Everyone agrees that referees have a tough job. They're expected to make split-second decisions on the activities of 12 different players on the ice at any given time in one of the fastest games in the world. It's enough to make your head spin.
Making this more difficult are the "fake artists" (trademarked, Colin Campbell - not really) of this world. Call them whatever you like, they're bad for the integrity of the game and they make things extremely difficult on the referees.
This week, it wasn't a fake artist but another type of unsporting activity coming out of Ottawa (no surprises there). In a game against Los Angeles, Matt Carkner appeared to intentionally lift the net out of position to prevent a goal by the Kings. The play went to review but the referee was powerless to determine whether there was any intent on Carkner's behalf and could instead only pass a ruling on whether the net was on its moorings when the puck crossed the line which, of course, it was not.
From Carcilo's faked high-stick in the playoffs to Carkner's net push, these plays cheapen the game and the referees are essentially at the mercy of these slimy players.
Diving is particularly difficult for referees to pick up and you'll rarely see a diving call made without a coincidental tripping minor called on a player who may or may not have actually committed the foul.
Given that we can all agree that there is no place for this play-acting in the game of hockey, how do we get rid of it?
I say take the power out of the hands of the officials.
There simply is no way for the referees to be able to identify the fakers from the legitimate high-sticks, trips, net lifts, etc. so I propose that we move the responsibility of policing this area to the league's head office. With the benefit of replay, these things are infinitely easier to identify and the intent is much easier to judge. Give the league, with the benefit of video review, the power to suspend players who are deemed to be acting in an unsportsmanlike manner.
Suspensions come with hefty fines that cannot be levied by the league in the absence of a player being suspended. The maximum fine for a player that isn't suspended is farcical given the amount of money NHL players make. This gives the league an opportunity to pull this player off of the ice, and to hit them in the pocket book if they choose to play this kind of game.
Moreover, it's more likely that the correct call will be made if the play can be seen from multiple vantage points, in slow motion by a team of individuals.
I know that the league's head office has been blissfully inconsistent when it comes to applying suspensions to players and the formula (if there were one) would easily cover an eight foot blackboard but this seems like it would be completely idiot proof. One game for apparent unsportsmanlike behaviour where intent is uncertain, three games for unsportsmanlike conduct where it's clear that the player was acting in conduct unbecoming an NHL player and escalating suspensions for repeat offenders. Simple.
The only sure way to get diving and other unsportsmanlike activities out of the game is to ensure that you're able to isolate most instances where the behaviour occurs and to supply league disciplinarians, be they on-ice or off-ice officials, with a meaningful deterrent. I would suggest that the best way to meet both of these criteria is to give the instrument of discipline to NHL head office.