The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals sound like NHL franchises. If you were to ask anyone who watched their contest Wednesday night, they might tell you the Rangers and Caps are groups of guys who like to box on ice. A dirty play by Washington forward Tom Wilson after the whistle sparked a controversial decision by the Department of Player Safety. As a result, Wednesday’s matchup looked more like a street fight than a hockey game. The NHL needs to take a long look at the procedures followed when deciding on Wilson’s punishment.
Tom Wilson Turns MSG Into Boxing Ring During Hockey Game
The Spark that Lit the Flame
This all started midway through the second period of a game between the two NHL franchises Monday evening. A net battle broke out next to the Washington net, and as to be expected, things got physical. What was unexpected, was the aggressiveness of Tom Wilson. Wilson fell to the ice and in the process, cross-checked the back of Pavel Buchnevich’s head. After the whistle, Wilson continued to punch Buchnevich in the back of the head, prompting a response from the rest of the Rangers on the ice.
In this scrum, Artemi Panarin attempted to stick up for his teammate. Wilson proceeded to rag-doll Panarin to the ice, and slam him to the ground repeatedly. He was assessed roughing and misconduct penalties for his play. It was later announced that Panarin would miss the remainder of the season.
On to the Department of Player Safety
When a guy makes a play like this, repercussions are to be expected. No one was surprised when a player with Tom Wilson’s track record had a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety. What was shocking, was the result of that hearing. George Parros, the head of the Department of Player Safety, ruled that Wilson would receive a $5,000 fine. That is the maximum amount a player can be fined according to the CBA. It’s also known as pocket change when we are talking about a player who makes over $5 million in a year. No suspension was handed down.
Response From the Blueshirts
Following the decision from Parros and the league, the Rangers were clearly disappointed in the ruling. An official statement was released by the team, expressing their displeasure. That statement also called for Parros to be removed from his current position with the NHL.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) May 4, 2021
Countdown to Puck Drop
With a rematch coming Wednesday night, everyone knew there would be fireworks. The Rangers were visibly angered by the decision and Tom Wilson suddenly became a marked man. The sports world was suddenly buzzing with talk of possible retaliation by the Rangers. New York did not disappoint.
The puck had barely touched the ice when the first punches were thrown. Not one, not two, but three fights broke out simultaneously. But Tom Wilson was not amongst the fighters. When Wilson stepped foot on the ice for the first time, he was jumped within seconds. Brendan Smith forced him to answer for the blows he had delivered two days prior. Two more fights broke out afterwards and a total of 100 penalty minutes had been awarded by the end of the first period. Wilson did not play after the end of the first period, with the Capitals citing an upper-body injury.
Ultimately things calmed down. The last two periods of the game looked like actual hockey. The game finished with a total of 141 penalty minutes.
Failure from the Highest Level
This incident highlighted severe issues with the NHL Department of Player Safety. Their job is to quite literally protect the players in the National Hockey League. By not suspending Tom Wilson, they failed at their most important job. They have a responsibility to ensure that players don’t suffer career-ending injuries. We very well could have seen an end to several careers Wednesday night had things gotten more out of hand. The amount of fighting in this game may have been a draw for some fans, but it was a major safety concern to the players.
Had Parros suspended Tom Wilson, the Rangers would not have had to take the aggressive actions they did. One of the great things about the NHL is that the players police themselves to some extent. Under typical circumstances, it works well. You hit my guy, I hit your guy, and everyone goes home at the end of the night. The Department of Player Safety is expected to step in and take this out of the hands of the players, especially in extreme cases such as this. We can now see why players should not be the only thing preventing the Tom Wilson’s of the world from making dirty plays. It puts everyone at risk, even the Capitals players who had nothing to do with Wilson’s actions
Is Parros A Questionable Decision with the Department of Player Safety?
Looking back at the NHL career for the head of the Department of Player Safety, George Parros, he was known as an enforcer. One has to wonder, why would a player with his history be put in a position that is responsible for the safety of players? Parros racked up 1092 career penalty minutes in just 474 games. Putting a man whose sole job it was to run around and beat up other players in charge of player safety may have not been the best decision.