The NHL has an officiating problem. No two ways about it.
Over the last week, multiple instances of reckless, dangerous, predatory, and irresponsible plays have been initially brushed off before — all things considered — light slaps on the wrists have been administered by the league’s Department of Player Safety.
That’s a name that should be reconsidered until proven otherwise. Maybe something like the Department of Fines and Excuses is better suited.
On Saturday night, the league announced that Washington Capitals goon Tom Wilson has been suspended seven games, beginning Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers, for driving Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo’s head into the boards with a dangerous, high hit.
Wilson raised his hands and arms and projected his body up toward the vulnerable forward on the boards behind the Capitals goal, who was looking down to retrieve the puck.
Carlo was sent to the hospital while Wilson wasn’t even called for a penalty — not to mention the subsequent and questionable crosscheck to the back of Carlo’s head as he fell to the ice from Washington’s Jakub Vrana, which has been another overlooked aspect of a filthy play.
Seven games aren’t enough for someone like Wilson, who frankly, ran out of chances to stay in the NHL some time ago. But the NHL is willing to overlook his wrongdoings because he’s the protector of superstar Alex Ovechkin, a 30-goal scorer, and a recognizable face of a league that does little to properly market its game and true stars.
You could tell just from the start of the Department of Player Safety’s explanation as to why they ultimately decided to suspend Wilson — though they certainly didn’t seem enthused on ultimately benching Wilson.
“While there are aspects of this hit that may skirt the line between suspendable and not suspendable, it is the totality of the circumstances that cause this play to merit supplemental discipline,” the Department of Player Safety explained.
Not the right way to start.
“What separates this hit from others is the direct and significant contact to a defenseless player’s face and head causing a violent impact with the glass,” it continued. “This is a player with a substantial disciplinary record taking advantage of an opponent who is in a defenseless position and doing so with significant force.”
Better, but not great.
This is the fifth time Wilson has been suspended since the start of the 2017-18 season. Three of those previous suspensions were because of predatory hits to the head of opposing players ranging between three Stanley Cup games to 20 regular-season games.
How many times can he do this before he’s just kicked out of the NHL altogether?
He’s just 26 years old. Are the NHL and its players willing to put up with another 5-to-10 years of this?
It’s bad enough that the Wilson hit happened, but it was the third questionable incident of the week that went largely unpunished.
On Wednesday, his Capitals teammate Ovechkin speared Bruins forward Trent Frederic directly in the groin and flashed his superstar “get-out-of-jail-free card” to get just a two-minute penalty for slashing and a $5,000 fine.
That’s pocket change for him.
A night later, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce slew footed Detroit Red Wings forward Robby Fabbri, kicking out his skates from behind and sending him falling to the ice. A worst-case scenario would have been Fabbri hitting the back of his head on the ice, which thankfully did not happen.
In the NHL rulebook, it states that any player who slew foots an opponent would be given a match penalty and thrown out of the game. Instead, he was called for a minor tripping penalty and that was the end of it.
This ultimately comes down on the head of player safety, George Parros — a former enforcer who is as qualified for this job as I am to be a nuclear physicist (I’m not qualified at all for that) — and commissioner Gary Bettman, who has to find a way to reel this in or else he and the officials will lose the trust of the players and a fan base that is growing increasingly frustrated.