Diving in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: Marchand, Kesler and embellishing for glory
As of Tuesday night, there have been 22 games played in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In those 22 games, there have been two players whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that involved diving: Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first period of Game 2, and Jiri Hudler of the Detroit Red Wings in the third period of Game 1.
Yet to read, hear and see the reaction from NHL fans, the depths of diving in these playoffs is only surpassed by James Cameron in the Marianas Trench. Some of this astonishment-slash-outrage is warranted because there are more than a handful of players that are leaving their skates every time someone blinks in their direction.
Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks, for example, has been seen somersaulting at center ice in an attempt to draw a call against Mike Richards of the Los Angeles Kings, and later acted like the end boards were slicked with bacon grease in an attempt to draw a call during a game in LA.
On Monday night, it was Brad Marchand's turn to get the Louganis label, called out by announcers and the Washington Post and Capitals Outsider:
(C'mon, that Backstrom cross-check wasn't a dive, was it?)
Wrote Philip Van der Vossen of Capitals Outsider:
"I understand the league has a violence / suspension problem on its hands right now, but they really need to start suspending serial divers as well. Despite what Alan May thinks, nobody really wants our sport to turn into soccer."
And yet we're stuck with a disciplinary process that heavily weighs injuries in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for suspensions, begging for soccer-style embellishment …
But about diving: Are we really going to pretend this isn't an effective tactic for victory in the NHL?
First off, let's establish this: Every team has a dressing room filled with players who drop, flop and dive.
Not every player dives. There are some that see it as an affront of the Game, and they don't traffic in it. And, conversely, there are those who do it habitually.
I think diving is an effective tactic for antagonism. For a player like Marchand, it's part of the total package of pissing you off: NHL players hate going to the box on a play in which the guy they allegedly fouled sold it like a WWE jobber.
There's a difference between diving on a play and feigning an injury. Diving, in my estimation, is embellishing contact to draw a penalty. Rolling around on the ice to milk it, seeing if that two can become a five … that's where I draw my line on unsportsmanlike conduct. Perhaps you draw it elsewhere.
Our friend Bobby Holik draws it at "don't dive":
This is the playoffs and you do not win games by diving or embellishing penalties. I have no problem players pushing the limits. Play tough, play gritty and use all you can to your advantage. I understand, and most fans understand, how much you want to win. Winning is a lot of fun, but diving or embellishing should not be part of any game.
As Andrew Eide wrote on The Hockey Writers, diving in the playoffs is a rite of the postseason:
Asking every team to stop complaining is about as futile as asking every player to not dive. It's still going to happen. Just remember that when you hear it, it probably is coming from the losing team who is desperate to find an edge to get back in their series. Feel free to ignore the complaints.
That doesn't mean you have to ignore the dives, but just don't entertain a coach's self-righteous claims about the other team. Every team has the stain of diving on their hands.
There will be dives in this playoff season and those dives may result in a key power play goal being scored and someone moving on. There will be considerable and understandable outrage. Diving needs to be looked at by the NHL but the answer to the problem is unclear. Perhaps only calling the unsportsmanlike penalty when someone dives would be a start. Or the league could look at suspending a player once they have taken a set amount of dives.
Does the NHL have a diving problem?
No, of course it doesn't. Players have always drawn calls, and will continue to. We just all have collective amnesia about it from postseason to postseason, much like we do with fighting or dangerous hits. We've got the memory of goldfish — each postseason is shiny and new, until it's tarnished.
What the NHL, and by proxy their chronic embellishers have, is a video problem: Every dive, flop, feign or fakery will be captured on YouTube, turned into a .gif and proliferated around the Web. And before you know it, their faces are on a slip-and-slide box.
Would I like to see more diving calls? Of course. Not only because 4-on-4 hockey is a slice of fried gold, but because diving is inherently evil.
But I see it as a necessary evil, and not the scornful act others do. It's only a dive until your team gets a power play — then it's drawing a penalty.