By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There’s not a whole lot of middle ground when it comes to Tom Wilson. You either believe he gets under the skin of opponents and is a valuable contributor to a top team (aka you’re the Washington Capitals), or you believe he’s a dirty cheap shot artist who ought to be out of the NHL (aka you’re everyone else). That’s how it’s been for some time, and it’s likely how it will be for as long as Wilson plays in the NHL.
The Capitals’ social media team tried to tap into that controversy on Monday night, after Wilson was in the center of a brouhaha with the Rangers — a scrum during which Wilson used all of his body weight to drive Pavel Buchnevic’s head into the ice, punched Buchnevic while he was facedown on the ice, and then later delivered a gloved punch to Artemi Panarin, who was also lying on the ice.
It was ugly.
Let’s play “How Many Games” for Tom Wilson pic.twitter.com/KHR9i8FoxB
— Tim and Friends (@timandfriends) May 4, 2021
Incorrect. Pulled his hair and then slammed his head on the ground. Slow-no video, watch Wilson’s left hand pic.twitter.com/CLT1t2blSm
— dantelives13 (@dantelives13) May 4, 2021
Twitter did what Twitter does, reacting strongly to Wilson being Wilson. That part wasn’t out of the ordinary.
What was slightly out of the ordinary was the Capitals’ social media efforts to … troll the hockey world? Not sure, to be honest.
First, they tweeted out a wry smile to go along with Wilson’s empty-net goal, which was normal hockey Twitter behavior.
— x – Washington Capitals (@Capitals) May 4, 2021
But then the Capitals’ Twitter account tapped into the third person to say “atCapitals chooses: Violence.” The tweet then had a picture of Wilson, insinuating he lives rent free inside of the heads of opponents. There was also a lot of sheeshing.
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) May 4, 2021
Not long after that … unique tweet hit the internet, it was deleted.
Not every tweet’s a winner. pic.twitter.com/jG0l8t5OWy
— Matt Porter (@mattyports) May 4, 2021
Of course, there’s some humor in a social media team using a “rent free” meme, only to instantly have to delete it.
But the Rangers certainly didn’t find much humor in what Wilson did.
“I figured you should have some more respect for the game and for the players. I don’t even, I don’t honestly know where to start,” Mika Zibanejad said. “It’s just horrible. Zero respect. I don’t know why I’m surprised. Yeah, it was just horrible.”
“There are lines that can’t be crossed in this game,” Rangers head coach David Quinn said. “To me it’s just zero respect for the game in general. You’ve got one of the star players in this league now who could have got seriously, seriously hurt in that incident. It’s just, you saw what happened. It happens time and time again with him. It’s just totally unnecessary. Hey, you all saw what happened. It’s just like I said, it’s just zero respect for the game, the players, and everybody involved.”
New York may be slightly overreacting, if this headline from Larry Brooks of the New York Post is any indication: “NHL must ban Tom Wilson for nearly killing Artemi Panarin.”
Keith Olbermann also wanted to call the cops:
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) May 4, 2021
Maybe that’s a little much.
But the point remains: Tom Wilson crossed a line or two, once again showing no respect for the well-being of his NHL brethren.
It’s certainly a theme for Wilson. He was suspended for seven games in March for delivering an unnecessarily high hit on Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo, a hit that left Carlo concussed and out of the lineup for almost a full month.
That was the fifth suspension of Wilson’s career, the worst of which being a 20-game suspension (which was reduced to 14 games on appeal) for a hit to the head of Oskar Sundqvist … in a preseason game.
Obviously, Wilson’s got a bit of a problem, and it has nothing to do with “rent free” cartoon memes.
Yet just as he did after the Wilson hit on Carlo, Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette downplayed what took place Monday night.
“I thought it was just a scrum, like physical play,” Laviolette said. “There was something going on originally with the goalie, and they’re jamming at the goalie. We had a bunch of players jump in there. It happens a lot.”
Panarin, who reportedly will now miss the remainder of the season, likely feels differently.
Clearly, the Capitals are not steering Wilson to do anything differently. His head coach defends him at every turn, and his team’s social media team did … whatever it is you’d call that tweet.
Alas, the tweet didn’t live to see the dawn. The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir reached out to the Capitals, who said simply that “the tweet didn’t meet the team’s social media standards.” That is … quite obviously not true, as the Capitals tweeted it out. It was only after getting the intended result on Twitter that the post suddenly failed to meet those standards.
Nevertheless, nothing is ever truly “deleted” on the internet, and there are likely to be some stern conversations among Capitals employees this morning.
As for Wilson, it’s unclear if the league will do anything. The actions on Monday night certainly don’t fit in the box of dirty head shots, so we’ll see how the league views the specific incident. There was no mercy shown to Wilson for technically outliving the term limits of his “repeat offender” status in March, and with just four Capitals games remaining in the regular season (and a potential heated first-round matchup with the Bruins on tap), any suspension would seemingly carry into the postseason.
We’ll see on all of that. It’s entirely possible that the NHL does nothing. Predicting the NHL’s department of player safety decisions remains a fool’s game.
(UPDATE: The league fined Wilson … $5,000. He makes more than $5 million per year. That’ll teach him!!)
But suspension or no suspension, Wilson making headlines — and getting hyped up by the team’s official Twitter account — for disrespecting opponents and delivering reckless shots with the whole hockey world watching ensures that Wilson will be under some intense scrutiny from now until the Capitals’ season ends. Deleting a bad tweet cannot change that.