Thursday, September 14, 2006

Rule 52, Where Are You?

"It's an awful thing to do to the game. It's a lack of respect for the game, going down easy. But it is, in my opinion, at epidemic proportions." -- Flyers GM Bob Clarke, November 22, 2005.
Bob Clarke was speaking during a week where Peter Forsberg accused Sidney Crosby of diving, and the teams traded insults. The irony was surely not lost on the good folks at, who attribute an almost Latin flair for the somersault to the Swede: "The glancing touch of an opposing player's arm can catapult him headfirst across the ice...The gentle brush of an opponent's glove can launch Forsberg eight feet through the air as if a landmine that only Peter can feel has exploded somewhere beneath his skates..."

Tom Renney pulled a similar move after game two against New Jersey when he accused the Devils of diving, presumably trying to influence the officiating in the rest of the series.

And today, the NHL announced further rule changes to stiffen the penalties for diving contained in Rule 52.

The trouble is, the story doesn't stand up. Diving's either a significant problem, or it isn't.

If you believe diving's a problem, then the changes made by the league are an insult to your intelligence. Under the old rules, the penalties escalated in four increments:
  • First incident: a warning letter from Colin Campbell.
  • Second incident: $1,000 fine.
  • Third incident: $2,000 fine.
  • Fourth incident: one game suspension.
Set your for a moment your incredulous reaction at the thought that a letter sent home is a serious threat. Unless you're still in third grade, it's hardly a deterrent. But maybe that’s the problem the league is going to fix. Alas, no. Under the new system the scale runs:
  • First incident: a warning letter from Colin Campbell.
  • Second incident: $1,000 fine.
  • Third incident: a telephone hearing with Colin Campbell and a possible one-game suspension.
  • Subsequent violations: double the term of the last suspension assessed.
Bestill my beating heart. The letter hasn’t worked. The fine hasn’t worked. I’m thinking about my third dive but pull myself back at the last second: if I do this, the principal’s going to call home.

Looking at these rules there’s an obvious question to be asked: how many players were penalized at each level under the 2005 rules?

I’ve looked, but don’t have an answer. There are no apparent references to diving penalties in the NHL site’s news coverage for last season, and because the penalties are assessed by the league and don’t require an in-game call by an official, there’s not necessarily a public record.

Campbell suggested last November that the policing was going on behind the scenes, and employing shaming methods that are outside the rules: "We've been sending out warning letters, per the competition committee's direction. The next step for a second dive is that player will be fined $1,000 and his name is put on a list and circulated around the 30 dressing rooms. In my mind, the fact that his name will be circulated among the 30 dressing rooms is enough to hopefully bring the temperature down in the diving area."

Peter Forsberg, call your NHLPA rep! If Campbell’s blacklist has been circulating around the league, the Player’s Association should be fighting back and demanding that he stick to the penalties set out in the rules.

But the bottom line is that unless a significant number of players hit penalty levels three and four last season it’s hard to see how these changes will make a difference. If you believe diving's a problem, this isn't the solution. And in the absence of evidence that substantiates the extent of the diving problem, it’s hard to give much credence to claims it’s epidemic and requiring rule changes. Until we see the numbers, I'll remain a skeptic.


At 11:03 PM, Blogger joninabox said...

I think the biggest problem is the standard of punishment for diving, which you outlined, was not actually enforced last year. Sean Avery was the only skater fined for diving IIRC, and that occurred shortly after one of his infamous comments regarding one race or another. Kovalchuk received probably two or three diving penalties last season by my recollection, and no letter or fine was issued, at least publicly.

So really, in the mind of most players, even if they do get caught they're not even going to get the trash fodder letter, just 2 minutes in the sin bin.

At 11:43 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

Agreed. It should start with the in-game punishment, and if those calls aren't being made the league office should send out all the letters necessary to get the players moving through the disciplinary process. Publicizing the incidents/players would help too, and raise awareness among players about what's not acceptable.


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