An incident that occurred in Game 3 of the second round match up between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals has been the talk of the National Hockey League over the past few days, and it's one that has created a very heated debate. I'm of course referring to the hit that was delivered by Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson to Pittsburgh Penguins rookie Zachary Aston-Reese.
It was a spectacularly violent hit and it was one that left Aston-Reese with two very serious injuries, a broken jaw and a concussion, and as a result emotions were riding high on both sides of the ice and among both the Capitals and Penguins fan bases. There was no penalty called on the hit and the National Hockey League's officiating crew for that game had in fact convened to discuss the hit after the fact, and in the end ruled it a clean body check by Wilson.
As you would expect this created a great deal of controversy due to the fact that the severity of Aston-Reese's injuries were disclosed by the Penguins later that evening, a release that also revealed Aston-Reese would need surgery. The Penguins and their fan base clearly felt that the league, or the NHL's Department of Player Safety, needed to step in and discipline Wilson who had now injured two Penguins players in back to back games. The Capitals and their fans however argued that the hit was a clean body check delivered through the body that just happened to catch Reese in the head as a result of Wilson's forward momentum.
Initially it appeared that the National Hockey League would side with the Washington Capitals on this one. In fact the NHL's on site supervisor that evening, Paul Devorski, made statements after the game that supported the view of the officials on the ice, this was a violent hit but a clean one.
"When we have a big hit like that, and there's a lot of stuff going on on the ice, our guys come together because obviously both referees didn't put their arm up, so obviously they didn't think there was a penalty. So now they bring in the linesmen, who if they think it's a major penalty they'll tell the referees. So they all ot together and they said. 'You know what, we've got a good, clean check here.'"
Now whether or not you think Wilson deserved to be suspended for 3 games, you have to admit it's disturbing to hear that league officials initially viewed the hit as a clean one. Not because it may or may not have been clean, but because it demonstrates that some other factor outside of the hit itself may have motivated them to change their minds.
Now if you think that's crazy, listen to the comments made by Washington Capitals veteran Devante Smith-Pelly today, comments that indicate the NHL itself reached out to the Capitals to inform them the hit was a clean one.
“The night it happened, the league called and said it was fine. It was shoulder to shoulder,” Smith-Pelly said as per RMNB. “Then we wake up the next day and see a hearing. It is what it is. I mean, I can go on all day. It is what it is, and we just have to move on. Next guy up.”
Why would the same league that told the Capitals the hit was clean, then turn around and suspended Tom Wilson for 3 games for a dirty hit? Again whether or not you think Wilson is innocent or guilty isn't the point here. The point is that the shocking level of inconsistency from the NHL, even when it comes to their own perception of an incident from one day to the next, is reaching new levels of absurdity.