It was very strange to watch the lead-up to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final because Eddie Olcyzk took time out of his busy schedule talking about horse racing to complain at length about the diving epidemic in the league today
The Canadiens and Rangers, he said, have embarrassed themselves, the league, and the sport itself, by their continued insistence on embellishing or outright diving to get calls. Mike Milbury chimed in on the subject as well, in the way that you might expect: These guys are actors, not hockey players. That kind of thing. They were fairly upset about it.
This is the conversation these days. Isn't diving bad? What can be done about diving? Have you seen all the diving? Who's diving more?
What's strange about it all is that people are acting as though this is some kind of new thing that's only come about because of the Rangers and Canadiens.
The fact of the matter is that diving happens all the time at every level, and happens every game, and every single observer — player, coach, reporter, and fan — is fully aware of this. But when it happens, the guys to blame for this massive and embarrassing problem is The Other Guys. Kevin Bieksa said the San Jose Sharks dive, but his Canucks are terribly guilty of same. Bruins fanboys spent pretty much all their time this postseason complaining about the diving epidemic because of Montreal, but they're Bruins fans. Detroit dives. Phoenix dives. St. Louis dives. Dallas dives. Philadelphia dives. Florida dives. You could do this for everyone. And just to get it out of the way, here's a list of all the teams in the NHL that do not dive:
People seem particularly aggrieved these days by “the head snap,” that is, when a stick or a glove gets somewhere up near a guy's face, he throws his head back. Tomas Plekanec famously did this in Game 4, after everyone talked about how both teams had “embarrassed” the refs by embellishing for calls in Game 3. The reason why is simple: They'd been able to do it to great effect in the past, but because the officials were on the lookout for it, they spotted it in Plekanec's case. The guy who gets caught is always the one who gets vilified, and the quote-unquote hilarious hashtag “#Plekanecing” quickly made its way around social media (spurred on by, who else, Bruins media hacks). The reason for this is that it's hard to take a picture of throwing yourself on the ice with the force of 10 atomic bombs because a guy's stick tapped the back of your skate (#Marchanding), and that people's memories are short (#Boychuking).
So terrible, this diving scourge. What can be done, apart from making sure refs double, nay, quadruple-penalize everyone that does it?
Could the league start circulating that “divers list” again, that everyone thought was so fun?
Maybe, but the problem with this is it's only affecting the guys who get caught and penalized already, rather than the ones who do it on the regular, and get away with it. If you started including all those guys — and those who have come to hate diving so vehemently in the past couple weeks that they took to the bully pulpit of national television broadcasts would probably argue that you should — then the “divers list” is going to read like the starting lineup every night.
Here's the reality: You can't do anything about diving.
Olcyzk dove in his career. Milbury dove in his. You don't need video to know that sometimes players just go down a little bit easier. That's common sense. It's part of hockey, just as much as power plays and odd-man rushes. Players use it because it's a weapon, and because it works. If it didn't work, they'd stop, but it's always going to work.
The reason it's always going to work is that proponents of hockey's macho culture engender the worst kind of atmosphere.
Remember, this same Canadiens/Rangers series, which has been a scourge on the league and all reputations involved because of all the diving, has also seen players from one side accuse another of faking an injury he very much did not fake. Derek Stepan's jaw is quite broken, and there was nothing he could have done right in the situation to please all parties. If he'd stayed out of the rest of Game 2, instead of returning, then he further lives up to the “faker” moniker placed on him by Dr. Daniel Briere, and also “lets down his teammates” by not being as tough as other hockey players and playing through the pain. It's very much two sides of the same coin with diving: There's a stigma attached to the latter, so they do the former, often to their detriment.
And that's hockey's real problem these days. Stepan playing with a broken and largely untreated jaw, insofar as his necessary surgery was not performed until the next day. Or Dale Weise probably definitely playing with a concussion. Both after they got the absolute crap run out of them. They don't want to be labeled as divers, and they don't want to let their teams down. Diving is so terrible and not playing through pain is so terrible that more serious injury must necessarily be risked, lest hockey's big bad eye turn to them and call them cowards or sissies or whatever other un-masculine thing you can think of.
Not explicitly, mind you, because concussion culture has brought about an atmosphere in which you have to at least say that players playing through a severe head injury is bad, before or sometimes after you let them do it.
You have to be tough in hockey. That's why you also have to finish your checks. Don't finish your checks and you're going to hear about it from your coach. And that's why these injurious hits are happening to begin with. Brandon Prust and John Moore clearly hit Stepan and Weise well after they'd gotten rid of the puck because they wanted to finish their checks.
But as James Mirtle points out, there's no threshold for when a hit becomes late, and everything is judged on an individual basis; Prust hit Stepan 0.8 seconds after he released the puck. Too late. Prust says the league will usually give you about 0.6 seconds to make that hit. So we're talking about a difference of two-tenths of a second between clean and legal in this case, but it could be even less than that. And do we round up if it's 0.65 seconds?
So the league's question, then, becomes how you get rid of something that operates on such razor-thin margins. In reality, 0.2 seconds is literally less than the blink of an eye. It's incredibly tenuous.
There's one obvious solution here: If a guy doesn't have the puck, you don't get to hit him. That gets rid of all that posturing BS about “he was admiring his pass” or whatever other nonsense gets said in the name of making excuses for sickening, late, injurious hits. Tyler Dellow recently wrote about how the norm today wasn't the norm 30 years ago, but has slowly devolved into what it is now. Not that there's any going back, of course. It's never going to happen.
But that's why there's no acceptable answer to diving, or properly dealing with serious injuries, or stamping out the plays that lead to those injuries: Hockey's culture doesn't allow it. Diving is tantamount to faking which, in the playoffs at least, becomes tantamount to not-playing due to injury. That guys are allowed back into games after almost certainly being concussed, and coaches are allowed to use the vaguest language possible to explain why it's not a concussion, is ludicrous, dangerous, and unconscionable.
So too is any defense at all of a guy who lays out such hits in the name of toughness; Andrew Ference once notably called out Dan Paille for hitting Raymond Sawada late, high, and hard, on a hit that, at the time, I wrongly didn't think was all that bad. But he's the exception, because all other coaches and players go to bat for “their guy,” and everyone just accepts it as a matter of course. It's funny, in looking up that hit (and here it is, not very pretty), Daryl Reaugh makes an impassioned case for getting that kind of hit out of the game, with 25-game suspensions.
“There's a difference between finishing your check and then trying to maim somebody in the brain,” Reaugh says.
Is there? Because the one necessarily leads to the other. Sawada was concussed on that play, but if Paille hadn't committed to “finishing his check” — and by the way, he does that way earlier on this play than when Prust or Moore did it on theirs — then there's no contact and no injury. But again, people don't want to hear that. Hockey's a sport for tough guys only. If you don't like it, go watch basketball or golf, you sissy.
People love to focus on what's wrong with hockey, but they focus on the things that have no real impact. Diving. Who cares? Let everyone dive on every shift. It won't really affect anything. Late hits will, but you can't make fun of a guy for a late hit. He's just doing his job. And that's why these actual bad actors, who are actually detrimental to the sport don't get the hashtags, pre-game yak-packages, or the “what's to be done?” no-thought thinkpieces.
Acting like a guy high-sticked you harder than he did? That's deplorable.
Putting a guy in the hospital? That's hockey.