December 09, 2011
In the third period on Thursday night, Minnesota Wild forward (and Puck Daddy Q&A curse victim) Kyle Brodziak connected on a shoulder-to-shoulder hit that sent Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar head-first into the boards. Brodziak was whistled for a 5-minute major and a game misconduct.
Brodziak, after the game, was indignant; especially since Kopitar recovered quickly enough to participate in the major penalty power play. From the Star Tribune:
"[If] you're lying on the ice for five minutes like that and play the next shift, you're obviously not that hurt," Brodziak said, sarcastically.
Did Kopitar embellish an injury? The impact against the boards seemed pretty violent. It's not exactly outlandish to believe he was shaken up on impact, shook off the pain and got back out there. It doesn't mean he was embellishing.
But doesn't mean there isn't embellishment in the NHL. Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators, for example, was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when Alex Ovechkin jabbed him with his stick in the stomach. That the NHL didn't act on that spear would seem to indicate that it also felt the effects of the play were exaggerated.
The Brendan Shanahan-led Department of Player Safety has emphasized the responsibly on the player being hit as much as the hitter: Not embellishing, not putting themselves in a prone position.
It's also emphasized the importance, and severity, of injuries within the scope of its discipline. Marc Fistric was suspended because his "illegal hit" resulted in an Nino Niederreiter concussion. Ville Leino only received one game on a blatant head shot partly because Matt Read wasn't injured.
So if injury plays a central role in rules enforcement, shouldn't feigning an injury to draw significant penalties carry some sort of League-level punishment?
That's the case Justin from State of the State of Hockey made after the Wild game last night. He felt Kopitar stayed down to milk an injury, and forced the major. Which is why the League needs to come down on embellishment:
I think the league is hesitant to take any action that is seen as undermining referees. However, in the recent case of Mark Fistric, the NHL did (rightfully) offer supplemental discipline on a play that had no penalty called on the ice. So my idea to fine (and maybe suspend repeat offenders) players for instances with no penalty recorded is not without some precedent.
When players who dive (rightfully) believe they are in the clear if their deception works on a referee. Once they fool the ref, nothing is going to happen to them.
If supplemental discipline were involved, players would have to realize their fakery will not only have to trick a referee at full speed, but fool the Department of Player Safety, which has the benefit of instant replay, countless angles and considerably more time to make a call. That seems like a far better way to deal with the league's divers than putting all the pressure on game officials, as seems to be the case right now.
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.
The NHL peeps up when diving and embellishment become an "epidemic," which is to say when coaches in the playoffs bitch enough about it. But overall, taking a hard line one embellishment is difficult from a League perspective because:
1. It's impossible to play doctor through the television. A player returning to the ice after an injury isn't necessarily an indication of embellishment — hey, how about it being a symbol of toughness?
2. It balances an illegal act with a dramatic reaction. An illegal check is still an illegal check. Going after a player for embellishment undermines the hard-line the League needs to take against the hit itself.
3. It calls out the on-ice officials. As Kerry Fraser wrote on TSN:
We have seen escalated levels of embellishment and diving become problematic for the game and the referees. I took it personally, as a referee, when a player was dishonest and attempted to cheat the game and me through embellishing marginal contact, or even in an attempt to sell a legitimate infraction when my arm was already raised.
… Referees are human and don't want to be taken advantage of or embarrassed. Calling an undeserved penalty after getting fooled by a player who takes a dive is one of the worst forms of embarrassment a referee can experience; especially when the in-house replay displays the evidence.
As Justin pointed out, the NHL already calls out its officials by suspending for plays that weren't penalized. This would only add to the public shaming.
Look, no one wants the NHL to turn into some kind of soccer league in which players are rolling around on the ice after every hit looking for a call. But there are so many pitfalls, so many uncertainties when it comes to the League going after injury embellishment.
Is anyone really comfortable with something called the Department of Player Safety telling an NHL player his pain isn't real?