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Young Mitch Marner meme isn’t lost on Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs

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A couple of days ago, Mitch Marner was spotted at Pearson Airport in Toronto with a backwards baseball cap after flying back from a very impressive and productive run at the World Hockey Championship.

Hockey Twitter exploded with well-meaning laughter as the dazzlingly talented 20-year-old looked even younger than 20.

Even a few days later, it really is a sight to behold, whether you need a respite from politics or biting your nails about Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final:

As much as many of us deride this age of social media, it’s been a goldmine for self deprecating comedy from hockey players; as it turns out, Roberto Luongo doesn’t have that market completely cornered, either.

Not long ago, Auston Matthews jumped in on the Marner meme, and it was glorious:

To his credit, Marner himself joined in:

Is anyone else eager to see what these young stars come up with both on and off the ice during the next, oh, couple decades?

Stars GM has talked about trading third overall draft pick

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The Dallas Stars are in go-for-it mode, and their general manager is willing to trade the third overall pick in the 2017 draft to give them a boost.

“I have talked to other teams already about possibly moving that pick, getting an established player back,” Jim Nill told SiriusXM’s NHL Network Radio, per NHL.com. “It gives us lot of options. I think this will heat up more as we go.”

The Stars were one of the three big winners in the draft lottery, moving up to the No. 3 spot after finishing 24th overall during the regular season.

And while it’s a near certainty that Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier will be selected with the first two picks, it’s wide open after that.

“Probably a group of another 10 players, and that’s when it comes down to team’s personal preference,” Nill said. “Are you looking for a big strong centerman? Are you looking for a scoring winger? Are you looking for a power forward? There is lot of different options there.”

The Stars — with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin right in their primes, and Jason Spezza turning 34 next month — do need to make a run at the Stanley Cup soon. They’ve already made a couple of big moves this offseason, hiring Ken Hitchcock to be their new head coach and signing goalie Ben Bishop to a six-year deal.

If there’s a weakness on the Dallas roster, it’s probably the blue line. The Stars lost veteran defenders Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers last summer, and head coach Lindy Ruff spent much of 2016-17 scratching various defensemen, including new addition Dan Hamhuis.

USA scores four unanswered goals to rally past Latvia

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Team USA won its fourth consecutive game at the IIHF World Championships on Saturday with a 5-3 win over Latvia.

It was not an easy win by any stretch of the imagination.

Trailing 3-1 midway through the second period, the United States need to rally with four consecutive goals to pick up the win. The rally started with a Nick Bjugstad goal with just under seven minutes to play in the second period. Just a few minutes later Johnny Gaudreau scored the equalizer. The game would remained tied until late in the third period when Andrew Copp would score the eventual game-winner with just under four minutes to play in regulation.

Dylan Larkin added an empty net goal to put the game away, extending his point streak in the tournament to five games. He is the only team USA player to record a point in every game of the tournament.

You can see all of the highlights from the game in the video above.

After being upset by Germany in the opening game of the tournament, the United States has outscored its next four opponents (Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Latvia) by a 19-8 margin.

Team USA is back in action on Sunday against Slovakia then closes out the first round on Tuesday against Russia.

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.”

 

Panthers to talk extension with Jagr’s agent this week

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Dale Tallon is a busy man.

In the midst of interviewing up to a dozen candidates for the club’s vacant head coaching gig, the Panthers GM will meet with Jaromir Jagr‘s agent this week to discuss a contract extension.

Per the Sun-Sentinel, Tallon is set to hold discussions with Jagr’s rep, Petr Svoboda, at the upcoming World Hockey Championship.

Though no contract details were made available, it’s fair to presume another one-year deal could be in the works. Jagr has played exclusively on those type of pacts since returning to the NHL in 2011. Last year, he carried a $4 million cap hit (his salary exceeded $5M thanks to performance bonuses).

Jagr’s production was down a touch this year, with just 16 goals and 46 points (compared to the 27 goals and 66 points he scored the season prior). But in many ways, it was an impressive campaign.

At 45, he was one of just five Panthers to appear in all 82 games, and was without usual running mates Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov for long stretches. He did this while averaging 16 minutes per night and, per the Sun-Sentinel, still finished as one of Florida’s top drivers in terms of possession and shot attempts.

The Panthers aren’t expected to sign Jagr until after June’s expansion draft has come and gone.