The Legend of Nick Bonino

During his time in Pittsburgh, Nick Bonino has experienced nearly as many ups and downs as the Mon Incline.

When he was first acquired from Vancouver, there was a positive vibe as the former Canuck, and Anaheim Duck was viewed as a significant upgrade over Brandon Sutter. Then came the poor play during the first few months of the season, and the injury that kept him out for an extended period of time. Things looked bleak for a struggling player on a struggling team.

Experience the Evolution

The winds of change blew through the “City of Champions”. Bonino started scoring timely goals and making nice plays setting up others. Just like the rest of the Penguins, the Hartford-native turned things around. But let’s take a moment before recapping statistics and game play narratives from last season. I would like to look at the true reasons that Bonino will be going down in Penguins’ lore with many other talented, fan-favorites of yesteryear.

There are many players who live in Penguins history for many different reasons. There is Max Talbot “shushing” the Flyers, scoring the game-winning goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and being a “superstar” in car commercials; and Gary Roberts who tried to fight an entire opposing team after being hauled off the ice by referees. Bill Guerin is remembered for being a no-nonsense, productive veteran on a team of young hotshots. From Joe Mullen and Kevin Stevens to Sergei Gonchar and Colby Armstrong, each had moments that gave them a special place in the heart of “Hockey Tahn”.


As the season progressed, Bonino slowly crept into everyone’s good graces. First, there was the beard. Beards are cool. Then he centered the “HBK” line, which saw the resurgence of Phil Kessel. Anyone who can push the right buttons with Kessel is all right in my book. Then there was the famous “Bonino Bonino Bonino!” goal-call by Hockey Night Punjabi. In a few months, Bonino went from being a disappointment to epic.

The center of hockey’s most famous line started racking up points down the stretch, which carried over to the playoffs. His 18 points during the postseason were fourth on the team, behind only Kessel, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin.

To put things into perspective, while playing on the “HBK” line, Kessel had a 57.8% Corsi For, and 52.7% when playing without Bonino. Carl Hagelin clocked in at 59.1% with Bonino, and 55.3% without him during 5-on-5 play in the regular season. Ultimately, the trio possessed the puck and controlled play much more effectively after being put together as a result of Malkin’s injury. His Assist Per 60 (1.60) was second on the team behind Crosby (1.64).

Slings and Arrows

Sadly, the naysayers have already begun. Many are predicting a decline in Bonino’s play, and the demise of the “HBK” line in 2016-17. This should be a banner year for the 28-year-old, as he should capitalize off of his strong end to last season, while preparing to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. Shortly after his promotion to the second line, I wrote an article predicting that Bonino’s play would return to normal. He proved me wrong in a big way, so I will continue to expect big things from him.

Epic production when it mattered the most. Big goals, and plays in the most pivotal of games. Fascinating narratives, exciting goal calls, and the beard, you can’t forget the beard even though he did shave it. Just like Talbot, Bonino has given us plenty of reasons to be talking about him for years to come.

Until next time.