NHL still searching for consistency on quest for player safety

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 4: Ryan Reaves #75 of the Vegas Golden Knights taunts Tom Wilson #43 of the Washington Capitals after a hit during the first period of a game at T-Mobile Arena on December 4, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 4: Ryan Reaves #75 of the Vegas Golden Knights taunts Tom Wilson #43 of the Washington Capitals after a hit during the first period of a game at T-Mobile Arena on December 4, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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The NHL should be applauded for gaining ground in its search for player safety. However, the league still hasn’t found the consistency it needs.

The NHL is in a new era of safety and concussion protocol. Like the NFL, the era of hard hits and highlight bruising are gone. Glorified checks and takeouts are frowned upon which is a good thing.

Making sure player safety is not merely good for the fans in the seats, but also for the longevity of the players’ careers. The problem with this is the league is still in its infancy when it comes down to ensuring that a game where players will collide dangerously can be safe.

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Intentions are understandable, but rules and inconsistent outcomes make this process frustrating for the brand. Enter the Tom Wilson and Ryan Reeves encounter. Because of who Wilson, the 24-year-old winger is the sort of player the league is closing in. Fans disagree with his enforcement of hits while some feel it’s the nature of the game.

The Hit

Wilson is usually the impending force for other players on the ice. His hits have landed him in hot water with the league on multiple occasions. In addition, his history keeps him rightfully under the watchful eye of the referees.

However, on Tuesday night, Wilson was on the opposite end of the hit. Reaves, a healthy scratch in the Knights’ Game 5 loss of the Stanley Cup Finals, blindsided the Capitals forward. This resulted in Wilson getting a concussion when his head hit the ice and Reaves’ exit from the game.

Anyone who watched the Washington Capitals play against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday night saw an intense Stanley cup rematch. What fans were also able to see transpire is a cherry-picking approach the league is taking for player safety. Although the Reaves was kicked out of the game, Wilson never came back in the 5-3 loss and has missed the Caps’ next two games.

No Punishment

Did the NHL, a league that is supposed to be clamping down hard hits and having a zero tolerance towards these hits of the old days, throw the book at Reaves? No. Instead, he received no supplemental discipline.

The reason for this was that it was not a target hit to the head, but just to the shoulder. Keep in mind, this is not the first time Reaves has been in the mix. According to novacapsfans.com, Reaves hit Vancouver Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler in a similar manner. He’s already received a 3 game suspension in 2016 for boarding as well. Reaves is not a popular player among fans, or at least he shouldn’t be.

Dividing View From Fans

Some fans’ commentary this week haven’t been anything short of disturbing. The general response from most fans after the game wasn’t an outcry for suspension, but disturbing rooting for Reave’s actions.

Multiple postings from people on social media taunting the Capitals players injury or the vague explanation that Wilson was asking for it. ESPN reported that after the game, a Las Vegas-based memorabilia business had Reaves autograph the infamous picture with the inscription “He ran into a lion in the jungle.” Since Thursday, those pictures have since been deleted.

Seeking Consistency

The issue here is the fact of consistency. Yes, Wilson is a hard hitter and at times makes plays that rub fans the wrong way. But where is the demand for player safety? Just because it is Wilson does not mean that he is deserving of a blindsided hit.

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Regardless of what side you lay on, if the NHL is moving towards players safety, the issue of hits and players in line of danger can’t just come up when it happens to involve a hated player laying down a hit. If the league will keep an eye on Wilson, it has to as well keep an eye on all players. Especially those who are autographing photos of cheap hits that land players with concussions.