Another NHL regular season is closing. All 30 teams are in action. Some players are auditioning for parts next season in late call ups, some are just hoping to break out of a slump before the post season starts. Some two or three will never play in the NHL again. Retirement for some, permanent assignment back to the AHL for a few, and time overseas will take some of the players who make every season worth watching will be gone.

For those going forward, players like Mike Richards and Jonathan Quick will face their opposite numbers on the San Jose roster tonight as both teams seek to decide their own fate. Nick Foligno of the Senators knows he’s headed for the playoffs for the third time in his career, while younger brother Marcus will attempt to finish the season with a little pride against the Boston Bruins. Joel Ward enters the playoffs for the first time in his career without an All Star quality goalie behind him, and with the certainty that next years squad will be very different if the team doesn’t make it deep.

Who will backup Tim Thomas is still a mystery wrapped in an enigma as Rask continues to recover, the true status of Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is just as shrouded in darkness, Randy Cunneyworth has been the consummate professional dealing with the well stirred chaos that is the Montreal Canadiens and he probably has no idea if he’ll be coaching the team next season, or working anywhere in the NHL. Kevin Dineen on the other hand might just lockup the Southeast Division title and the Jack Adams award with a win, steering a team with only two 20 goal scorers, and with just two key players to have skated in every game is amazing, doing it with a roster that saw 35 skaters and 4 goalies take the ice is simply remarkable.

The New York Rangers last won the Stanley Cup when they won the Presidents Trophy. A win today will give them the Presidents Trophy. A win today would also lock in a first round matchup with today’s opponent the Washington Capitals who all things considered would probably rather play the Boston Bruins in the first round.

Jared Spurgen finishes his second NHL season today one point from doubling his rookie numbers, and while again he finds himself on the outside looking in the former Spokane Chief has the chance to play spoiler two years in a row, if he can rally the Wild over the Coyotes it’s likely the Phoenix team loses out on home ice in the first round. Phil Kessel has gone from hero and savior to scapegoat in a couple short years in Toronto and has only a game with the Canadiens in which he might extend his career high in goals.

So what’s left to play for today? Pride, position a new contract, hope for the future, and the chance to go home on a positive note.

The NHL has a problem with diving. With some organizations it’s traditional and so much ingrained in their culture even most of their fans acknowledge it. Some NHL stars get away with it on a regular basis. The only player I can name off the top of my head who has been whistled for it more than once this season is Alex Semin. One would think that in a league so conscious of it’s image that it would suspend a player indefinitely for out of uniform, outside the locker room, perfectly legal statements to the media might place a great emphasis on the the integrity of the on ice product. Not so.

The real reason diving will not stop or diminish, and will likely even increase in coming seasons is pretty simple; the NHL doesn’t want to stop diving. There is even the twisty collection of excuses the NHL substitutes for logic behind it. The NHL would rather have another goal to show in the highlight shows from the resultant powerplays when someone cheats, than force players to clean up their act or hold their officials accountable. I’ve watched hockey for decades and can’t think of a single season where two different coaches were fined for publicly criticizing the on ice officials. Neither Tom Renny nor John Torterella are exactly new to the NHL. Neither is all that young, and both have been around to see exactly what NHL officiating looks like.

This dive was well rewarded, the Penguins were already on a powerplay, and this Emmy Award worthy performance turned a 5-4 into a 5-3.

You want proof you say that the NHL doesn’t want to discourage diving? Ok, take a look at NHL Rule 64. We all know about the on ice rule, 2 minutes for flagrant cheating, the equivalent of accidentally sending the puck out of play over the high glass from your defensive end. Obviously a well considered rule, really. The important part is what can happen off the ice:

64.3 Fines and Suspensions – Regardless if a minor penalty for diving / embellishment is called, Hockey Operations will review game videos and assess fines to players or goalkeepers who dive or embellish a fall or a reaction, or who feign injury. See also Rule 28 – Supplementary Discipline. The call on the ice by the Referee is totally independent of supplementary discipline.

The first such incident during the season will result in a warning letter being sent to the player or goalkeeper. The second such incident will result in a one thousand dollar ($1,000) fine. For a third such incident in the season, the player shall be suspended for one game, pending a telephone conversation with the Director of Hockey Operations. For subsequent violations in the same season, the player’s suspension shall double (i.e. first suspension – one game, second suspension – two games, third suspension – four games, etc.) See also Rule 28 – Supplementary Discipline.

So, first offense you get a note sent home to your parents telling them you’ve been naughty? Second offense you get fined less than what most NHL stars spend on a suit, or what James Neal spends on two or three days hair product? Third time you get a day off to perfect your technique so you don’t get caught any more. Oh The Humanity!

