Let’s just get this out of the way. There’s no place in the NHL for what Washington Capitals winger Tom Wilson did during a game Monday night, May 3, at Madison Square Garden.
He started a brawl by punching a face-down Pavel Buchnevich in the back of the head after the whistle, then finished it by tossing a helmet-less Artemi Panarin to the ice like a rag doll. The scene culminated with Wilson flexing from the penalty box as a way to taunt the New York Rangers bench.
It wasn’t a good look for a guy with such a long history of suspensions in the league.
Not surprisingly, the incident made NHL Twitter spontaneously combust into itself. There were hot takes galore with some imploring the league to ban the 27-year-old for life and others literally saying he should be arrested for assault.
It was all a vast overreaction. You would have thought Wilson committed treason with some of the rhetoric being thrown around on the bird app.
It got a thousand times worse on Tuesday morning when the NHL Department of Player Safety decided to hit Wilson with a maximum fine of $5,000 instead of a suspension.
That slap on the wrist prompted the Rangers to release a scathing statement in which they called for the removal of George Parros from his current role as the head of the NHL Department of Player Safety. They also called Wilson out for his “horrifying act of violence” that will cause Panarin to miss the final week of the regular season.
Give the Rangers credit. They stood up for their players when they felt like the league did not.
Taking a step back a couple of days later, though, the incident with Wilson speaks to a bigger issue across the league.
Did he need to punch Buchnevich? No. Did he need to rag doll Panarin? No. Did he need to flex in the penalty box? No.
It seems to be the general consensus that Wilson crossed the line Monday. But the fact that NHL players are still allowed to toe this invisible line in the first place is part of the problem.
If people want Wilson’s antics out of the game, shouldn’t they also want fighting out of the game completely?
It’s a gross double standard that Wilson is constantly vilified for his actions, yet other players are revered for dropping the gloves at a moment’s notice. Isn’t the potential end result of Wilson body-slamming Panarin equally as bad as allowing a couple of guys to drop the gloves and bash each other’s brains in?
This isn’t a defense of Wilson. Not at all. This is a condemnation of fighting in the NHL in general. The only reason it’s still allowed in the league is because it’s always been allowed in the league.
You can almost guarantee someone is going to throw hands with Wilson at some point in the very near future. Probably on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden in a rematch between the Capitals and Rangers. The person who does that is going to be praised as a hero.
Truthfully, it’s going to be a very long time before fighting is removed from the game. It’s probably going to take someone suffering a serious injury for the NHL to take a long, hard look in the mirror and realize that maybe it’s not a good thing to have guys punching each other in the face as a sanctioned part of the sport.
Until that type of logic is rinsed from the game, though, Wilson has no reason to change his style of play. Why would he? This is what fans want. Even if they won’t admit it.