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Penalties Are Way Down In The NHL As Refs Swallow Their Whistles


Whether we like it or not, referees are a huge part of a hockey game. Just like holding in football, they can call a penalty just about any time if they really wanted to. So how do refs decide when to call one?

Some people call hockey games “organized chaos”, meaning that it’s just a bunch of guys fighting over a puck – the refs just make sure they “sort of” play within a set of rules, for the most part.

I used to think that if it was a penalty, you call it. That if the NHL wanted to REALLY get back to the non-obstruction of the post-lockout seasons then call every single instance of hooking, holding, and otherwise obstruction of players.

Some would argue that would slow the game game way too much. The counter argument is that players would adapt, realizing they’re going to get called, and play much cleaner.

I really don’t know any more. They can’t call penalties on everything but they could certainly make it a more wide open game if they cracked down a bit more. 300w" sizes="(max-width: 450px) 100vw, 450px" />

Nah, not a penalty.

In any case, there are some stats that the number of penalties is WAY down this year.

A post over at has some interesting stats about this.:

In the season after the lockout, the number of powerplays skyrocketed to 11.7 powerplay opportunities per game as players adjusted to the new rule. This season, power plays are, as the alarming headline read, at a “three-decade low.

The post also puts together some stat projections for the 2011-2012 season: 300w" sizes="(max-width: 448px) 100vw, 448px" />

A similar post over at the Edmonton Journal rants about the drop in power plays chances. He waded through a bunch of data and found that:

…on both sides of the puck, powerplays both for and against, revealing that total PP’s for both teams had plummeted from 8.0 per game in the first 20% of Oilers games to just 4.7 per game in the most recent 20%.

This is huge and something is rotten in Denmark. Is the league purposely reverting back to the “Dead Puck Era”, going back on what they said they wanted to do after the 2004-2005 lockout season? Or is it simply that the league is lazy and inept and has allowed referees to call whatever they want?

Some have theorized that the obstruction is designed to purposely slow the game down that way the skill players don’t get hurt. But, if the skill players can’t operate freely without being obstructed, what’s the point?

In any case, it seems clear the the NHL in trending towards less penalties and more obstruction. And I don’t like it.

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Sabres Move from the Basement, to the Bubble, to… 7th? That, and the Death of Memes.


#SeedsOfGreatness, and the #Crapshoot: it’s been fun.

But the 2011-12 NHL regular season is winding down, and there is no time left for silly memes.

As the schedules wind down in this league, everything else gets cranked up. Season slumps, lulls, injury bug woes, and trade rumors all get tossed aside as teams fight tooth and nail to scrape their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs. For teams out of the playoff picture, the fight is just as rabid: players that aren’t fighting for their playoff lives are fighting for their lives on the roster.

There ain’t no meme that can downplay the desperation of what is at stake here now.

Indeed, with less than 10 games left to go, there isn’t much time for teams and players to make an impact statement. The Sabres have made a huge statement lately – going 16-5-5 since January 24, reminiscent of the 16-4-4 run that they went on after February 2nd of last season. That February “Pegula Day” surge got them into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 150w, 501w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

Time to drink up some pure adrenaline, folks. Try to stay calm while you're at the edge of your seats. Breathe with your bellies. We can do this.


Here on BSN I’ve been talking up the #SeedsOfGreatness and the #Crapshoot memes a great deal since the mid-season doldrums pulled our wayward Blue and Gold hopes to the basement of the Eastern Conference. All looked certainly lost, so I resorted to these memes for the sake of countering all that misery with a little levity. After all, watching the team lose player after player, and game after game, had become a little unbearable to watch. Nothing like a little meme (or a Sabres BINGO) to lighten the nerves.

Meanwhile, the Sabres started winning.

And winning.

They crawled up out from the cellar, and now sit on the precipice of a playoff berth. The roster is healthy. Players like Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Drew Stafford, Derek Roy, and Ryan Miller have found their A-games again. The newly-acquired Cody Hodgson and Alexander Sulzer are thriving. The lines are rolling. 536w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

Remember those mid-season "Sabres hangovers?" Yea, I don't miss those either.

#SeedsOfGreatness has been fun, but it’s over now. The long since planted seeds have bloomed, and now the hustling Sabres just have to keep pace with themselves.

The #Crapshoot was fun, but that’s done too. No matter how terrible Washington, Winnipeg, or Buffalo have been this season, each is in position to snag 8th – or even 7th place – before the final whistle is blown on the regular season.

