TORONTO – The most intriguing, if problematic, idea to spring from the NHL’s two-day summit on rule enforcement this week came from the players themselves: Draw a list of the league’s chronic embellishers, its most renowned divers. Then distribute that list to each of the league’s 30 teams and have it hung up, wanted-poster/detention style, in each team’s dressing room. Xerox a copy for each referees’ change room as well. The hope being that either the repeat offenders are embarrassed into curbing their embellishment and/or the officials will hold their whistle breath when a listee flops from the gentlest of hooks.
“We’re trying to find ways to improve the game,” Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos, who was part of the Toronto meetings, told sportsnet.ca Thursday. “I think the refs do a great job of reffing the game so far, but there’s areas you want to improve on to make the game better. That was something that was brought up. We’re just trying to minimize diving in the game. It’s not too big of a deal. But there are times when there’s embellishment, and if you do that, you’re going to get caught.”
When meetings wrapped Wednesday, NHL senior executive vice president Colin Campbell concluded that players, coaches and general managers are all on the same page when it comes to at least one issue this summer: they all want the diving rule (No. 64.1) enforced more strictly than it was last season. According to the current rule, players who pull a Louganis cannot only be slapped with an on-ice penalty but be fined and suspended by the league for their framework.
Campbell described Wednesday’s discussion — led by players such as Ottawa’s Jason Spezza, Toronto’s John Michel-Liles, Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa, and Stamkos — on the topic as impassioned to NHL.com. He said the players weren’t interested in the suspension route, however; they believe having one’s name on The List should shame the perpetrator into more honest behaviour.
“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.”
Wes McCauley, one of several on-ice officials attending the meetings, valued the players’ feedback: “I thought they were honest and gave us a couple of trends or tricks to the trade,” he told NHL.com. “We got a better understanding of where we want to go as a group with that.”
Flashback to 2010-11, and it was Stamkos himself who was called out by name as a diver, which ranks somewhere above “cherry-picker” and below “coward” on hockey’s hierarchy of Titles You’d Rather Avoid.
In March 2011, then Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau accused the Tampa Bay Lightning — and Stamkos in particular — of being chronic divers.
“We don’t like the way they dive every two seconds and they lead the league in power play attempts because they’ve got guys like (Steve) Downie – who if I was a referee, I would never make call on him because he dives every two seconds,” Boudreau said prior to a Caps-Lighting match, perhaps hoping to twist the refs in his favour. “Steven Stamkos dives every two seconds. You start to get a hatred for guys like that.”
Stamkos, 22, admits that he is not immune to the occasional act of overacting. But he says it’s as common as a bad line change.
“Every player in the league has done it at one point or another. Whether it’s a little bit or a lot — that’s where we’re trying to draw the line,” Stamkos explains. “If it’s happening on a consistent basis, these players need to be called out. You need to be accountable for any action you do, whether it’s in business or in sports. So we’re just trying to do that, finding a way to police ourselves and hope that (repeated diving) doesn’t happen.”
The other thing Stamkos and the rest of the players hope doesn’t happen begins with an L and ends with thousands of fans furious (or, worse, apathetic) that the NHL owners have locked out the players for the second time in eight years.
Stamkos, a native of Markham, Ont., has been double-shifting in the boardroom this month, participating in the NHLPA’s meetings as well.
We asked the 60-goal scorer what his message is to NHL fans who are growing more disillusioned by the day, as nearly every hockey pundit figures that we’re barreling for a shortened, if not lost, season with the current CBA set to expire on Sept. 15.
“It’s tough. Everyone wants something to happen right away, but that’s not the nature of negotiations. It’s takes time, and a lot of work has been put into both sides’ proposals,” Stamkos says.
“We’re just trying to stay as optimistic as possible. It could get done today, it could get done tomorrow, it could get done Sept. 14 at 11:59 p.m. That’s the nature of the business. For me, it’s been a learning process. I’ve been able to attend some meetings and see what goes on behind the scenes of the NHL, and we’re hoping to get the season started on time.”
A wish that can’t be embellished enough.