James Neal (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
Predators winger James Neal was the first publicly named offender in the NHL's new anti-diving push. And given Neal's non-pristine reputation, it's hardly surprising he received the dubious distinction.
It is something of an understatement to say Predators winger James Neal has a reputation among NHL players and officials, and it isn't a good one. Even before he was dealt to Nashville this summer, he became infamous for embellishing and vicious episodes.
So it wasn't in the least bit eyebrow-raising to hear Neal was the first NHLer publicly named and fined under the NHL's new anti-diving legislation. He had already received a warning after a Nov. 13 game against St. Louis, but apparently the message didn't sink in. Because even the most ardent Preds fan who's being honest with themselves would have to admit the play for which Neal is being fined (which took place Dec. 13 against the Sharks) is laughably blatant diving:
The fine itself is insignificant – Neal makes $5 million a season – and the next time he's cited, the punishment only goes up by $1,000. (If he's called for it five or more times, the fine goes up to the maximum $5,000, and Preds coach Peter Laviolette would also begin to be fined on a sliding scale.) However, the embarrassment of being called out as a diver may cause him to re-examine his game and make necessary alterations to it.
Neal can claim innocence if he wants, but he's indicted here by past acts (including three previous suspensions) and simple high-definition video. Whether he likes it or not, people will be watching him closer than ever from this point on. We'll see if that's enough shame to make him change for the better.