Tom Wilson, to use terminology from professional wrestling, is the biggest heel in the NHL (despite being a generally nice and cuddly person in real life). Monday, Wilson ignited controversy again after starting a line brawl with the New York Rangers. Wilson punched a defenseless Pavel Buchnevich in the side of the head and wrestled with Artemi Panarin, ending the Rangers star’s season due to injury.
The NHL fined Wilson $5,000, but did not suspend him. The Rangers called Wilson’s actions “Just horrible” and that he had no respect for the game. “I think it’s a joke to be honest with you,” Ryan Strome said. Rangers beat writer Larry Brooks tweeted a highlight of Wilson slamming Panarin to the ice (which he later deleted) and wrote “look how close the NHL was to a death on the ice.” Tuesday night, the Rangers posted a statement calling Wilson’s actions a “horrifying act of violence.”
Meanwhile, Capitals center Lars Eller doesn’t understand what the big deal is.
“I think Tom is handling [the controversy] like a pro,” Eller said after the Capitals’ morning skate on Wednesday. “I think the thing has been blown out of proportion. I’ve played in the league for a while and I’ve seen a lot worse things happen. I don’t think people see things clearly when it comes to Tom with things he’s involved in. I think there is already a biased opinion. I’m not just talking about random people: TV people, journalists that have a voice and are using it.
“As late as last night, I was watching Pittsburgh and Philly play and Crosby and Konecny gets tangled up. One guy jumps on the other guy’s back and puts him in a headlock. The other guy retaliates and similarly slams him in the ice and gives him a couple of jabs to the back of the head. And that was a penalty. And that was what the ref accessed in the situation. The same thing happened the night before at MSG. Very similar situations. Just different players.
“One situation is blown out of proportion, I think, because of the player involved. This is just an example from last night. I could find you several clips of similar situations where there are scrums in the paint and guys are falling over each other, laying over each other, and giving them jabs to the back of the neck or the side go a guy or whatever and getting into a wrestling match after. It happens frequently. But it’s not being put into context in this situation. I think it’s being blown out of proportion and it’s not like it’s happened in this game before.”
While Wilson has been criticized for slamming and injuring Artemi Panarin, Eller put responsibility on the Rangers superstar for engaging with Tom in the first place.
“I don’t want to see players get injured,” Eller said. “I think once Panarin decided to jump on Tom’s back, when you decide to enter the scrum like that, when you start wrestling with a guy, you have to be ready to wrestle someone. I understand you’re defending a teammate. But these things happen all the time. It was a very unfortunate outcome for Panarin in this situation but it’s not really stuff we haven’t seen before. I don’t really think it’s a big deal. I think it’s being made a big deal because it was Tom.”
Eller is hoping for the best, but he also believes that Wednesday’s rematch with the Rangers could become a sideshow.
“You gotta be prepared for anything tonight considering what happened last game,” Eller said. “If they’re going to start something, we’re going to approach it the same way we’ve always done. We’re going to protect ourselves, our teammates, as we would do in any given situation.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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