Embellishment has become a hot topic in hockey circles over the last two games between the Washington Captials and our Pittsburgh Penguins.
The argument over who has the biggest divers and whiners revved up after Wednesday’s game 4, during which Sidney Crosby took an obvious cross check to the mouth and slowly crumbled to the ice in reaction.
Not to be outdone, in game 5 Saturday night T.J. Oshie was hit with a not so obvious high stick to the chin, swung his head back, and down he went as well.
While diving and embellishment is looked at as an embarrassment to the game, I think it’s important to look at why it sometimes happens.
Not everyone who embellishes is faking. Sure some are, but that’s just one reason. There are at least two more.
The first is to let the official know something happened, and in some cases to say it was enough to stop you from making your intended play. I’m from the school where unless you keep your feet moving and fight through it, you don’t deserve the call. But sometimes what you want to do isn’t so predictable, like if you were about to change direction, or about to make a blind pass. If your intentions aren’t obvious, it might not be obvious to an official that you were prevented from doing anything. That’s when you might pull up and take a glance at the ref, throw your hands out a little bit in a silent plea. As long as you don’t make too much of a show and embarrass anyone, you might get the call.
The problem with this theory is it’s largely based on the trust between player and official. If the ref makes that call, he’s giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’re being honest with him, that you truly were prevented from making a play.
This explains why star players get the types of “softer” calls lesser players don’t. What looks like a soft call to us that didn’t appear to affect the play may only look that way because we as casual fans don’t see the game the same way as the stars and don’t really understand what the play was they were trying to do. So they might pull their arm back a little farther than necessary or some other signal. Stars have generally been in the league longest and have developed a rapport. They are also the most likely players to be making creative and unpredictable types of plays that no one else thinks of. This also explains why sometimes on those penalties the ref’s arm goes up a touch late.
Young stars often seem whiny. They’ve had that rapport with junior refs and are used to getting the calls. Suddenly it’s new officials and a new trust has to be formed. That takes time.
Like all situations of good faith, some players abuse it or aren’t as honourable about it. Some star players don’t get the same calls other stars don’t because if you burn a ref once, you probably won’t get a second chance.
Now for reason two. Sometimes players go down or overreact because they’re surprised by a stick or a slash they didn’t see coming, and sometimes it’s because whatever happened to them just plain hurts.
Crosby didn’t embellish. It was a clear stick to the face. That was being called long before he ever went down. He didn’t snap back, but he did go down. I’m pretty sure all you armchair Crosby haters would go down for less.
As for Oshie, most people are even debating whether he was hit. So I would dare say some of that “theatrical” fall was a combination of surprise that he was caught and trying to make sure it got noticed. I don’t fault him for it.
Not all embellishment is the same, and only a small percentage of cases are dishonorable. I credit the NHL for taking the lead on cracking down, and also for not getting too carried away with accusations.