Violence, hockey, and the NHL’s leadership

I can’t believe what I just read over the past few days.

I don’t post about hockey that often. I’m technically a Vegas Golden Knights fan, though I will sometimes root for the Colorado Avalanche. What I’m writing about today involves neither of those teams, but is still very worrisome for the future of professional ice hockey.

Some five years and change ago, I wrote two pieces about Raffi Torres, one right after his last suspension for a dirty hit in a preseason game, the next some months later after finding out what happened to him. (Torres wound up retiring in 2016 November, a few months after the second post; I didn’t have anything new to add at that time.

Now, another incident has come up. Actually, because of how badly the NHL has handled this, it’s exploded into a huge controversy and set new NHL records for fighting. I speak of the recent incident involving Tom Wilson of the New York Rangers in a game against the Washington Capitals on May 3 (Monday).

This article from CBS Sports has a nice timeline of the events (I’ve left all the links intact):

  • May 3, 2nd period: Tom Wilson injures [Artemi] Panarin, and punches [Pavel] Buchnevich down on the ice
  • May 3, end of 3rd period: Rangers officially eliminated from playoff contention
  • May 3, postgame: Rangers coach David Quinn said Wilson crossed a line, Mika Zibanejad says the Caps player didn’t have “respect for the game and for the players”
  • May 4: Rangers release statement saying [NHL’s head of the Department of Player Safety George] Parros is “unfit to continue in his current role”
  • May 5, less than 5 hours before game time: Rangers fire Davidson and Gorton. Chris Drury is set to take over both positions
  • May 5, less than a second after the opening whistle: Three fights break out between Caps and Rangers players. Six fights would happen before the five-minute mark, including one between Brendan Smith and Wilson
  • May 5, 1st period: Wilson leaves with an upper-body injury, Caps PR Twitter account gets ratioed with schadenfreude-hungry Rangers fans, and everyone makes the same joke on Twitter
  • May 5, 2nd period: Rangers honor their injured teammate by refusing to put any effort on the ice, go down 3-0. Buchnevich gets a five minute major for cross-checking Anthony Mantha in the face, and Zdeno Chara gets a 10-minute misconduct penalty
  • May 5, 3rd period: Bit less eventful on the pushing and shoving front. Rangers scored two, and T.J. Oshie recorded a hat trick in the first game since his father’s death. Caps won, 4-2

Also of note is that the NHL fined the Rangers $250,000 (that’s 50 times what Tom Wilson was fined) for making that statement regarding George Parros. While it is a nominally subjective statement, just about every objective review of the facts shows that it makes no sense for Tom Wilson to have gotten off with only a fine and no suspension. This is a player who has been suspended multiple times in the past, and who in any other major sports league would be looking at much more severe consequences.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has the brass balls to come out and say this regarding the fine (quotes from the previous article above):

Public comments of the nature issued by the Rangers that were personal in nature and demeaning of a League executive will not be tolerated. While we don’t expect our Clubs to agree with every decision rendered by the Department of Player Safety, the extent to which the Rangers expressed their disagreement was unacceptable.

It is terribly unfair to question George Parros’ professionalism and dedication to his role and the Department of Player Safety.

My response to this: It is terribly–no, that doesn’t do it justice. It is downright obscenely and egregiously unfair to the Rangers, Artemi Panarin, and Pavel Buchnevich to basically let Tom Wilson get away with such a blatant disregard for player safety. It is a joke that the NHL even has a Department of Player Safety if the person heading that department can’t do his damn job and suspend players who do things like this and pose a danger to the rule-abiding players on the ice.

I’m absolutely disgusted. This is a failure in leadership on the part of the NHL, pure and simple.

George Parros needs to go. Clearly, this is someone who can’t do his job and protect rule-abiding players by issuing appropriate penalties to the players committing clearly malicious, dangerous, and rule-prohibited acts. Actually, Gary Bettman needs to go, too, if the team that justly criticizes such a blatant miscarriage of justice gets a ridiculous quarter-million-dollar fine for what the rest of the sports world can clearly see is justified. And Tom Wilson probably needs to go too, or at the very least massively lean up his act before he follows Raffi Torres out the retirement door. Those kind of attacks on other players are unacceptable. A mere $5,000 fine is getting off way too easy (basically, one notch below getting away with it outright).