This was one of the more exciting weeks in the NHL. The main headline was the drama surrounding Tom Wilson wreaking havoc on the New York Rangers. Wilson was a one-man wrecking crew, cross-checking and punching guys every chance he got. I’ll go into detail about his high-profile week and why his wallet isn’t as light as it should be.
Outside of Wilson, some of the league’s brightest stars reached historic milestones. If you think hard enough, you can guess who those players are. Keep reading for a great edition of Blake’s Takes.
1. Tom Wilson v The New York Rangers
This was perhaps the most exciting storyline of the season. It all started on Monday night when Capitals’ forward Tom Wilson couldn’t help himself from taking a cheap shot at the Rangers’ Pavel Buchnevich. That quickly incited a scrum where Wilson got tangled up with the much smaller Artemi Panarin. Wilson didn’t waste any time throwing Panrain to the ice and injuring him in the process. Wilson effectively ended Panarin’s season as the Rangers decided to sit him for their last few games. You can see it all here.
Wilson was fined $5,000, the maximum amount under the current CBA, for his punch on Buchnevich. He was not disciplined for his aggressions towards Panarin. The Rangers were so outraged that Wilson wasn’t suspended they called for George Parros, the head of the NHL department of player safety, to lose his job.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) May 4, 2021
The NHL fined the Rangers $250,000 for their comments soon after. Ouch.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 6, 2021
According to this report on ESPN.com, the league felt that Wilson’s hit on Buchnevich wasn’t egregious enough for a suspension because he did not drive down Buchnevich’s head, but deserved a fine, which Wilson received. Wilson was not suspended because the NHL deemed these acts “commonplace” in scrums. Here is an excerpt from the report which explains the leagues’ methodology in more detail.
The NHL focused on three factors in assessing supplemental discipline for Wilson. The first was his fall on Buchnevich in the crease, which the league felt wasn’t egregious and that Wilson didn’t drive down on Buchnevich’s neck with his stick.
The second was Wilson’s gloved punch to the back of Buchnevich’s head while the Rangers player was on the ice. The force and location of the punch were a consideration; ultimately, the league considered the incident to be commonplace within the context of a scrum around the net but worthy of a fine.
When it came to Wilson throwing Panarin to the ice, the league also felt it was commonplace when players engage during a scrum. Wilson didn’t seek out Panarin to assail him. Panarin jumped on Wilson’s back to pull him away from Strome, and Wilson responded by throwing him to the ice twice. The NHL did not find ample evidence that Wilson pulled Panarin down to the ice by his hair, which was a popular theory on social media on Monday night.
The two teams played again on Wednesday night, and it was obvious what would occur next. Each team started their toughest players at the beginning of Wednesday’s matchup and they gifted us with a line brawl off the opening faceoff.
The action didn’t stop there. The second Wilson hit the ice, Rangers’ forward, Brendan Smith, made sure Wilson would have to answer the bell for his actions on Monday.
Smith did a pretty nice job holding his own against the bigger Wilson.
I understand the league’s reasoning as to why Wilson wasn’t suspended. Within the context of the current rules, it makes sense to me. However, I’m surprised the league didn’t take a more harsh approach for two reasons. First, Wilson is a predator. He’s consistently looking for cheap shots and is a repeat offender. If his misdeeds go unpunished, why stop?
Second, Wilson injured one of the league’s superstars, Panarin. Seeing as the Rangers did not qualify for the playoffs, Panarin’s injury didn’t hurt the league as he only missed a few meaningless games. How would the league have reacted if this had happened in December? And one of their superstars would miss 5-6 months. What if Wilson did this to Connor McDavid? I’m sure the NHL would have suspended him for the remainder of the season if he touched their golden goose.
Regardless of your take on Wilson and the drama surrounding him, he makes headlines. Wednesday’s game against the Rangers and Capitals was the most hyped regular season hockey game in a long time. National media outlets were covering the game and people were talking about hockey more than usual. That’s something to notice. The NHL has to figure out how to channel the bloodlust of Wilson in a healthy way. People like drama and they like violence. If the NHL can figure out how to exploit that without injuring their own players, their next TV deal will be for much more money.
