Wednesday, November 23, 2005 Updated: November 24, 12:36 PM ET
Some should be wary of indiscriminant dive charges
By Terry Frei Special to ESPN.com
The Flyers' Peter Forsberg recently pantomimed a diving motion to make fun of Sidney Crosby, implying the Penguins' prized rookie, in some situations, didn't exactly need to be struck by a wayward Zamboni to be sent to the ice.
Even if Forsberg's charge were accurate, this is roughly akin to American Olympic diver Greg Louganis telling China's Bo Peng, one of his gold-medal successors: "Shame, shame, shame on you for diving."
Earlier this week, the Flyers' Peter Forsberg made in-game gestures suggesting Sidney Crosby dives to take penalties.
And Crosby could shock Forsberg by coming back with this: "Om man förstår sig själv förstår man andra." (Which means, literally, "If one understands oneself, one understands others." Or "Oh, yeah? Takes one to know one, Foppa!")
There are times the incredibly sturdy Forsberg can't be knocked off the puck by anyone or anything. As great a player as he is, when it serves his purpose he still suddenly has the strength of balsa wood and the balance of a sailor at the end of a 48-hour leave. And it wasn't just early in his career, either.
If he joined NHL hall monitor Colin Campbell and others in looking over the tapes, whether now or in past seasons, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman would have told Forsberg he needed to brush up on his acting skills and perhaps develop some subtlety.
The NHL at least had the foresight to anticipate that the obstruction crackdown could lead to an increase in the temptations to: a) take a dive off the 3-meter board at any hint of contact or the brush of a stick, or, b) embellish at any and every opportunity, whether than means after being grazed across the check by a stick or boarded or anything, staying down much longer than the initial sting or pain has lasted.
To Atlanta coach Bob Hartley, that would be pulling a "Barnaby." In the Quebec League, Hartley once said of Matthew Barnaby, "they used to sell advertisements for his trainer's [shirt], because he had more ice time than the third-line guys."
Others can summon the memories of:
• Darcy Tucker flopping or Tie Domi staying on his feet when taking a punch from Lennox Lewis, but going down at the slightest brush from another skater.
• Jarko Ruutu putting on another gold-medal performance.
• Tomas Holmstrom or Michal Handzus getting knocked over in front of the net by a feather.
• Maxim Afinogenov doing Rodney Dangerfield's Triple Lindy (speaking of swimming-pool diving analogies).
• Marian Gaborik acting as if he suddenly has found the need to look for a contact lens on the ice.
• Or Erik Cole even getting two diving penalties in the same game, at Toronto, the second one wiping out an empty-net goal that would have finished off an Eric Staal hat trick.
But the fines for diving and embellishing under the new order, which can come completely independent of whether the referee had called made the unsportsmanlike conduct call or not, recognized the need for deterrence.
There's nothing that can undermine the vigilance more than the widespread belief that the NHL has gone beyond opening up the ice and the game for the skilled, to turning it into a pastime that rewards those who take a tumble at every opportunity.
So, yes, if this process can seem like double-secret probation, or even a bit like the sort of ex post facto justice usually frowned upon by the U.S. Supreme Court, so be it.
At least in the past, there were times when you at least could understand how the more skilled NHL skaters could reach a level of frustration at the semi-rationalization of diving and flailing as a means of calling attention to a series of muggings.
Now, with the NHL showing signs of being serious about sticking to the rules and avoiding the complete, if somewhat gradual, deterioration of standards that followed previous pronouncements, the "excuse" is gone.
Anyone diving, flailing or embellishing in an attempt to draw a penalty is, if not officially, at least informally, gross misconduct.
Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke, whose toughness was never questioned, of course, offered this to reporters in the wake of the Crosby imbroglio: "At one time, you never stayed down because you never wanted an opponent to know you were hurt. Now, guys get hit in the lip and are rolling around the ice. I'm glad our team doesn't do that. I hate guys who go down easily, intentionally, and grab their face so they can get a five-minute penalty. That's so out of character for hockey players. I hope my team would never do that."
Yes, there's a difference between diving and embellishment, but there still are guys who are shameless enough to do both. And under the new order with the standards so tight, the lack of nobility is heightened.
Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire recently offered his view that the referees weren't calling the games as tighter when involving Eastern Conference matchups.
"I don't know why," he added. "Tougher teams? Philly, Rangers, Islanders, Toronto. You know they play aggressive, and they've played an aggressive game in the past. They have big guys. I have looked at some games there and said: 'Look at this! Look at this! You could have called three penalties there!' But they let it go, both sides."
Plus, there still is that sinking feeling that we've heard this before, when we were writing all those stories in the fall of 2000 about the need to adjust to "zero tolerance."
As long as the NHL is trying this, diving is, more than ever, the refuge of scoundrels. But it's just as off-target to start tossing around indiscriminant charges.
The most important test should come in the mirror.
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."