The only way the Rangers could fight back Tuesday was through their words, but they made them count.
Less than 24 hours after the Capitals’ Tom Wilson punched the defenseless Pavel Buchnevich in the back of the head, and then grabbed Artemi Panarin’s hair and ragdolled him to the ice so hard it ended the Rangers’ star’s season, the punishment finally came in.
Wilson, who has already been suspended five times for violent on-ice behavior in his career, will be fined $5,000 for roughing Buchnevich, with no discipline for the Panarin hit. It is the maximum allowable fine, per the CBA, and about 0.12% of Wilson’s $4,100,000 salary this year.
The Rangers came out strongly against the league’s decision, saying they were "extremely disappointed" and called into question whether Geroge Parros, the head of player safety, should still have his job.
"Wilson is a repeat offender with a long history of these type of acts and we find it shocking that the NHL and their Department of Player Safety failed to take the appropriate action and suspend him indefinitely," the Rangers said in a statement. "Wilson’s dangerous and reckless actions caused an injury to Artemi Panarin that will prevent him from playing again this season. 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."
Wilson, who has already been suspended five times for violent on-ice behavior in his career, will be fined $5,000 for roughing Buchnevich, with no discipline for the Panarin hit. It is the maximum allowable fine, per the CBA, and about 0.12% of Wilson’s $4.1 million salary this year.
"I think it’s a joke, to be honest with you," said Ryan Strome, who tried to interject himself after the Buchnevich hit but was shoved away by Wilson. "The whole play was Buchy trying to score a goal and jamming the puck in and everything [Wilson did] from the stick on his neck or his head and everything after that [was wrong] and [then he went after] a defenseless player in Panarin with no helmet on, a superstar in our league. I just think it’s a joke."
"As players, you want the league to have your back in those situations. A lot of the guys in our dressing room feel like they didn’t."
One of the reasons for that is that the Rangers, with their cadre of young skill players, simply don’t have the personnel to take on a seasoned, brutal fighter in Wilson. They’re going to face the Capitals again Wednesday, and both Strome and coach David Quinn said that, with what they have now, a full-out retributory fistfight wasn’t much of an option.
So, when the league decided not to suspend Wilson, it burned a little extra.
"The way we’re built, it’s not going to be a brawling situation for sure, but that being said, we can play hard and protect each other and that’s what we have to do," Quinn said. "To me, anybody in hockey, certainly everybody in our organization is very disappointed. [I] certainly thought it warranted a suspension . . . A line was crossed, Panarin didn’t have his helmet on — vulnerable, he got hurt. To me, there was an awful lot there to suspend."
The Rangers, who will play without Panarin, Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren for the rest of the season, do have the option to call someone up for Wednesday’s game — something Quinn said they’ve discussed. Asked if they’d consider Mason Geerston, a 6-4, 216-pound bruiser who could provide some of the physicality the Rangers lack, he demurred.
"We’d love to have" a natural enforcer, Quinn said. "Those guys are few and far between. The league is certainly going in a direction where there aren’t a lot of those guys that are in the league. And you know, I’m not frustrated by it. It’s what we are. It’s who we are. It’s what we have. And we’re going to have to manage it."
Strome added that if the hits had occurred as part of a legitimate hockey play the team would have handled it on ice. "I think in a situation that’s not related to play, I think it’s the league’s responsibility," he said.
"But I think in a situation like that, we don’t really have a team that goes toe-to-toe with those guys if you just want to turn it into a brawl. That’s just the way it is. That’s just reality."
Which is why he was so flabbergasted by the league’s decision. The sentiment in the Rangers’ dressing room, and among hockey as a whole, was similar, he said.
"I just can’t believe it," Strome said. "I think it sends a bad message, in my opinion. I think everyone pretty much agrees with that and I just think the league missed this one big time."
The Rangers, who have lost Artemi Panarin for the season as a result of the mugging, issued a statement Tuesday night saying that the NHL's head of player safety, George Parros, is "unfit to continue in his current role."