Tom Wilson took the penalty heard around the hockey community during game four as he charged into Lubomir Visnovsky. The penalty resulted in Wilson's second two minute minor of the game, the first being a kneeing penalty against Josh Bailey. Both Bailey and Visnovsky went flying.
Fortunately enough for the Islanders Bailey was fine. Unfortunately, Visnovsky was not.
Visnovsky has now been ruled out indefinitely due to a likely concussion (the Isles aren't declaring the nature of the injury, but it's obviously a head injury), so the Islanders will have to do some interesting roster management to adjust. The league has already decided to take action by way of inaction declaring that the two minute minor served was enough punishment and fans are noticeably incensed. The entire situation is dire and depressing for everyone involved.
What this means for...
For Visnovsky this likely means that this playoff series against the Capitals is over. It may also mark the end of his Islanders and professional career. The number of concussions Visnovsky has endured is unknown -- some reports have said as many as six -- and it was often stated that it would only take one big hit for everything to be over. Unfortunately it looks as if that one large hit may have come. It's all rather depressing to think about.
Perhaps the saddest part of this situation is that the concerns over Visnovsky have generally been outshone by the sensationalism of the story. Virtually everyone assumed that Visnovsky would be out for an extended period of time and moved on to the other details without taking the time to reflect on the player himself or his health. There are also his diehard fans.
The NHL is one of the largest sports leagues in North America and Visnovsky has been in it for almost fifteen years now. Doing such earns one a fair amount of following. He's also from Slovakia, a country which doesn't exactly put out a ton of NHL players; he is viewed as an entertaining personality along with being perceived as a clean player.
He didn't arrive on Long Island until later in his career and can be overlooked at times, but there are definitely people out there who have taken in Visnovsky as their favorite player just like a larger number of Islanders fans worship John Tavares, Frans Nielsen, or Kyle Okposo. Those fans are now forced to deal with the reality that their favorite player may have had his career ended in the most heartbreaking of fashions.
The Islanders will now be forced to find another replacement right defenseman. The team is already stuck playing Brian Strait on his offside. The options are playing Matt Donovan, playing Griffin Reinhart on his offside, recalling Matt Carkner, Ryan Pulock or Scott Mayfield to play their natural positions, or recalling Aaron Ness or Kevin Czuczman to play on their offside. Travis Hamonic isn't likely to be an option as he hasn't been able to skate yet.
The problem lies in the fact that none of these players are proven to be better than or as good as Visnovsky. That isn't to say that they don't have the potential to get there, but they're not there yet. Reinhart is their most likely candidate according to multiple sources, but he had a very poor showing earlier in the year.
The team is also in a position where many expect the team to retaliate. Some have suggested in dressing Eric Boulton or Carkner. This would be an intense overreaction by the team if it actually happens. Visnovsky has been the team's best possession defenseman in addition to putting up two assists and playing power play time. They'll need to do everything in their power to pull out the victory and replacing their best defenseman of the series with individuals who excel at nothing but truculence doesn't come anything. It definitely doesn't make sense given that they're in a tie series.
This past offseason the NHL decided that one of its main points of emphasis for this season would be cutting back on diving penalties. Fans were pretty excited about it and the league seemed to have done something right. The league was protecting its brand and the integrity of the game.
The issue with all of that is that the embellishment penalties and the video analysis have become something of a joke. The NHL continues to aggrandize its ego by trotting out these videos that state that they're fixing an issue while the Department of Player Safety randomly assigns suspensions. It really exposes the disciplinary system as a sham.
The only time the NHL attempts to fix the DoPS comes once every few years when the president steps down. They then seem more than happy to announce the diving penalties and subsequent fines while legitimate penalties barely manage a random mentioning unless that player getting suspended is some kind of star. All of this creates the perception that the league cares more about asinine two minute minors where nobody was hurt over putting a stop to injury-causing dirty hits
The NHL decided that a hit to the head which have career ending implications isn't even worth a hearing. It's hardly the first time that this has happened. Far to often the league decides that unclean, penalized hits to the head aren't worth suspensions. The headshot to Visnovsky wasn't even the first one this week. Take a look at this hit on Sam Bennett here:
GIF Hamhuis catches Bennett in the chin pic.twitter.com/YouPewW9A0— Stephanie Vail (@myregularface) April 20, 2015
It doesn't get much more clear cut than that. It's a deliberate shoulder to the head. The league declared it "reckless, but unintentional."
This is where the league is incredibly asinine. Intent shouldn't matter; playing recklessly enough to take a player out while receiving a penalty for the action should be enough. If a player accidentally shoots the puck into their own net it still counts as a goal. A drunk driver involved in a car accident obviously doesn't meant to crash his car, but he still gets his license taken away. Illegal hits which are likely to cause a great degree of injury need to be penalized as if they are intentional (Yes that includes Matt Martin's hit on Keith Ballard earlier in the year).
There's certainly going to be enough backlash from the fans. Much of this is going to be directed at the Capitals organization - it shouldn't be. Nearly every team employs an individual like Wilson on their team. It points to a system where the Tom Wilsons of the world aren't only allowed, they're outright encouraged.
There are dozens of different teams that employ players like Wilson. The San Jose Sharks signed John Scott who is rather useless at hockey. The Flyers employ Zac Rinaldo. The St. Louis Blues employ Ryan Reaves. The vitriol should be pointed at the players rather than the team.
Even NBC Sports stated recently that one of the Penguins keys to victory would be Steve Downie being his typical self. They also promoted Matt Cooke while he was there while Dan Carcillo routinely gets praised. The dirty players are often looked at as fan favorites. Jersey shops will even have merchandise featuring those players on it.
There's also a great deal of hypocrisy in hating the Capitals for their roster decisions. The Islanders are a team that participated in that disaster of a game against the Penguins back in 2011. Trevor Gillies and Micheal Haley and other Islanders pugilists were ejected and suspended for their actions. In the case of Gillies he was wailing away on a player down on the ice. They put his name on a shirsey. People bought it.
There's also last year. Was the team injured? Sure, but Mayfield, Carkner, Brett Gallant, Matt Martin, Hamonic, Justin Johnson and Mike Halmo all play with a bit of an edge. Plenty complained about the quality of the roster though very few complained about the fact that they were all grinders with a fairly high level of "edge."
The players are definitely at fault for their transgressions, the league deserves most of the blame. They promote this playoff atmosphere and have the referees swallow their whistles preferring the teams to regulate the game themselves with this asinine assumption that it will help prevent players from taking liberties with other teams' stars. It's a stupid methodology which isn't duplicated in any other sport.
This methodology has one team sign a Tom Wilson which forces another team to sign a Tom Wilson to protect their players. The end result is a perpetual cycle of thuggery that gets signed to a contract. If the NHL was serious about eliminating it they would take the necessary steps to do rather than simply wash their hands of it and have the players do it themselves. The Wilsons of the hockey world would be forced to either adapt and play a cleaner game or be out of the league in three years.
Unfortunately, the NHL cares more about its players looking tough than it does about the safety of its players. Islanders fans should be irate at their level of ineptitude as it's one of the main reasons Visnovsky's career should be over.