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Kerry Fraser admits referee bias, says they have an internal "Most wanted list"

Wednesday in his "C'Mon Ref" column for TSN, Kerry Fraser admitted that referees keep lists of players who they think got one over on them, and pass them around in order to target those players. That's an appalling lack of impartiality and professionalism.

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If you've ever read Kerry Fraser's column on, cutely titled "C'Mon Ref", you've probably thought a few times that he's been bang on the money. You've also probably thought he's been totally off base sometimes too, but overall Fraser seems unafraid to call pretty much anyone out, even if it is usually in a genial manner. Wednesday though, he dropped a bombshell that, while obvious at times, has never been acknowledged officially: Refs have hit lists.

In response to a question about Brendan Gallagher being called for holding in front of the Flyers' net on November 15th, a call that caused a goal to be disallowed, and whether refs have certain players they "watch for", Fraser had an interesting response:

"If there is an internal published list of players for the officials to watch for, it's a well-guarded secret at this point. Directives sent to the referees and linesmen originate from the desk of Stephen Walkom - V.P. of Officiating or his counterpart in Hockey Operations Colin Campbell.

Regardless of whether a directive has been sent or not, based on what I have observed and previously commented on, Brendan Gallagher has earned a rightful place on the Referee's "Ten Most Wanted" list.

Even after committing the holding infraction against Braydon Coburn, Gallagher completed a theatrical dive with both skates into the net in an attempt to fool the referee(s) and as the puck went past Ray Emery. Good for referee Dan O'Rourke for being dialed in from the neutral zone to make the correct call. I can assure you it was no accident or lucky catch by O'Rouke. A refs' list of known offenders is nothing new and Gallagher is not the only Habs player to be drawing special attention from the ref's this season. No one likes to be embarrassed-Diving/embellishment is near the top every ref's list!"

Let's stop it here for a second, because Fraser's description of the play seemed off, to me. Here's the play in question:

Gallagher definitely held up Coburn on the play, but it's not at all what Fraser described as happening. Let's look closer.

Gallagher 1

Early in the play, Gallagher's stick is tied up (legally) by Coburn, but already Gallagher is fearing a call, so he raises his right arm to show he's not hooking Coburn. If you watch the gif, you can see that Gallagher asserts his space, and Coburn knocks into him while moving backward, but Gallagher doesn't move.


As Coburn comes down after impact, he squeezes Gallagher's left arm between his own arm and his body, which Gallagher will take advantage off milliseconds later by holding on to Coburn and stopping him from checking Tomas Plekanec.

Gallagher then pushes Coburn over, who falls on Gallagher's stick, throwing him off balance.

Gallagher 3

In this frame you can see Gallagher identifies the puck is in front of him, can't put weight on his back leg, and has no stick. So what does he do?

Gallagher 4

He lunges forward to kick at the puck. It's already going in, but it's an instinctive move, make sure that puck is in no matter what, even if it isn't a legal maneuver. What happens when he kicks with his load bearing leg? He falls. I really don't see a dive here. In fact, the insinuation that Gallagher would dive while he's completely focused on the puck in front of him seems to be directly ignoring everything that's going on.

Did Gallagher hold Coburn? Definitely. Did Coburn hold Gallagher? Yup. Did just one of them get called when both should have? You betcha. Perhaps instead of praising the referee making that call from the neutral zone, where he clearly couldn't have seen Coburn holding Gallagher's arm, Fraser should wonder why the ref near the net didn't make a call, which brings us back to what Fraser was talking about.

"Prior to my final season on the ice in 2009-10 there was a concerted effort by Hockey Operations and the referees to address the diving issue that was snowballing out of control. The NHLPA opposed Hockey Ops on the subject of sharing an internal list of offenders with the referees for fear of potential "targeting." A public list was totally out of the question for fear of any 'embarrassment' it might cause the player. For these reasons Andrew, we never received a specific list of known offenders. What the PA failed to recognize but Hockey Ops did, was three of the oldest forms of communication-telegraph, telephone and tell a Ref!

Each member of the officiating staff had his own list of players that duped him or attempted to and wouldn't hold back on sharing the information around the pre-game lunch table or in the dressing room prior to a game. The adage, "Fool me once-good for you: Fool me twice-shame on me" was adopted by the core group and a "known offenders list" was mentally compiled and shared freely amongst the referees."

It's not the job of NHL referees to change the rules for one player or another because they don't like them.