7th place? Absolutely. The Senators have been rolling after a head-scratcher start to their season, but have sputtered and stalled down the stretch. They, and their hold on 7th place, have become vulnerable. They’ve dropped their last 2, and are just 4-4-2 in their last 10. With just 84 points, they are ripe for the picking for Washington and Buffalo (who sit at 80), and could even be threatened by Winnipeg. 155w" sizes="(max-width: 161px) 100vw, 161px" />7/8’s of the season are done, and this is where the teams of the Eastern Conference sit.

Teams have just a bit less than 1/8 of the season left – really, just 7 or 8 games – to settle who is going in and who is going to be left out. It’s going to be one hell of a ride. There is no need for levity, no need for memes anymore. The entire conversation from here on out is Lord Stanley, and who earns the right to fight for it.

On behalf of all Washington, Winnipeg, and Buffalo blogs, I’m proud to welcome Ottawa to that conversation.


The Sabres have dragged us to the basement. They’ve brought us to the bubble. There is no way to say where we go from here. Heck, it’s an amazing feeling actually being here. A month ago, none of us saw this coming. Now, anything is possible.

Anything. 473w" sizes="(max-width: 294px) 100vw, 294px" />

Hold on tight.

Go Sabres.

(And don’t worry BINGO fans – I’ll be sure to sneak in a board or two before this is all over.)


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Makeup Calls In The NHL Are Real! Well, Maybe.

Do you believe in makeup penalties? My woman laughs at me when I yell at the refs that it’s time to even things up and give the Sabres a power play.

But the phenomenon of makeup calls seems to be real to me. If the number of penalties is really lopsided to one team, more often than not the refs will start to even it up, sometimes on calls that appear to be really questionable.

Of course, this is all just conjecture and it might just be in our minds. The only way we can really tell if makeup calls happen is by looking at statistics. Luckily someone has dug into some stats on this and can tell us whether or not it really does go on.

I happened upon a blog called Sabermetric Research – and no they didn’t just spell Sabres wrong. Sabremetrics is apparently, “the specialized analysis of baseball through objective evidence, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity”. Oof, what? Couldn’t you just say nerd stats for sports? (Also, this statistic analysis isn’t just for baseball.)

In any case, the blog has a post about referees and makeup penalties.  This guy grabbed some stats from the Hockey Summary Project (a place where you can get tons of raw data from hockey games) and looked at all the penalties called from the 1953-54 to 1984-85 seasons.

He chucked data where both teams got penalties at the same time with the goal of seeing whether the currently penalized team would be more or less likely to get the next penalty.

Amazingly, he found that there was roughly a 60% chance that the other team would get the next penalty.

Is this incontrovertible proof of the makeup call? Well, not necessarily. We don’t know for sure that it was referee bias that led to the “makeup call”. Perhaps it was the penalized team playing it safe, or the team on the power play playing more aggressively even after the power play.

It gets better though. The longer that time has elapsed since the last penalty, the less likely it is that a “makeup call” will happen.

That’s consistent with many theories. The “referees are biased” theory would say that referees “forget” to even things up as the game goes on. The “other team wants revenge and plays aggressively” theory would say that if they don’t get revenge early, they don’t need it as much later. And the “penalized team takes fewer chances” theory would say that as time goes on, the players “forget” that they have to be more careful.

You can wade way deep into more stats and discussion about this if you really want to. There are two followup posts at the Sabremetrics Research blog and tons of comments, but that post itself is enough to make one’s head spin.

So we still don’t know conclusively if makeup calls are referee bias and probably never will. But I’m going with my gut on this one, and like most things, all we need sometimes is a vague stat to backup what we think is already true. 60% chance that the other team gets the next penalty? Damn those refs, they’re biased! Now give us a makeup call!

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The Madness Of March, Hockey, and Beer

Things are really heating up for Buffalo sports fans. Obviously we have the Sabres pushing for the 8th playoff spot and they’re 4 points back at time of writing. Then there’s the huge Mario Williams signing that has reinvigorated the Bills fan base, which leads to even more excitement about the draft. Throw in March madness, spring in the air, women wearing less clothing and it’s a beautiful thing and awesome time of year.

On top of that, the NHL has a brand new campaign for the Stanley Cup playoffs. According to this Sports Business Daily article , the NHL has ditched the 2-year-old “History Will Be Made” campaign and has a new tagline: “Because It’s The Cup”. 300w" sizes="(max-width: 504px) 100vw, 504px" />

(Image via Puck Daddy)

The new campaign targets the casual fans moreso than traditional, hardcore hockey fans. Their research found that most people had knowledge of the rich history of the Stanley Cup and the NHL decided to (smartly) capitalize on that, focusing on the one thing that casual fans know the best and are perhaps most interested in.

