After Tom Wilson was suspended two preseason games late last month, the rugged Capitals winger vowed to not change his hard-hitting game.
After he was suspended four regular season games less than two weeks later, Wilson has changed his tune a bit.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” he said Wednesday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “But I respect their decision. Four games and a week-plus seems like a lot but it’s their ruling. That’s the standard that’s going to be [enforced] throughout the whole year.”
“I think they are trying to send me a message here,” he added, “and I’ve got to listen to it and adapt.”
In his telephone hearing with the department of player safety on Tuesday afternoon, Wilson said that he told the new director of player safety George Parros that he attempted to mitigate the blow at the last second. He also said that Blues forward Sammy Blais, who was checked for a concussion but later returned to the game, should have been more aware of his surroundings.
“They were saying he was not eligible to be hit—his numbers are showing the whole way,” Wilson said. “I watched the replay hundreds of times. He looks right at me. He knows I’m coming and he puts himself in a vulnerable spot. At that last second, I’m trying to do everything I can to get out of the way. You can see me change my body position at the last tenth of a second to try and avoid the contact.”
But he didn’t avoid the contact. And with the hit-from-behind on Blais coming so soon after he was suspended two preseason games for a late hit, Parros apparently decided it was time to come down hard on Wilson.
“I think that was a big factor in it,” Wilson said. “If you look at it, I’ve played four seasons at this level, at this speed, and I've made tons of hard hits, big hits, clean hits. That’s a lot of decision making where I made really good decisions in a tenth of a second to make sure it’s a safe, clean body check. Since there was that discipline a week before, maybe he’s questioning my decision making. …If he’s questioning my decision making that doesn’t sit well. I’ve played four seasons, making a lot of good decisions at a very high [speed]. I can get around the ice quick. I get on top of guys very quick. That’s part of my game, I’m a good skater and I’m a strong guy that can finish hard checks. You know what? The game is moving away from those big, big hits. You got to be really careful. I accept that and I’ll adapt with the game, like anyone would.”
So, yeah, Wilson doesn’t agree with the league’s decision. But he accepts it. And, most important, he recognizes the need to make changes to his mindset and approach.
“I have to be better at making the decision on when to hit and when not to, maybe pass up on hits,” he said. “My intent is never to hurt a guy. Anyone that knows me off the ice knows I’m an honest player and I care for the game, I care for players and I’m trying to play the game the honest, hard way that I know. I've got to adapt with the game and adapt with the message they're sending me. I’ve got to be a little more careful because obviously they’re being a little more severe with the games and discipline that they are handing out.”
Coach Barry Trotz said he’s discussed the suspensions with Wilson and anticipates that he’ll adjust.
“He studies his craft,” Trotz said. “He looks at almost all his hits. He’s not out there to try to hurt; he’s trying to play his style of game without going over the line. He’s played a certain way all his life, and the last four or five years he hasn’t really had any suspensions. And now he’s had two. Maybe the line’s moved, just like the faceoffs. The line has moved a little bit and he’ll adjust.”