West Coast Bias: Examining the ‘Wideman Effect’

Watch as Matthew Tkachuk puts the Flames up 2-0 after going five-hole on Martin Jones.

In Calgary they’re calling it “The Wideman Effect.”

The theory, circulating among fans and conspiracy theorists, goes like this: ever since Dennis Wideman slammed linesman Don Henderson from behind on Jan. 27, 2016, National Hockey League officials have had an axe to grind against the Calgary Flames. There is ongoing payback. The Flames are not getting calls when they have the puck, and referees are crushing Calgary when they don’t.

Or so some fans believe.

So we checked the stats to see that, in fact, the Anaheim Ducks are the NHL’s most penalized team this season, averaging 15:05 minutes per game. But there are some major penalties in that total that skews the spirit of this so-called “Wideman Effect.”

The true measure of referee bias — be it real or perceived — is best judged on minor penalty calls. Those judgment calls that a ref makes every night that can go either way. And as it turns out, no team has been whistled for more minors than the Flames’ 61 so far this season.

The Flames were called on seven minors in San Jose Thursday, to the Sharks’ four.

Let’s dig deeper: in the first 47 games last season — prior to Wideman’s crosscheck on Henderson — the Flames averaged 2.62 minors per game. In the 34 games after the incident, they averaged 3.88. That’s a 48 per cent jump in-season, for the same Flames team with roughly the same roster.

Here’s where the theory falls apart however. In the last 34 games of last season — post-Wideman-Henderson — the Flames spent more time (184:17) on the power play than short-handed (182:56). They had 115 power-play attempts to 118 short-handed situations — basically a wash over 34 games.

So, what about this season? Through its first 12 games, Calgary averaged just over five minor penalties per game, second highest in the NHL behind Boston. However, the Flames are also fifth in the league in power-play opportunities. Through their first 11 games, the Flames had been short-handed only 80 more seconds than they had been on the power play.

So, it turns out there are a lot of penalties when the Flames play. For both sides.

Henderson, meanwhile, has kept silent after undergoing surgery to repair two ruptured discs in his neck. He has not worked a game since the incident and did not respond to a request to comment for this piece.

As for any grudge theories with NHL referees, it’s just not plausible anymore. Director of officiating Stephen Walkom can order up a custom edited version of any game he wants and watch every call and non-call in a span of about 15 minutes. If the Flames complained, Walkom would have no trouble finding evidence of bias today, as compared to the old days when VCR tapes were Fed Exed across the country, usually to no avail.

Gimme a Shot

The 7-3-1 Edmonton Oilers have a lot more going for them this season than in years past, but the one clear element they are missing is a power-play bomb from the point. Their power play is predictable, ranked 21st at 15.2 per cent, and without the threat of a one-timer or the rebounds created by a good, hard point shot.

We know the price for a true No. 1 defenceman is through the roof. There is no expectation that there is a mid-season deal for GM Peter Chiarelli on that front. And the one-trick guys with that power-play shot but not much else — like Raphael Diaz (playing in Switzerland), or Philip Larsen (minus-9 in 11 games as a Canuck) — have proven ineffective.

What about a guy like Jason Garrison in Tampa Bay? Garrison gets second-pairing ice time with the Lightning, but for a guy once considered to have a valuable slapper, he’s only averaging 23 seconds per night on the PP in Tampa this season.

Garrison has a no-trade clause, but Tampa could be in a crunch, with RFAs Andrej Sustr and Nikita Nesterov needing new deals after this season. Now you’ll have to figure out what goes the other way…

Nobody Loves Raymond

This appears to be it for Mason Raymond — in the NHL, at least.

He and the Ducks mutually agreed to rip up his contract after he passed through unconditional waivers this week — the second time he has cleared waivers this season. It’s the same situation as the Canadiens letting Alex Semin go to the KHL, or when the Leafs freed Finnish centre Petri Kontiola out of deal with the Marlies so he could go back to the KHL.

Where does Raymond end up? Likely in Europe somewhere, after serving several Canadian teams well throughout a 546-game NHL career (115-136-251). He was drafted in the second round by Vancouver, and also played in Toronto and Calgary. Usually players who can still skate, as scouts say Raymond still can, find the next job in today’s NHL. We’ll see where Raymond, 31, turns up next.

Crease Chaos

Two Western Conference teams with horrendous goaltending situations are the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars.

You can’t fault the Kings — there are plenty of teams who would be in deep water if their No. 1 went down (eh, Montreal?) the way Jonathan Quick has, out months with a groin injury. But the Kings sported an .885 team save percentage after Thursday’s 3-2 OT win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, a game won by Peter Budaj.

In Dallas, goaltending cost the Stars their second round series against St. Louis last year, when Kari Lehtonen imploded in Game 7 at home. The Stars came back with the exact same tandem of Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, and they sport a 23rd-ranked .897 save percentage. You can forget about what the players say publicly — I guarantee you the guys inside that Dallas dressing room have zero faith that they can win anything with a Lehtonen-Niemi tandem.

Meanwhile, castaway and former Stars first-round pick Jack Campbell has resurfaced in L.A.’s crease, where he made his second NHL appearance in relief since being drafted 11th overall in 2010. He backed up Budaj versus Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Busy Zebras

Ever wonder which ref calls the most penalties among the NHL’s referees? Well, the website scoutingtherefs.com is keeping track and has released its first set of findings, roughly 10 games into the 2016-17 season.

It’s fascinating to note the split in penalties called per game between veteran Marc Joannette, a nearly 1000-game NHL ref who has whistled down 2.8 penalties per game this season, and Evgeny Romasko, the first Russian referee to work NHL games. He has averaged 6.4 penalty calls per game this season as he rotates between the AHL and NHL.

Joannette has become the stingiest of the zebras, averaging the fewest penalties called per game last season at just 3.4. Of referees who worked over 60 games last season, Brad Meier was the highest at 4.6 penalty calls per game.

Loose Thoughts

How about Matthew Tkachuk? He was told on Thursday morning by the Flames that he was going to stick around rather then return to the London Knights of the OHL. Tkachuk celebrated with two goals in a 3-2 Flames win later that night at San Jose … Are the growing pains coming to a close for a good coach in Calgary’s Glen Gulutzan? The Flames have crawled to 5-6-1, even if top line centre Sean Monahan still doesn’t have an assist and Johnny Gaudreau (2-5-7) is having a miserable start at minus-9.

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