The New York Rangers shook up their entire organization at the end of last season and most people believe it was directly because of the Capitals' Tom Wilson. On Thursday, however, Washington's physical right winger took the high road.
"I think there’s something with that team that probably had nothing to do with me and it might have been the perfect storm, it all came to a tee at the right moment, and it was probably boiling over to begin with," Wilson said Thursday during Washington's media day.
A now-infamous game on May 3 between the Capitals and Rangers turned ugly when New York star winger Artemi Panarin engaged Wilson in a scrum that resulted in Panarin getting injured. Two days later, still in New York, the Rangers and Capitals' played a fight-marred game.
New York issued scathing criticism of George Parros, the NHL's head of the Department of Player Safety, fired its own president of hockey operations, general manager and head coach and brought in a number of hard-nosed, physical players such as Ryan Reaves and Barclay Goodrow in the offseason.
It is easy to draw a direct connection between the Rangers' anger over what happened between Wilson and Panarin and all the changes that ensued, but Wilson does not believe it was all a reaction to that one game.
"[New York] obviously wanted to play tougher, they wanted to bring in some grit," Wilson said. "I mean in the first place, it shouldn’t be a guy like Panarin that’s jumping on my back. That whole situation — I won’t speak to it too much — but he shouldn’t feel like he ever should have had to do that."
Wilson added of Panarin: "I think Arti, he’s one of my favorite players in the league, he really is. He’s got a great personality, he’s a great hockey player. So I'm glad that’s in the rearview a little and, obviously, they’ve made some moves that they think is going to make their team better."
Wilson also noted the general toughness of the Metropolitan Division likely played a factor in the changes, too.
"Maybe it does have to do a little bit have to do with the toughness in the division. But I wouldn't credit that to me," Wilson said. "I think those new guys in there are trying to make that team better, they're trying to make the playoffs. Maybe that's the professional answer, but I truly believe the Metro is a tough division. It's not by any means me. There are other teams that play tough. ... I think the game trended speed and skill for so long and now there’s another wave of big and heavy and it does that."
We will see just how long the Rangers' memory is. Though there were plenty of fisticuffs in the May 5 rematch and the matter should be settled, perhaps emotions can be rekindled in the season opener when the Caps and Rangers meet in Washington on Oct. 13.
"That’s one game," Wilson said, "It’ll be a fun one I’m sure. But I mean, it’s one game of 82, we don’t want to put too much into that and get distracted by a little bit of the smoke, but it'll be good."