Former NHL player and longtime broadcaster Nick Kypreos doesn't believe stiffer discipline against Washington's Tom Wilson would've prevented what ensued in the Capitals-New York Rangers game Wednesday night.
There were six fights in the first five minutes of the contest, which Washington won 4-2. That included three separate incidents right off the opening faceoff.
Prior to the game, the NHL issued Wilson, a repeat offender, a US$5,000 fine — the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement — rather than suspending him for on-ice incidents in Monday night's 6-3 win. During a skirmish, Wilson punched Pavel Buchnevich in the neck/head region while he was down on the ice and threw a helmetless Artemi Panarin to the ice multiple times, resulting in a season-ending lower-body injury to the Rangers' scoring leader (17 goals, 41 assists).
Kypreos, a Toronto native who played for both the Rangers and Capitals, said a harsher penalty against Wilson might've only delayed Wednesday night's incident from occurring.
"We would be talking about it," Kypreos said during a telephone interview. "There's a chance that if the league came down on (Wilson) harder, this just would've carried over all summer and gone into the first game that they played in next season.
"The one thing that's consistent from generation to generation is hockey players have long memories, they don't forget. If this didn't get cleaned up (Wednesday) night, it would've next season. It was still going to play out the way it was going to, it just might've been delayed."
Later in the first Wednesday, New York defenceman Brendan Smith squared off with Wilson, with Smith receiving an extra two-minute instigating penalty. Things got ugly in the second when Buchnevich was handed a game misconduct and five-minute major for cross-checking Capitals forward Anthony Mantha.
On Thursday, the NHL fined New York US$250,000 for public comments criticizing head of player safety George Parros. Two days earlier, the Rangers released a statement that criticized the league for not suspending Wilson.
New York fired president John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton on Wednesday, reportedly the result of dissent regarding Tuesday's statement.
The league also handed Bucknevich a one-game suspension Thursday for his hit on Mantha.
Retired NHL player Sean Avery, who was one of the league's top agitators during his 12-year career, feels Wilson "took a run at Artemi Panarin."
"Tom Wilson basically took Artemi Panarin's head and he tried to smash it on the ice," the former Ranger said Wednesday on the No Gruffs Given With Sean Avery podcast. "Panarin didn't have a helmet on.
"Yeah, it was a dirty play, he tried to bury him. Do I think Tom Wilson realized what he was doing? Yeah, I think he knew that Panarin's helmet was off and I think he tried to (expletive) pile-drive him through the ice."
Avery admits his words could seem contradictory given the way he played the game. But the outspoken Toronto native said he never crossed the line on the ice.
"Yeah, I was dirty, I was mean but I never once was suspended for an on-ice infraction," he said. "I never tried to hurt somebody so bad that it would hurt them to the point that they couldn't come back and play.
"Like, I never tried to plow a guy's head through the ice with no helmet on. If he had a helmet on, absolutely. Did I try and break guys' legs with slashes or break their wrist? Yeah. We were in a war, OK? And the only way you get out of a war is by being one of the last men standing. Whatever it takes to win, that was the old-school mentality."
And if Avery could've turned back the hands of time and rejoined the Rangers on Wednesday — he was with the club 2006-08 and 2008-12 — he would've had definite plan in mind on his first shift.
"I wouldn't sit back and wait for the NHL to do the work for me," Avery said. "I'd go out on my first shift and the first moment I got the puck, I'd try to basically dump the puck in.
"As soon as that goaltender comes out to play the puck, I'm just going right through him. You want to go after our star player . . . well this is going to give you reason to second-guess that decision in the future."
Although New York lost the game Wednesday, Kypreos said there's no doubt in his mind the Rangers came together as a result of the contest.
"There are different ways for teams to grow together," Kypreos said. "Whether or not you think it's a despicable act and diminishes the sport, you cannot deny the fact that those guys feel closer together as a team because of (Wednesday night) than at any other time in the season.
"It's not about the fighting, it's not about throwing the punches, it's not whether you end up on the bottom of the pile or the top of the pile. It's all about the fact that 20 guys stuck together. It's hard for me to tell that story to people who've never experienced sticking together on a team."
Many, particularly those on social media, expressed condemnation for Wednesday's incident and called it another black eye for the NHL.
"I've been around it for a little bit here, I've lost count of black eyes," Kypreos said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press