There’s a problem here, ok several. How many letters does the NHL send out for the first offense in a year? Even a form letter where all the off ice official has to do is type in the players name, time of infraction and sign it? If I had to guess I’d say the number was less than five a year, and I’m being generous. No one can look at that rule, know the impact a well timed dive can have and not thoroughly understand the rule is an embarrassment to organized sports. Will all of the lovely Shanny Shorts videos released this season, all the fine announcements, I haven’t seen a single fine or suspension announced for diving.

This rule is as completely absurd as all those weird laws you get in granny spam. The scam artists who engage in this are no better than the Nigerian spammers, or the people who sell fake event tickets outside the arena. No one opens their wallet to go to a game to watch people flop all over the place, no one wants to pay for Center Ice or GameCenter for that privilege either. While there are lots of ways to address this issue on the ice, off the ice the best solution is simple: Two game suspension for the offender, the first to be served in the next game, the next to be served the next time the offenders team is scheduled to play the team they cheated against, even if the player is traded or signs with another team should those happen before the next meeting.

After the last Penguins vs Flyers game Mike Milbury made his usual, off the cuff remarks about the behavior of people involved. Dan Bylsma as a player made a great pressbox decoration, and most nights the only way he’d get on the score sheet was if he sat on it. He didn’t rarely played even ten minutes a night, and in 429 games he had a staggering 19 goals. By comparison, Georges Laraque out scored Bylsma on a goals per game basis by almost 2 to 1, and had long stays with teams where he saw at least some game action on a regular basis. As a coach, Bylsma has proven nothing. He took over a team of prima-donnas who spent most of their season throwing a coach under the bus with 25 games left, then in the playoffs he plays a goalie who allows the most goals, and finishes with a shabby sv%. He’s not taken a professional team end to end and won.

What exactly can Lemieux complain about? He’s played with and employed two of the dirtiest players in NHL history. Matt Cooke appears to have cleaned up his act, we’ll see. But hows many knee-on-knee hits, head shots and slewfoots did he commit before that? That’s his legacy. He can score 100 goals each of the next five seasons and ending careers and putting guys on injured reserve will be what he’s know for. This is a guy who was allowed to wear the “A” for this team well before he cleaned up. Ulf Sammuelsson is another of those players who seemed to exist to make sure the referees whistles worked and that the penalty bench never got too cold. As a player, he made a hell of an advertisement for people to let their sons do mixed martial arts or rugby which was safer than playing against this guy.

While no one in the world denies Sidney Crosby is immensely talented. Depending on your taste in playing styles he may even be the most talented player in the NHL.  But there are three other things he is too. 1st  is a diver. He’s taken quite a few. He’s not achieved Montreal Canadiens level, but he can more than hold his own.

2nd He’s dirty:

That’s a clear two on one, where he’s the third man in, throwing punches at the back of the head of someone who’s already engaged with another player.

And 3rd he is a whiner. He talks to the officials more often than any player I’ve seen in the past two decades of watching the NHL. His pathological insistence on his own sainthood is incredible.  But when you come right down to it, given the tactics he routinely employs on the ice, the only reason he doesn’t spend more time in the penalty box is because someone prevents it.  Even with whoever preventing more penalties, and rightly deserved suspensions he’s already the third most penalized player in his draft class. He’s nearly doubled up on Paul Stastny who is fourth, and sits behind only Steve Downie, and Jared Boll. Downie is a loose cannon, and Boll is reasonably skilled enforcer who drops the gloves a lot.

While I certainly don’t agree with even half of what Milbury says, he got it right the first time. His comments on the Penguins were spot in. If the don’t like the way people speak about them, they need to change the teams identity.

The dividing line between the upper echelon of the NHL’s forwards in terms of pay and the merely competent is always sliding upwards. Right now the line is slipping from the five million mark upwards. Without knowing what the next CBA will look like, much less the next two or three annual caps we’ll take a look at the league and who’s earning about twice the leagues average salary or more.

The Southeast division has an interesting topography in terms of forwards who meet this strata. Two teams have no forwards making five million dollars or more a season. The Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets are those two teams, arguably they have forwards who might make it there on their next contracts, The Carolina Hurricanes have just one forward making more than five million dollars a year, and he is the second highest paid player in the division. The Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning each have three accounting for about one third of the payroll of each team.

