No matter what you thought about Wednesday night’s slugfest at Madison Square Garden, it’s hard to believe that George Parros, and the league for that matter, didn’t get exactly what they wanted.
The former NHL enforcer-turned-disciplinarian (the league’s head of player safety, officially) was tapped with the monumental task of trying to decide whether or not five-time suspension recipient Tom Wilson deserved to sit some games after nearly decapitating Pavel Buchnevich twice in the Capitals’ crease before ending superstar Artemi Panarin’s season by driving him, and nearly his entire skull, directly into the ice.
Parros, noted hockey “glue guy,” who came up through the ranks when the “code” was near its peak, a veteran of nearly 500 National Hockey League games, owner of nearly 1,100 penalty minutes, and willing combatant in 158 NHL fights, knew better than anyone exactly how things would go down and just how chaotic the Rangers’ attempts at vigilante retribution would become if he chose to levy a bite-sized fine rather than suspend Wilson — a bajillion-time offender — for his most recent violent or careless or whatever-you-want-to-call-them antics.
I won’t sit here and just blatantly call for his job like the Rangers did when they ethered Parros via press release on Tuesday — I’ll let James Dolan that, at least he has the cash laying around — but this was, at the very least, an almost inexcusable error in judgement from a guy whose extensive experience in the mud as an NHL enforcer should have him better positioned to manage these types of nuanced, in-game situations.
Instead, the guy who regularly threw knuckles into other grown men’s teeth, someone who has a vested interest in protecting the outdated “code” that served his career and bank account so well for so many years, struggled mightily with the two central aspects of his job in this case: shelling out proper discipline and keeping players safe.
The fact that Parros and the league’s DoPS chose NOT to just take the easy way out and toss Wilson even a one-game suspension to avoid the subsequent, predictable circus that took place in New York on Wednesday night shows that this mess, and everything coming with it, is undoubtedly what Parros, and by extent the league, wanted. They literally went out of their way to not suspend a dude with a rap sheet as long as my arm after he bashed several human skulls into the ice, knowing very well the mayhem that would ensue if no disciplinary action was taken.
They (Parros and Co.) knew exactly what would happen, the on-ice carnage and absolute mayhem that would likely ensue the next time these two teams met (which happened to be like 48 hours after the initial Tom Wilson incidents in question took place) if they didn’t take it upon themselves to simply suspend Wilson for even ONE MEANINGLESS GAME.
The wild line brawl one second into Thursday’s rematch — predictable as hell. Buchnevich revenge cross-checking Anthony Mantha in the dome, extremely predictable. Buchnevich getting a suspension for said cross-check after Wilson got NOTHING? Hilarious, but also very predictable.
That simple move would’ve mitigated a plethora of potential player safety risks heading into Wednesday’s contest, and they just chose to do nothing anyway. With all that in mind, it really appears as though Parros and the league wanted this to play out this way, but why?
Remember those old, slow-motion explainer videos the Department of Player Safety used to release whenever they made disciplinary decisions? Those used to do a pretty good job at dampening speculation around polarizing and controversial plays, and at least gave fans and teams some kind of understanding of the league’s decision making on a certain play. We haven’t seen one of those videos for a while on a non-suspension though (which they used to do), so we’re back to performing proverbial brain surgery every time a weird decision like the one not to suspend Wilson comes down.
Maybe Parros truly thought Wilson’s actions were “part of the game” and, even after considering his laundry list of past offences, didn’t feel this particular sequence warranted any supplemental discipline, which would be bad. Or maybe he feels “the code” and this type of vigilante-style justice should be more prevalent in today’s game than it is — also bad.
The fact that a large chunk of the league’s fanbase is forced to toss around theories like these in an attempt to try and even remotely understand the NHL’s thinking on such controversial issues, so often, is … really bad.
I guess we’ll never truly know what his intentions were, what was behind Parros’ thinking and decision-making process surrounding all this, or what outside factors had an influence on any of it. But if Parros’ priorities when making these disciplinary decisions are anything other than the health and safety of NHL players — his literal job title — then what are we even doing here?
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