Bonino incident puts focus on embellishment in hockey

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With one head-snap motion, Nick Bonino of the Pittsburgh Penguins reminded everyone about hockey’s dirty little secret of embellishment.

Not the same kind of player flopping that occurs in, say, the NBA, and it’s certainly not done at the same volume seen in soccer, where diving is used effectively at the highest levels even as it is ridiculed and (occasionally) penalized.

In hockey, exaggerating a potential penalty to get a call against the opponent has long been part of the game – especially in the Stanley Cup playoffs, when everyone’s looking for an edge – and embellishment is simply reality even though the NHL has taken steps to stop it for more than a generation.

Bonino sold a high-sticking penalty against Washington’s T.J. Oshie last week when replays showed the Pittsburgh forward was never hit in the face late in Game 4. The Penguins got a power play, making it easier to hang on for a win.

Canadian TV pundit Don Cherry ripped Bonino for being “phony,” retired defenseman Mike Commodore predicted he won’t draw a penalty the rest of the playoffs and forward-turned-analyst Mike Johnson wished there was a way to suspend a player for deliberately and clearly fooling the referees.

“It’s a tough job to call those, but I think there’s times that everyone steps over the line and it’s not called,” Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “It’s in the game, and it happens.”

Embellishment runs counter to the principles of hockey that prize toughness and playing through pain. Faking it simply seems way out of place. But in the modern NHL where hooking, holding and other obstruction fouls are called tighter and power plays are so important, drawing penalties is a skill that is worth its weight in goals, points in the standings, wins and possibly even money on the next contract.

“You always get guys saying they’ll do anything to win this time of year,” veteran Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “If that’s what you feel is necessary, then I guess that’s what you do. I think a majority of guys in the league aren’t comfortable doing that.”

Game officials can call embellishment minors, of course, but the league also watches for them and a panel votes weekly on possible infractions, with repeat offenders announced publicly. Since the NHL added fines and the public shaming for embellishment before the 2014-15 season, director of hockey operations Colin Campbell said, incidents that get reviewed by the league office are down sharply, from 35-40 incidents per week in 2014-15 to just 20-25 this season.

Plays like Bonino’s bring fresh headlines, but Campbell said he feels embellishment is no longer rampant after saying in June 2014 it was “out of control.”

Read more: To ‘attack’ embellishment, NHL wants to ‘bring alive’ old rule

Four embellishment penalties have been called on the ice through Sunday in these playoffs after 18 during the regular season according to Scouting the Refs , a website that tracks NHL officials (the NHL does not release the statistic).

Predators defenseman P.K. Subban was fined twice along with eight other players once in 2014-15 and Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri was fined twice last season as 11 others were publicly announced as embellishers. This season, only three players – the Capitals’ Evgeny Kuznetsov and Arizona Coyotes’ Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson – received fines.

Bonino has never been cited, and Campbell said the Penguins forward was not on the list of known offenders. One of the heroes of Pittsburgh’s 2016 Cup run, he insisted he thought he was hit in the face, seeing on replay that Oshie’s stick pushed the plastic part of shoulder pad into his jaw to draw his reaction.

“I watched the replay and I was like, `Wow, there’s some backlash on this,’ I think when my history is that I’m a pretty honest guy and the last thing I want to do is embellish a call,” Bonino said. “When you get hit with anything, whatever, in the face, you’re not expecting it. I feel bad. I put the ref in a tough spot there, and you never want to do that.”

Even Capitals players didn’t blame referee Steve Kozari for making the call he thought he saw against Oshie, but center Lars Eller said the only way to prevent those situations is to make embellishment and diving subject to video review.

“He has to make a decision in a split-second and he’s not in a position to really see,” Eller said. “I think there needs to be some kind of review and there needs to be some kind of punishment for the other team that they’re going to feel because they got away with one there and it’s too important to get wrong.”

Campbell said adding video review for embellishment to coach’s challenges for offside and goaltender interference isn’t likely because the problem isn’t rampant and the league is concerned with slowing down games too much already.

Former referee Paul Stewart, who officiated in the NHL from 1986-2003, suggested authorizing the two linesmen to call embellishment along with the two referees just as they can for too many men on the ice or delay of game for puck over the glass.

More than anything, Stewart wants the responsibility to be on coaches.

“When they get that power play from the guy feigning having been tripped or slashed or whatever the case might be, they go back to the bench and they get these laurels and these kisses and all of this affection from their teammates and subconsciously they say, `Oh that worked,’ and they’ll do it again,” said Stewart, now the Eastern College Athletic Conference’s director of officiating. “If you said to a coach, `Your team has a tendency to dive and we have four examples or five and you’re sitting out,’ I’m going to tell you right now, they would stop it in half a heartbeat.”

 

Jankowski ‘continues to impress’ at Flames camp

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Mark Jankowski made his Calgary Flames debut last season. It appears he’s making quite a case to at least start the new campaign in the National Hockey League.

On Friday, he notched his third goal of the preseason, helping the Flames to a 4-2 victory over the Coyotes. Make that three goals in three exhibition games for Jankowski, Calgary’s first-round pick from the 2012 NHL Draft.