The Disposable:

  • Vincent Lecavalier has fallen far from grace. At one time the arguably best forward in the NHL, certainly top five. A combination of factors has removed him from the elite. Some would argue he’s the only reason there is still a team in Tampa Bay, and there is more than a little truth to that. However, he is not currently earning his salary on the ice. Injuries, lack of NHL quality complimentary players, and chaos on and off the ice in recent years have taken some of the wind out of his sales. If he manages to get healthy for a long period of time and overcomes his limited athleticism before he ages much more he could elevate his play again, but all signs point in the other direction.
  • Alex Semin is a goal scorer. That’s it. And he’s only a goal scorer when he’s healthy and motivated. Which isn’t often. Since entering the NHL in the 2003-4 season he has played in 80 or more games exactly zero times. Three of the six years since returning to the Washington Capitals after a two year trip to Russia around the lockout he has played 65 games or less. He also has a plethora of penalties each year that scream of immaturity and poor preparation. This year three diving penalties, eight hooting, and six tripping penalties. But at 28 years old he’s still young so we should all hold out great hope. He is I believe the only player to be called out by current teammates in the media for lack of commitment,.

The Interesting:

  • Steven Stamkos is an elite goalscorer. As evidenced by taking a slapshot to the face and coming back to play in the same period last year in the playoffs he’s not exactly going to sit unless he’s got to. Unfortunately at this point in his development he’s simply a gutsy goal scorer. He’s not particularly responsible with the puck, he doesn’t kill penalties, his faceoff win percentage is uninspiring, and given the number of PIM’s he manages to rack up without dropping the gloves he may want to work on his temper a bit, or get sneakier.
  • Niklas Backstrom is in this category only because of the giant question mark over his head regarding how good he in the wake of his serious concussion. We’ve seen players like Patrice Bergeron take over a year to fully recover, we’ve seen guys like David Booth come back and never be the same, and we’ve seen guys like Marc Savard who have (likely) had their career ended. Enormously talented, it’s hard to remember this is just his fourth year in the NHL A meteoric rise at Ovechkins side was questioned because of who he was playing with, now it’s clear the synergy between the pair is indeed two way.

The Cream:

  • Alex Ovechkin, down year or not he contributes physically, passes, skates hits, and yeah he can score goals. You can argue he has more to contribute (and he does) all you want, but the truth is he just about single handedly dragged the team into the playoffs in the years before Carlson and Alzner provided defensemen who could play defense. When he’s on he’s incredible, when he’s off he’s disappointing with nearly forty goals.
  • Martin St Louis is the little engine that could, and did, and continues to do. He’s adapted his game to become more of a distributor of the puck in the last several years. He can still score at a more than respectable rate, he’s credited with almost 20 more takeaways than giveaways this season and he’s highly disciplined. Dollar for dollar the best of the $5,000,000 forwards in the southeast division.
  • Eric Staal, like Ovechkin, Staal is not having the best season of his career. He is however the single player in the Southeast division who has been burdened with doing the most with the least for a very long time. Unlike the rest of the $5 million dollar forwards in the division he’s a regular contributor to the penalty kill where he has pretty consistently picked up points since his rookie year.

Arguably, two forwards in the division could join the 5+ club soon. Kris Versteeg of the Florida Panthers, is rather well traveled but has fit in as well in Florida as he seemed to in Chicago. Evander Kane of the Winnipeg Jets is on the last year of his entry level deal, if he decides to play hard ball in the negotiations or signs a long term deal, he could bounce over the five million mark as well.

Long time Boston Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa has left the Boston Bruins. The shepherd of nearly a decades goalies for keepers of the crease for the Boston and Providence Bruins has said his good-byes and is moving on. Obviously this comes at a tough time for the organization as they deal with injuries and prep for what all hope is a long stay in the playoffs.

Cam Neely commented on the issue:

We really didn’t want Bob to leave us, Tim, Tuukka and the guys in Providence hold him in high regard and he’s a key piece to the puzzle. We couldn’t imagine the success we’ve achieved in recent years without him. But I don’t think it is fair of us to hold back people given an opportunity like his. We wish him the best both personally and as an organization.

That opportunity is signing a two year two way contract  with the New York Islanders to play in the crease in his own right. The goaltending woes of the once dynastic New York Islanders stretch back almost to the last time the fourteen year professional put on the pads as the last best defense against being scored upon. Essensa will report immediately to Long Island, and in compensation the Boston Bruins will have their choice after the Stanley Cup is awarded of either the rights to any UFA of their choice or a second round draft pick.

When asked about the unusual move Islanders General Manager had this to say:

Well, first and foremost I’d like to thank Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely for helping us out in this way. Bob Essensa comes to us as a godsend, we’ve been looking for stability in the crease for years and he’s just that. Over the last year or two we’ve had as many as half a dozen guys dress for us and that has to stop. We see Bob as a key piece to the stability of the crease. over the next two seasons and possibly beyond. Also, Tattoo Lou’s will be extending a $15 discount to anyone who shows up for some skin art wearing an Islanders Essensa jersey between now and November 1st.

Bob Essensa and his family were unavailable for comment.