Like a self-righteous small-town newspaper publishing a list of Johns, the NHL released its first list of divers last week. This dubious exercise in the politics of shame, which cost each player a $1,000 fine and a lot of grief from his peers, fingered the theatrical Matthew Barnaby and the roughneck defenseman Darius Kasparaitis of the Rangers, excitable Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro, Mohawked Maple Leafs defenseman Bryan McCabe and the Senators' Shaun Van Allen, who apparently plays two positions—center and prone. Van Allen is a 35-year-old journeyman who had been known for his outsized ears, if he were known at all, but that might change after inclusion on the initial list of players who had crossed the "embarrassment line," as the NHL felicitously phrased it. The league has evinced no embarrassment at expanses of empty seats, two team bankruptcies and TV ratings that have slipped below the Arena Football League's, but it has to start somewhere.
The crackdown began on March 1, more than three quarters of the way through the season-one more example of a league that often seems to be making things up as it goes along. The initiative had been announced six days earlier in a memo that Colin Campbell, director of hockey operations, sent to general managers. In a Miss Grundyish tone, Campbell requested the memo be posted in dressing rooms, that players be shown an accompanying videotape on diving and that each player receive a copy of the note. (Their parents did not, however, have to sign it.) The NHL already has a two-minute penalty to control Louganis-like behavior, but the fine and list are independent of refereeing. If officials reviewing game tape see anything they view as egregious diving, a judgment that falls into the gray area of intent, they are free to humiliate. There's something so 1984-ish about it. The NHL can be stodgy, but this is the first time it is a full 19 years behind the play.
Van Allen allegedly embellished a fall on March 13 against the Rangers, but he only learned he had been named to the list a week later when reporters told him. He sputtered, insisted on his innocence and was irked that the NHL vice cops had not called him first. "I guess from Toronto they zoom in the cameras to see how hard the contact was," Van Allen said, not unreasonably.
If the league sees diving as epidemic, the logical cure would be more diligence in enforcing its obstruction rules so that players wouldn't be tempted to dive to get calls. We'd mention that standards for calling obstruction have grown ridiculously lax, but we would not want to embarrass the NHL.