 14 and were penalized 4
times (22%) while Senators committed 15 infractions and were penalized 2 times
on top of that (12%).

Ottawa

Ottawa Table

Nov 10 vs Dallas – 3-2 loss, referees were Trevor Hanson,
Tom Kowal.

Most active Flames player, either by committing or as victim
of, infractions was Alex Chiasson. Flames committed 22 uncalled infractions,
received 5 penalties (19%) while the Stars committed 19 infractions and were
penalized 4 more times as well (17%).

Dallas

Dallas Table

Nov 16 vs Arizona – 2-1 win, referees were Dan O’Halloran
and Ghislain Hebert.

I’m just going to say this now. There are two teams I
absolutely hate tracking for infractions. Arizona is one, Anaheim the other.
For reasons that will become apparent in a moment.

The Flames guilty of committing the most fouls was Frolik
while the Flames on the receiving end was Backlund. Now, about that…Backlund
was relatively quiet for a large stretch of the game until the final few minutes
wherein the Coyotes were pushing for a goal and he was on the receiving end of five
infractions (3 slashes, 2 cross-checks) between 9:49 and 6:00 remaining in the
3rd period, all but one of them being an obvious (severity 3)
infraction.

That sort of play is one of the reasons for my distaste for
reviewing Arizona games. They slow down the process requiring repeated
rewinding and rewatching to determine the culprits, nature and severity of the
infractions.

Be that as it may, the Flames committed 27 uncalled
infractions and were penalized on 4 more (13%) while the Coyotes committed 34
uncalled infractions yet also received 4 penalties (11%).  

Arizona

Arizona Table

Nov 21 vs Buffalo – 4-2 loss, referees were Trevor Hanson
and Tim Peel.

This is the first logged game where Tkachuk appears as the
Flame with the most number of committed infractions, called or uncalled. Mark
Giordano was the most-targeted Flame in this game.

The Flames committed 32 uncalled infractions, the vast
majority of them physical fouls (21 in total) and were penalized 7 times as a
result (18%). The Sabres committed 24 uncalled infractions and were penalized 3
times (11%).

The majority of those penalties occurred in the 2nd
period (9 of 10) with five straight called between 11:18 and 7:07 (1 against
the Sabres, the remaining 4 against the Flames). All were earned or obvious
calls (roughing, slashing, slashing, tripping, interference).

Buffalo 2

Buffalo 2 Table

Nov 27 vs Philadelphia – 5-3 loss, referees were Dan
O’Rourke and Kendrick Nicholson.

This was the period when Tkachuk had begun to be noticed
around the league, and not necessarily in a complimentary fashion. He was the
Flames player with the highest number of infractions while Frolik was the most
oft-targeted. Tkachuk committed 7 infractions and received 5 penalties from
them, although four of these came during the scrum with Konecny in the final 5
minutes of the game.

Altogether the Flames committed 23 uncalled infractions and
received 9 penalties as a result (28%) though, as I mentioned, many of those
came as a result of one altercation at the end of the game. Without those, the
Flames were penalized at a rate of 19%. The Flyers committed 22 uncalled
infractions and received 3 penalties (12%).

Philadelphia

Philadelphia Table

Dec 27 vs Colorado – 6-3 win, referees were Kyle Rehman and
Chris Schlenker.

Dougie Hamilton was the Flame guilty of committing the most
infractions while Mark Giordano was the one most frequently targeted by the
opposition.

The Flames committed 30 uncalled infractions, receiving 6
penalties (17%) while the Avalanche committed 17 uncalled infractions and
received 4 penalties (19%).

Colorado

Colorado Table

Jan 6 vs Vancouver – 4-2 loss, referees were Justin St.
Pierre and Ian Walsh.

Alex Chiasson was the leading Flames’ culprit in this game
with Johnny Gaudreau making his first appearance in this review as the most
oft-targeted Flames’ player.

Calgary committed 22 uncalled infractions and were penalized
3 times (12%) while the Canucks committed 18 uncalled infractions and drew 4
penalties against (18%).

Vancouver

Vancouver Table

Jan 14 vs Edmonton – 2-1 loss, referees were Gord Dwyer and
Ghislain Hebert.

Dougie Hamilton again appears as the leading Flame when it
came to committing infractions while, unbelievably, Deryk Engelland appears as
the most targeted Flame.

The Flames committed 29 uncalled infractions and were
penalized 4 times (12%) while the Oilers committed 21 uncalled infractions and
were penalized twice (9%).

Edmonton 1

Edmonton Table 1

Jan 17 vs Florida – 5-2 win, referees were Francis Charron
and Trevor Hanson.

Sam Bennett led the team with the most committed infractions
while Matthew Tkachuk was the most targeted Flame.

The Flames committed 29 uncalled infractions and were
penalized 4times (12%) while the Panthers committed 23 infractions and were
penalized 4 times on top of that (15%).

Florida

Florida Table

Jan 21 vs Edmonton – 7-3 loss, referees were Chris Lee and
Dave Lewis.

Matthew Tkachuk makes another appearance as the Flames’
player most involved in committing infractions while Johnny Gaudreau returns as
the most targeted Flame.

This game got out of hand on the scoreboard and as the goal
differential escalated, infractions began to be more strictly enforced. Case in
point, the final minute of the 2nd period saw 4 penalties assessed
for hooking (Frolik), cross-checking (McDavid), roughing (Tkachuk) and a
misconduct (Tkachuk). 5 more penalties were assessed in the final period.

Overall, the Flames committed 22 uncalled infractions and
received 8 penalties (27%) while the Oilers committed 17 uncalled infractions
(for both teams, the majority of these were physical infractions) and penalized
6 times (26%).

Edmonton 2

Edmonton Table 2

Feb 21 vs Nashville – 6-5 win, referees were Dan O’Halloran
and Francois StLaurent.

In the first six minutes of play the Flames committed seven
un-answered infractions, one of which was penalized. The first period saw the
Flames dominate on the score board that, in some instances, is mirrored in the
number of their infractions.

The Flame guilt of committing the most infractions was Mark
Giordano while Matthew Tkachuk was the player who received the greatest number
of committed fouls by the Predators.

Calgary committed 20 uncalled infractions and were penalized
5 times (20%) while Nashville committed 17 uncalled infractions and were
penalized 4 times (19%). Despite the Flames playing a far more aggressive style
at times in the game, the Predators 
responded later in the game, eventually recording 7 egregious uncalled
physical fouls compared to only 2 by the Flames throughout the game.
Conversely, the Flames committed a very high number, 9, of egregious technical
fouls compared to a relatively small number, 2, by the Predators.

Nashville

Nashville Table

Below are the game-by-game raw datum points as mentioned
earlier, for anyone who wishes to follow the work. 

Buffalo 1

Chicago

Ottawa

Dallas

Arizona

Buffalo 2

Philadelphia

Colorado

Vancouver

Edmonton 1

Florida

Edmonton 2

Nashville