Every NHL season brings with it discussions from a variety of sources, inside and outside the league, about rules and regulations. If any one were to mention the “trapezoid” or “shoot outs” to me, the result would be the addition of the word “heated” to any such discussion. One topic arises often in today’s NHL that confounds enough people often enough to prompt this post today. Many of the hockey loving variety are vocal in their discontentment with the notion that both a “diving” (or embellishment) penalty and a “tripping” (or similar, check out “slew footing” and others listed here just for fun) penalty can be called simultaneously, putting both teams down a man and a 4-on-4 playing situation. Other penalty minutes could be accumulated in these situation and the number of men in the box, or even off the ice for the remainder of the game, can also happen, but let’s simply focus on one, two-minute minor handed to one player from each team for now.
Certainly, there are a few ways to view calls made by NHL officials with respect to doling out penalties in a “trip” and/or “dive” game situation. Most will probably agree that the two penalties tend to get called as “coincidental minors” rather than just “diving” alone to create a 5-0n-4 game situation. Here is an article sharing some thoughts on the topic that likely fit the thoughts of the majority who take the time to ask “how can it be both tripping and diving?” It does come across upon first blush to be a simple, cut and dry question. But is it?
Let’s pretend we are an NHL official on ice during any given regular season game. (Who among us hasn’t at least been an “armchair zebra” at one point or another right?) Now let’s say you (the person with the stripes) sees a player “back-checking” (here’s a place you can find out more about different types of “checks”) and then you see that same player using his stick ahead of him in efforts to deter an opposing player with possession of the puck on a breakaway. Here’s where your job as an official starts becoming less clear, because you see the tape of the “back-checking” player’s stick make contact with the skate of the opposing player in front on a breakaway, let’s say twice, and the third time, the player in front with possession of the puck falls forward, appearing on the surface to be “tripped” by the stick of the “back-checking” player behind without possession of the puck. If you’re still with me, you can see where the “trip” penalty comes into play here. But now there’s another part of your job as an NHL official and it ties into the rules set forth by your employer and something pointed out in the aforementioned article.
By this point in NHL history, the “diving/embellishment” rule has been around long enough that some NHL players do, in fact, have a reputation for being “divers”. It’s doubtful this can be argued with any real strenght these days, so let’s put this into the mix and say that the player who appeared to have been “tripped” also has a track record as a “diver”. Then, to make it even more interesting, let’s also say that the “taps” you saw from the player behind without possession of the puck on the skate of the player ahead were very slight and at the speed everything happened, it was difficult to tell if the player using his stick to “tap” his opponent’s skate was subtly being used to “trip” by pulling the skate back or in some other fashion.
When the player ahead goes down to the ice, you might imagine the volume and ferver of the “Refs You Suck” chants pouring onto the ice if at least, a “tripping” minor doesn’t get called there right? But you also know who was “tripped” and since you really couldn’t see a blatant motion yanking down that player, you know that the fallen player has the “Greg Louganis Olympic Class Diver” label, and to further complicate your job, you can see that if ONLY tripping is called, another situation comes into play because you will now have to reward the “trippee” with a penalty shot. If you were a player trying to get whatever advantage you could and you felt a couple minor “taps” on your skate while in possession of the puck by an opposing “back-checker”, would it be smarter to hope that you don’t get bad bounce, hit a rut, or not get quite the shot you want on net due to your non-stop, forward momentum or would it be smarter to use the next skate “tap” as a way to get at least a man advantage and even better, a penalty shot?
The only way an official can truly know what the real situation, without bringing the game to a complete halt and have the polygraph specialists sit down with both players attached to their detection equipment, would be to take what he saw, what he knows of each player, what the rules dictate (something he cannot change himself) and the situational circumstances of that particular stretch of play and dole out BOTH penalties coincidentally. His job is to reduce embellishment and reduce tripping at the same time isn’t it? From an official’s perspective, it’s hard to imagine he doesn’t know that there are such things as “good” penalties and “bad” penalties in the minds of both teams’ players, so if he cannot clearly identify exact and distinct intention of either player involved in the very short amount of time he has to make a call, both rules may have been broken, so the only real option is to call both penalties.
It may be that “diving” is poor sportsmanship and perhaps “tripping” is a fundamentally “lazy” play, but to the person who is wearing stripes, not an NHL team jersey, certain game situations lend themselves to airing on the side of caution. In this case, the possibility that both rules (according to NHL rules) were broken are there, so ultimately, it’s best to call both penalties. From the perspective of the “diver”, it could be worth the “embellishment” if only the “trip” gets called, because a power play or penalty shot may at the moment of “decision” seem a better option for “team-advantage”. From the “trippers” perspective, it could be worth the penalty if there is a feeling that the opposition has a high chance of scoring on that particular breakaway.
Personally, I do feel that the NHL does have to address “diving” with a rule, simply because it cannot control which player(s) on any team use this tactic to gain a perceived advantage. If no “diving” rule existed, the possibility that one or more NHL teams would seek out certain players who do not have any issue with “embellishing” for the sake of gaining advantages Those teams could win far more games, than those teams with players who do not believe in “diving” to gain an advantage. I’m not saying “diving” is the right thing to do, but when winning becomes a factor, it’s very difficult to dictate to competative people aiming to win Lord Stanley’s Cup what is “fair”. To me, the NHL has done its best by allowing both penalties to be called together if the “zebra” feels both could be the case and/or cannot easily identify either “diving” or “tripping” as occurring independently.
It’s a Tampa Bay Lightning game day, so let’s hope we do not have any need to bring the topic of this post out into the open this evening when our boys play the Winnipeg Jets at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. eastern. Here’s a Bolts by the Bay preview of tonights match-up. We like to streak! Go Bolts!
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