It's been more than a decade since the NHL added a second referee on the ice. It might just be time for the league to look into employing even more officials. The greatest need now is for a set of judges rink-side to hand out scores for the acts of the ever-increasing ranks of divers disgracing the game.
Bruins fans are familiar with the antics, having seen it often enough over the years in games against the ultimate masters of the craft in Montreal. And in last year's Stanley Cup Final, the Canucks brought the art of the flop to the sport's highest stage.
Of course, even the Bruins themselves aren't completely innocent. Brad Marchand, who called out the Habs before a March game when he noted that the Canadiens "like to get in and shoot their mouths off and then when you hit them they'll dive down and fall easy," was whistled for diving twice in last year's Stanley Cup run alone.
Yes, this is an epidemic from which no team is completely free. Marchand's criticism of the Canadiens may well have been accurate, but the whole pot-meet-kettle dynamic blunts the impact of his words just a tad.
Fortunately, he's not the only NHLer speaking out about the problem. Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf couldn't contain his disgust last week after Nashville agitator Jordin Tootoo did his best Greg Louganis to embellish a Corey Perry slash.
"We keep talking about all this stuff and changing rules and head shots and all that kind of stuff," Getzlaf told the Orange County Register. "That's not the stuff that's hurting our game. It's the lack of respect on the ice. I'm tired of watching Jordin Tootoo out there, a guy who runs around and hits and does everything else but the first little slash, he's laying on the ice and he's out the next shift.
"It's embarrassing and I'm sick of it," Getzlaf continued. "If they want to change the game and they want things to be better and they want more respect on the ice, get guys like that off the ice then. I'm sick of it."
The players should be sick of it. Such antics cheapen the game. Hockey has long enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as the toughest of sports. Players are revered for playing through an assortment of painful injuries that would fell most normal men. Admit it, whenever news of the latest baseball player headed to the disabled list is announced, who hasn't at least once uttered some variation on the familiar joke about a hockey player not even missing a shift for that?
But the more players opt to dive at the slightest contact, embellishing to draw calls and feigning injury in efforts to increase the severity of those penalties, the more hits the game takes to its storied tradition of toughness and integrity.
It's up to the players to police this problem themselves. There's only so much the refs can do. With the speed the game is played at, it's asking too much of the officials to always catch the perpetrators flopping for calls, especially when players like Mike Ribeiro could give acting lessons to Meryl Streep.
The league has tried to keep the antics in check in recent years with attempted crackdowns, fines for repeat offenses and even trying to publicly shame the most recalcitrant with a list of known offenders. The NHL rulebook even has a whole section dedicated to the problem (Rule 64 — Diving/Embellishment).
But it's done little to stem the flow of flops. The referees often seem reluctant to make the call, and when they do it's usually only to even up a call already being made, rather than putting the offending party's team shorthanded. This season, according to CBSSports.com's breakdown of penalties by infraction, there's been just three diving penalties called so far this season. Two Capitals, Alexander Semin and Matt Hendricks, and Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke (shocking — I know that he would ever do anything to disgrace the game) have each been called for diving once, and all three came with a matching penalty to the opposing team.
With such low odds of being caught, it's little wonder that more and more players are willing to try to give their team an edge by diving for calls. The only way to truly stop it is through pressure from their fellow players, who don't want to let hockey degenerate even further to soccer on ice.
"They tried to do something about it by adding a fine for guys diving," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said this week. "I mean, obviously we're not a team that does that. From a personal standpoint as a player, I don't know how you could dive and then go off the ice smiling because you think you did something good. You should have more pride in yourself than doing something like that."
Pride and professionalism should be the antidote for this disease, but the diving epidemic in hockey is proving to be a very virulent strain.
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