Kovacevic: Hey, NHL, is this a hockey play, too?


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Scott Wilson crumples in pain after being hit in the head by the Senators' Tommy Wingels. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

The NHL's ledger of seriously lousy hits, checks, hacks and whacks is filled with gray.

Some are legitimately accidental. Some come with bad intent but can easily conceal that. It's seldom crystal clear and, when it comes to fan discussion and debate, it's almost always viewed from the perspective of the favorite team.

And then there's this garbage:

That happened in the final few seconds of the Penguins' 7-0 slaughter of the Senators in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final Sunday at PPG Paints Arena: The Ottawa player, Tommy Wingels, raises his right elbow. That's unmistakable. He targets the head of Scott Wilson. Also unmistakable. He makes significant impact. Also unmistakable.

I'm writing an opinion piece here, but there's no opinion about any of the above.

There's also no mistaking this: Real damage was done.

Our photographer, Matt Sunday, was shooting in the immediate vicinity. He described for our staff Wilson appearing to have lost his vision, at least for a spell. He reached out for the glass and boards to try to find his way back to the Penguins' bench, even as his teammates unknowingly skated to the far end of the ice to celebrate their victory with Matt Murray. By the time Wilson finally made it, Marc-Andre Fleury and an athletic trainer assisted him off the ice and down the runway:

[caption id="attachment_302012" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Scott Wilson is helped off the ice near the Penguins' bench at game's end. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]

Wilson's number had been written on the dry-erase board in the locker room, meaning he'd been one of the players selected to meet with the media, having scored a goal. He never showed.

Mike Sullivan, asked if he had any information on Wilson, replied simply: "I don't."

None of the players commented on it, either, at least not publicly. Suffice it to say they were plenty displeased and that, if some of those remarks were to be published here, they wouldn't clear the site's censors.

Here's what I've got: Wingels should be suspended for the rest of the playoffs.

Here's what else I've got: He won't be. He might not even get fined.

This league, run by dinosaurs and perpetually oblivious to the welfare of their players in spite of the hilariously oxymoronic moniker Department of Player Safety making these rulings, routinely turns a blind eye toward head injuries. And there's a reason for that, one they wouldn't admit even under oath: They're petrified of the notion that they bear any responsibility whatsoever for head injuries, because they're singularly petrified of the kind of concussion lawsuits that have hit the NFL and other sports from current and former athletes whose lives have been disrupted or ruined by concussions, CTE and other brain trauma. So, rather than acknowledge and address head injuries, as the NFL and other sports have done, they act like they don't exist. They act like boys should be boys.

Wingels is a nobody. Not a soul, even on the Ottawa side, would miss him if he were gone. He's a fourth-line forward who's scored seven goals in each of the past two seasons. He played for the Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final last season, and you probably never heard his name once. He's played 10 games in these playoffs, and his next point will be his first.

Suspending him at a meaningful length, such as the rest of the playoffs, would send a visible message to the rest of the NHL that such cheap shots -- open assaults on an opponent's head -- won't be tolerated lightly. What's more, it'll bolster the league's purported concern, distributed to teams and officials just before these playoffs, that it wanted to do away with this type of activity once a game or series has become lopsided.

The NHL will get serious about this, too.

Right after it loses that lawsuit, and Gary Bettman and this whole regrettable generation of neanderthal hockey is buried by his successor.


[caption id="attachment_301909" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Penguins vs. Senators, Game 5, PPG Paints Arena, May 21, 2017. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]

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