If it’s true NHL teams are complaining about Capitals right wing Tom Wilson being a dirty hitter – an assertion made in a story by Elliott Friedman last week – Wilson says no one from the Department of Player Safety has called him on the carpet for it.
But he is beginning to wonder if the NHL is setting a dangerous precedent by placing such an emphasis on hitting.
“I’m all for the league protecting players and taking hits to the head out of the game,” Wilson said over the weekend. “But I consider myself a clean hitter. I mean, do they really want to take good, hard hits out of the game? I can’t imagine that’s something a guy like Chris Pronger wants to see, right?”
Pronger, a recent Hall of Fame inductee who carved a reputation as one of the league’s most physically intimidating defensemen, is the NHL’s Director of Player Safety. Wilson and Capitals coach Barry Trotz said they have not been contacted by Pronger or anyone else from the NHL about Wilson’s hits.
Wilson, who leads the Caps with 54 hits, pointed out he was twice voted as the best body checker in the OHL and is concerned he is being unfairly targeted by NHL referees. Trotz strongly defended his 6-foot-4, 215-pound right wing.
“If you watch, he never goes after anybody’s head,” Trotz said. “He tries to go right through their chest. He never tries to get his elbows up. But is he going to hit you? Yeah, he’s a big strong man and he’s going to hit you.
“I don’t think he hits dirty. I’m not going to throw any other players under the bus, but there’s a lot of guys that I’d say are cheap in some of their stuff. Tom plays tough and he plays hard and he doesn’t play cheap. To me when you’re big and strong like him and he goes through people and he hits hard, other teams don’t have that, so they tend to complain a little more.”
That’s what may have happened following the Caps’ Nov. 12 game against the Flyers, when Wilson accelerated into a check on defenseman Nick Schultz and was called for charging, a penalty he acknowledged was deserved.
Since then Wilson has racked up 19 minutes in penalties over the past four games, including his first fighting major against the Flames’ Brandon Bollig, and a 10-minute misconduct near the end of the Caps’ 7-3 rout of the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.
But it was a two-minute roughing minor against Dallas Stars forward Antoine Roussel on Thursday night that frustrated Wilson most. Wilson said he was simply defending teammate Michael Latta, who was cross-checked by Roussel, by skating into the scrum and putting a bear hug on Roussel.
“The reason he got the penalty was really plain and simple,” said Trotz, who asked for an explanation from the referee.
“He said if Willy doesn’t go in there he’s not getting a penalty,” Trotz said. “My response was, ‘If you just call the first penalty to Roussel you stop all the cross-checking. He goes, ‘You’re right.’ But I wanted (Wilson) to understand why the referee called that on him when he really didn’t do anything, And that’s how they viewed it. Next time he knows that if he has to engage he can’t be an instigator as a third man in.”
Like Wilson, however, Trotz is concerned the NHL is moving in a direction in which every hit is scrutinized, not only by the league’s player safety department, but by the players themselves.
“There are some hits where it’s a clean body check and everybody (on the bench) is going ‘Hey, hey, hey,’” Trotz said. “It’s hockey. You’re going to get hit. Don’t cry and whine about it. You’re going to get hit in this game and if you don’t want any hits in the game let’s say, ‘Hey there’s no hits in the game and call a penalty any time there’s a hit, which is tending to be more of the trend now.
“Our sport is about body contact and it is about physicality and clean physicality and that’s the way Tom plays.
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