I’d meant to link to this during the whole Campbell kerfuffle earlier this year but never got around to it. Chris Boersma at Hockey Numbers compiled a list of how often certain referees make calls against Gregory Campbell relative to the rate at which they make calls as a whole. Coincidentally, the guys who were number 1 in terms of fewest calls against Campbell (Stephen Walkom), 8 (Kelly Sutherland) and 12 (Dan O’Rourke) have all been selected to officiate the Stanley Cup Finals.
Numbers 2 (Rob Schick), 3 (Mick McGeough) and 11 (Bill McCreary) on the list were unavailable due to retirement. Dave Jackson (4), Mike Hasenfratz (7) and Gord Dwyer (9) weren’t selected to work the playoffs. So, put another way, of the twenty referees deemed best qualified to work the playoffs, the least likely, fourth least likely and seventh least likely to call penalties against Gregory Campbell managed to get spots working the Stanley Cup finals.
Of the eight referees selected for the third round, only two of them ranked were in the half of the list that was more likely to call penalties on Gregory Campbell. This is almost certainly not a sign of overt bias on the part of the league but bias works on the subconscious in a funny way. We know that calls on Campbell resulted, in a least a few occasions, in emails from Campbell to the director of officiating, in which he communicated his views as to the merit of those calls. Were there other emails like that? Who knows. Do the assessors of the referees have some idea as to Campbell’s views of at least some calls against his son that colour their assessment of referees? Presumably they do.
What about referees calling games involving Campbell? Power plays don’t generally fall that much in the playoffs. He’s played 18 games so far in the playoffs and taken only two penalties, one of which was a coincidental for roughing. So four minutes in penalties. He’s played 443 regular season games, which provides 426 18 game segments (ie. 1-18, 2-19 etc.). What are the odds of Campbell going 18 games with only 4 PIM or fewer in his career once you strip out the majors and misconducts, which don’t generally happen in the playoffs? 19.2%. It’s an unusual occurrence. An extra round in the playoffs is worth $18,000 to a referee, by the way.
Can you convict anyone on this? I wouldn’t. However, I’d always expect something like this to be a difficult case to prove because it’s going to affect people on the margins, if it does at all. It might not even be a conscious thing. This is why a healthier standard for organizations to apply is to not only be free of bias but to also be free of the appearance of bias. The NHL, I think, implicitly acknowledged this with their pre-Coliemail stance that he had nothing to do with games in which Gregory was involved. That stance was made more difficult for the outside observer to accept by the revelation that, on at least two occasions, he emailed the head of officiating and complained about calls involving his son. You’re now left with either taking them at their word that nothing inappropriate happens or to sort of wonder whether the appropriate ethical walls are in place.
I am cheering for Boston, for obvious reasons (I think Vancouver will crush them though), but I have to admit that it’d be made all the more fun if the series turned on a moment involving a critical call or non-call and Gregory Campbell. The NHL has decided, for whatever reason, that it is sensible for them to take the risk of looking terrible if that occurs. It would look good on them if it did, particularly because Vancouver’s fans and management are not noted for their philosophical demeanour in the face of crushing disappointment.