If you tuned into the Winnipeg Jets vs Toronto Maple Leafs game on Dec.5, you will understand why this article was composed. It was almost like the ’80s were calling again, players jumping one another, scrums after almost every whistle – it was the wild west in Winnipeg.
This was a physical game right off puck drop, and what started as a few blatant missed calls by the referees eventually drove the game into mayhem. During the third period, things escalated quickly after Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Leafs’ superstar Auston Matthews got tangled up in a wrestling match behind the play, resulting in penalties to both players. Many believe Matthews did not deserve his penalty, causing frustrations for Leafs’ players, staff, and fans. Not even two minutes later, Jets defenceman Neal Pionk collided knee-on-knee with Leafs Rasmus Sandin – injuring him on the play. The refs proceeded to not call a penalty, which would then be the turning point of this game.
Logan Stanley getting the crowd going. 😂 pic.twitter.com/icG9iorRZz— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 6, 2021
Later in the third period tempers flared, and Leafs forward Jason Spezza took a dangerous, and deliberate run at Pionk, which led to him taking a knee to the head. This was a retaliation hit for what Pionk had done to Sandin earlier in the period. With reckless officiating, it was clear that the players felt they had to police the game themselves. There was more mayhem later in the period as Leafs forward Wayne Simmonds jumped Josh Morrissey, resulting in Logan Stanley getting into a tussle with Simmonds, throwing up a WWE-style “Hulkamania” celebration for Jets fans. If Stanley hasn’t already won the Jets fans over, he did now.
Injuries & Suspensions
The Leafs later confirmed Sandin will miss two-to-three weeks of action after his scary collision. Subsequently, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety suspended Pionk for two games, which was the right decision. A knee-on-knee collision has the potential to be a career-ending injury if given the right circumstances, deliberate or not.
On Dec. 7 the Jets confirmed Pionk had entered the NHL’s concussion protocol as a direct result of taking Spezza’s knee to the head. Later that day, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety suspended Spezza for six games. While he is not a repeat offender by any means, the hit he laid on Pionk was predatory, with full intent to injure. Does it deserve more games than Brendan Lemieux’s biting incident? I think not, but, when it comes to head injuries the NHL has to adhere to a strict protocol.
This season, and in recent years we have seen a lot of inconsistencies when it comes to the decisions made by the director of player safety, George Parros. He is a former NHL enforcer who assumed the role in 2017, and since then has received a lot of backlash surrounding the suspensions he hands down. Most famously, he is known for miss-handling the Tom Wilson and Artemi Panarin incident that occurred in May, when Wilson slammed a helmetless Panarin to the ice. Parros would later hand out a $5,000 fine to Wilson for his actions in that game, but for a completely separate incident that involved Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich. Shortly after, the Rangers released a statement condemning the fine, and calling for Parros’s removal as director of player safety.
Parros and the league’s officials need to sit down and have a better understanding and outline of what is a penalty, and what is not considered a penalty in today’s game. Had the officials been able to call the game by the book from puck drop, we would not have multiple suspensions and injuries on hand. Now is the time for the league to act.
The March Rematch
With how things ended at the Canada Life Centre on Dec 5, there will be a lot of animosity heading into the Jets and Leafs rematch come March 31, 2022. This will be yet another hard-hitting, and physical game, that will surely be filled with a fair share of fisticuffs. With unsettled business left on the table, one has to question if the league and its officials will be much more prepared and competent when it comes to calling penalties. After all, the entire reason that the third period became a bloodbath is due to the referees not calling penalties and thus forcing players to police the game themselves.
Born and raised in Kamloops B.C. and a die-hard fan of the Kamloops Blazers, hockey has always been a part of his life. Now, Colton is exploring the sports media world and looking to make it a career. He currently covers the Winnipeg Jets, as well as contributes to World Juniors, and draft-related content. He is co-host of the WesternCentric Podcast, which revolves around the WHL.