One of the most embarrassing plays to see on the ice is a dive.  It makes the player look bad.  It makes the referees look bad – especially if the embellishment results in a power play for the diver’s team.  It’s disrespectful to the officials and it’s disrespectful to the game.

So why does the league allow embellishment to continue?  They haven’t exactly done what it takes to stop diving from happening.   Let’s take a look at the league’s efforts to eliminate it.

Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale nearly puts himself through the glass (via @myregularface)

Pittsburgh’s Joe Vitale nearly puts himself through the glass (via @myregularface)

Diving/Embellishment in the NHL Rulebook

The NHL first addressed diving with a rule change for the 1992-93 season. The rule book was updated to include a provision calling for a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct to be called for attempting to draw a penalty (“diving”).   In 1998-99, the league broke it out from the umbrella of ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’ into its own separate “Diving” penalty.

Here’s Rule 64 as it stands today:

Rule 64 – Diving / Embellishment
 

64.1 Diving / Embellishment – Any player who blatantly dives, embellishes a fall or a reaction, or who feigns an injury shall be penalized with a minor penalty under this rule. A goalkeeper who deliberately initiates contact with an attacking player other than to establish position in the crease, or who otherwise acts to create the appearance of other than incidental contact with an attacking player, is subject to the assessment of a minor penalty for diving / embellishment.
 

64.2 Minor Penalty – A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player who attempts to draw a penalty by his actions (“diving / embellishment”).
 

64.3 Fines and Suspensions – Regardless if a minor penalty for diving / embellishment is called, Hockey Operations will review game videos and assess fines to players who dive or embellish a fall or a reaction, or who feign injury.
 

The first such incident during the season will result in a warning letter being sent to the player. The second such incident will result in a one thousand dollar ($1,000) fine. For a third such incident in the season, the player shall be suspended for one game, pending a telephone conversation with the Director of Hockey Operations. For subsequent violations in the same season, the player’s suspension shall double (i.e. first suspension – one game, second suspension – two games, third suspension – four games, etc.)

 

We certainly see diving penalties called throughout the course of the season.  During the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, there were 33 diving penalties, which works out to about one for every 21 games played. Alternatively, from a team perspective, an average of one per team over the course of the season. In practice, it wasn’t that evenly distributed.  The Canadiens led the league with 5 diving calls, followed by the Senators, Coyotes, and Canucks tied at 3 apiece. Twelve teams managed to avoid diving calls altogether.

Rules 64.1 and 64.2 seem to be working as designed.  What about Rule 64.3?  Where are the fines and suspensions?

Retired NHL referee Paul Stewart recently discussed this in his column:

Has there been a player so much as fined (AKA, strike two) yet — much less suspended (strike three) — since the protocol was created? Not that I know about.

No, but there probably should have.  James Neal of the Pittsburgh Penguins managed to escape additional punishment despite reaching the three-dive mark:

An NHL official told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that right wing James Neal will not be suspended despite receiving a third penalty for embellishment this season.  Neal […] never has received a call from the Director of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan regarding the embellishing penalties. Had Neal received a warning call from Shanahan after one of the embellishing penalties — he was given the penalties in games against Edmonton, Phoenix and the Rangers this season — he would have been a candidate for a fine or suspension.

Not even a call?  Clearly, the NHL missed the mark on this one.  Even if – and, after watching the plays, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt – they didn’t think all three dives were deserving of a penalty, certainly at least one was.  If that was the case, Neal should’ve received a letter.  If two, a fine.  Based on the Tribune’s report, Neal received neither.

More from Stewart:

That leads to another question. Are the videos of actual on-ice diving/embellishment calls being reviewed by the NHL? I am constantly reviewing video in my work. Are videos of dives/embellishment that were not penalized on the ice being reviewed? If so, have any letters or fines been issued to anyone as a result? Nope.

Unless one is to believe that there are no regular divers in the NHL, that leads to one irrefutable conclusion: The NHL is not serious about curtailing diving and embellishment and the protocol is simply ignored. Every team has its own divers, so they don’t complain.

