Kevin Bieksa wants the diving to stop.
As a team, the Canucks have a reputation for being the diviest divers in diverville. During the London 2012 games for example, Twitter was routinely ravaged by predictable jokes that riffed on Vancouver’s NHL club using Olympic diving events as a… uh… springboard. I suppose that’s the cost of having players who are reputed to be "floppy," and the Canucks employ several in the Sedin twins (not actually divers), Maxim Lapierre, Alex Burrows, Roberto Luongo, and Ryan "tumbleweed" Kesler.
This week in Toronto, a select group of players, officials and team executives met for a "Rules Summit" to discuss, and hopefully address the officiating standards in the NHL. Among the attendees were Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis, and two-way defensive ace Kevin Bieksa.
One issue that has been talked about a fair bit over the past six months or so is the slippage in the standard for what constitutes an obstruction penalty. You can be sure that Mike Gillis, who has addressed this topic at length in the press this offseason, was preoccupied by the fact that power-play opportunities fell to a post-lockout low last season.
But the subject that has apparently dominated the discussion at the "Rules Summit," is the uptick in diving and embelishment league wide and what can be done about it. Per NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen (H/T PHT):
The players in the session, including Ottawa Senators center Jason Spezza, Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa and Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman John-Michael Liles, led an impassioned discussion on enforcing the diving/embellishment rule (Rule 64.1), Campbell told NHL.com. He said the players want to distribute a list of divers around the League so it can be posted in all 30 dressing rooms and be delivered to the on-ice officials.
"They want to get [the list] out there," Campbell said. "They want the player to be caught, whether it’s on the ice by the referee or by us on video. They are all tired of diving. The object is to make them stop eventually and, by doing that, they can get it out there around the League, embarrass them. The referees will know it, too, so the divers don’t get the benefit of the doubt."
According to the NHL Rulebook, players who violate the diving/embellishment rule can be subject to supplementary discipline through fine and/or suspension. Campbell said there was no appetite among the group attending the two-day summit to suspend repeat offenders, because the players feel the punishment that comes with having your name on the divers’ list would be enough to reduce the frequency with which the tactic is used.
"I talk about players being smart, they figure out when they can get calls. That’s a concern," said Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, also on hand for the rules summit. "I was glad to see the players in the meeting were concerned with it also. It’s an area of our game that I think we can clean up.""
Well excuse me while I wipe my eyes and make an exagerated windshield wiper sound effect. Is that Canucks roster player Kevin Bieksa leading the anti-embellishment charge?
Some fans, and other team’s employees have expressed surprise that Kevin Bieksa would advocate for the creation of a "diving list" that would likely point a judgemental (and highly political) finger at several of his teammates. But the fact is that such a position is consistent with Bieksa’s public comments in the past. Most notably, Bieksa expressed dismay over the lack of "integrity" displayed by his own teammates during their run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. Here’s a quote he gave the Vancouver Province in May of that year (per PHT, the Province has "moved" the original article):
“I know guys will do whatever it takes for a power play to win a game,” Bieksa said. “But sometimes they’re crossing that line of integrity. I think for the better of the game, for the good of the game we need people to stay on that line and not cross it, and not dive and exaggerate for calls.”
“It’s not cheating,” Bieksa said. “It’s within the rules and if the referee wants to assess it, he can penalize you for it. It’s not cheating but it is a matter of integrity.”
In theory, targeting the embellishment issue as a "matter of integrity" is sort of what a "diving list" would do, though I’m skeptical about whether such a document would actually improve the quality of the league’s officiating. I find it hard to believe that a public list of "known divers" wouldn’t end up reading more like an "open season" list, that would give opposing players a green light to hack away at a guy like Alex Burrows, or Dustin Brown, or Joe Thornton with relative impunity. And maybe it’s just me but the idea of former NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell getting excited by the prospect of outing "little fake artists" makes me queasy.
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)…
It’s odd, but this is the second time this offseason that the Canucks have championed a cause or rule change that would hypotetically work against their own club. At the General Managers meetings in May, Mike Gillis proposed that a minor penalty should be called whenever a face-off man swipes the puck back to his teammates using his hands, and the rule change was eventually adopted by the league. Gillis proposed this, even though his club has been in the top-3 in NHL faceoff percentage over the past two seasons, or ever since they acquired Manny Malhotra – one of the league’s foremost practioners of the "hand pass faceoff win."
In the first round of the 2012 postseason, the Canucks carried an unsustainably low shooting percentage. Unsurprisingly that number has regressed this offseason: the team has gone two for two when aiming at their own feet.