Once considered an “off-the-board” pick in that opening round, the 6-foot-4 center has developed into a very intriguing prospect, particularly after an impressive 2016-17 season down in Stockton, scoring 27 goals and 56 points in 64 AHL games. He appeared in one NHL game last season, and is leaving an impression during this year’s training camp, too.

Read more: Looking to make the leap — Mark Jankowski

“The confidence thing, right? These young players grow more confident as it goes,” head coach Glen Gulutzan said of the 23-year-old Jankowski following last night’s game.

“I thought he played well tonight. I thought he was better tonight than he was against Vancouver (on Wednesday) and he just continues to impress everybody.”

Calgary has three more preseason games remaining on their schedule, which could provide more of an opportunity for Jankowski to prove himself to the Flames coaching staff ahead of the regular season.

“I’m just trying to get better every day and keep on showing the coaching staff and management what I can bring to this team,” Jankowski told reporters.

“As camp goes on and it gets thinner and thinner, I just have to keep on doing that and get in some preseason games against almost full NHL lineups. That’s when you can really show your stuff, show you can play at this level and have an impact.”

Hossa undergoes ‘independent medical evaluation’ to determine if he’s eligible for LTIR

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Marian Hossa and the Chicago Blackhawks announced in June that the 38-year-old forward will miss the entire 2017-18 season with a skin disorder.

However, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, the National Hockey League has yet to determine if Hossa will be eligible for long-term injured reserve.

“Marian Hossa underwent an independent medical evaluation several days ago,’’ NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘We are waiting for the report. Once we have that, we should be in a position to determine his proper status.’’

Hossa’s total salary is only $1 million for this year. His cap hit remains at $5.275 million.

From CSN Chicago:

Here are two basics about the cap: a team can be 10 percent over it during the summer, and a team must be at or below it the day the regular season begins. If the Blackhawks place Hossa on LTIR, it wouldn’t take effect until the second day of the regular season. So on Day 1 of the season, the Blackhawks would still be carrying Hossa’s $5.275 cap hit.

Once the LTIR would take effect, though, the Blackhawks would have wiggle room. If they spent to the $75 million cap, they could utilize Hossa’s entire $5.275 million cap hit on other players.

While there are salary cap implications for Chicago with Hossa’s absence, not having him in the Blackhawks lineup is a difficult loss. Yes, he’s approaching 40 years of age, with more than 1,300 NHL regular season games under his belt. But last season, he also posted 26 goals and 45 points — still very productive at his age.

It was reported, prior to the Blackhawks announcing that Hossa had this skin condition, that there was a “legitimate possibility” Hossa had played his last NHL game.

Karlsson is back skating, but ‘we don’t want him to get too excited,’ says Boucher

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The good news? Erik Karlsson hit the ice to skate with his Ottawa Senators teammates on Saturday.

“Back at it,” is what the star defenseman wrote in an Instagram post, which included a photo of him on the ice in a blue jersey.

It’s certainly an exciting development for the Senators and their fans. Karlsson was a dominant player for Ottawa during the Stanley Cup playoffs despite playing with a foot injury that later required surgery, with an expected recovery time of four months.

Head coach Guy Boucher, however, offered some cautionary words on Karlsson’s status. Basically, it’s exciting, but Boucher doesn’t want anyone — Karlsson included — to get too far ahead of themselves right now.

“It’s a positive thing, but we don’t want to get too excited. It’s a second step,” said Boucher, according to NHL.com.

“The first step was to let the therapists tell us when it was adequate to put him on the ice, because you need to get the flexibility and the strength off the ice before we could put [him] on the ice. Yesterday they apparently put the skates on to see how it felt and [went] very lightly on the ice, and they felt he was able this morning [to] get dressed and be with the boys.

“Basically, this is the second step, but there’s quite a few steps before we get to him playing. We don’t want him to get too excited.”

His status for the Senators’ season opener against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 has been up in the air since he underwent the operation. Karlsson admitted earlier this month that he wasn’t sure if he’d be ready for that game.

Ottawa is dealing with a few injury situations right now, with four preseason games remaining on their schedule. Karlsson is one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL and given how important he is to the Senators, there is absolutely no need to rush him back into the lineup if he’s not ready.

 

NHL suspends Tom Wilson two preseason games for interference

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Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been suspended for two preseason games for interference, after his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas during Friday’s exhibition game.

The incident occurred early in the third period, as Wilson caught Thomas with a heavy and late hit along the boards at the Blues bench.

“Over a full second after Thomas loses control of the puck, well past the point where Thomas is eligible to be checked, Wilson comes in from the side and delivers a forceful body check, knocking Thomas to the ice,” stated a member of the NHL Department of Player Safety in a video explanation of the suspension.

“In addition to the lateness of the hit, what elevates this hit to the level of supplemental discipline is the predatory nature and force of the hit. Wilson tracks Thomas for some time and alters his course to ensure he is able to finish his hit. Then, with the puck long gone from Thomas’ control, Wilson finishes the check with force.”

The Capitals continue their preseason schedule Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. They also play the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.