After years spent battling on opposite sides of the Penguins-Capitals rivalry, Sidney Crosby and Tom Wilson have found something they agree on. Crosby, the longtime Pittsburgh captain, broached the topic of NHL players wanting to better understand the line between clean and dirty hits after teammate Brandon Tanev was given a significant penalty for impacting Boston’s Jarred Tinordi that appeared to many to be legal.
After serving a seven-game suspension for boarding, Wilson cited Crosby’s comments when pointing out some confusion around the league. “I hope as players we can get some clarity on what’s a good hit and what’s not,” Crosby said. “I know it’s fast, but right now, it’s tough to know what is, in fact, clean and what’s not, and when you’re out there playing, you must know that.”
Wilson added: “There’s a lot of guys talking out about it around the game right now, captains on other teams saying things about the physical aspect of the game.” The history between these two players is dotted with controversy. Wilson has been suspended multiple times for questionable hits, including one that gave Pittsburgh’s Zach Aston-Reese a concussion and broken jaw. Crosby has all but called Wilson a headhunter.
This season, Crosby and Wilson appear to be on the same page for once, and each acknowledged officials have a tough job. Joshua Smith, who runs the Scouting the Refs site that tracks officials’ calls and more, said players watching replays on iPads on the bench during games has had an effect.
“Guys aren’t just talking about a hit that happened in the first period: They’re watching it, they’re critiquing it on the bench, and they’re talking about it, and they’re seeing the replays,” said Smith, who has run the site since 2013. “They’re more informed, and that leads to some sharper criticism.”
The NHL declined to comment on player criticism of officiating, which is nothing new in pro sports. In an interview earlier this season, the director of officiating Stephen Walkom said he was pleased with how referees and linesmen were doing, especially given health and safety protocols limiting their time together. The league also has a video rulebook of examples of various penalties on its site.