It’s clear that the NHL does not believe it has a Tom Wilson problem

Tom Wilson #43 of the Washington Capitals takes a roughing penalty during the second period against Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. PHOTO BY BRUCE BENNETT /Pool Photos USA Today Sports

Tom Wilson #43 of the Washington Capitals takes a roughing penalty during the second period against Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. PHOTO BY BRUCE BENNETT /Pool Photos USA Today Sports

Michael Soon-To-Be-Sued Traikos Toronto Scum

Tom Wilson is a psychopath. The NHL needs to ban him for life. He should be arrested.

Those three sentences might sum up your views on the Washington Capitals forward, who spent the past two days enraging the hockey world for bullying a couple of New York Rangers’ players in a lopsided win on Monday. But it is clearly not the view of the National Hockey League, which chose not to kick Wilson out of the league or even suspend him for what he did to Pavel Buchnevich and Artemi Panarin, who is now out for the rest of the season.

Instead, Wilson was fined the maximum $5,000 for what the league merely described as roughing.

“I think it sends a bad message, in my opinion,” Rangers forward Ryan Strome said of the lack of suspension. “I think the league missed one here big time.”

Cue the outrage. If punching a defenceless opponent in the back of the head and then body slamming another is considered roughing, then you might as well call the baseball swing that Marty McSorley delivered to Donald Brashear’s head a slash.

Wilson should have been suspended for punching Buchnevich and injuring Panarin — perhaps for the entirety of the playoffs. As Rangers coach David Quinn said, he has “zero respect for the game.” And yet, the fact that he wasn’t tells you that Wilson — and others like him — still have a place in the game.

Of course, we knew this already.

As much as we want to believe that the NHL has moved away from the sideshow antics of staged fights and headhunting, and instead put an emphasis on speed, skill and creativity, you can’t win a Stanley Cup without getting your hands dirty. You need a Tom Wilson-type of player, someone who straddles the line of with his physical play.

In some cases, you might need two of them.

It is a blueprint that Boston has subscribed to for years. And which has been copied several times over by championship teams such as Washington, St. Louis and even Tampa Bay. You cannot win without skill. But your skilled players cannot do the things that make them effective without the proper amount of protection.

It is why Toronto, which hasn’t made it out of the first round since 2004, signed Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton and Bogosian in the summer, and then spent a first-round pick on Nick Foligno. And why Montreal got Corey Perry and Joel Edmundson.

You can say that Wilson, who received a seven-game suspension earlier this year for his high hit on Boston’s Brandon Carlo, is way worse than the other names mentioned. That he doesn’t just play physical and straddle the line of good taste, but that he crosses it — over and over and over again. That he doesn’t care about his peers. That he lacks a moral compass and is genuinely a despicable human being.

Not Tom Wilson …

But it’s different shades of grey.

At the end of the day, Wilson uses violence to intimidate and deter in the same way that Simmonds uses it. The reason why Wilson jumped on Buchnevich and then punched him in the head was because Buchnevich was poking at a puck that was underneath Washington’s goalie. Wilson didn’t like that and he used the opportunity to send a message — not necessarily to the Rangers, who are out of the playoffs, but to all the other teams in the league that the Capitals may face down the road.

Two weeks ago, Simmonds did something similar in a game against Winnipeg when he took a two-minute penalty on Winnipeg’s Pierre-Luc Dubois for crashing into the crease. A headline in the Winnipeg Sun later said the Leafs “toe the line between nasty and dirty.” But it was all a matter of perspective.

“I’m sick of guys jumping on our goalie and being allowed to spear our goalie, and the refs not calling it,” Simmonds said afterwards. “Every time we’ve played them, they’ve tried to come and run us out of the building to start games. So, we come back and we’re physical and now we’re a dirty team? I don’t buy that. I just think we’re defending ourselves.”

Later that same week, Simmonds doubled down on that notion when he picked a fight with Vancouver’s Alex Edler as a means of settling the score for Edler accidentally injuring Toronto’s Zach Hyman in a prior game. It didn’t matter that Edler didn’t mean to hurt Hyman. Or that Edler had never fought before. Or that Simmonds has made a career out of dropping the gloves.

Tom Wilson with his band …

It was about sending a message to the rest of the league that the Leafs are a team that cannot be pushed around anymore.

“We are playing the game physically,” said Simmonds. “It is playoff hockey.”

Playoff hockey is not nice. It’s brutal, ugly and at times despicable. It’s a place where creases are crashed, where players are crosschecked and where the Tom Wilsons of the hockey world thrive. It can still be a place for speed and skill and creativity. But for that to happen, you need protection from the Tom Wilsons.

This is the deal the NHL makes with the Devil.

You never want to see a player like Panarin get hurt. But if you are OK with Simmonds fighting Edler or with Simmonds clearing the crease, then you are OK with Wilson being Wilson.

Just as long as he doesn’t injure anyone on your favourite team.