We’ve written a lot about Tom Wilson today and not surprisingly so. The NHL world has been pretty vocal over the past 24 hours about the incidents that occurred on Monday evening as Wilson hit a prone Pavel Buchnevich and then threw Artemi Panarin to the ice, injuring him in the process. NHL Department of Player Safety came down with their ruling that Wilson was only going to receive a $5K fine and that has set people off.
The question is now, how did Wilson, a man who has a long history with fines and suspensions, get away with what he did?
As per Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, it’s because the league didn’t look at the fact it was Tom Wilson who did this. Not only that, but they have an unwritten rule about scrums that left Panarin open to be abused.
If you’re asking how that’s possible, the explanation is pretty simple, even if it’s troubling for a lot of fans. First, the scrum or melee (if you will) was looked at in two parts. First, it was the punching of Buchnevich while he was on the ice. That’s the play Wilson was actually fined for. The rest received no discipline at all. Second, the NHL says their job when levying fines is to remove the names of the parties involved and look first at if the offense was suspension worthy. Because they believed the roughing with Panarin wasn’t worth giving a player a suspension over, it didn’t matter that it was Tom Wilson.
What Johnston says the NHL looked at was that fact that scrums like the one Wilson and Panarin were in happen all the time and often multiple times per game. They viewed the fact that someone got thrown around in a scrum as non-suspendable offense because it never has been in the past. While Wilson had a huge weight advantage over Panarin, that was not up for review in this play.
In other words, because Panarin, Wilson and a host of other players were pushing and shoving, the roughing penalties on the play were the appropriate punishment.
NHL Didn’t Want To Open Pandora’s Box
What’s so interesting about this debate is that it appears the NHL didn’t want to open the door to suspending players for plays that initiate from things that happen regularly. They believed that if Wilson was suspended for roughing up Panarin, each time a scrum took place where a player got tossed to the ice, a suspension might need to be levied. Clearly, the NHL didn’t want to go there.
The problem with this logic is that it leaves no room to consider who was involved in the incident. In this case, it was one of the league’s most notorious troublemakers and someone the NHL has already had to deal with for behavioral issues versus one of the game’s top stars. That Wilson got involved in another incident should have been addressed. Any suspension that came from his actions would have been on him because only he created his own problems.
The Hockey Central panel also argued that maybe the NHL did consider it was Wilson, but made a decision based on the wrong criteria. Instead of going in saying to themselves, ‘Hey, we need to do something about this guy’, they said, ‘Hey, if we suspend him at all, it has to be for like 20 games now.’ Some have wondered if the NHL decided that they needed more than a good reason to suspend him because it meant him missing the rest of the regular season and the playoffs.
The NHL Has Sent the Wrong Message Here
Of course, this all sends the message that stars shouldn’t come to the rescue of a teammate because if you’re hurt in a scrum, there’s no recourse from the league. Tough guys can use this loophole to lure in the highest skilled players, abuse them and get away with it, because, after all… “scrums happen all the time.”
Now that players like Wilson know they can start something with the top line on the ice, they also know that few players will let a teammate be abused. It’s only natural that anyone would come to the aid of a teammate in trouble, which is what Panarin did.
Put another way, let’s create a scenario where Connor McDavid sees someone like Matthew Tkachuk punching a prone Dominik Kahun during a net-front melee. McDavid isn’t a scrapper, but would anyone expect him to not step in and help? Of course not. Yet, the minute he does, Tkachuk can target McDavid and the league has basically said that’s ok because McDavid voluntarily entered that scrum. The same applies to someone like Mitch Marner getting beat on by one of the North Division troublemakers or any other league star not known to be willing to throw down.
If the NHL won’t step in and do something about the actions of one of the league’s biggest bullies, what does that say to everyone else?
Wilson got away with this, plain and simple. The NHL used a technicality that scrums are not suspension worthy, but their fear of opening that doorway led them down the wrong path and towards a poor decision. Just the fact that Wilson did what he did and is Tom Wilson should have resulted in a suspension for a lengthy amount of time.