Why the NHL won’t suspend its diving embellishing players


TORONTO – The general managers had a message for the NHL when it came to diving and embellishment.

“[They said], ‘We don’t want to be soccer,’” according to Colin Campbell, senior vice president of hockey operations.

Of course, general managers and coaches and players have a funny way of avoiding their mirrors when speaking about embellishment. “A lot of people dive, except for your players. We get that,” said Campbell, sarcastically.

The NHL is always looking out for players who are penalized for diving and some whose embellishment is undetected by officials but leads to penalties. A group of nine individuals in the NHL front office looks at a dive; if six of them agree it was embellishment, then a fine is handed out.

The players have a chance to appeal the decision, and Campbell said some have taken them up on that.

“Matt Cooke did the double-barrel roll [dive] in the playoffs and he said he just had a hip operation. He said, 'I had to double-barrel roll in order to avoid hurting my hip again,'” said Campbell.

Cooke, then with the Minnesota Wild, stated his case and … well, he ended up losing a vote of support.

The NHL changed its supplemental discipline rules for diving in the 2014-15 season, with first-time offenders getting a warning and then getting a small fine for each subsequent offense. After the fourth time the player dives, their coach is also hit with a $2,000 fine. (The player pays $4,000.) By the eighth offense, the player and the coach both pay $5,000, but that’s the cap on financial penalties.

Why not fine these players more significantly in, in fact, there are chronic divers and embellishers in the NHL?

“That was asked,” said Campbell on Tuesday, at the NHL general managers meeting in Toronto. “Some people wanted to go to suspensions.

But suspending embellishers isn’t something the NHL wants to do. Not because the offense is inherently subjective – one man’s reflex is another man’s intentional head-snap to sell a high stick – but because supplemental discipline for diving is cumulative. The NHL isn’t comfortable with the cumulative effect of these penalties being a late-season, mandatory suspension.

“It’s tough because when these things go through the season, they mount, and you’d be suspending players in February and March,” said Campbell. “So some guy whacks a guy and there isn’t a suspension, but then you have a dive and the guy is suspended.”

In the end, Campbell said, the financial penalties aren’t necessarily the point of the league’s supplemental discipline for divers.

“It’s not about penalizing the player. It’s about educating the referees to watch out for those guys,” he said.

(This is your semi-annual reminder that diving is both a scourge on our game and a completely effective tactic employed by every NHL player to earn his team a penalty. And while we applaud the efforts of the League and the NHLPA in identifying and shaming the chronic tumblers and dramatists, let’s just all agree that while the NHL isn’t “soccer” isn’t also never going to be a league without embellishment, m’kay?)