Last Tuesday I had my gall bladder removed. Since then I have been slowly moving around the house, mournfully muttering about the how much pain I am in. I am determined that the amount of pain I am enduring is refusing to let me return to work. I think that this acting job is just being rational, but my wife has another word for it…embellishment.

Embellishment, or diving, is suddenly a point of emphasis in the NHL. There are a new series of fines that will apply to not only the players who "dive" but to their coaches as well. Some fans seem to welcome this penalty on the atrocious act of embellishing, but I think that you are going to see a very minimal (if any) application of fines for these crimes. The reason is that diving is a judgment call. NHL referees are professional, but does anybody really want to see games decided by the split second decision of a frustrated official? And what if they are wrong? What if someone does get a high stick in the face and the official thinks it was an acting job? By making it a point of emphasis the NHL risks making it a point of error.

Embellishment is a perceived penalty. Whether it is going down too easily or acting like your face has been cut off from a high stick, the only person who knows for sure what is going on is the supposed actor. Tripping is easy to call. Holding is easy to call. Boarding is easy to call (except against the Boston Bruins for some reason). Most calls are obvious and therefore rational calls, but embellishment is a penalty that is totally subjective.

For example, last year in the playoffs Tomas Plekanec was given a penalty for embellishing when a stick got near his face. Earlier in the series, Plekanec had drawn a penalty for high sticking on a play where the blade of the stick had barely touched his neck, or even missed it all together. On both plays, Plekanec threw back his head and put up his hand. The announcers went wild with their condemnation of embellishment, but was their criticism warranted? I suggest a test for these announcers. While sitting in your studio, suddenly have a boom mic drop to within an inch of your face. If you don’t react then your manhood is secure, but if you do react with a head movement or arm movement, then you are the scum of humanity. I am not sure that Plekanec was reacting to a sudden stick or acting for a penalty. The truth is, the officials cannot be sure either.

One of the more amusing aspects of the embellishment penalty is that it will unfairly punish those who are bad actors. A player who has practiced embellishing trips (like Brad Marchand) is talented enough to draw a tripping penalty and win an Oscar for his performance. The outcome is that professionals who play the game tough (like Andrei Markov) will be punished if their falls are not realistic enough. The end result is that those who are remarkable actors will be rewarded and those who have not perfected the art of falling or being slashed properly will be penalized. Pierre McGuire will gush over those who make it look real while those who struggle will be lamented upon until his throat is hoarse.

The real issue is that embellishment is hard to prove. Since we can’t really be sure of the motivations behind that sudden jerk of the head when a stick comes near it or a seemingly easy fall, the best remedy for perceived embellishment is that both parties receive a penalty. The way I see it, if you put your stick up near someone’s face then you need to learn to keep your stick down. If you put your stick into someone’s skates then you need to learn to stop that behavior. It is the referee’s job to make sure that they saw tripping or high sticking before they call it. They need to be certain of a penalty before it is assessed.

On the other side of the coin, how do we address embellishment? I say we don’t (which I am sure will be a relief to Brad Marchand) because it is naturally taken care of, and here is how. If a player is embellishing a potential penalty, they lose focus on playing for a second. In the NHL, a second of acting can lead to a quick goal. If…oh, say, Zdeno Chara is lined up in a faceoff next to Brendan Gallagher and Chara flops to the ice from a gentle nudge by Gallagher, we should let the play continue. By the time Chara is back on his feet Gallagher will have the puck in the back of the net and the Bruins will be eliminated from the playoffs once again. As long as officials are working to make the correct call on actual penalties, the floppers and divers and high sticking actors will be watching while bad things happen.

Embellishment really isn’t a problem in the NHL, but overreacting to it is. Now excuse me while I limp to the table and then retire to the recliner to watch the Habs game. I would help my wife with the dishes, but…oh, the pain of it all.

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