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.”

 

Columnist warns Blackhawks fans: DeBrincat may not make the jump

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It’s easy to see why Chicago Blackhawks fans are excited about Alex DeBrincat.

The undersized forward already seemed like a potential steal when the Blackhawks drafted him in the second round (39th overall) back in 2016, as he was coming off consecutive 100-point seasons in the OHL. DeBrincat topped that in 2016-17, scoring more than a goal per game (65 in 63) and finishing with a ridiculous 127 points.

Honestly, that last paragraph might leave some Blackhawks fans twitching with excitement.

MORE: DeBrincat was the one to watch at prospects camp

CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers relays an important message on Thursday, though: tap the brakes.

Beyond the questions of the 19-year-old being ready for the NHL, Myers reasonably wonders if Chicago can fit him into its salary structure.

Looking at the Blackhawks’ listing at Cap Friendly, it’s clear that Myers has a point. There are 14 forwards under contract, and as Myers notes, only Nick Schmaltz can be sent to the AHL without needing to clear waivers.

The Athletic’s Scott Powers notes that few 19-year-olds have made much of a dent on recent Blackhawks rosters beyond Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Nick Leddy. As great as Joel Quenneville can be at integrating younger players into Chicago’s mix, history states that DeBrincat indeed faces an uphill climb.

Then again, for a smaller forward whose numbers sometimes get disregarded or downplayed because of his stature, DeBrincat’s probably used to overcoming odds. If nothing else, the Blackhawks seem willing to go the extra mile if it gives them a better chance to compete.

Even so, Blackhawks fans would probably be wise not to pencil him into the 2017-18 lineup just yet.

Katie Bieksa enlists husband Kevin, other Ducks to promote book (shirtless)

via Kevin Bieksa's Twitter feed
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Katie Bieksa, wife of Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, found herself in a bind after he was traded from the Vancouver Canucks. With extenuating circumstances keeping her from working normally, she wrote a novel … and decided to promote it in a brilliant way.

AJ Manderichio of the Ducks website provided an in-depth look at Katie Bieksa’s experience writing “Newport Jane,” which Bieksa compares – in some ways – to “Desperate Housewives.”

Which seems like a convenient segue to mention one way of hyping up the noveal: “Hot Guys Reading My Book” on Instagram.

It started with Kevin, although Katie told Manderichio that it required some negotiating.

“These guys are looking for opportunities to show off their summer bodies. They were volunteering, and that’s where the idea came from,” Katie says. “There was someone – it may have been Kevin – who said ‘I am NOT going to take a picture with your book,’ and I said ‘Oh yes you are.’

“When he said he would do it, the rest of the guys did. They’ve all been so supportive, and that’s such a nice feeling. It is a community, and you do depend on each other. It’s so nice to have that support, bear down and take the picture.”

Good stuff.

Kevin’s caption really sold it “Yes this is how I usually read.”

As you can see on the Instagram feed, noted pest Ryan Kesler also “contributed,” but Andrew Cogliano‘s missing teeth stole the show.

Here is part of the “Newport Jane” summary on Amazon, which in a just world would inspire people to call Kevin Bieksa “the cardiac surgeon.”

From the outside, Ellen has it all: a glamorous new life in a sun-soaked city more like a movie set than the small Northern town where she grew up, and her very own McDreamy. But being married to a gorgeous, brilliant cardiac surgeon also means standing in his shadow, putting aside her dreams to follow his—and having way too much time home alone to think about how much she’s given up to follow him to California.

Don’t worry, there probably won’t be a spin-off involving shirtless blogging.

Flames hand Hathaway a two-way deal

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The Calgary Flames signed forward Garnet Hathaway to a one-year, two-way contract on Thursday.

Hathaway, 25, earned some reps on the team despite being undrafted.

Here’s how his NHL work looks so far:

2015-16: three assists, 31 PIM in 14 games played.
2016-17: one goal, four assists, 44 PIM in 26 GP.

If the penalty minutes didn’t make it obvious, Hathaway is the “rugged” type. He’s already provided some snarly action shots against the Flames’ rivals, as you can see below and in this post’s main image.

via Getty

He clearly makes friends quickly.

The Flames celebrated his first – and so far only – NHL goal after the signing.

Penguins are ‘prepared to go to arbitration’ with Sheary, Dumoulin

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Earlier today, PHT discussed how the Pittsburgh Penguins might take advantage of robust cap space to replace Nick Bonino. Of course, that cap space could really start to dry up depending upon how things go with RFAs Brian Dumoulin and Conor Sheary.

At the moment, both are heading toward salary arbitration hearings, with Dumoulin’s scheduled for July 24 while Sheary is slated for Aug. 4.

Both situations are pretty tricky, so it’s not too surprising that GM Jim Rutherford admitted to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey that the hearings will “probably” happen.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Rutherford said.

There’s still time – especially for Sheary – yet both hearings could be especially interesting considering the variety of different ways you can break down their value.

Dumoulin: strong defense, weak offense (so far)

Hockey Buzz’s Ryan Wilson and FanRag’s Dave Holcomb both went pretty deep on what Dumoulin might be worth, as did Matt Cane. The disparity is pretty interesting; Cane puts Dumoulin at about a $2.5 million value, Wilson proposes a five-year, $15M deal, and Holcomb wonders if Dumoulin could be worth as much as $5 million per season.

Dumoulin’s reps might point to Olli Maatta as a handy comparable, although that comparison falls flat from simpler (i.e. Dumoulin not producing as much offense) and fancier perspectives. Sometimes it’s pretty plain to see HERO charts smiling upon one player more than the other.

Still, both Dumoulin’s prominent use and his strong at-home work indicate that he’s worth a pretty penny, however many he’d receive.

While he generated 16 and 15 points during the past two regular season runs, Dumoulin saw solid ice time in both 2015-16 and 2016-17. That was especially true during the playoffs, as he averaged 21:31 per night in the 2016 run and 21:59 TOI during this last postseason.

Considering the waves of injuries the Penguins endured during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs in particular, Dumoulin really showed his importance to the team.

Now, will those details matter as much as weaker counting stats? We’d find out if Dumoulin’s hearing actually took place.

Sheary’s sheer luck

Somewhat amusingly, Conor Sheary is almost in the opposite situation.

If you look at his simple stats, Sheary could argue for a pretty nice little raise.

While his 2015-16 numbers are modest, he really took advantage of his time alongside Sidney Crosby this past season, scoring a remarkable 23 goals and 53 points … in just 61 regular-season games. That would be about 71 points over an 82-game span.

His postseason numbers weren’t as great (seven points in 22 contests after 10 in the previous run), but one could imagine a solid argument made on the 25-year-old’s behalf considering that 23-goal output.

Of course, the Crosby effect was significant. Sheary spent 697 of his 836 even-strength minutes with Crosby, while only spending 139 minutes without him last season. To his credit, Hockey Analysis’s numbers reveal that Sheary at least maintained decent possession numbers in those rare moments without number 87, but the sample size is too small to refute claims that Sheary was Jonathan Cheechoo to Crosby’s Joe Thornton.

***

Ultimately, it’s tough to tell how much each player is worth, which might explain why arbitration hearings may just need to happen. Such hearings would be fascinating, though both the players and the Penguins would likely experience some serious nerves.