Dereliction of duty; who had that phrase coming from an NHL team on their 2021 bingo card? It’s not every day that you see a professional sports team call out its league like the Rangers did last night, and it’s not hard to understand why they’re so angry.
Many were stunned when news broke that Tom Wilson had been fined, not suspended, for his actions in the Washington Capitals’ Monday night game against the New York Rangers. The Rangers’ top brass were clearly among those none too happy with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety’s decision. In a statement posted to the team’s official Twitter account, the Rangers called the lack of action “extremely disappointing” and that they believe that George Parros, NHL Head of Player Safety, is “unfit to continue in his current role.”
This type of statement coming directly from an NHL team is pretty unprecedented and should make the league take a long look at the inconsistencies — and outright problems — plaguing their Department of Player Safety. However in all likelihood, the Rangers will just be handed a fine of their own, and the NHL will do their best to put this all quietly behind them.
If Wilson, a repeat offender known for his predatory hits, doesn’t get suspended for sucker-punching Pavel Buchnevich in the back while he’s facedown on the ice, or for throwing Artemi Panarin to the ice (possibly by his hair, though the NHL deemed this inconclusive) then nobody will.
At least not until someone’s not as lucky and it’s their head, not shoulder, taking the brunt of the collision with the ice. Panarin was just a slight angle change away from a devastating injury.
Even then, Panarin will still be held out of the Rangers’ final three games of the season. A common complaint regarding the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is the reliance on the outcome of a play rather than intent. Here Panarin is injured, and there’s still no suspension.
Tonight, the Rangers and Capitals will meet again. For the Rangers, it’s a relatively meaningless game with no playoff implications. The only thing they have to play for is pride, and probably more prominently tonight, some semblance of retribution. And if those acts of retribution cross the line, then the NHL has nobody but themselves to blame.
The best part of all is how the hockey world will get to have this conversation all over again the next time Wilson takes someone out. And then again the time after that. After moving in the right direction by coming down harder on Wilson with a twenty-game suspension (later reduced to 14 games) in 2018, and a seven-game suspension just two months ago, this feels like a step backwards in regards to player safety.