It is the latest attempt to expunge diving from the National Hockey League, and if nothing else, Nashville’s James Neal will hear about being the first player to be publicly named when he lines up for a faceoff Saturday in Minnesota.
“Guys want to say something to guys during the game. It’s good ammo —there’s no denying it,” said San Jose’s Joe Thornton. “I personally want it out of the game. You hit the guys’ pocket books, it’ll help.”
The league has fined players for embellishment in the past. And we recall a private list of those players once being leaked to the media, much to the chagrin of the NHL Players’ Association. But now they are fair game. The first fine is $1,000, and that remains private. Upon a player’s second offence he is fined $2,000, and the league sends out a press release.
Each subsequent dive adds another $1,000 to the fine, up to a $5,000 maximum, and once a player reaches the $4,000 plateau, his head coach gets a $2,000 fine as well. That too goes up in $1,000 increments.
“We all know players in the league who dive a lot, embellish a bit,” said big John Scott of the Sharks. “Maybe they’ll be a little bit embarrassed. You don’t really need that in the game. You don’t want to be soccer, where it’s embarrassing. Where you’re rewarded for it.
“Let’s hope it works. It’s a garbage part of the game, and it should be out of the game.”
The league gave a grace period through to mid-November, where players received a warning phone call from V.P. Colin Campbell. Neal’s Predators haven’t played since Tuesday. He got nailed when he took a slash from San Jose’s Barclay Goodrow, and sold it too hard.
“It looked like a dive. That’s fair. Two thousand bucks,” said Thornton. The money won’t hurt Neal, but the stigma will hurt his pride. Sharks coach Todd McLellan recalls an incident back in his days as an assistant coach in Detroit that had everyone — except Tomas Holmstrom — laughing.
“The (Red Wings players) doctored up a piece of paper, somehow got a piece of NHL letterhead and put it in his stall,” McLellan laughed. “He wasn’t very happy. It didn’t come from the league office though, it came from a few stalls over.”
There have always been guys who dive. But now, the Neal dive is being replayed on highlight packages across the hockey world. If I know anything about hockey players and the peer pressure that exists within the game, this new tact will help a lot.
“I do believe players don’t want to show up on a list or on TV, or talked about (as a diver) at all,” McLellan said. “It’s their game, and they really don’t want it to be part of their game. So they’ve got to clean it up a bit.”
Speaking of John Scott, he was chuckling the other day, upon making his return to the lineup after missing 11 of 12 games as a healthy scratch — on the heels of serving a two-game suspension for leaving the bench to start an altercation in a game against Anaheim.
“I think they thought (the suspension) was 12 games honestly,” he joked of his coaches. “I think I sat out 12 in a row. But it’s fine. I accept my role. Whatever.”
Referee Mike Hasenfratz still isn’t back on the job this season after suffering a concussion last year. Hopes are he will return, but as we’ve learned with concussions, there are no timelines.
As the game speeds up, the job of officiating gets incrementally more dangerous, and more rigorous as well. Linesman Vaughan Rody is out until February recovering from back surgery, and linesman Jonny Murray has also had serious back issues. He hopes to return before the season is out.
“Usually when one of our guys gets hurt it’s just bad luck,” said director of officiating Stephen Walkom. “Hand injuries relative to sticks and pucks, when they’re dropping the puck. Sometimes you get slew-footed off the draw. You need to be great skater and have great agility in today’s game. That’s the reality of the game.”
A source in Vancouver told me late last month, the thing surprised him the most about the Canucks excellent start was that they were getting offensive contributions. Well during their current five-game losing streak Vancouver has scored three goals in a game only once. In three of those games they’ve scored one or less.
Not surprisingly, the Sedins are a combined 1-3-4 over the slide. Daniel and Henrik are 39th and 40th respectively in league scoring prior to Saturday’s games, and the days of both being top-10 scorers, at age 34, are likely done. GM Jim Benning’s task will be to secure enough support scoring so that, in the perfect Canucks world, the Sedins are anchoring Vancouver’s second line in the next Stanley Cup appearance.
Every couple of years a player comes along who is considered “The best (fill in the blank) not in the NHL. A huge bidding war ensues, and in the end some lucky winner comes away with the undrafted or unrestricted free agent player, who has been built into a mythical figure.
Remember how hard everyone went after Fabian Brunnstrom back in 2008? Then, when he scored a hat trick in his first game as a Dallas Star, everyone was jealous of Dallas for its great signing. Well, Brunnstrom scored just 16 more goals in the remainder of his short NHL career, and now is back in Sweden, playing for Leksands. He was a bust.
From way over-hyped goalies like Jonas (The Monster) Gustavsson, who turned into an OK No. 2 in Detroit, to guys who came late in their careers, like the big Czech Jiri Dopita, most players with that “Best Guy Outside the NHL” tag have been failures.
The latest two are Blackhawks goalie Antti Raanta, and Edmonton defenceman Justin Schultz. The Oilers are trying to resurrect Schultz’s game as we speak, and when I asked an NHL exec to rate Raanta’s future, he used these words: “Average backup.”