On the bright side, Capitals’ forward T.J. Oshie scored a hat-trick in Wednesday’s matchup, the first game since his father passed away. Oshie was emotional on the bench.
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) May 6, 2021
That was the one silver lining of the brawl that was Wednesday night’s matchup.
2. McDavid Hits 100-Point Mark
— x – Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) May 9, 2021
On Saturday night, Connor McDavid notched four points against the Vancouver Canucks. The fourth point was his 100th of the season. McDavid scored 100 points in 53 games, that’s good for a 1.88 PPG mark. 1.88 PPG in an 82-game season would net 154 points. That’s absurd. It also marked the fourth time in the 24-year-old superstar’s career he has eclipsed the 100-point plateau.
This incredible feat got me thinking, who else has eclipsed 100 points in fewer games? Thankfully, NHL.com figured that out for me. The feat has been accomplished 26 times, and McDavid is the first to do it in 25 years. It was last done in 1995-96 by both Mario Lemieux (126) and Jaromir Jagr (101). That season, Lemieux reached 100 points in 38 games and Jagr did so in 52.
McDavid is just insane. I think we take his talent for granted. He does things no one else on this planet can do. He’s 24-years-old and is already the best player on planet Earth, and it’s not close.
Here are some of his best plays of the season that the NHL’s Instagram curated for us to celebrate McDavid’s achievement.
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3. Kopitar Notches 1,000 Career Points
1,000 points calls for some hugs between brothers. pic.twitter.com/DDNme2rzUo
— NHL (@NHL) May 6, 2021
The Capitals v Rangers drama may have headlined Wednesday night, but it wasn’t the only notable thing to have happened. The same night, Kings’ captain Anze Kopitar tallied his 1,000th NHL point with this assist on Sean Walker‘s empty-net goal.
Kopitar was the 91st player in NHL history to reach the 1,000-point mark.
While the 33-year-old still has gas left in the tank, this is a good time to review his career accomplishments. Kopitar was obviously one of the key cogs for the Kings when they won two Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. He is also a two-time Selke Trophy winner and won the Lady Byng trophy in 2016.
He will go down as one of the best Kings’ players of all time. He currently sits second all-time in games played for the Kings, behind Dustin Brown. He’s also fourth in goals, third in assists, and fourth in points.
Let’s not forget he is without a doubt the best Slovenian-born player of all time.
Congrats to Kopitar. Let’s hope he has a few more great years in the tank so we can celebrate his greatness.
4. Torts Out in Columbus
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After six seasons behind the bench for the Columbus Blue Jackets, John Tortorella will not return next season. The two sides agreed to mutually part ways. The Blue Jackets missed the playoffs this year for the first time in four seasons. They went 18-26-12 and tied the Red Wings for last place in the Discover Central Division.
Tortorella notably turned the Jackets around during his tenure. He led them to a four-game sweep over the juggernaut that was the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs.
Tortorella will finish his Blue Jackets tenure with a 227-166-54 record.
The American-born coach is famous for his brash nature and it wears on a lot of his players. However, I’m not sure how much that had to do with the decision for him to leave the team, but I’m sure some players are happy.
The Blue Jackets still have a good bit of talent. I’m sure the organization feels like their playoff window is still open and they might want to try their luck with another coach. Seems like the right move to me.
For Tortorella, I bet he winds up with another gig soon. He’s too good of a coach to not be in the NHL. The league is better with him in it.
5. Matthews Hits 40-Goal Mark
It’s not uncommon for a player to score 40 goals in a season. That being said, most players typically need most, if not all, of 82 games to do it. Not Auston Matthews. This season, Matthews scored 40 goals in only 50 games. That’s good for a 0.80 GPG. Obviously, it’s always possible that if Matthews played more games, maybe his play would level off. Still, just reaching the 40-goal mark so fast is impressive enough.
Just like McDavid, very few players have eclipsed the 0.80 GPG mark. The last time it was done when Mario Lemieux did it in the 1996-96 season when he scored 0.986 GPG.
McDavid is the sure-fire Hart trophy winner this season, but, Matthews’ 2021 season deserves just as much credit for being one of the best of all time. ■