Tim Peel firing ignites discussion about bias in NHL arbitration


As someone who frequently lands crushing punches, Blackhawks defender Nikita Zadorov is no stranger to interacting with NHL umpires.

And although Zadorov realizes that he inevitably does “sometimes. . . cross the line ”and deserve some of the penalties that he receives, there are many other occasions when he does not agree with the decisions of the so familiar referees.

“I can say a lot [about NHL officiating], but I don’t want to be fined, ”he said Wednesday. “There have been ups and downs this year. Some games were good, some games were bad. It depends on the referees you get. “

One referee, Tim Peel, will no longer be used.

The NHL fired Peel after he was caught with a hot mic while officiating the Predators-Red Wings game on Tuesday. Minutes after calling a phantom trip penalty on Preds forward Victor Arvidsson early in the second period, Peel was heard saying: [expletive] penalty against Nashville early in the. . . “before the microphone turns off.

“There is no justification for his comments, regardless of the context or his intent,” NHL vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell said in a statement.

Peel has long earned a reputation for being one of the worst umpires in the league, so much so that Yahoo Sports published a regular column in 2013 and 2014 listing his routine mistakes. His premeditated admission Tuesday was just the final straw for his career.

Still, Peel is just one of 43 umpires the NHL has used this year. The Hawks, for example, had only encountered him twice (Feb. 2 and 4 against the Hurricanes) in their 33 games. Therefore, his removal from the circuit is unlikely to significantly change the umpiring across the league.

It would take a much more comprehensive effort on the part of the league to change the way the other 42 umpires conduct their affairs. But that would first require acknowledging that there are certain biases similar to Peel’s within the other 42.

The data indicates that it is. NHL umpires generally balance, either consciously or unconsciously, the number of penalties they impose on both teams in a game, regardless of the behavior of those teams.

Over the past three seasons, the correlation between each team’s penalties and the penalties released each year is a staggering 0.67. This season, it is 0.66. That means that unruly teams, or at least teams that frequently ask for penalties, also receive a lot of penalties for their opponents, and vice versa.

In other words, the 10 most disciplined teams in the league this year, which includes the Hawks, have committed 3.01 penalties per game, but the officials have only awarded 3.24 penalties to their opponents. The 10 least disciplined teams have averaged 3.95 penalties per game, but the referees have penalized their opponents 3.75.

“You have to finish the game,” Preds forward Matt Duchene Wednesdsay said on a Nashville radio show. “I’ve always been frustrated when I see calls called or things like that. If one team is winning power plays, you can’t punish it because the other team isn’t.

“I hope that is not something that happens with more officials [than Peel]but there are definitely nights when you’re skeptical. “

Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton declined to comment Wednesday on the Peel controversy. But just three weeks ago, Colliton nonchalantly pointed out another prevalent bias in umpiring, favoring veterans over rookies, after a Brandon Hagel offense on the hook prompted the Lightning’s return over the Hawks on March 7.

“We would love not to take a penalty there,” Colliton said at the time. “Someone else is probably not called for that. These young people generally don’t get the benefit of the doubt in those situations. “

Similar discussions about artificially balanced penalty totals, player-over-player preferences and other umpire biases occurred across the hockey world on Wednesday.

Whether those discussions ultimately lead to change or not, Peel’s impact factor comment stirred a pot that clearly needed to be stirred.

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