Rangers Try to Send Message On and Off the Ice

The last 48 hours have either been a soap opera or a whirlwind of excitement and confusion for the New York Rangers. You could probably call it both. Either way, there was a message being sent and the message had more than one target. In the 48-odd hours since the Tom Wilson incident with Pavel Buchnevich and Artemi Panarin, the Rangers released a public outcry toward the NHL and the Head of the Department of Player Safety, George Parros, for not suspending Wilson. The first period of Wednesday’s rematch against Wilson’s Capitals saw six fights and 100 penalty minutes.

The Message

The Rangers were certainly sending a message on Wednesday. They were surely letting the league and Parros know how they felt about the decision. The Rangers also sent a message to the Capitals letting them know they can’t mess with their star players without repercussion by starting three fights at the drop of the puck, followed by Brendan Smith going after after Wilson at the 0:50 mark. Wilson had only been on the ice for 10 seconds before the tilt.

NBCSN analyst Keith Jones had this to say during the first intermission of last night’s game, “I will give the players on both teams credit for one thing, unlike Wilson, who broke the code and went after a smaller player in Panarin, these guys were all equally matched.” Jones continued, “That’s what hockey is about, everyone involved went at it and had good, fair fights. I give them credit for that.”

Jones’ colleague Patrick Sharp had this to say about Brendan Smith’s fight with Wilson, “The players on the bench didn’t care about the outcome of the fight, [Smith] showing that courage is enough for me, that can really bring the team together and get them over the hump [for next season].” Jones added, “These are equally matched opponents, that’s what hockey is about. It’s not about somebody having 50 pounds on a player and bullying him into submission.”

Well said, Jonesy.

The Blueshirts also sent a message to their beloved star Panarin that they had his back, just like they did when he needed to take his leave of absence earlier this season. Panarin was the centerpiece of the incident with Wilson. The two teams were involved in a heated scrum after Wilson took a cheap shot at Buchnevich while he was down. Panarin grabbed Wilson and tried to wrap him up and pull him away, while Wilson proceeded to lose his mind, ripping Panarin’s helmet off, punching him in the face, then slamming him headfirst into the ice, twice.

Panarin never dropped his gloves and neither did Wilson, who has about 5-6 inches and a good 50-60 pounds on Panarin, but the damage was done. Panarin will miss the rest of the season due to a lower-body injury. Wilson left Wednesday’s game with an “upper-body injury” and didn’t return.

The Other Message

The Rangers’ organization had what one might call a freefall in the last 24 hours leading up to Wednesday’s game. They released an official statement via Twitter basically calling for Parros’ job and throwing shame on him and the entire DOPS. Responses to the tweet were wide-ranging from both points of view. Many former players thought the tweet was unnecessary and things should be handled in the locker room and on the ice. Others including some talk show pundits and sportswriters came down on the side of the Rangers’ PR team.

Less than 24 hours after the release of this statement, Rangers’ president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton were fired. That’s where the other message comes in. Were the Rangers players also trying to send a message to their ownership? By almost all accounts, Davidson and Gorton were held in high regard by players and coaches. However, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger and his multiple sources, Rangers’ owner James Dolan said the move was a long time coming and the decision came after the team was officially eliminated from the playoffs. Perhaps head coach David Quinn wanted to send his own message to Dolan whether he was happy with the firings or not?

James Dolan New York Rangers
James Dolan, Executive Chairman and CEO, The Madison Square Garden Company, Owner of New York Rangers, watches an NBA basketball game (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

Dolan released a statement today that ended with, “in order for the team to succeed in a manner our fans deserve, there needs to be a change in leadership.” Dreger went on to say, “Dolan felt the team underachieved this season.” However, I beg to differ and I think most in the hockey world and beyond probably feel the same way. Dreger did say that according to one of his sources, the statement the Rangers released toward Perros was “heavily influenced by Dolan.” Make of that what you will.

The Final Message

No matter what messages were meant to be sent and who they were meant to be sent to, the Rangers’ players sent one to themselves. A message that they’re ready to fight and compete for each other now and in the future.

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