What is Embellishment in Hockey? Also Known as Diving

a hockey player falling, this is an example of what embellishment in hockey is

In the world of hockey, few values are held in higher esteem than integrity and sportsmanship. These principles form the bedrock of athletic competition, fostering an environment of respect, fairness, and mutual admiration among competitors. However, in most sports, hockey included, teams at all levels try to push the rules to the limit, bending them but not breaking them. We will take a deep dive (pun intended) into embellishment in hockey, also known as diving. 

Have you ever seen a player look like they got hit in the face due to a high-sticking penalty? How do you know if they really got hit, or are they just acting like they did? The embellishment penalty in hockey is an embarrassment to those who commit it. But why would they do it, and what is the penalty for embellishment? We’ll answer those questions and more, so try to stay out of the sin bin (penalty box.)

What is Embellishment in Hockey?

The embellishment rule is when a player exaggerates or acts like they were hit by an opposing player when they weren’t. Picture this: a player gets lightly tapped but dramatically flings themselves onto the ice, making it seem like a blatant slashing or hooking penalty. It’s a theatrical performance aimed at drawing a penalty against the opposing team.

Rule 64 of the NHL Rulebook 

“Any player who blatantly dives embellishes a fall or a reaction, or who fakes an injury shall be penalized.”

What Are Some Other Names for Embellishment?

In the colorful world of hockey slang, embellishment goes by a few aliases. Some fans and players call it “diving” or “flopping.” These terms aptly describe the phony nature of the act – a player dramatically “dives” or “flops” to the ground, trying to sell the severity of the infraction. Unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence in the high-stakes drama of hockey!

Embellishment is also referred to as an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. In the NHL rulebook, the official name is Embellishment/Diving.

What are Some Examples of Embellishment?

A hockey player falling down, this is an example of what embellishment in hockey is

Embellishment can come in many different forms and actions. The most common example of diving is when a hockey player falls down to the ice when an opponent’s stick is anywhere near their legs in an attempt to draw a tripping or hooking penalty.

Another common form of embellishment is when an opponent’s stick gets up high near a player’s face, and even though there was no contact with the stick, they grab their face like they just got clubbed in the mouth with a high stick. See PK Suban or Erik Karlsson, who are great players but were caught on video with some embarrassing embellishment calls.

Here is a video that demonstrates some examples of embellishment:

How Long is the Penalty for Embellishment in the NHL?

There are consequences for acting like a wuss and diminishing the integrity of the game. If the referee deems that a player has embellished an action or exaggerated how hard of a hit it actually was, then that player is going to the sin bin, otherwise known as the penalty box. Players get punished with a two-minute minor penalty for embellishment and cause their team to be short-handed.

Can Players be Fined for Embellishment?

Indeed, the drama doesn’t come cheap! Players caught embellishing can face fines, and repeat offenders watch those fines escalate. The first warning is a wake-up call, but subsequent offenses can increase the fine up to $5,000! It’s the NHL’s way of keeping the theatrics in check and ensuring the spotlight remains on genuine hockey action played with sportsmanship.

It’s also possible that a player can get fined for embellishment even though they did not receive a penalty during the game. The NHL reviews every game and can assess a fine whenever they want. And because embellishment is probably the most difficult penalty to enforce because of the game’s speed, the review process is necessary to crack down on diving and punish the guilty offenders.

It’s also possible for the head coach to be fined for their player’s actions. After a player is found guilty of diving for the fifth time, the coach will be assessed a $2000 fine, and that dollar amount increases every time after that. 

Per nhl.com, here is the fine chart for embellishment or diving.


Why Does the NHL Have the Embellishment Penalty?

The NHL introduced the embellishment penalty to maintain the game’s integrity and fairness. The league aims to ensure a level playing field, where matches are decided by skill, teamwork, and strategy, not Oscar-worthy performances for men pretending to be hurt; after all, this isn’t soccer! The embellishment penalty discourages players from attempting to deceive referees and keeps the focus on authentic, thrilling hockey action.


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Why Do Players Dive?

an ice hockey player falling to the ice by getting tripped, or was it an embellishment penalty

In the ultra-competitive game of hockey, players are constantly seeking every possible advantage they can get. If they can draw a penalty and get a power play with some shady and unethical antics, then some will take that chance. And regarding the fine, a couple of thousand dollars is a drop in the bucket for most of these professional athletes. 

Sadly, the embellishment sometimes works, and the referees call a penalty that should not have been called (Most penalties are not reviewed). As mentioned above, embellishment is a difficult penalty for the referees to call. If they see a stick up high around a player’s head, and a second later, the player grabs their face and falls down to the ice, it’s hard not to think that a high sticking penalty occurred.

Some argue that the European soccer culture is to blame. If you’ve ever watched pro soccer, you’ll see grown men throwing their arms in the air and acting like they got shot when they were barely touched. The diving in the NHL isn’t as bad as some of the European Hockey leagues.

Can There Be a Penalty in Addition to An Embellishment Call?

One of the weird situations in hockey is when two penalties are called on the same play, one for embellishment and the other for slashing or hooking. You’re probably asking yourself, how can there be a slashing call if the other player was guilty of an embellishment penalty? Just because a player exaggerated the impact of the slash doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a slash on the play. So it’s possible a player slashed or hooked an opposing player, and that player fell to the ground when they didn’t have to, just to try and draw a penalty. In this case, both players should be penalized.

The Referee’s Role

The referee is the vigilant eye of justice, ensuring fair play, enforcing rules, and maintaining the game’s integrity. When it comes to embellishment, the referee’s role becomes particularly pivotal. Tasked with distinguishing between genuine fouls and theatrical dives, referees must employ keen observation and experience, and sometimes use their instinct to make the right call.

They must look for subtle differences between a player’s natural reaction and an exaggerated response. One thing they look for is how a player falls down; if they use a jumping motion and kick their feet up, they are probably faking it. Whereas if they fall awkwardly and unexpectedly, it might be genuine. This is one of the most challenging calls to make, and the fans that pack the arena won’t be happy if you make a call against their team, so the refs must get the call right.

What is the Referee Signal for Embellishment

The referee’s signal for the embellishment penalty is to make a letter “T” with their arms in front of their chest.

an ice hockey referee signaling for an embellishment penalty by makein gthe letter t with their hands

Final Thoughts on Embellishment in Hockey

As you can see, embellishment walks the line between players trying to gain a competitive edge with a bit of deception and the underlying integrity of the game. It’s the age-old question in sports: how badly do you want to win, and are you willing to break the rules to give your team an advantage? For some, the answer is yes, and many old-school hockey fans hate to see that kind of display; it’s an embarrassment to the great sport of ice hockey!

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