As a Canadian, I’ve never felt embarrassed to be a fan of hockey. Over the years, I’ve been proud to talk about witnessing moments like Sidney Crosby’s golden goal, Auston Matthews’ debut four-goal game, and seeing many Stanley Cup Champions crowned.
However, recent incidents in the National Hockey League (NHL) have left a bad taste in my mouth. Specifically, I’m concerned about the apparent lack of concern for player safety.
I feel like recent incidents, between two American NHL teams, the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals, have brought the NHL to a tipping point.
For those who don’t know what happened, in a recent game between these two teams, here are the low-lights. After Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich was brought down to the ice face first and the referee blew the whistle to stop play, Capitals forward Tom Wilson punched the defenseless Buchnevich in the head. This sparked a brawl between the two teams, and Rangers star forward Artemi Panarin tried to pull Wilson off of his teammate. Panarin did not have his helmet on at this point, and Wilson wrestled Panarin to the ice. It was later announced Panarin would not play the rest of this season because of an injury sustained in this battle.
Now, this situation could easily have been rectified, if Wilson was handed a suspension by the league. But, instead, the NHL player safety department just fined him $5,000. The Rangers players seemed to feel abandoned by the NHL’s player safety department, leaving them to feel they had to police the game themselves, as there were six fights in the next meeting between these two teams. If Wilson had been suspended, even for one game, those fights would not have happened.
Let me stress, I don’t often write about things that happen in hockey games in the United States. But I feel these incidents specifically have far-reaching consequences for the game of hockey itself.
How the NHL handled this incident basically condones violence. Wilson, a repeat offender, escaped this incident with a minor slap on the wrist; $5,000 is nothing to highly paid hockey players. Now NHL players across the league know what they can get away with. The Rangers, on the other hand, are down a star player to injury.
What’s worse is, these players influence future generations. They are the role models for kids with dreams of playing professional hockey. Personally, I don’t want kids to grow up to be bullies like Tom Wilson.
Now, I believe fighting is part of hockey, as it is an emotional sport. But there are lines no player should cross, and when those lines are crossed, there is supposed to be a system in place to discipline the offenders. Right now, that system doesn’t seem to be working.
The conversation about fighting’s place in hockey has come up again and again over the years. When will the NHL admit it has a problem with enforcement and work to change the system?
Let’s not forget, earlier this year, the league fired a referee, Tim Peel. He was caught on microphone talking about looking for a penalty to call against a certain team to even up penalty counts. This brought NHL officiating into question as a whole, and made a lot of fans wonder what the purpose really is of the NHL’s penalty rulebook.
If the referees are not going to call penalties, based on the league’s set out rules, and the department for player safety will not punish players for terrible actions; how can any fan be confident in the safety of the game?