As the money surrounding professional sports has exploded over the past two decades, leagues have made the conscious effort to protect their superstars. Seems like common sense right, the Tom Brady’s, the LeBron James’, and the Mike Trout’s of the world are who fans pay to see, so it’s in the leagues best interest to keep them healthy at all costs. Apparently all the leagues got the menu except the NHL which seems ok with top players being taken out by the “Goons” who play enforcer over the course of the season.
Lets turn back the clock 50 years to when Goons roamed free on the Ice “protecting” the star players of each team. Before TV deals, the leagues weren’t really keeping a close eye on what’s going on, it was up to the officials to keep the peace on the ice and ensure hockey games didn’t turn into all our brawls. But as we all know, some officials are terrible so teams would have their own enforcers to ensure cheap shots didn’t occur for their team’s superstars. The rule of the ice was clear; eye for an eye or a cheap shot for a cheap shot. And if a game got too chippy, the enforcers would drop the gloves and have it out.
While the NHL has definitely made an effort to reduce the physicality and the fighting in order to attract more families to games, they still do a poor job of protecting players from dirty hits that could result in injury. For the most recent example, you don’t have too look further back that the dramatic week between the Capitols and Rangers this week as a result of modern day goon Tom Wilson. Last week when the two teams played, after a small scrum in front of the net, Wilson drove Pavel Buchnevich head first into the ground, and followed it up with a punch to the back of the head. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he flipped Artemi Panarin to ground injuring to the extent that he’ll miss the last couple of games of season.
Artemi Panarin is the exact type of player the league should be looking to protect. Through 42 games this year, he had 17 goals and 41 assists, basically one of the top players on a team in the leagues biggest market. But how does the league respond, they fine Wilson $5,000 and don’t suspend him. This is a guy who has been previously suspended 5 times for dirty hits that resulted in injury so it’s not like he doesn’t have a history of these actions, but for some reason in this case they did find it worthy of a suspension. You could argue that the league didn’t want to mess up the final week of the season and the potential playoff seeding for one of its better teams. Worst, you could assume they didn’t want a suspension that could go into the playoffs and have one of their most popular teams exit the playoffs early due to the suspension
Regardless of the reason for the slap on the wrist, it clearly woke up the players around the league who responded to the news with shock and amazement. Clearly the league does not care about players safety if they aren’t going to punish these dirty hits. Even worse, star players could spend more time looking over their shoulders rather than trying to make plays for fear of getting blindsided. If the league doesn’t take these hits seriously, your going to see teams bringing back more enforcers similar to the style of play in the 80’s and 90’s. And while we do all enjoy a good fight from time to time, I think we’d rather see those top players truly showcase their talent.
Last but not least, got to love the Rangers for calling for the firing of George Parros who is the head of NHL Department of Player Safety. Sure it cost them $500k, but it’s nice to see a team stand up for what they know is right. How Parros looked at that Tom Wilson play and decided not to suspend him when the Goon has a clear history of violence in the league, we’ll never know. Even worse, Wilson injures a star play is only fined $5k, but Parros got his feelings hurt by the Rangers statement, and they get fined $500k. Once again, the NHL proves to be a cluster (insert F word) of a league who have no idea what they are doing.
The NHL already has an issue with getting their superstars to become household names, it definitely doesn’t help to have goons out there injuring them. Is there any for Roger Goodell to be traded to the NHL? That guy loves discipling players to extreme levels, plus NFL fans would happy to see him go.