“Bartender, I’ll have a double bourbon neat and please keep ‘em coming. Thank you.”
It’s been that kind of day, night and week. Oh, by the way, it’s only Wednesday. So let’s recap.
Monday night at Madison Square Garden, in the second period of the Rangers clash with the Capitals, NHL Bad Boy, Tom Wilson, committed not one, but two felonious acts. Oh, I’m sorry, does legal jargon not have a place in sports? Because that’s the only way to describe the violent acts — plural — that Wilson committed against the Rangers.
First came an assault in which Wilson repeatedly punched a prone, defenseless Pavel Buchnevich in the head while Buchnevich lay on the ice next to the Capitals’ net after a goalmouth scramble. And not only did Wilson punch Buchnevich several times, he also kept him pinned to the ice and lodged his stick under Buchnevich’s neck.
If that wasn’t enough, several Blueshirts got involved and pulled Wilson off in a typical hockey scrum. Then things got ugly. Artemi Panarin jumped Wilson from behind and Wilson, who has roughly 50-pounds on the slender Panarin, not once, but twice body slammed the Russian superstar to the ice while pulling at his head/hair with Panarin’s helmet dislodged.
Panarin’s shoulder took the brunt of the impact onto the ice and it’s lucky that’s the case. Had Panarin’s unprotected head been slammed into the ice with that much force, there’s little question the NHL would be facing a severe investigation as to how such a bloody and potentially deadly event occurred. And if you think that’s overly dramatic please go watch the replay before continuing.
You know what happened to Wilson? Nothing? He got a $5,000 fine the next day. No Ranger took a run at him or challenged him in the third period. No suspension from the gutless NHL Department of Player Safety. Department Head, George Parros, a former tough guy himself, clearly ignored Wilson’s act and his track record and chose to allow this type of delinquent behavior to continue.
The decision by Parros not to act was announced Tuesday morning. Tuesday evening the Rangers organization released a scathing statement in which the team called out Wilson for his violent behavior and said Parros was derelict in his duty and unfit to continue in his role.
That statement went viral on social media and had the hockey world buzzing as nobody had ever seen an NHL team release such a statement that so clearly attacked an NHL Executive. You know what, you’d be hard pressed to find a hockey person who disagreed with it as the majority opinion was that it took guts for the Blueshirts to commit to this course of action.
Surely the Rangers were facing a fine of somesort. The San Jose Sharks had been fined $100,000 roughly eight-years ago for a statement far less inflammatory. So there was a precedent. Heck, just to show you how egregious the Department of Player Safety’s inaction was, Henrik Lundqvist a couple years back, was fined $5,000 for squirting Sidney Crosby in the face with his water bottle. So, basically, a juvenile act and a near felony both warrant the same $5,000 penalty.
But I digress.
Then came Wednesday afternoon and mere hours before the Rangers-Capitals rematch, MSG CEO Jim Dolan fired Team President John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton. Many speculated it was because they did not stand with Dolan in regards to his statement against the NHL. So far, that has proven to be inaccurate.
Evidently, a growing rift had developed between Dolan and the Davidson/Gorton tandem in regards to the direction of the team’s rebuild. Dolan no longer wanted to take things slow. He felt the team lacked grit — which it does — and he wanted a new leader to take the reins.
That leader became Associate GM Chris Drury, who was elevated to the dual positions of Team President and General Manager. As of Wednesday night, there was no word as to whether this was a permanent promotion or if Dolan has other plans. Rumor has it Mark Messier is atop Dolan’s wishlist to be the next Team President.
Messier himself went on The Michael Kay Show and seemed to advocate for the role of Head Coach, which he quickly tried to retract via a text with Michael Kay, which Kay read on air; however, the deed had been done and only time will tell if Messier eventually either takes David Quinn’s job or if he joins the organization in some other capacity.
With all that going on it was almost easy to overlook the fact the Rangers and Capitals were scheduled to play at 7pm on Wednesday night.
Well, news broke shortly before the game that George Parros and Colton Orr would both be in attendance, as if that would somehow prevent the players on the Rangers from seeking retribution against Tom Wilson.
The Blueshirts are not constructed with a ton of grit. Brendan Lemiuex was traded away weeks ago. Chris Kreider, Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren were all unable due to injury. And Tony DeAngelo hasn’t been seen since being sent home by the team for an early season altercation with teammate Alexander Georgiev. So, who exactly was going to step up for the injured Panarin, who was announced to be out for the rest of the season (even if it’s only a couple games).
During warmups, you saw the Rangers had inserted little used defenseman Anthony Bitetto into the lineup for the purpose of having a little bit of grit on the ice.
Then came the opening face-off and you just knew things were about to get ugly.
Head Coach David Quinn sent out a line of: Phillip Di Giuseppe-Kevin Rooney-Colin Blackwell. It wasn’t exactly Brandon Prust, Mike Rupp and Stu Bickel, but you knew what was coming.
The NBC TV Cameras caught the brief exchange between Capitals and Rangers players before the puck was dropped, but nobody cared about the puck.
Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway and Carl Hagelin obliged by dropping the gloves with Di Giuseppe, Rooney and Blackwell. The matchups were: Rooney vs Dowd, Di Giuseppe vs Hathaway and Blackwell vs Hagelin. It was as if the movie Slap Shot had come to life at MSG.
Those fights set the tone for the game; even if none were what you would describe as a “classic.”
49-seconds later, Tom Wilson set his skates on the ice for his first shift and Brendan Smith went right after him. Smith hasn’t exactly been admired by the Rangers fans, but he more than earned his stripes by going right after Wilson.
By the way, Smith was assessed the Instigator penalty for his role in this fight. You know, the penalty that’s been part of the rulebook forever but never used. Just another fine job by the NHL and its Officials.
If you thought that would be the end of the chaos you thought wrong. Bitetto and Michael Raffl dropped the gloves just over three-minutes later and that was swiftly followed by Ryan Strome and Lars Eller going at it.
By my count that’s SIX fights in the first 4:14 of the game. We haven’t seen a game get this out of hand in years and you can blame the NHL and the Department of Player Safety for that. Had Parros or The League done its job and suspended Tom Wilson for his actions against Panarin, none of these fights would have taken place. The penalty boxes were so packed you couldn’t fit a fly in there if you wanted to.
By taking the course of inaction, The League created a dangerous atmosphere and was beyond lucky that none of those fights resulted in serious injuries.
At the end of 20-minutes of play, there had been 100 penalty minutes assessed.
The second period settled down into more of a traditional hockey game, although Buchnevich was assessed a cross-checking penalty and a game misconduct when he went after Anthony Mantha in yet another ugly moment. By the way, it’s a virtual guarantee that Buchnevich will be suspended for his cross-check. Hardly seems fair, right?
Zdeno Chara was later given a misconduct penalty when he exchanged words with the Rangers bench late in the second period, but the damage had already been done.
Two T.J. Oshie power-play goals and one Nic Dowd power-play goal in the period gave the Capitals a 3-0 lead enroute to their 4-2 victory. But again, this was all avoidable, if only George Parros and the Department of Player Safety had done its job.
After the game, David Quinn played coy with the media when he said, “if they (the Rangers) volunteered to start the game like that…if they planned it…I did not know about it…I am so proud of them.”
Just one more thing to add to the craziness of the day.