Is There a Problem With the Way Bunting is Officiated?

Toronto Maple Leafs Head Coach Sheldon Keefe has not been shy when discussing the way forward Michael Bunting has been the subject of aggressive officiating as of late. On April 2, Bunting was assessed a two-minute minor penalty for embellishment and, later, given a 10-minute misconduct for his behavior following a scrum.[1] After the game, Keefe suggested that Bunting has been unfairly penalized by referees, and that the league would hear from General Manager Kyle Dubas on the matter. 

When asked whether he was surprised about the 10-minute misconduct, Keefe said, “Surprised? Based on the way he’s got officiated of late, no I’m not surprised at all. He eats three crosschecks, and he ends up taken to the box with it. He had four or five punches to the face in that scrum, and he ends up with a 10-minute misconduct . . . So that’s part of it. But Bunts has got to do his best to stay on the line. In terms of how he’s been officiated, Kyle will deal with that with the league.”

The misconduct did appear to be a very weak call in the moment. Following the scrum, it appears Bunting simply moved the stick of Moritz Seider, and it resulted in a 10-minute misconduct.[2] This call was specifically suspicious because Bunting did not instigate the scrum, and Marco Kasper, the instigator, did not receive a similar match penalty. There is no doubt that Bunting plays an aggressive and fiery game. As a result, he has drawn a lot of penalties over the past two years, however, this year he has taken more penalties as well.[3]

The hockey world is divided as to whether Bunting is truly officiated unfairly. Some believe that his antics after the whistle, such as embellishing hits and talking to the referees, has earned him a negative reputation with officials.[4]Bunting has been charged with embellishment on multiple occasions so far this season. Others believe that Bunting has been the victim of unfair treatment from officials and that he is being targeted because of his aggressive style of play. Regardless of which side is more persuasive, it is clear that Bunting needs to be more cautious on the ice, specifically when it comes to respecting the on-ice officials. 

This type of officiating on Bunting could have an important impact on the playoffs. Bunting is a valuable member of the Maple Leafs, however, if he continues to be officiated the way he has been of late, he may do more harm than good. In order to improve his standing with officials, it appears Bunting will have to be more careful, lowering the rate at which he tries to sell calls and chirps at officials. On the other hand, insisting that Bunting be more careful on the ice could render him less effective because his aggressive style of play and his ability to agitate are two of his most important abilities. This will be especially relevant in the playoffs as the game gets noticeably more aggressive and physical. Either way, it will be interesting to see whether Dubas’s talk with the league will have any impact on the way Bunting is officiated as the regular season ends and the playoffs begin.

Keefe’s comments regarding recent officiating also implicates the importance of sports betting in the NHL today. Keefe insinuating that officials treat some players unfairly, specifically Bunting, calls into question the integrity of the game. If a player is being officiated unfairly, then opposing teams receive undeserved powerplays, which would have a significant impact on the outcome of a game. While this has not been that troublesome for the Maple Leafs, as they are one of the top teams in the league, it raises the question as to whether there are other players that teams believe are being officiated unfairly. If this is the case throughout the league, and not just an isolated incident, then it could have, or already could be having, a large impact on individual games, and thus a significant impact on sports betting. It will be interesting to see if, as more information regarding this situation is released, concerns over sports betting rise. While this could likely be the case in every game in every sport, given the somewhat subjective nature of the job of an official, it is something to consider when thinking about betting on sports.

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