Saturday, March 26, 2011

Canucks Penalty Call Conspiracy?

The Province's Tony Gallagher has a conspiracy theory.  It's been mentioned on a few Canucks broadcasts lately that the Canucks are not getting many penalty calls these days.  More specifically, teams like Phoenix and other teams that the NHL would like to encourage to be better to generate revenue/fans are getting the benefit of many calls.

Let's review some stats that aren't readily available.  5-on-3 time, power play proficiency month over month, and who gets more calls each night.

Recently this issue arose when the Coyotes visited Vancouver and were awarded a 5 minute powerplay late in a tied game for a hit that maybe deserved a minor penalty.  In the post game news conference, Canucks' coach Alain Vigneault was asked about his team's prowess on the powerplay 5-4, but anemic 5-on-3 play.  The Canucks are only one of two teams without a 5 on 3 goal this year.  (The Tampa Bay Lightning lead the NHL with 11).  Vigneault replied by stating that his team has barely had any 5-3 time this year. 

Curious about this quirky statistic PuckWatch did some investigating.

5-On-3 Opportunities
The 5-on-3 leader in goals scored is Tampa Bay.  The Lightning have had a whopping 22 opportunities with a two man advantage. They have converted on 11 of those.  Those 22 opportunities have resulted in approximately 18 minutes and 46 seconds of 5-on-3 time.  Had they not scored 11 times to shorten the amount of time on their two-man advantage, they would have approximately 26 minutes with a two man advantage.

How about the Vancouver Canucks?  Well they've had only 7 opportunities 5-on-3.  They've had two lengthy 5-on-3 situations against the Edmonton Oilers and Phoenix Coyotes, but other than that, the other five opportunities have averaged about 15-20 seconds - barely enough time to win a faceoff and set up offensively.

Opportunities Time on 5-on-3 Goals Scored Mins Awarded
TBL 22 18:46 11 26:32
VAN 7 4:56 0 4:56

This could be and probably is purely coincidental, but you would figure the top teams in the NHL would draw more penalties due to being in possession of the puck, and the other team being more desperate to chase them down.  In the Canucks' situation, they lead the NHL in so many categories, you'd figure drawing penalties would be one of them. 

Power Play Opportunities
In fact, Friday's game against Atlanta was the 11th time this season that the Canucks have had one powerplay or less awarded to them.  The Canucks have given up one power play or less only twice all year.  Again, in instances where a team is awarded one power play or less, the Canucks are losing that stat 11-2 this season.  It would be reasonable to assume that the best team in the league draws more calls based on puck possession, etc, but that clearly isn't the case if you look at the statistics. Now again, let's not jump to conclusions, but they have been on the short end of the power plays in 32 of their games this year, and only on the positive side 24 out of 75 times.

Vancouver Power Play
PPs Games
More PPs 24
Fewer PPs 32
Same PPs 19

Maybe, on the other hand, a team that leads the league in power play proficiency imposes fear and respect in other teams, and they pay extra attention to discipline to avoid being short-handed against a potent power play.  Maybe the team in the lead sits back and let's the opposition come at them, resulting in more penalties to the defending team.  Maybe the NHL like parity, and rewards the trailing team with more power plays to have better "game management"?  There are a few theories, and many of them do not involve collusion or conspiracies, but certainly some do.

Powerplays Month over Month
Now let's look at the Canucks power play month to month, for opportunities per game, and proficiency.

Games Goals Chances PP% Per Game
October 9 8 35 22.9% 3.89
November 13 12 44 27.3% 3.38
December 14 17 67 25.4% 4.79
January 14 10 54 18.5% 3.86
February 13 11 34 32.4% 2.62
March 12 9 35 25.7% 2.92

Oct - Jan 50 47 200 23.5% 4.00
Feb - Mar 25 20 69 29.0% 2.76

You can see from the table above, that the Canucks power play is red hot in the months of February and March, but they are getting about 1.25 fewer power play opportunities per game.  It would be interesting to see how the league average compares.  Perhaps as the games get more important, the referees put their whistles away?

Conspiracy theory or not, the Canucks are 'bad' on the 5-on-3 largely because they haven't had any opportunities.  The Lightning however, have lots of opportunities, and at 11/22, have made them count.  These statistics are interesting to look at and could be used to put together a conspiracy theory, but until more rational conclusions can be ruled out, such as oversensitivity to certain offences, teams respecting the Canucks power play, the natural flow of the game when a team has the lead more often than not, or officials putting their whistles away late in the year, consider us out of the conspiracy theory club... for now.


  1. Cool stats! Interesting to see the consistency of the Canucks powerplay all season long, despite a rash of injuries, etc.

  2. Awesome stats. You almost remind me of the critically-acclaimed Asymco blog (Apple):

    He uses a lot of interesting stats and graphs to demonstrate his view/theories, which is fun, because he has a ton!