Does the NHL Enable Tom Wilson?

Seeing the forest through the trees after recent incident

One Big Thing: NHL is Consistently Inconsistent

Mixed Reactions: The NHL seems allergic to cut and dry conclusions. After watching Tom Wilson mangle multiple opponents in a post-whistle schermish last week, a “you can’t do that” consensus seems logical. But, opinions continue to vary. 

The Athletic spoke anonymously to three people who work in the game. Here’s what they said:

Former Player, Now Executive: “I didn’t think it was as bad as everyone said it was.” 

Former Player: “You would swear we had World War V. It was one of those blink of an eye things.”

NHL Executive: “I thought this was an opportunity for the league to make some sort of statement. They’re lucky Panarin didn’t get seriously hurt.” 

Former Player: “He’s going to hurt someone and the league knows it.”

Fan reaction has loudly been on the side of unacceptability. Whose voice is most important?

Wilson | @capitals

Repeat Offenders? With Wilson receiving the same supplementary discipline as Henrik Lundqvist for squirting water at Sidney Crosby in 2014, the elephant in the room is: Why? Wilson is a by-the-book repeat offender (last suspended within an 18-month period) and just had some unpaid time off in March.

The NHL’s 18-month definition of “repeat offender” evokes two clear takeaways:

1. Are we supposed to erase actions from more than 18 months ago from our memories?

2. Players are not the only possible culprits of being repeat offenders.

Enter an additional elephant: What if the league is a repeat offender?

A common cited example over the last week is Raffi Torres — notorious repeat offender — who was suspended 41 games in 2015 for a hit to the head. Fast-forward to earlier this season when the NHL chose not to suspend Mark Stone after a clear headshot on Tyler Bozak. The difference? One suspension was in the harsher Brenden Shanahan-led Department of Player Safety era and the other in the more lenient George Parros’. With Shanahan, he cracked down, General Managers complained, and Parros replaced him.

Which brings us to the head elephant: If the NHL and NHLPA wanted long suspensions, they would have them. The $5,000 fine is mocked, but it was negotiated and agreed on by both parties. 

Whether a harsh or lenient DOPS should exist is beyond the point: Rules and their enforcement cannot be a moving target. Players, coaches, fans — all stakeholders in the game — need to know where the strike zone is. 

A Paradigm Shift: The Wilson incident is isolated, but it gives life to what we want the game to look like moving forward. Arguments about the NHL becoming soft don’t hold much merit — we know too much about brain injuries and their long-term effects for that. Knowing also that if Wilson was a UFA today, every team in the league would be lining up in an effort to sign him says everything. 

As we move this discussion forward, here’s to hoping two points are taken into consideration: an emphasis on consistent player safety and star protection

Star protection in the NHL is unlike other sports. Breathe on Tom Brady? Roughing the passer. Look at Lebron James? He’s shooting two. Rag-doll one of the biggest and highest paid stars on the NHL’s highest valued franchise? Check the water bottle squirting precedent. 

The way fans have reacted to Wilson’s fine speaks volumes about where those invested in the game want it to go. It’s high time the NHL started listening. 


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A Question for the Peanut Gallery

What would have been an appropriate fine and suspension for Wilson? 

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