Couch: As Long As Goons Like Tom Wilson Roam Free, NHL Player Safety Will Remain A Joke

This is going to get really ugly tonight at Madison Square Garden. By that, I mean, hockey-beautiful. It pretty much has to now, after what the NHL didn’t do. In the rematch today, teeth, blood, and god knows what body parts are going to fly.

Who knows what the New York Rangers are going to do to the Washington Capitals’ Tom Wilson? Or maybe he’ll take the entire Rangers team down by himself? (My money is on Wilson.)

Who knows what the Rangers fans are going to throw.

Hockey is about to have a moment tonight, its first moment of the year. Its last one, too. This is one of those too-much-air-in-the-balloon moments. Tonight, ka-boom! 

It’s the NHL’s fault. What do you expect when you create a serious-sounding Department of Player Safety to police things, and the guy you put in charge is an ex-goon who went on to sell t-shirts that said, “Make Hockey Violent Again’’?

On Monday, Wilson, a dinosaur goon who can also score goals, pushed New York’s Pavel Buchnevich down, face first, into the ice, then punched him in the back of the head. New York star Artemi Panarin then jumped on Wilson’s back, and Wilson pulled his hair and slammed him down. 

Then it got ugly. Keep in mind that none of this surprised any hockey people. This is what Wilson does. And while the NHL pretends to want to stop this, it never explains why this is the only sport where it happens.

The NHL’s top cop, George Parros, the ex-goon, studied the film and issued Wilson a $5,000 fine and no suspension. A few years ago, a Rangers’ goalie was fined that much for squirting his water bottle at Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.

On Tuesday, the Rangers issued a statement saying they “are extremely disappointed that Capitals forward Tom Wilson was not suspended for his horrifying act of violence last night at Madison Square Garden. Wilson is a repeat offender with a long history of these types of acts, and we find it shocking that the NHL and their Department of Player Safety failed to take appropriate action and suspend him indefinitely. . .

“We view this as a dereliction of duty by NHL Head of Player Safety, George Parros, and believe he is unfit to continue in his current role.’’

Tonight, Washington is at New York. Part II.

I have two strong opinions on this, and I want to make them very clear. The first one is this: 


My other thought is this: haha.

There isn’t much you can say, really. The NHL is comical, like the old movie Slap Shot, one of the best bad sports movies of all time. In that movie starring Paul Newman, a factory town is going under because the factory is going out of business. The local minor league hockey team is sure to fold. So they bring in a bunch of goons and start beating everyone up, including during the National Anthem and the pre-game skate. 

And the team starts winning, and the town rallies around them.

I once took one of the Hanson Brothers from the movie to lunch. He said all those things actually happened during his minor league career. He was also coaching a high school hockey team at the time.

The question now is whether New York will rally around the Rangers tonight, the way the town did in Slap Shot. The Rangers aren’t built for this, and they don’t have a goon to reply to Wilson.

They do have a guy in the minors named Mason Geertsen, who is enormous and could fit the bill. If the Rangers call him up today. . .

Look out.

Sports are filled with unwritten codes. Athletes police themselves on all sorts of things. In hockey, you stay away from the goalie. You don’t hit the stars. And you don’t let people push you around.

Hockey reduced the thuggery over the years, but now it plays well on social media, so they don’t want to get rid of it entirely. If you’re not going to let the players police themselves, then you have to do it for them. You can’t let a guy like Wilson roam around and then not punish him meaningfully.

The NHL’s Department of Player Security just told all remaining dinosaur goons that they won’t be punished, even if they pull hair, smash a guy’s face down, make him eat ice and punch him in the back of the head. 

So now, the Rangers are going to have to do it themselves tonight. If they don’t, then every goon in hockey will know that the Rangers are fair game.

They actually have to respond now. The NHL is making them do it. Unless they think a strongly worded statement is going to stop this.

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Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in and The Guardian. Couch penned articles and columns for Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.