Sports

Who keeps enabling Tom Wilson to do this?

Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson is eventually going to do something to an opponent that will result in him missing 40 games. Maybe 60 games. Maybe an entire season.

But the NHL Department of Player Safety is not the NHL Department of Pre-Crime. It can’t suspend players based on what their actions might lead to in the future. Nor can it take an incident that doesn’t rise to the level of a suspension and retrofit it as a way to ban Tom Wilson just because the majority of fans and pundits are trying to will it into existence, because he’s already been suspended five times and they want him out of the league.

Wilson was fined $5,000 for punching New York Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich in the back of the head on Monday night while he was facedown on the ice. Buchnevich became entangled with Capitals goalie Vitek Vanecek, and Wilson went after him. Rangers center Ryan Strome pulled Wilson off his teammate, and Wilson began engaging with him. Rangers forward Artemi Panarin jumped on Wilson’s back to pull him off Strome. Wilson responded by flipping Panarin to the ice, which the Rangers said caused an injury that will keep the star winger out of their final three games.

The Department of Player Safety correctly identified these two instances as commonplace within the context of a post-whistle scrum around the goaltender. There’s an entire YouTube compilation of players protecting their goalies; see how many Wilson-esque “attacks” you can find. If you want this to be legislated out of the sport, have at it: There will be suspensions every week until morale improves. But I don’t think anyone really cares about either a punch or player thrown … unless it’s Tom Wilson doing the throwing.

Repelled as I am by the hyperbolic discourse surrounding Wilson every time he does something like this — I mean, there were people unironically comparing his actions on Monday to the Todd Bertuzzi incident that ended Steve Moore‘s career — I’m not here to defend Tom Wilson.

He’s a reckless player with little regard for the safety of opponents, fitting the requirements of the role in which he’s been cast. He’s going to really cross the line again at some point, and the Department of Player Safety is going to justifiably drop the hammer on him. Believe me: They want to. They’re as sick of this circus act much as you are.

But the reason Tom Wilson does Tom Wilson things is not because the NHL Department of Player Safety refuses to issue unwarranted suspensions, or rule on what he might do one day. It’s because this league, this sport, his team and the culture enable him to keep doing what he does. The list of enablers includes:

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