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  • How the expectation of toughness has changed Print
    Written by Justin Bourne   
    Wednesday, 20 July 2011 15:04

    Players today are "diving" in response to contact that would have been considered commonplace 30 years ago. But it's not for the reason you might expect.

    Justin Bourne Yesterday I sat down to watch the New York Islanders complete a sweep of the Edmonton Oilers in the 1983 Stanley Cup Final and something intrigued me.

    When players from that era discuss the state of the game at that time, they talk a lot about respect. You wouldn’t slash a guy in the ankle unless you wanted to start something, because he (or one of his teammates) would make you answer the bell you just rung.

    The difference was, an “ankle slash” in that era was apparently sneaking a baseball bat in your pants out for a shift and swinging the thing like Jose Bautista.

    The game was full of hacks and whacks and hooks and holds (those weren’t even really illegal in those days), but instead of guys turning around and dropping the mitts, they didn’t even flinch, let alone look back.

    There was an expectation at the time that players understood: Hockey is a tough game and if you want to play, you’re going to take some bumps and bruises. Of course, they did stand up for themselves when they were on the wrong end of the baseball swing, but when most guys had the puck they took a steady stream of whack-whack-whack from the defender, accepting it as part of the difficulty of trying to get to the net.

    If a defenseman did that today, Twitter would explode. “PENALTY!,” we’d all yell, myself included. The commentators would talk about it. And hell, the ref probably would call it.

    All of that is a long and windy preface to get to my point: I’m pretty sure that change is part of the reason why we’re seeing more diving in our game today.

    For the better, we’ve tried to rid the game of the cheap stuff. We’ve tried to protect the players. The NHL may always be a few steps behind where a few of the more passionate hockey pseudo-pacifists want it, but the game has evolved some, a point which nobody can argue (if it’s more dangerous, it’s in the guys-getting-bigger-and-faster department).

    Knowing that more penalties will be called has led to a considerably cleaner game. Post-lockout penalties skyrocketed after the crackdown on obstruction – teams had an average of 480 power-play opportunities in 2005-06 – but in 2010-11 they were back down around the 1980s levels (291, compared to an average in the low 300s two decades ago).

    So the players are playing a cleaner brand of hockey, with the same amount of penalties being called, which means refs are looking for smaller and smaller infractions to call.

    If Any Little Thing can become a power play, you might as well act like Any Little Thing just happened over and over.

    And there’s where the dive makes its grand entrance. Any Little Thing can become a power play, so you might as well act like Any Little Thing just happened over and over and over.

    I have no fix-all solution to this (what, let the guys slash each other more?) I’m just making an observation why we’re seeing something in our game more now than we did then. It’s not that this generation of players is soft or scared or sneaky, it’s that, just like the players from years ago, they’ll do just about anything to win.

    We can crack down with more diving penalties and that may help, but the players have learned how to use this tool now.

    Refs damn well have to see a dive plain and clear to have the stones to call a player out on it, which means for the most part, they’ll tend to call the infraction when they see it out of the corner of their eye. (Refs really don’t like admitting “they didn’t see it.”)

    It is what it is at this point. Hopefully we can minimize its prevalence but, in the end, the dive came about from our own interest in protecting players.

    Photo of ? by Getty Images

    Comments (1)

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    I see your point in playing devils advocate on diving begets power-plays, I just prefer seeing a different way of playing through it. For example, embellishing has always been around. You're getting hooked around the ribs? Clamp your elbow, turn away from the player, and skate to show you're being impeded embellishing the hook.
    You're facing the boards with puck possession, defender puts his stick through your legs to try to steal? Cross over his stick to skate away and try to drive through it. If they keep their stick there you will fall and draw a penalty. If the let go or throw their hands up to show innocence, you just beat your defender.
    What I hate is when guys feel a stick at their feet and just drop like they've been shot, or throwing heads back when a stick is up but never touched them. Draw penalties, but work for them and get real infractions called
    Nikolai , July 21, 2011

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    Last Updated on Thursday, 21 July 2011 10:06