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Tough Guys, Bluff Guys and Tom Wilson

May 4, 2021, 1:16 PM ET [38 Comments]
Paul Stewart
Blogger •Former NHL Referee • RSSArchiveCONTACT
As someone who lived by and understood "the Code" from both the playing and officiating sides of the game, I've developed the ability to tell the tough guys from the bluff guys. Nowadays, the Code is dead, but there are still some legitimate tough guys left in the game. Wayne Simmonds is one. Zdeno Chara is another.

There are also imposters who pose as tough guys. Tom Wilson was, is and will always be, an imposter tough guy. Regardless of his size, PIMs and rap sheet, he wouldn't have made it in the old-school game. I've said the same thing in the past about Milan Lucic.

Wilson showed his true colors again last night by targeting and manhandling Pavel Buchnevich first and then Artemi Panarin in an after-the-whistle scrum. Going after other teams' non-combative finesse players is something that no bona fide tough guy does. That's especially true in the case of tossing down the much smaller, extraordinarily skilled Panarin. This is a guy who never had more than 32 penalty minutes in an NHL season. Hell, he never even had 50 PIMS in a European season, where a forceful face-wash can easily get you a 2+10. The initial sucker punch to the back of Buchnevich's helmet when he was down in the ice was crap from the garage league playbook.

Wilson has no respect for the game or for fellow players because he has no accountability. Not to his coaches -- guys like Peter Laviolette or Bruce Boudreau know better than this but they don't care unless it's their own skill guys being jumped. Not be his teammates, because there isn't a legit tough guy on his own team to pull him aside to the stick room and tell Wilson that if he has to shed one more drop of blood on Wilson's behalf, there's going to a real problem between the two of them. Not by opponents, either. Wilson doesn't have to worry about answering directly to a Bob Probert, Dave Brown, Terry O'Reilly, Gino Odjick,Nick Fotiu, Kelly Chase, Craig Berube or Chris Nilan.

Berube was so legitimately intimidating that he could get opponents in line even if he wasn't on the ice against them at a given time. One time, the Rangers' Dale Purinton was trying a little too hard to make a name for himself; running around and taking liberties. From the bench, Philadelphia's Berube called over to Brian Leetch.

"Brian! You better get your f-in' pet on a leash!" Berube said.

Leetch said something to Purinton, telling him to knock off the nonsense. Berube was tougher than Purinton, plain and simple. The rest of the game was peaceful. A referee's delight.

If I had been refereeing last night's game, I'd have told Wilson (even without his preening act in the penalty box before he was escorted off on a misconduct), "Congratulations. You are done not only for tonight but you're f-in' finished as a 'tough-guy' in this league. No one will take you seriously anymore."

When I was a hopeful for the Rangers, if I -- or Nick Fotiu, who deservedly beat me out for a roster spot on the Rangers back in the mid 1970s -- had ever seen ANY opposing player to do Rod Gilbert what Wilson did to Panarin, that opponent would have had a war on his hands. He could pick the place: On the ice, in the hallway between the locker rooms, under the stands, and/or in the parking lot. The so-called team leaders on their side were welcome to come, too, because they failed miserably in their job to police their own side before one of their own skill guys got jumped in that manner.


A 2018 inductee into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Visit Paul's official websites, YaWannaGo.com and Officiating by Stewart.
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