As you've surely heard by now, the NHL suspended Islanders
defenseman James Wisniewski for two games today as punishment for his obscene
gesture directed at Sean Avery during yesterday's game. If you haven't
seen it yet, you can view
the video here.
For his part, Avery had a good sense of humor about the
"Can you imagine if I did that?" he said.
"They sent me to rehab the last time I did something. It's crazy."
The NHL had no choice but to punish Wisniewski for the
incident. NHL games are supposed to be
family friendly and the gesture was not exactly appropriate for younger
viewers. Still, I think it’s kind of amusing that Wisniewski received the
same penalty as Nik Hjalmarsson, who, whether it was legal or not,
delivered a vicious and extremely dangerous blow to Jason Pominville's head
last night. The NHL is nothing like the "No Fun League" that is
the NFL, in fact it allows players a decent amount of individuality and
expression on the ice. But a simple hand gesture that didn't even make
physical contact with an opponent doesn't seem as bad as a concussion hit with
debatable intent to injure. I know that hits are part of the game and I
am a big fan of physical play. I'm just saying I think it’s amusing that
the league is paranoid about a sexually explicit gesture to the same extent as
a devastating hit that could have seriously injured one of its players.
Nevertheless, Avery is right. He's one of the few
players that the league almost expects to misbehave, and even minor incidents
by Avery get the full attention of NHL executives. Wisniewski is
developing a bit of a bad-boy reputation of his own and will be watched with
more scrutiny from here on out.
The other big development of the last 36 hours has been the
uncertainty surrounding Erik Christensen. The severity of his leg injury
is unknown, but he's been tagged with the all too ambiguous day-to-day tag.
The question is whether Christensen's injury is really a day by day thing,
or whether the Rangers are buying time to see whether Chris Drury will be ready
to go on Friday night. Obviously the Rangers want to insert their captain
into the lineup as soon as possible, but his return will come at the expense of
someone else. Artem Anisimov isn't going anywhere, and obviously Derek
Stepan has earned a longer look and may well be in New York for good. Brian Boyle's spot
really isn't in jeopardy because none of the Rangers' other centers are suited
for a fourth line role. Which leaves Christensen, who may have been the
odd man out before his injury. But is it really wise to remove the team's
No. 1 center? Christensen hasn't been particularly special just yet, but
I still think he's the best choice to play between Marian Gaborik and Alex
Frolov. The Rangers don't want to break up their second line of Anisimov,
Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Callahan because they've been so good this season so
far, but they also realize that Drury probably isn't the best choice to center
the first line. Which means the Rangers could move Stepan to the top line
and insert Drury into his spot on the third line, but that also disrupts the
chemistry Stepan has had with Sean Avery and puts a lot of pressure on the
One option is to move someone, most likely Drury, to wing
for the time being and drop someone, likely Avery, to the fourth line in Derek
Boogaard's spot (unless the match up dictates that he should play). Drury
could still take face offs at wing while keeping the other centers in the
lineup. This also might be the best way
to avoid disrupting chemistry. But really there is no clear best choice
of how to juggle the roster with Drury's inevitable return. Christensen's
injury just buys the Rangers a bit more time to try out certain combinations
they've been forced into before making the difficult decisions that will come
when everyone is healthy. And this will only get more difficult and
confusing if and when Vinny Prospal returns. Oh boy.