'I think it's a joke': Rangers react to Tom Wilson escaping suspension

NHL insider Chris Johnston joins David Amber to walk us through the incident and the NHL Player Safety Department's decision to not suspend, but only fine Capitals bad boy Tom Wilson for his latest incident against Artemi Panarin and the Rangers.

Pavel Buchnevich was prone on the ice, knocked over during a crease scrum, when Tom Wilson gave him a shot to the back of the head/neck area. Artemi Panarin came in to help his teammate when he jumped on Wilson's back, but the six-foot-four, 220-pound Capitals winger had no trouble getting back to his feet again, fighting through another scrum and tossing the helmet-less Panarin to the ice.

Wilson, who was suspended seven games for a hit on Boston's Brandon Carlo just two months ago, got two minors for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct on the play. There was much anticipation for what NHL Player Safety would do, and their decision to hand out only a $5,000 fine for Wilson's transgression against Buchnevich has landed with a thud in social media reaction Tuesday.

Most people weren't wondering if there'd be a suspension, but instead for how long it might be. Now, we're looking at a situation where Wilson will be eligible to return to Washington's lineup Wednesday, when they face the Rangers again.

The fine is essentially a slap on the wrist and did not address perhaps the more dangerous incident of throwing a player without a helmet to the ice. Panarin is expected to miss the Rangers' last three games of the season as a result.

It's a bad look and a miss by the league.

The Rangers were obviously heated after the game Monday night and had understandably not cooled following Tuesday's news.

"I think it's a joke," Ryan Strome said. "I think Tom Wilson is an effective hockey player. I think he's proven he can score goals, he can play with good players. He plays the game on the edge, which it is what it is. He's got good skill and has produced in this league. But I just think he crossed the line.

"The whole play from the start it was just Buchy trying to score a goal, jam the puck in, and everything from his stick on his neck or in the head and everything after that...and a defenceless player in Panarin, in my opinion, with no helmet on, a superstar in our league. I just think it's a joke.

"I know it's not my responsibility to make decisions, but I just can't believe that. I think it sends a bad message. I think everyone pretty much agrees with that and I think the league missed one here big time."

That Wilson plays with "edge" is not an issue. That he wouldn't back down from answering the bell if challenged is not an issue. That teams look for players who bring the physicality Wilson does to round out their rosters with that specific skill is not an issue. Hockey is usually better when it's got a heightened physical component to a game or series and past Cup winners have proven the value of that come playoff time especially.

The fact Wilson also brings a level of offensive skill to his game makes him one of the more valuable modern day pugilists in the league.

It's the frequent steps across the line and apparent lack of regard for on-ice player safety that had Wilson in the crosshairs of fans across the board again. Mika Zibanejad called it having "zero respect" for your opponent and it's hard to argue otherwise. Either incident Monday could have ended much worse than it did.

Wilson, who would have been considered a repeat offender if either incident rose to a level that required supplemental discipline in the NHL's eyes, already had to answer questions this season about how he needs to adjust his game to avoid getting suspended or putting himself in a situation to get suspended. He was asked that in mid-March, just after the Carlo incident that sidelined the Bruins defenceman for over three weeks.

"A lot of people probably wouldn’t believe me, but you never want to see a fellow peer get injured," Wilson said back then. "They’re hockey players just like I am. This is their living. Their livelihood. When a guy goes down, it’s not a good feeling."

Now this. And over what exactly? Buchnevich was neutralized and the much smaller Panarin was well-handled (and recognized) by Wilson before the throw down.

"It's an unfortunate incident that has nothing to do with the play or the game of hockey," Strome said.

At the heart of this incident is a player crossing another line and not appearing to have adapted to anything after a recent suspension -- he was flexing in the box in celebration after this one.

No, this incident wasn't the result of a fast-paced, in-the-moment hit that went wrong, but an over the top reaction to a scrum post-whistle. You could argue this one is more calculated. Former NHL enforcer John Scott weighed in himself, calling Wilson's antics "gutless, terrible hockey."

And he's a supporter of Wilson and the physical nature of the sport.

"We're really disappointed," Rangers head coach David Quinn said about the lack of suspension. "A line was crossed. A guy didn't have his helmet on, vulnerable, got hurt. To me there was an awful lot there to suspend him."

There were some calls from onlookers to suspend Wilson for the rest of this season (myself included), or to even kick him from the league. Both of those options were always long shots and probably not realistic given the NHL's precedent for suspension lengths, but to have Wilson return against the Rangers for their very next game is shocking, disappointing and frustrating.

There is no issue with Wilson the person, or even Wilson the player when he stays within the rules. But the line is being crossed far too frequently and, in this case, dangerously.

It's clear no lesson has been learned.

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