Saturday, 21 June 2014

Gentlemen, To Your Corners! - Round 1

Elton John once sang that Saturday is alright for fighting, and we're going to have our first mano-a-mano battle here on HBIC as John M. and Neal L. go one-on-one in a battle of wits! The To Your Corners feature will run regularly through the summer, but the schedule will entirely be decided by the writers. If you want to write an article to be featured on HBIC, get scribing and send it off once you're done to me at this email address!

Without further adieu, let's get this bout underway! I'll let the boys set this up as John and Neal come out swinging in the first installment of To Your Corners!

What Should the NHL do about diving?

Intoduction - The current NHL rules on diving: 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 or goalkeepers who dive or embellish a fall or a reaction, or who feign injury. See also Rule 28 – Supplementary Discipline. The call on the ice by the Referee is totally independent of supplementary discipline.

The first such incident during the season will result in a warning letter being sent to the player or goalkeeper. 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.) See also Rule 28 – Supplementary Discipline.

John's Reply

Embellishment is out of control and embarrassing and I really think the NHL needs to take drastic action to fix it. The reason I love hockey so much is because the players aren't egomaniacs, they aren't money grubbers, and they aren't poor sports. Hockey players play the game with integrity and honor. I believe ever since the crackdown on obstruction, the integrity of the game is going out the window. Do you want the NHL to be mocked like soccer… err, umm, football? How about like punters in Football… er, umm, American Football flopping around at the smallest amount of contact? Or baseball players faking being hit by a pitch? Diving happens in all sports, but isn't what makes hockey special is it's not like those other sports?

Personally, I would do 3 things to fix this flopping epidemic.

First would be to enforce the rules on file already (see rule 64.3 above). The NHL needs to create a committee to review possible dives, both missed and called. This committee will be in charge of enforcing rule 64.3 as it is written. Also, the fine amount needs to be raised to match a current player’s wallet. Now you might be thinking how many players get caught embellishing at least three times a season, and my answer to you is that if they are reviewing all possible embellishment plays, players will get caught much more often. As of now there is at least one embellishment a night - a minor variety like a player just falling down easier or holding a player's stick in the crook of his armpit to make it look like hooking or a major violation like a player jumping head first into the boards. I would create a committee to review these types of plays just like head shots are reviewed.

The second thing I would do is make an embellishment call on the ice a double-minor. Currently there are absolutely no consequences for players diving. Except for a few circumstances, whenever there is an embellishment call there is also a call of a concurrent penalty. So if someone dives, the worst thing that could happen most times is an even call penalty on a play that might not have gotten a call anyway. BUT if you make embellishment a double-minor, a diver is putting his team shorthanded when they should/could have been on the powerplay. As a result, players will not be looking for the advantage of getting the powerplay by diving, but instead will be trying to avoid the embellishment call as much as possible. You will likely see a lot less penalties called because players will try and skate through sticks and hooks instead of going down.

Finally, like the Competition Committee said, the NHL needs to fine the coach and franchise as well. If players are going to get cumulative fines and suspensions, coaches should get the same treatment. For example, if Player A is given a violation for diving, and then Player B receives one, followed shortly by Player C embellishing a call, each of those players is only going to get a letter for a one-time offense. However, to make sure the coach and the GM are getting involved to ensure their players are playing with integrity, the coach and the team should be fined as well. I would say three embellishments within a 30-day time period results in the coach and team being fined. Each following incident within that timeframe will result in increasing amounts for the coach and team.

There was a time when players would be afraid of diving because other players would dish out their own retribution. There was also a time when officials like Paul Stewart would warn coaches to keep players in line with the "or else" threat. Today's NHL doesn't provide players or officials with this type of discouragement, forcing us to rely on the league to make the right decisions.

Neal's Reply

I understand why people want the NHL to crack down on diving. I really do. The problem is that, to some extent, it's part of the game. Believe me, as a Rangers fan I cringed every time I saw Tomas Plekanec put on an Oscar-winning performance. The fact is the NHL has bigger axes to grind than diving in my opinion. I feel like this issue can be cracked down more by the officials on the ice. The main issue is that there really is no disincentive to dive. At worst, your team is playing a 4-on-4 situation, which to some teams - the Pittsburgh Penguins - may be a really good trade-off. Basically, diving is a one-way bet, especially if your team is a good 4-on-4 team. I feel like the officials should do more of shaking their heads at diving, and any player deemed guilty of embellishment have their team shorthanded. Eliminating the incentive to dive should be enough.