Montreal's Emelin is felled by a gentle tap (via @peteblackburn)

Montreal’s Emelin is felled by a gentle tap (via @peteblackburn)

 

Diving/Embellishment in the Playoffs

To date, there have been a handful of diving penalties calls in the 2014 NHL playoffs.

Most notable were the two dives called in one game against the New York Rangers.  Some context:  the Rangers had taken Game 1 of their opening round series against Philadelphia. The Flyers, playing a physical game, found themselves in the penalty box frequently – taking six penalties to the Rangers’ two.  Series supervisor Bill McCreary likely saw the disparity and briefed the Game 2 officials to watch out for New York to try to leverage the Flyers’ tendencies to commit infractions.   The Game 2 crew, Eric Furlatt and Wes McCauley, took note. Neither of them had called any diving infractions to that point in the post season, and neither has called any since. The Rangers, charged with just two embellishment calls all season, were tapped for two on the night, negating possible power plays.  The New York players objected to the calls.

 “I didn’t think I was diving, but the refs make mistakes like we make mistakes,” Zuccarello said to the New York Times. “I thought it was a bad call. I think everyone who watches me knows I don’t dive. That’s what I thought when I got the call — I would never dive. But it’s forgotten now.”

Dorsett also disagreed with the call against him.  “I can’t see him coming, and I’m in a vulnerable position — I don’t think I embellished,” he said. “If I’m going to dive, am I going to dive face-first into the boards?”

“I’m not sure if [the referees] changed their mind after [the Flyers] started yelling,” said Derek Dorsett, “I watched the replay, and I don’t think there was any embellishment.”

For the record, there’s been just one other game since the start of the 1998-99 season where a team was called for multiple diving penalties.  It also happened to be a playoff game: Game 6 of the 2010 first-round matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and the Washington Capitals.  Habs winger Maxim Lapierre was caught twice and his teammate Brian Gionta was called once.    (Referees for that game were Tim Peel and Dan O’Rourke.)

Stewart also challenges the scope of the league’s diving review process:

PS:  “Was there any video reviewed on at least dozen other embellishments by players on both sides — Philadelphia and New York alike — during that series? How about the other seven series in the first round?”

Montreal's Dale Weise doesn't even bother to sell it, he just falls down (via @myregularface)

Montreal’s Dale Weise doesn’t even bother to sell it, he just falls down (via @myregularface)

How to Eliminate Diving?

You have to change the players’ mindset. Guys out there are trying anything to gain an edge — especially in closely-called playoff games.

Even retired Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque sees the benefit of diving:  “If [embellishing] gets you a call why not? How many times do you see a guy that gets hit with the stick right around the helmet? And if you don’t react, if you don’t kind of send your head back or something like that, fifty percent of the time the referee won’t call it.”

The benefit far outweighs the risk.  The solution seems simple: increase the risk.  Make the punishment tougher.

Stewart’s suggestion is to enforce the rule already on file.  Call it by the book.  In some cases, that means calling a diving penalty without calling an offsetting penalty. (In both Rangers/Flyers calls, there was both an initial penalty and a diving call.)  It also means enforcing the additional punishment by way of Rule 64.3’s prescribed  fines and suspensions.

Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser agrees, via his column on TSN:

The cheat-to-win attitude has evolved to include an ever expanding list of embellishers. It really detracts from the integrity of the game and has become a negative component that needs to be eradicated. There are two ways to do that; the Refs must continue to enforce embellishment with a firm standard and assess a standalone penalty whenever the opportunity is presented. Second to that, offenders’ names need to be published when the Hockey Operation Department flags them under Rule 64.3 (Fines and Suspensions) whether a penalty was called on the ice or not.

Fraser goes on to suggest a stronger consequence: harsher penalties. He recommends making embellishment a double minor penalty.

Whatever the approach, whatever it takes, the NHL needs to take a firm stand on embellishment.  It’ll keep getting worse.  It’s already embarrassing.

 


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