You Can't Out-skate a Bad Reputation

Thomas Drance
September 20 2012 12:01PM

Since he made his NHL debut, and probably well before that, Ryan Kesler has played the game of hockey on the edge. More precisely, he's always played hockey with an edge: he's surly on the ice, he plays a style that is "unimpeded" by any regard for his own physical well being, and occassionally, he'll do his utmost to sell a call.

That latter bit, in my observation, has become a bigger part Kesler's game over the past season. During the playoffs it resulted in him being roundly mocked on the interwebs, but now, there's a chance that it could result in some officially sanctioned public embarrassment as well.

Read on past the jump.

Per Darren Dreger, writing about the possibility of the league instituting a "divers list":

Vancouver Canucks centre Ryan Kesler has been identified as an offender. While Kesler plays the game hard, he has been known to exaggerate contact to gain an advantage.

What Kesler may find himself threatened with going forward, is as follows:

Everything from posting pictures of each culprit in every NHL dressing room to re-instituting a fine system, or simply tacking on an additional two-minute penalty to offset the original call is being discussed by hockey operations and will at some point be presented to all NHL general managers for further discussion.

Oddly enough, one of the most outspoken proponents of insituting a diving list is none other than Kelser's teammate Kevin Bieksa. Awkward!

All of this "diving list" talk is a little bit too "thought police-y" for my taste. That said, I grew really tired of watching Kesler's on-ice dishonesty, and called him on it in gamers and on Twitter throughout the 2011-12 season. A lot of diving can start to eat away at some of hockey's rugged appeal, and if there was a common sense way to actually eliminate it, I'd be all for it.

But none of the following options: instiuting a diving list, or regular fines for divers, or trusting referees to assess an extra penalty in a fast-moving game; strike me as a compelling way to go about it. In fact, I'd argue (and I have previously) that the off-the-books "reputation system" that is currently in place already works. And Kesler is a good example of why:

Frankly, "reputation" already does a pretty good job of regulating the likelihood of an individual getting the "benefit of the doubt" from referees. Take Ryan Kesler, a dominant possession player with footspeed to burn, who saw the rate at which he draws penalties crater this season: from 1.5 peantlies drawn/60 in 2010-11, to 0.6 penalties drawn/60 during the past campaign (source: behindthenet.ca)...

Update: our own Petbugs, as is his wont, did well to express the current "reputation system" in graph form:

That Kesler stopped getting the benefit of the doubt last season, causes me to wonder if there was a feedback loop in effect. Penalty calls and power-play opportunities declined league-wide, but the rate at which Kesler drew penalties compeltely imploded. In dealing with that reality, it would make some sense if Kesler thought he had to work harder to draw penalties and just went about it in the wrong way.

Whatever the case, it's as clear to most Canucks fans as it is to league officials: Kesler has lost his "jerk-puck" compass and needs to get that floppy junk out of his game. If the league creates a new supplemental disciplinary regime to penalize embellishers, or even if they don't - for Ryan Kesler. the time to make like Uncle Joey and cut-it-out is nigh. 

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 Innovation
September 20 2012, 12:11PM
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It drives me nuts having to defend him (as I would anyone wearing a Canucks jersey) time after time on obvious dives. He's so much better than that. I hate to say it, but I am glad a rule like this is coming out. I would love to see divers made examples of publicly by way of fine or otherwise. The last thing I want is for hockey to become men's soccer. Women's soccer is still alright.

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#2 Trevor
September 20 2012, 12:32PM
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Totally agree with you on this one. Kesler really lost the plot last season and it showed on the ice.

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#3 Unknown Comic
September 20 2012, 12:38PM
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Kesler's problem is he is really bad a selling dives. The acting is right up there with Wayne Gretzky on Saturday Night Live.. On the other hand, Dustin Brown is hockey's version of Meryl Streep. His acting skills are impeccable and leave him leading the league in "penalties drawn" in 4 out of the last 5 seasons but without much of a rep compared to Kesler.

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#5 KleptoKlown
September 20 2012, 01:51PM
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Every player will embellish an infraction from time to time, but if a player does it so often that they get a reputation for it, they should feel embarrassed for themselves and teammates.

Best way to avoid that reputation is to stop diving. It might take a lot of games until the refs notice, but they eventually will. Changing your work ethic can get a known diver the benefit of the doubt.

Kesler specifically needs to stop that crap as soon as the season starts. He has the speed and drive in his game that would naturally draw more than half a penalty per game.

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#6 Ashley Raabis
September 24 2012, 10:02PM
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Your point about it being difficult to call in real time is the hardest part of penalizing the divers. I think that there should be suspensions involved for divers after the fact when league officials can look at the tape over and over and slow it down. A game or two here and there would get rid of this nonsense...especially from guys like Kesler in Brown who play the game so right other than their theatrics now and then.

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