As you may know, the NHL made a huge $375 million dollar advertising agreement with MolsonCoors (or MillerCoors in the states). For this campaign the NHL and MolsonCoors will work together to do lots of interesting thing like giving Stanley Cup draft tap handles to over 6,500 bars in North America.

In an attempt to attract casual hockey fans and sports fans who aren’t partial to hockey, league marketers are trying to turn the Stanley Cup playoffs into their own version of March Madness. With all the buzz about social media, an overall campaign objective was to attract non-hockey fans by “socializing the Stanley Cup playoffs”…

Some of the taglines have been revealed as well:

Each promo is a string of sentences, beginning with “Because,” i.e.: “Because it’s good to get together over something cold. Because it’s a good excuse to go out on a Wednesday night. Because in hockey, there are two halftimes. Because it’s fun to say Zamboni. Because it’s the Cup.”

To me this is really smart advertising: it’s simple and it gives the viewer good reasons why they should check out the playoffs. Rather than focus on abstract things or things specific to hockey that we hockey fans love but the casual fan may not care about, they’re hooking into things that most sports fans like.

There are four ads to start with, although a Puck Daddy post  says that there will be team-specific ads as well. The post features just the St. Louis Blues and Philadelphia Flyers, so we can only hope the Sabres will be featured as well. Good luck to the NHL in growing the sport – maybe someday it won’t be the red-headed stepchild of the sports world.

In related beer/hockey news, the Chicago Express (the ECHL affiliate of the Columbus Bluejackets) are wearing this super sweet jersey on St. Partrick’s Day: 150w" sizes="(max-width: 290px) 100vw, 290px" />

The first green beer jersey. It makes me thirsty.

They’ll be auctioning the game-worn jerseys off after the game.  Incidentally, they have $1 hot dogs and $1 beers tonight while tickets range from $7 to $26 dollars. This really makes me want to check out some minor league hockey games!

Enjoy your St. Patricks day, be safe, and of course – Let’s Go Buffalo!

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Blogging From Oblivion: Year One

January 28, 2011.

That’s the date of my first blog post. Happy anniversary to me.

Back on January 28, 2011, the Bills were officially a loss and the Sabres looked to be on their way towards the same oblivion. Now in 2012, we’ve seen another epic collapse by both franchises, and though the Sabres are still only showing the symptoms of death, they’re near enough to it to safely assume they’ll be pronounced DOA long before the playoffs begin. 500w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

It's been worse for us here in Buffalo.

It’s a familiar feeling, isn’t it? The shroud of impending failure is a heavy one, and it’s hard to struggle out from underneath the weight of it all. Heck, even Ryan Fitzpatrick, when recently describing the Bills’ epic fall, lamented that the team “wasn’t ready for prosperity.”


Someone get that team a heavy course of sports pychology, or a team colonic. If we have to get used to winning football games before we can embrace winning, then we’re doomed.

But we’re all still in this together. And aren’t we a hearty, resilient fan base?

It comes with the territory: happy anniversary also to the Blizzard of ’77, also a January 28th phenomenon.

That storm really put a mark on Buffalo. Even in winters like this one, where the permafrost can’t seem to get a grip on our lawns and our backyard rinks sit in slush and waste, sports broadcasters are quick to note their surprise that they didn’t have to dig their way out of the hotel on their way to the stadium.

It’s a heavy lot to carry – all the losses, the disasters, the reputation – it can seem like a bit too much at times. But we carry along, we dig ourselves out, we keep sporting on, even in the face of another year and another pair of sporting disasters.

The hunt for triumph will continue anew, this year, after our newest smattering into seasonal oblivion is mercifully complete.

From Moby Dick (C. 42, “The Whiteness of the Whale”):

Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color; and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows- a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues — every stately or lovely emblazoning — the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge — pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?

We are the wretched infidels of the sporting world – that much is clear, just as clear as that annihilation seems always around the next corner. But we will never quit the fiery hunt, either. That much is resoundingly clear, (am I correct ‘Bills Mafia’)?

Meanwhile, a few more weeks of winter remain, along with a few more gasps of hockey.

One year is in the books for me, and it ended just as profoundly miserable as it began. Here’s to hoping next season gives me some profound success to write about. Take heart, sports fans, and never give up. It’s about time we lift that white weighted veil, and find a way to stab success through its heart.

It’s long overdue.

Go Bills.

Go Sabres.

Let’s go Buff-a-lo.

Posted in: Bills, NHL, Sabres

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