By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — On the one hand, the television ratings for Wednesday night’s Capitals-Rangers game must have been outstanding. Through the roof. Had there not been a massive fiasco that created a violently hostile environment inside Madison Square Garden, then the league wouldn’t have gotten millions of eyeballs glued to their product.
But everything comes at a price. And this brief spike in attention has cost the NHL whatever shred of reliability or integrity it might have had.
It’s downright challenging to come to any other conclusion after the two events of Thursday. First, the league announced that Pavel Buchnevich will face a disciplinary hearing for delivering a high, dangerous hit to the face of Anthony Mantha. That part was kind of expected.
But it was really hammered home by the second event, an announcement of a $250,000 fine for the Rangers, accompanied by a 101-word statement from the league which expressed tremendous sadness and concern that Tuesday’s official statement from the New York Rangers was … mean. It was not nice.
“Public comments of the nature issued by the Rangers that were personal in nature and demeaning of a league executive will not be tolerated,” commissioner Gary Bettman said. “While we don’t expect our clubs to agree with every decision rendered by the department of player safety, the extent to which the Rangers expressed their disagreement was unacceptable. It is terribly unfair to question George Parros’ professionalism and dedication to his role and the department of player safety.”
Oh, jeez, Gary.
What the league is doing here is creating a villain out of the Rangers, putting the team in a no-win situation through no real fault of its own. Having Tom Wilson drive Pavel Buchnevich’s face into the ice …
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) May 4, 2021
… and then ragdoll Artemi Panarin to the ice, before punching him while he was down …
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) May 4, 2021
… wasn’t exactly in the Rangers’ plans this week.
Nor was seeing Wilson face zero punishment (the $5,000 fine is almost worse than no fine at all) from the NHL.
(Comparing NHL department of player safety decisions to try to find consistencies and commonalities is an actual idiot’s game to play. Nevertheless … it’s worth noting that a gloved punch against a downed opponent cost Shawn Thornton — a player with zero suspensions — a 15-game suspension. One might see that and expect that a player with five suspensions on his résumé might also end up getting punished, but, again, see the note about “an actual idiot’s game.”)
Yet after the NHL — and specifically, the aforementioned Parros — did absolutely nothing to admonish Wilson, the Rangers felt compelled to do … something.
You can disagree with the tone of their statement, or their decision to fire their GM and their president, or their on-ice response on Wednesday night as much as you’d like. But really, without the NHL taking care of them, there wasn’t much they could do to “win” this week.
Obviously, Wilson’s outburst has generated varied reactions from across the hockey world. Some have described it as the worst thing to ever happen in an NHL game. That’s an overstatement and a half.
Others have deemed it to simply be normal behavior in a post-whistle scrum. That’s a painfully disingenuous assessment, as most post-whistle scrums don’t involve 220-pound men putting their entire weight on the back of another man’s neck while driving that player’s face into the ice, and they don’t normally involve punches to the head of helmet-less star players who are lying on their back (who suffer season-ending injuries as a result), and they don’t often involve a player with five suspensions in his career throwing an absolute nutty for all to see, followed by him taunting, flexing, and smiling.
Yes … this scrum was different than most.
Alas, the league didn’t see it that way. Despite the fact that Wilson has only been back for about six weeks from his most recent suspension, the league gave him the benefit of the doubt, looked the other way, and essentially told the Rangers that if they didn’t like it, they could do something about it.
The Rangers didn’t like it, so they did something about it. And now they’re down $250,000 and one of their top scorers is probably going to get suspended.
It’s all … entirely a mess. And it’s really the NHL’s fault.
Again, criticize the Rangers’ for their approach all you want, but remember that the team was essentially left to fend for itself in a ridiculous situation.
And now by issuing a $250,000 fine to the Rangers after fining Wilson just $5,000 for starting it all, the NHL has determined that saying impolite things about George Parros is 50 times worse than Wilson endangering the well-being of other NHL players for no particular reason.
If the league really wants to talk about Parros, then it ought to address the report that indicated Parros didn’t even want to suspend Wilson for his hit that sent Brando Carlo to the hospital, where he dealt with memory loss and blurred vision. The report said that Bettman had to step in and make sure the league suspended Wilson, essentially … declaring the same thing about Parros that the Rangers just got fined $250,000 for saying.
Now, we don’t know if that’s true or just rumor. But given what Parros did (or didn’t do) this week, it’s not all that difficult to believe. Some clarity from the commissioner on that topic would be much appreciated. That would be a worthwhile statement from Mr. Bettman, but it’s unlikely we’ll be getting that one this afternoon.
Ultimately, the current matter will blow over. The Rangers will play the Bruins on Thursday night, and then they’ll play in Boston again on Saturday, and then their season will be over. Wilson and the Capitals will play in the postseason, and as long as he can avoid any further meltdowns or flying elbows, this brouhaha is unlikely to come up much, if at all.
The specifics will fade. But for a league that struggles at times to be taken seriously, and for a department of player safety that couldn’t spell “consistency” if you spotted them every letter but the O, the lasting impression will be of a league that mishandled a situation and then punished the aggrieved party for having the audacity to try to fight back.
It’s all a bit of a clown show. The league should feel shame.
It’s over for now … but people don’t forget.