James Neal has the unfortunate, dubious honor of being the first NHL player singled out by the new rule designed to punish repeat divers.
The league announced Wednesday that Neal received his second citation for diving and thus a $2,000 fine, which automatically triggers an official announcement. The first citation nets only a warning and stays under wraps.
A source told ESPN.com that Neal was none too pleased about being the first guy singled out publicly, and you obviously can’t blame him.
But this is what the league and NHL Players’ Association agreed upon last summer in order to crack down on diving.
Of note, Neal’s first diving citation actually wasn’t a penalty on the ice but was flagged by hockey operations in Toronto. And that’s the interesting twist in all of this -- the diving infractions could come from calls on the ice, or from Big Brother watching.
The reason the league waited until now to finally have its first public announcement is that it gave its system a dry run early in the season. The league gave players free passes, or mulligans if you will, but also were informing teams and players of how this was going to work once it became public. The other reason for the dry run in October and part of November was for the league to get right how it wanted to handle this.
The real deal began in the fifth week of the season, and every player started with a clean slate.
The league has a "tagging system" in place:
Any dive called on the ice is clipped and cataloged
Any potential dive that isn’t called on the ice but seen by the war room is also cataloged
All of these dive clips are distributed to nine individuals in hockey operations and NHL player safety and critiqued. Each of the nine members vote as to whether the tagged play was worthy of a dive/embellishment call. At least six votes are needed to qualify the play as being a dive/embellishment.
Neal was the first second-level offender, but he won’t be the last. This is just the beginning.
It’s not the fine that hurts -- $5,000 is the maximum; that’s like taking out lint from a player’s pocket. It’s obviously the public embarrassment of it all that hopefully will act as the deterrent.