The other issue I have with cracking down on diving is how the punishment fits the crime. For one, do we really want to start seeing players getting suspended for four games for diving? That would be the punishment for the fifth offense. We have much more dangerous plays on the ice that only result in a couple games or no games.

Also, what is considered embellishment? Sure there were stuff like the Plekanec incidents where the embellishments were cartoonish, but what about the countless plays that occur where there is a clear infraction and the "victim" just gives a little sell to make sure he gets the call? When these plays happen, announcers often call them "smart hockey plays", but based on this you have to start reviewing these as well. We definitely don't want to go down the slippery slope of having to review every penalty to see if the guy gave a little extra to get the call. How is that penalty any different than say hooking? Are we going to start fining players for tripping? We would think that's ridiculous. Just keep diving a minor penalty and be done with it. If I want to penalize things, it's only clear cut examples of diving and I want those examples to be corrected on the ice where it belongs.

In conclusion, we can't have this be handled in the league office. It would be overwhelming and inconsistent. We complain how Brendan Shanahan and now Stephane Quintal handle dirty hits, so imagine the uproar over seasons being altered by a diving suspension that takes a star player out when maybe his falling isn't quite a dive? John will say this is the point of suspending the player, but do we really want that? Besides, if a player is labeled as a diver and causes his team to be shorthanded a lot, he will get punished through his next contract. Teams won't want to pay premium money to guys who take a lot of penalties. Isn't that punishment enough?
Wow. Compelling made arguments on both sides will make this a more difficult judgement as we check the judge's scorecards. Ok, my scorecard. In any case, here comes the score!

First off, I agree with Neal that less is more in terms of forming a committee. There should be a review done by the league on whistled embellishment calls, though, but I'm not sure a committee is needed. Perhaps embellishment calls should be reviewed by the newly-created Director of Player Safety currently held by former Flyers scout Patrick Burke. As Brendan Shanahan said in his statement, "The ability to evaluate players that Patrick refined as a pro and amateur scout will be invaluable to the team that monitors games each night to both identify incidents that might merit Supplemental Discipline and to note developing trends in our game." The bolding and italics highlight the most important aspects that deal directly with embellishment - identifying embellishment incidents that might warrant supplemental discipline and the identification of the embellishment trend.

In saying that, however, I agree with John in that the punishment for embellishment, if a trend is found, should increase for each case of embellishment found beyond the first case. Basically, if a trend in a player's game is identified as he accumulates embellishment penalties, that needs to be corrected. One player should not be able to try and alter games with acting. That kind of mockery isn't necessary nor does it reflect well upon the game itself.

While I agree with Neal that suspensions to that player could also affect a team greatly and don't really fit the crime, fines of increasing value to himself, his coach, and the franchise is not out of line at all and I'm onboard with John in this case. If a player wants to make a mockery of this game, he's going to affect more than just himself if and when he's caught acting.

While it isn't called often, I agree with John in that if a player is caught embellishing a penalty in order to gain an advantage, his poor acting should result in his team being at a disadvantage. Make the embellishment call a double-minor - two minutes for diving and two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. Suddenly the impetus to dive or embellish a call becomes detrimental to the team in a big way. As Neal pointed out, "eliminating the incentive to dive should be enough", but the penalty for doing so should be harsher than just a slap on the wrist or a wagging of the finger.

If I had to score this one, it would literally be a one-point separation between these two men. Both made good arguments as I agreed with facts in both cases, but I also found some flaws in the arguments that may work against them. In the end, though, the higher point total for this round on my card went to the man who wants to see diving and embellishment punished harshly!

A great start to this new feature here on HBIC as both John and Neal came out strong in the inaugural installment of To Your Corners! If you want to participate in something like this, email me here and I can explain how this works! If you want to submit your own article with no opposing view, you can do that by emailing me too!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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