On the surface, this makes sense. No one likes to be made a fool of, and refs are human, it makes total sense to develop biases against a player who has got you before. Here's the problem though, referees are supposed to be impartial, it's not their job to decide whether infractions should or shouldn't count against particular players, that's the opposite of their job, actually.

In fact, if you don't call infractions on a particular player because you think they're a diver, you're not discouraging diving. If anything, you're encouraging it. If Brad Marchand is blatantly tripped and it negates a scoring chance, but neither ref calls it because he's a known diver, what is he going to do the next time he's tripped? Battle through and take the non-call? No, he's going to make sure the refs notice for sure the next time someone trips him, and so goes the vicious cycle.

Gallagher the rule bender

In the case of Brendan Gallagher, I don't see the case that he's a big diver. He goes to the dirty areas and is often knocked down due to size mismatches, but he competes hard and goes after ever puck near him, diving would too often take him out of the play. What Gallagher is though, is a rule bender. He makes his living in front of the opponent's net, and finds himself toppling over goalies every night.

If you watch him though, Gallagher is extremely smart about how he goes into the net. Nine times out of ten, Gallagher is pushed in by a defenseman because he places himself in an area where they have no choice but to do so. That can cause goalies to not be able to make a save, and goals for the Canadiens, but it's not goalie interference. Why not? Because the player has to be able to make an effort to move out of the way of the goaltender, if he can. If he's pushed in, he can't.

In his rookie season, Gallagher was only once called for goaltender interference, in his second season, he was called a league leading (by double) eight times. Was Gallagher not as savvy in his second season? Sounds unlikely. Based on the way Fraser talks about Gallagher, it's clear that officials don't like his rule bending, but you know what? Too bad.

It's not the job of NHL referees to change the rules for one player or another because they don't like them. Gallagher treads the line, but you don't get to move the line.

"Gallagher is not the only Habs player to be drawing special attention"

There are likely players on every team drawing special attention, but it's become a recurring theme that another Habs player can't catch a break.

A couple weeks ago on 24CH, the Canadiens' behind the scenes television show, this exchange between a referee and P.K. Subban (Turn it up loud, the audio is quiet):

Subban falls behind the neck and gets the blade of a stick jammed between the ice and his throat, causing him to panic and go to the bench to make sure he hasn't suffered a serious injury. While this is happening, the Habs ice the puck. Subban is checked by the medical staff, pronounced okay, and takes his next shift. Immediately, a referee comes over to him. In case you can't hear it, here's the conversation:

Ref: "Don't come over here anymore."

Subban: "What are you talking about?"

Ref: "On an icing, you don't come over here anymore, okay?"

Subban: "I got a stick in the throat."

Ref: "You're all better, so you couldn't have been injured that much."

Subban: "Well I had to make sure."

Ref: "I'm not a doctor. I let you guys change one defenseman, okay? Come to me out on the ice I'll let you catch your breath. Don't come over here because it delays the game."

Subban: "I had to-"

Ref: [interupting] "Just listen to me and say thank you."

Subban: "Okay, okay. Thank you."

Seems like a semi-reasonable conversation, aside from the fact that a referee is telling a player to come to him when he could possibly need emergency medical attention, right after he admitted that he wasn't a doctor. The ref automatically assumed Subban was faking, based on nothing but bias, and felt the need to ream him out after and give him horrible advice on what to do the next time he thinks he could be seriously injured. Imagine he had collapsed his trachea, do you think any player, or any person on this planet, would skate up to the referee and ask permission to see a doctor like a kindergartener asking a teacher if they can go to the bathroom? It's ludicrous.

A public list of divers

The time is now to publicly expose the players guilty of embellishment and move the known offenders list outside of the referee pipeline. -Kerry Fraser

Fraser ended his column by saying that the epidemic of diving in the NHL has become so serious that they need to publicly shame those who dive with a list of those who've been fined. It's never going to happen, although I wouldn't be totally against it. What I do find curious though, is how adamant Fraser is that this needs to be done. Clearly referees don't enjoy looking foolish, but dives aren't the only times they look bad. If the NHL were to embarrass players by posting which ones get fined for diving, wouldn't it be fair game to post a list of how many times each official has blown a call? Or worse, blown a close game due to missing a call, or waiving off a good goal with something non-reviewable like "intent to blow"?

Maybe if NHL referees would do their jobs properly and call more infractions, fewer players would feel the need to dive in order to draw a call. Maybe if officials were publicly reprimanded when they do a terrible job, they would start doing a better job? Or does public scrutiny only work for players?