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The hidden variable? How much does the selection of referees affect the Detroit Red Wings?


The referee powwow. It’s amazing to see these specimens in their natural habitat.

For all the stats taken and conclusions jumped to in sports, there’s one thing in the box score that people have rarely paid attention to, something that we’ve seen in some sports used to manipulate the game: the referees.

I’ve begun tracking them for all sorts of different things, many of which I’ll touch on in the future. This isn’t a new idea. Mark Cuban has been tracking the refs in the NBA for years. It turned out he had good reason to.

I’m not accusing the NHL referees of fixing games. I’m not accusing them of anything really. Actually, most of the numbers show they haven’t done anything out of the ordinary. But they’re still human. They feel pressure. They like certain people more than others. Consciously or subconsciously, that can affect their performance, no matter how much training they’ve done to beat that out of them.

So which refs are Red Wings friendly and which ones aren’t?  Taking every game Detroit has played in thus far this season, the Red Wings have 2-0 records with multiple referees and a 3-1 record when Dan O’Halloran officiates. (The only loss was Sunday against St. Louis.) At the top, there’s no real differentiation.

The bottom of the list is more interesting.

The Red Wings have 0-3 records when dealing with two referees: Dan O’Rourke (losses vs. Calgary, vs. Columbus (Shootout), @ Phoenix) and Tom Kowal (@Minnesota, @ Calgary, vs. Minnesota).

In fairness, this sample size is way too small to make any assumptions and there’s almost no difference between an 0-3 record and an 0-2 record, but these two could at least give us a small step to see if there is any sort of bias at work.

In games officiated by O’Rourke, the Red Wings’ penalty minute differential is -4 (opposing teams called for four more penalty minutes than the Red Wings.), a -1.33 differential per game. In games Kowal has officiated, the Red Wings hold a -2 differential. On the season, the Red Wings’ median season differential is -2.*

Kowal is right on the median. The Red Wings’ penalty differential drops 40 percent below the median when O’Rourke is calling games. To reiterate, this by itself doesn’t mean anything. It was three games, not nearly enough to make concrete conclusions.

Still, if this season comes down to the last day for the Red Wings, the league may want to pick someone other than O’Rourke to officiate.

*(I used median because I wanted to minimize the impact of an outlier: a game against Anaheim netted a 46-minute differential for the Red Wings)

Here’s the Red Wings’ win-loss breakdown by referee. Keep in mind two referees officiate one game, meaning the total games displayed below is equal to 72.

Dan O’Halloran 3 1
Steve Kozari 2 0
Dean Morton 2 0
Mike Leggo 2 0
Brian Pochmara 2 1
Dennis LaRue 2 1
Kelly Sutherland 2 1
Kevin Pollock 2 1
Rob Martell 2 1
Wes McCauley 2 1
Darcy Burchell 1 0
Kyle Rehman 1 0
Graham Skilliter 1 0
Francis Charron 1 0
Brad Meier 1 1
Dave Jackson 1 1
Frederick L’Ecuyer 1 1
Gord Dwyer 1 1
Marc Joannette 1 1
Paul Devorski 1 1
Ghislain Hebert 1 1
Chris Lee 1 2
Greg Kimmerly 1 2
Ian Walsh 1 2
Mike Hasenfratz 1 2
Tim Peel 0 1
Justin St. Pierre 0 1
Brad Watson 0 2
Chris Rooney 0 2
Don VanMassenHoven 0 2
Eric Furlatt 0 2
Francois St. Laurent 0 2
Stephen Walkom 0 2
Dan O’Rourke 0 3
Tom Kowal 0 3

One comment on “The hidden variable? How much does the selection of referees affect the Detroit Red Wings?

  1. Thta’s going to make things a lot easier from here on out.

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