The Tom Wilson Effect: Punches are Thrown and a Dumpster Fire Begins

To say the hockey world has been set on fire these past 72 hours is an understatement. In particular, the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals (and most notably Tom Wilson) have been having some fun. The NHL’s “no soap operas, just hockey” marketing campaign from a few years ago certainly isn’t aging well. It all started with a horrific play by Tom Wilson, but it’s only gotten crazier from there.

The Incident

On Monday night, Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson was involved in yet another incident. But, this one was different from all the other dangerous plays he’s made in the past. This time, it all happened after the whistle, and there was absolutely no denying what his intent was. It all started when there was a scramble in front of the net that saw New York Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich taken down to the ice by Wilson. Mind you, when I say taken down to the ice, I mean Wilson pushed him down by his neck. Then, as if that wasn’t already bad enough to start a scrum, he decided to make it significantly worse. While Buchnevich was lying prone on the ice, Wilson took it upon himself to sucker punch him in the back of the head. All hell broke loose after that.

Rangers defenseman Ryan Strome stepped in to defend his teammate. He jumped on top of Tom Wilson, which as you can probably imagine, didn’t go over well. Capitals forward Nic Dowd then tried to pull Strome off of Wilson, taking him down to the ice. Wilson then proceeded to punch Strome while he was down, although this time he didn’t go for the head (but he also couldn’t, as that was still covered by Dowd). Then, things got even worse.

Panarin Gets Slammed, Will Miss the Rest of the Season

Panarin came in, grabbed Tom Wilson from behind, and pulled him off of Strome. The two then wrestled for a minute before Wilson came unhinged. He ripped Panarin’s helmet off (which is a penalty), grabbed him by the hair, and threw him head-first down to the ice. Luckily, Panarin was able to twist and go shoulder first, or we would’ve witnessed a devastating injury, if not a death. It was that serious. As it stands now, Panarin was injured and is out for the rest of the season. But that wasn’t all. Wilson then started punching Panarin while he was down and then attempted to pick him up and throw him to the ice again. The linesmen finally stepped in after that. You can watch the full video of the incident below.

The Immediate Aftermath

In the direct aftermath of this incident, Tom Wilson was given four minutes for roughing Artemi Panarin and a 10-minute misconduct. Yet, he was somehow allowed to return to the game. Panarin was given two minutes for roughing Wilson. 

Social media blew up after this. The Capitals official Twitter fanned these flames by tweeting a wildly inappropriate meme saying that Wilson lived “rent free” in people’s heads. But that aside, I have never seen more fans agree on something than I did on Monday night. Nearly every fan except for some Capitals ones thought Wilson should be suspended for a long time, if not indefinitely, for his actions. He’s a repeat offender, and to make matters even worse, he never shows any remorse no matter what he does. That was proven on Monday when he then pretended to flex from the penalty box. That sure seems like someone who’s learning from his mistakes.

The Next Day

Despite the widespread outrage and what should’ve been an obvious suspension, NHL Player Safety opted to only give Tom Wilson a mild slap on the wrist. He was fined $5,000, the maximum allowed under the CBA, not for ragdolling Panarin, but for his punch to the back of Buchnevich’s head. It’s an egregiously mild punishment. The reasoning for it was that what happened between Wilson and Panarin was just a normal scrum. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see helmetless players getting chucked to the ice by their opponents in a scrum every game. In fact, I’ve never seen it, and I’ve watched a lot of hockey. Normal players have significantly more respect for their opponents than that. Both the act and the punishment are completely unacceptable and there is no excuse for them.

Last but not least, the New York Rangers put out a very strongly worded statement last night in response to the Department of Player Safety’s ruling. You can find it below.

I applaud them for having their players back and saying what needed to be said. I agree with their statement 100%, right down to the last sentence. Unfortunately, because the NHL is stupid and refuses to let people call them out for things, the general consensus was that the Rangers were going to get slapped with quite the pretty fine as a result of the statement. That has yet to happen (at least to public knowledge), although NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly refused to confirm or deny whether that was the plan. So, that’s still something to keep an eye on. In the meantime, so much more has happened.

Last But Far From the Least, Today

Finally, we’ve arrived at today’s chaos. The Rangers shocked everybody, including the league’s top insiders, by firing team president John Davidson and general manager Jim Gorton. Now-former assistant GM Chris Drury has been promoted to GM and president as a result. Sources have since said that the firing was not related to the events of the past 48 hours and that it was because ownership felt as though the team underachieved this season. Mind you, the Rangers are two years removed from announcing and starting a full rebuild yet somehow managed to get 5th place this year in the most competitive division in the league with a point pace that puts them in the playoffs in nearly every other division. But, sure, they’re underachieving.

I’m also seeing numerous reports that Davidson and Gorton were not happy about the statement, and wanted to distance themselves from it, which struck a nerve with owner James Dolan. However, I have a really hard time believing that too. If they had resigned, I’d say ok, that’s probably the case. But they were fired. I just don’t see where you fire guys for not liking a statement. There would, however, be a compelling case to do so if they were the ones who wrote that statement and it went out unapproved. So, while this excuse is a bit more believable, I’m still not sure I buy it.

This is a Stupid Overreaction

In all likelihood, this is an extreme reaction to the events of the past 72 hours. Dolan isn’t exactly known for being level-headed, so it’s not overly surprising that he’d react like this. But, it’s unbelievably stupid. Gorton and Davidson rebuilt the Rangers faster than anybody thought was possible. Drury is a very smart hockey mind, so he should do ok, but there was no reason to shake things up. They were perfectly fine as they were. So, there is definitely more going on here.

I don’t really believe anything that they’ve said so far because it just feels like damage control. It just doesn’t make any sense, and the timing of it is even crazier. If it really was because they thought they were underachieving or because Davidson and Gorton weren’t happy with the statement, they would’ve been fired in the offseason, not with three games remaining in the season. I suppose what they said could be the case, but it feels highly unlikely. To me, it’s much more likely that the opposite is the truth.

Final Thoughts

All in all, this situation just keeps getting crazier by the hour. It’s truly mind-boggling the domino effect that’s happening, and it’s certainly not done yet. Tonight’s game is sure to be a chaotic one, and I don’t know about you, but I’ll be glued to my seat watching. What do you think about this whole situation? Let us know in the comments or over on Twitter!

-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)

Featured image courtesy of Pool Photos/USA Today Sports.

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