As usual, leave it to NHL Player Safety to drop the ball completely. In one of the most perplexing decisions that lacks any common sense, they fined Tom Wilson $5,000 for the chaos he created during the second period of Monday’s game. So, the known head hunter who had an evil grin after what he did to Pavel Buchnevich and Artemi Panarin, gets off easy. Of course he did. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge of “Player Safety.” Business as usual.
It is astonishing that they gave Wilson the maximum fine and completely ignored what he did to Panarin. A player who’s one of the league’s biggest stars got his hair pulled and was rag dolled while being slammed dangerously to the ice by an out of control lunatic. Imagine if Wilson pulled this nonsense with a good old Canadian boy like Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby. There would be serious repercussions.
The Rangers responded to the ridiculous ruling by George Parros by calling him out in a very pointed statement. It was released on their official Twitter account. Here’s what was said below.
I have no problem with the statement they put out. It’s about time someone calls out the joke that is NHL Player Safety. Here’s the thing. Does anyone think it will change? I don’t believe so. How many times can a repeat offender such as Wilson run roughshod before he seriously hurts someone or even worse? The league doesn’t give a damn about protecting its players. That’s the true shame of it all. Yet another black eye for hockey. No wonder it isn’t covered as much as the other major sports. However, when cheap shots like the ones Wilson delivered on Buchnevich and Panarin happen, the NHL is front and center for the wrong reasons.
Whatever you feel towards Wilson, who surely deserved a lengthy suspension for his latest assault on the ice, this is also about the brutal nature of the sport. It’s why it’s still important for the players to police themselves. Even with the instigator and officials abusing the misconduct penalty which sure wasn’t sufficient enough on Monday night, it’s up to the NHL teams to have enough sandpaper on their roster to address such thuggery. There’s no place in the game for what Wilson did. It’s unacceptable that no Ranger went after him. That is an indictment on the one dimensional roster they have. That must change before next season.
It’s my contention that this wouldn’t have happened if Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren and Chris Kreider were dressed for Game 53 of 56. Wilson knew he could run around and not face the consequences. With his team trailing by a goal on a penalty kill, he decided to take matters into his own hands. On the scrum where Buchnevich poked away at Vitek Vanecek in search of a rebound, that’s commonplace in hockey. There usually is a strong response from players defending their goalie. What isn’t is an unhinged Wilson taking down Buchnevich and punching the defenseless player. Then turning Panarin into a doll after he showed more guts than brains by jumping on Wilson. The end result was a despicable tug of Panarin’s hair and an unwarranted cheap shot that could’ve severely injured him.
Wilson is a loose cannon who clearly has anger management issues. Even after serving a seven-game ban for his ferocious hit on Boston defenseman Brandon Carlo that concussed him, the 27-year old who admitted that he has to tone it down, remains a ticking time bomb. Having been fined multiple times and suspended five times including serving 14 games of an original 20-game ban for his dangerous head shot on Oskar Sundqvist during the preseason, it’s impossible to defend his actions. While he is an effective power forward who is a key part of the Capitals, Wilson must be made accountable for his actions. If the Department of NHL Player Safety won’t do it, then it’s up to the Rangers to respond. They can recall tough defenseman Mason Geertsen for Wednesday night’s eight and final meeting against the Caps. David Quinn didn’t tip his hand following practice.
Judging off the current roster without Kreider, Lindgren, Trouba and now Panarin, the team has an empty spot to fill for the rematch. It would make perfect sense to dress Geertsen and have him settle the score with Wilson. Outside of Brendan Smith, they lack the kind of sandpaper needed to handle a Wilson or Matt Martin, whose elbow on Mika Zibanejad early on in a recent game, prompted no response. Why would there be? This is how the current roster is constructed. Team President John Davidson should be paying attention. This can’t continue in Year Four of the Rebuild. The ’21-22 season must be all about qualifying for the playoffs. That also means being able to adjust their style to deal with the grind and grit of the Islanders, who took the final three meetings by a combined 13-1 score. It also means being harder to play against. That includes seeing the Washington grinders like Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway, Daniel Sprong have their way in the 6-3 loss at home.
Hiding behind a statement which accurately ripped into the NHL for their incompetence isn’t enough. The Rangers must become tougher. That doesn’t mean signing a goon like Ryan Reaves. You can find versatile hardworking and honest players who are capable of forechecking, finishing checks and standing up for fallen teammates. Think the Isles’ Identity Line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. Cizikas is an unrestricted free agent this summer. So too is key Lightning two-way forward Blake Coleman. These are the kind of high character players the Rangers must look into.
With a very young roster that’ll continue to feature Panarin, Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitaly Kravtsov, Filip Chytil (if he isn’t moved), Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller, Zac Jones, Igor Shesterkin and likely Nils Lundkvist, the organization must find the right balance to protect their young core. If that means sacrificing a player like Chytil or seeing if there’s a taker for Mika Zibanejad or Ryan Strome, they must explore those options. This is a close-knit team that gets along well and really is likable. It still needs no-nonsense guys who can handle themselves. Tony DeAngelo was one of those guys. So too was Brendan Lemieux. It’s just a point on where the Blueshirts are.
Would I love to see Geertsen get a crack at Wilson. Absolutely. Ditto for Smith even if that’s probably not going to end well. With three games left before the off-season, the Rangers have nothing to lose. Making a statement is crucial for the future of the team. For too long, they’ve been pushed around. It dates back to the days of the Alain Vigneault Era. Where turn the other cheek was too accepted. At least they had a Daniel Carcillo, Derek Dorsett or Tanner Glass. Even Dylan McIlrath took up for Ryan McDonagh in a rousing scrap at center ice with well respected Wayne Simmonds, who injured the former captain.
The game has evolved. Nobody is denying that. You can still find versatile players who can contribute offensively, hit and drop the gloves when the situation calls for it. Hopefully, the Rangers will learn from Monday’s ugliness. They better.