Did the Toronto Maple Leafs Suddenly Start Getting Favorable Calls?

During the contest between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, many Habs fans complained that the referees helped the Leafs win. Were they right?

On Wednesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs visited Montreal in order to punch their ticket to the playoffs. They faced off against their probable first round opponents and tuned them up by a score of 4-1.

Ignoring the their team’s poor play as of late and significant injuries to some its best players, including goaltender Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens fans took to social media to call out the referees for being impartial.

Specifically, they suggested that the refs acted in a manner to purposefully aid the the Toronto Maple Leafs to their victory.

Toronto Maple Leafs Officiating

The suggestion that there is a bias in favor of the Toronto Maple Leafs isn’t new, especially from opponents. The conspiracy theory is that Toronto is a big market and their team’s success helps generate greater revenue for the league. As such, the NHL look favorably on Toronto. The same has been said about the officials in New York Rangers games. That mentality helps spark outrage found online, but then again, what doesn’t?

Certain incidents stand out to Montreal fans about their last game. When Habs player Cole Caufield collided with referee Marc Joannette, there was nothing pernicious about it. Joannette had tried to bump out to allow the puck to pass but retreated to the boards blocking Caufield’s route to the puck and potentially keeping him from scoring his first NHL goal.

The last thing a hockey ref at any level wants is to be in the way of a player or get hit by the puck. It would be outlandish to believe that the collision was anything other than accidental.

The other big complaint from the game was that Jesperi Kotkaniemi was clipped by Alex Galchenyuk’s high stick. Galchenyuk was assessed a two-minute minor penalty but there appeared to be a small cut on Kotkaniemi’s bottom lip. Since blood was shed, the penalty should have upgraded to four minutes. This means that Galchenyuk should have sat for double the time.

Despite this missed call, It’s still a stretch to suggest that the Maple Leafs are NHL darlings. They’re a team who play with finesse without as much grit as their fans would like. They will benefit from some calls as do all clubs.

This season, the Leafs have the sixth-lowest penalty minutes assessed to their team. They are averaging 7:04 penalty minutes per game. It’s not low because the referees are looking out for them. It’s because they aren’t a dirty club.

If the conspiracies were true then the Leafs should have the lowest penalty average in the league instead of the much smaller market, Buffalo Sabres. Also, the Rangers would be receiving far fewer penalties than their total of 452 minutes on the season, giving them the seventh most PIMs this year.

There are many variables at play that define the manner in which an NHL game is called. Some factors include the level pressure from fans, coaches, and players. Also, the style of the game’s referees matters. This may translate into tighter called affairs or contests where it appears the refs appear to have completely put their whistles away.

There is no way that the NHL would ever direct their officials to call a game based on a preferred outcome. If they did, it would probably be the biggest scandal in sports history. The suggestion then that the officials made certain calls based on what they believed the league wants would be an enormous risk. To get to the NHL as a linesman or referee is almost as difficult as it is to make it as a player. It doesn’t seem worth gambling with one’s career in hope of making the league more profit.

Back in 2014, Scouting the Refs estimated that linesmen made between  $110k – $235k+ and referees between $165k – $360k+. That’s just too much money to willfully ignore the demand for balanced officiating.

Do the officials make mistakes? Absolutely. Do they do it because they hate your favourite team? No chance.

With all that said, there’s no doubt the practice of blaming refs for being partial will continue. Make no mistake, Leafs fans are guilty of it as well but in reality, it’s too far fetched to be true.